Monday, October 20, 2008

The Challenge of Change - Managing Divorce Related Stress

Here is an article I found by an Alabama attorney written a few years ago but still relevant. Although Mr. Shaw practices in Alabama, the information is not state specific and is useful to people getting a divorce in Washington State This article and similar information may be found at Keep in mind that not all information on this site is applicable in Washington State.

"Our culture is full of clich├ęs about change. They are repeated to us from the time we are children, and become ingrained into our vocabulary. We tend to pay good lip service to the idea that when change happens in our lives, we will be ready for its challenges. However, we are often not as well prepared for the challenge change presents as we think we are. More often than not, that challenge is stress. Whether the change is good or bad, hard or easy, voluntary or forced upon us, there is an inherent level of stress in every change we face. Nowhere is that more evident than in the challenges and changes put upon a person and a family by the dissolution of a marriage.

Our firm deals with people every day who are trying to manage varying degrees of stress related to the changes brought about by divorce. Through my own family experience, I know how those changes can effect every family member with varying degrees of stress. Divorce can be the complete destruction of all stability for one party and the opening of a door to a greater sense of peace for another. The reasons divorce occurs vary and each situation is unique to itself. From the most amicable uncontested divorce to the most hotly contested custody dispute, stress is the common factor. How the parties deal with stress determines how healthy the change can be, and how the parties will be able to deal with the changes divorce brings about.

I am very fortunate in my practice to have the opportunity to work with a number of professionals in various fields that deal with the challenges people face while going through a divorce. Through my experience, I have compiled a list of suggestions that I share with my clients regarding ways they can deal with stress. Taking these steps will not totally remove the stress brought about by divorce. Hopefully, it will help make this time of incredible change a process of growth and learning, so that those going through it will come out healthy and whole.

SEEK EMOTIONAL SUPPORT: Unlike any other area of the law, family law deals with some of the most raw and personal issues a family can face. Many different emotions and feelings will rise – from anger, regret, fear, despair, anxiety, frustration, and distrust to feelings of relief and new beginning. All the emotions are real, and all the feelings a person has are valid. It is how those emotions and feelings are dealt with that will determine how a person survives a divorce. Whether it is a pastor, support group, close friend, counselor or therapist, I recommend to my clients that they find a “safe place” or person to confide in to help work through these emotional times. Do not try to go it alone, and do not try to keep these emotions and feelings bottled up – more often than not that leads to a more difficult time in working through the divorce process.

It does not matter whether you are the one who wants the divorce or not. I had one counselor tell me that the person who realizes that a separation in the marriage is necessary often looses the support of those around him or her, no matter how correct that decision may be. Seek the support of others, and look to counseling when needed. There is no stigma in needing help going through a divorce. Keep your children in mind as well – they are facing the changes and stresses with you, and their emotions and feelings are just as real and valid. With the right assistance, you and your family can make it through these very challenging and difficult emotional times.

PRAYER/SPIRITUALITY: I have found that for many people, going through a divorce can be one of the greatest challenges of faith they will ever face. It can also be one of the times of greatest spiritual growth. I am not advocating any particular religion or religious practice. However, I do recommend that you put faith and spiritual well being at the forefront of your concerns while going through a divorce. You should meditate, pray, or seek the guidance of a pastor, priest or rabbi. Change comes about in our lives. Allowing this change to work a positive spiritual effect in your life can help you to learn from the situation, grow as a person, and be healthier when the process of change is complete.

SEEK LEGAL COUNSEL: A divorce not only presents emotional challenges and stresses – it is a legal proceeding that requires special attention to the particulars of your individual situation. Our laws require that certain burdens be met and presented in specific ways before a court can grant a divorce. Calculation of child support, asset and debt division and property settlement all have areas of particularity that must be addressed. I have watched individuals who have tried to represent themselves have their case dismissed because they have not met the requirements our laws put in place to insure that the divorce process is not abused. I have watched them walk away from the bench discouraged and having to start the process over, increasing the stress of the situation. Assistance from expert legal counsel can help relieve some of that stress.

The most important aspect in choosing a lawyer is finding someone with whom you feel comfortable. The attorney-client relationship is important, and you must feel that your attorney has the ability to protect your interests, advocate your position, and understand your concerns. You must find a lawyer who you trust, because you will need to share some of the most intimate details of your life with your lawyer. You must be able to work as a team. If that type of working relationship can be established, the process can work smoothly, and some stress may be relieved.

SEEK FINANCIAL GUIDANCE: One of the greatest challenges, and consequently greatest causes of stress in a divorce, is handling the financial change. Often the parties go from a two-income household to two one-income households, with mirroring expenses. Dividing financial assets, bank accounts, retirement funds and the like can unravel the most well devised financial plan. Parties may come out of the process with debt loads that they never anticipated. The payment of child and spousal support combined with other financial obligations can leave your budget reeling. Tax consequences can be enormous. If you have an accountant or financial advisor, talk with them about the effects of the divorce on your financial situation. Let your attorney know who your accountant or financial professionals are, so that they can work together as team to protect your financial interests and design a financial plan to achieve your goals.

LEARN FROM THE CHANGE: One of the best pieces of advice I have heard from a family counselor is that if the second marriage is a success, the first was not a failure. A divorce allows a person an opportunity to reevaluate where he or she is in life, what expectations he or she has in marriage, and what are his or her personal goals. Often, the factors that led to the breakdown of the marriage can provide the building blocks for stronger foundations in future relationships. No matter what the cause of the separation, learn from the changes and challenges you have been presented. Learn how to communicate and understand your emotions. Learn positive ways to deal with change, stress and feelings. Learn new skills as a parent, partner and friend. Adjust to the changes presented and take this unique opportunity to grow from the challenges and stresses the divorce has raised.

Going through a divorce may not have been your choice, or there may have seen no other alternative. Let this be a time for change that leads to personal growth and self-exploration. Take the lessons the process presents and apply them to your life. Begin to rebuild and know that with support, prayer, appropriate advice, planning and self-awareness, you can take this difficult and stressful challenge and not only survive, but become a better parent, friend, partner and person. You can meet the challenge of change. Reach out to those around you, find the support you need, and you will be successful."

Paul Shaw

Birmingham, Alabama


More Resources for Divorcing Parents

Many resources come across my desk as a family law attorney. These web sites seem interesting although I have not reviewed each one. These comments come from the following site

Child Centered Divorce Rosalind Sedacca is very active in educating parents about divorce. Her website, “Child-Centered Divorce,” helps parents minimize the emotional trauma for children whose parents are going through a divorce.

Divorce@Suite101 Lots of great resources here with celebrity contributors!

Attachment Parenting Blog Great Dad perspective with three children, 11, 8 and 4, which is a discussion venue for topics relating to single parenting, divorce, fatherhood.

Gabriel Cheong Law “This blog is really great, videos, interesting articles and I am sure very helpful legal advice for sticky situations divorced families get into.” -Nick, 19

Single Parent Survival Guide this is a great blog by Cliff Carlton, posts are spread about, but really useful!

Divorced at 50: What is life like after a 32 year relationship? This blogger spills all.

Judith’s Divorce Blog Reflections on divorce, separation and associated topics by Judith Middleton, who is qualified as a solicitor and an accredited family law specialist. Interesting perspective on this topic!

Dad’s House: “A single dad’s exploits–great music taste and he talks about all aspects of life.” -Mary

Divorce Diva A humorous and sweet perspective to a difficult situation–thank goodness.

Your Child - Your Divorce: Great articles and resources about kids and family going through divorce.

Women’s Divorce Blog “Wow, a lot of really hard hitting articles and topics that are very well organized, a little bit like reading a book in pieces–good.” -Mary, 14.

Glenn Sacks “His stance is tough, but he seems to have a lot of different kinds of columns and resources about divorce!” - Nick, 19.

Darn Divorce “This is so funny, great comments and posts! I like her honesty.” -Marci, 17

Life After Divorce: New Horizons: “I like how there are really positive and uplifting articles on this blog!” -Marci

Lifestyle of a Divorced Single Mom:
This is a cute blog with lots of great stories.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Divorce and Your Emotional Needs

As a divorce attorney, I am frequently contacted by other professionals interested in helping people experiencing divorce. Dr. Deborah Hecker offers divorce counseling. Her site provides a lot of information for those experiencing divorce. The following article is from Dr. Hecher's newsletter.

Divorce and Your Emotional Needs: What You Should Know to Survive Your Divorce
by Dr. Deborah Hecker

While a divorce can be one of the most traumatic events of an adult's life, the keys to dealing with divorce can be found in the behavioral patterns of early childhood. Dr. Deb Hecker explores the similarities between developing oneself as a human being and redeveloping oneself as a newly single person. Understanding these similarities and how to better address the psychological issues of divorce can make the process easier and much less painful to endure.


The transition from being part of a couple to being successfully divorced has as much to do with exercising emotional intelligence as it does legal intelligence. While a divorce attorney plays a vital role, some of the most difficult impasses in divorce are based upon unresolved emotional issues, not concerns over division of assets, property, or even custody issues. At these times, focusing solely on the facts or the content of the case simply cannot break the emotional stalemate.

Most of the literature on the psychology of divorce treats divorce as the death of a relationship and focuses on the necessity of grieving that death in order to move forward as a no-longer-married person. The end of a marriage can be as traumatic as the actual death of a loved one in its capacity to wrench life apart and carve out a piece of the soul. You may have experienced this emotional chasm which Abigail Trafford in her book Crazy Time, Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life refers to as "temporary insanity."

In order to more fully understand why divorce is such a devastating transition and why otherwise nice people behave so badly during divorce -- badly enough to inadvertently interfere in the process -- it is crucial that you have a grasp of the psychology of separation. You should understand how transitioning from being part of a couple complete with the emotional, social, and financial security that comes from being a part of a team to being single and self-reliant can create such emotional upheaval.

The metamorphosis from being part of a marital couple to becoming a single, unattached person can best be described as a series of developmental stages paralleling the early years of the mother-child bond, as described by pioneering researcher, Dr. Margaret Mahler. In her groundbreaking book, The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant: Symbiosis and Individuation, Mahler outlines her model of child development which can be directly applied to the interactive characteristics of a couple's relationship.

The following brief description of Mahler's theory on separation-individuation provides the framework for understanding the process through which a child must transition in order to achieve a separate identity from its mother. After exploring the mother-child dyad, we will look at how it serves as the foundation for the marital relationship and what happens when that relationship dissolves.

Child Developmental Stages

Mahler saw the infant as being born into a normal autistic phase whose primary task is to establish equilibrium outside the womb. At around two months old, the infant's sensitivity to external stimulation increases, and he moves into the symbiotic phase. The term "symbiosis" in this context is a metaphor describing the "undifferentiation" -- a fusion with the mother in which the "I" is not yet differentiated from the "not-I". According to Mahler, it is the symbiotic phase that becomes the template for all gratification, as well as empathy and love in future relationships.

At about five or six months, the differentiation phase begins, and the infant becomes more alert to his external surroundings -- exploring both the mother and the environment. Using his body, the baby learns his outer physical boundaries, thereby experiencing greater differentiation from the mother. Soon thereafter, the practicing phase begins in which the child, according to Mahler, develops a "love affair" with the world, learning to crawl and walk away from the mother. Assuming she is comfortable with this leap of autonomy, the child will successfully enter the rapprochement phase, a difficult time when the child is more ambivalent about his growing independence and begins to manifest a lot of push-pull behavior. Finally, consolidation of individuality begins to take place and all previous mother-child interactions become internalized and begin to form the basis of the child's feelings of well being and capacity for healthy future relationships.

The Marital Couple's Developmental Stages

Using Mahler's early-childhood developmental stages as a springboard, we can explore the evolution of a couple's relationship.

The first stage of couplehood, that of being "madly in love," can be likened to Mahler's second stage of infant growth -- symbiosis. The purpose of this stage is attachment. In this stage, singles begin merging lives and personalities and go through a period of intense bonding. If each person receives nurturance from the other during this stage and the agreement to form a couple is clear, the relationship will begin with a solid foundation. The partners conceptualize their relationship in terms of a fusion model; together, we shall be one. They look to each other for completion and fulfillment.

During the subsequent differentiation stage, individual differences emerge, and each partner is taken down from the pedestal and viewed more objectively. Greater boundaries are established. Disillusion and disappointment are inevitable.

Continuing the parallel with Mahler's model, the couple enters a normal period of practicing in which each participates in activities and relationships away from the other. Separateness, autonomy, and self become more important than developing the relationship. Conflicts intensify, and a healthy process for conflict resolution becomes necessary in order for the couple to maintain an emotional connection while developing themselves in the world. After each has developed a well-defined, competent identity, the couple alternates between periods of increased intimacy and efforts to reestablish independence. This rapprochement stage achieves a balance between "me" and "we". Finally, the couple reaches a stage of mutual interdependence where, ideally, two well-integrated people are individually and mutually satisfied.

Loss of Mate: The Psychology of Divorce

Inevitably, the early mother-child bond will fall short of perfectly meeting all of the child's needs and desires. Looking to one's spouse to meet these unfulfilled needs often becomes a convenient way to fill the gap in adulthood. Unconsciously, dependency is shifted from the parent to the mate who becomes the recipient of these unmet needs.

While this may appear on the surface to be a reasonable solution, it is, in fact, fraught with real problems. Left unattended, these problems can lead the couple to serious conflict, even divorce.

Let's look at a common marital dynamic. The typical couple starts off their partnership in the symbiotic phase, the fusion model, where they are both working toward oneness. What happens if one partner transitions into the differentiation or practicing phase and begins seeking greater independence, while the other remains in the symbiotic phase, still yearning for the security of the marriage and locked in the maternal fantasy role? The result is likely to be a bumpy ride with one partner seeking closeness and the other distance, creating a kind of seesaw effect. With the help of a marriage counselor, some couples can remedy this imbalance. For others, the disparity is too difficult to change, and divorce becomes the only solution.

The depth with which marital partners touch each other in their intimate lives, striving to achieve a balance between closeness and distance, must be understood in order to grasp the severity of the loss through divorce. Losing a spouse who is perceived as a protector and savior, much the same way that a parent is perceived, can be a devastating and frightening blow. When you understand divorce in the context of uprooting a deep psychological anchor from its mooring, the dramas that attend the process are much easier to comprehend.


Since many, if not most, individuals in the midst of divorce will find themselves feeling alone and frightened at some point, it can be very difficult and sometimes nearly impossible for them to make rational decisions that are in their own best interest. People in this vulnerable state often become dependent on their divorce attorney -- looking for someone to "take care of everything" and promise them a better life.

Fearing for your emotional survival, you may see the world through childish eyes, repeating the early behavior patterns described by Mahler. Instead of assuming that your attorney has all the answers, which he does not, you need to actively flex your independence muscles and collaborate with your attorney in constructing your future. Remember, it is your life.

In many divorces much of the time spent on the process revolves not on your legal needs but on your emotional needs resulting from the loss of your marriage. Understanding how the separation process provides ample triggers for hurt, sadness, anger and fear will help you avoid having those emotions throw up roadblocks to progress and interfere with successful legal resolution.

In some respects, matrimonial lawyers face many of the same challenges that trained psychotherapists do, but without the benefit of training in how to manage these emotions. While it is important for you to seek out a divorce attorney who can empathize with the multiple losses you are experiencing and can listen to your personal pain, it is critical that you assume responsibility for recovering from the emotional stress of your separation.

If you are overwhelmed by your feelings and find that they are affecting your ability to deal with the legal issues of divorce, it may be time to seek professional counseling. A counselor who specializes in separation and loss can help you to minimize the potentially destructive impact your emotions can have on the legal process as well as facilitate your acceptance of the divorce and your adjustment to life as an unmarried person. You must think beyond the immediate issues and work to ensure your emotional health both during and after the divorce. It's too important to leave to chance

5 Must-Tell Messages to Prepare the Kids for Your Divorce

The following article is written by Rosalind Sedacca a divorced mom who shares her experiences on: . Her experiences might be useful to others in a similar situation.

One of the most difficult conversations any parent will ever have is telling their children about their pending divorce. I know first-hand because many years ago I went through the experience. I fought and faced the overwhelming emotions. The deep gut-wrenching fear. The continuous anxiety. The incredible guilt. And the oppressive weight of shame. My son, after all, was innocent. A sweet, gentle soul who loved his father and mother dearly. He certainly did not deserve this.

I struggled with the anxiety for weeks in advance. When should I tell him? How should I tell him? Should we tell him together? And most frightening of all, WHAT SHOULD WE SAY? How do you explain to a child that the life he has known, the comfort he has felt in his family setting, is about to be disrupted - changed - forever?

How do you explain to a child that none of this is his fault? How do you reassure him that life will go on, that he will be safe, cared for and loved, even after his parents divorce?

And, even more intimidating, how do you prepare him for all the unknowns looming ahead when you’re not sure yourself how it will all turn out? I needed a plan. A strategy. A way of conveying all that I wanted to say to him at a level of understanding that he could grasp.

Thankfully I found that plan. I came up with a storybook that told my son, in words and pictures, the story of how his father and I met, married and started a family. It explained problems we encountered that we could not readily fix, and the decision we ultimately made to get a divorce. In my upcoming book, How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce?, I provide a fill-in-the-blanks template that other parents can use to prepare their children for the many changes ahead. The interactive format allows parents to customize the story to fit their family dynamics. It also focuses on five key messages that are essential for every child to hear, understand and absorb. By sharing and repeating these five points to your children in the weeks and months following the initial conversation, you will enable them to better handle, accept and even embrace the challenges and changes they will soon be facing. Here are the five must-tell messages for your children:

1) This is not your fault. Mom and Dad have been having problems. We don’t agree about certain key issues and that creates conflict. Even when some of the issues are about you, that does not mean you are to blame. You are an innocent child who we both love and cherish. It is not your fault that Mom and Dad disagree about your bedtime, where to go on vacation, how to help you with your homework or whether you should play soccer. We are not fighting about YOU. We are disagreeing with each other about issues that concern you and our family. But you are not in any way at fault.

2) Mom and Dad will always be your parents. No matter what changes occur over the weeks, months and years ahead, one thing is for certain. Mon and Dad will still always be your parents. No one else will ever be your real Mom. No one else will ever be your real Dad. We will both always love you and be there for you, no matter where we live or how things should change.

3) This is about change, not about blame. Divorce is a scary word. But all it really means is that our family will be experiencing some changes. Change is okay. Everything in life keeps changing. You grow bigger, taller, stronger and smarter every year. The seasons change every year. Clothing styles and hair styles keep changing. You change grades and schools as you grow older. Change means things will be different in some ways. It doesn’t mean things will be bad. Change can be fun, exciting and new. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to changes, like beginning a new grade with a new teacher. Other times change gives us a chance to do things in a new and better way, like trying a new sport or a hobby you grow to love.

The change in our family is not about who’s right or wrong or who’s good or bad. Mom and Dad both tried their best to resolve our problems. The old way didn’t work for us and now we will be trying a new way for our family to live so there’s more peace, calmness and happiness for us all. Instead of worrying about who’s to blame, let’s think about how we can see the changes ahead as a new adventure — a brand new chapter in our lives. Who knows what lies ahead?

4) Things will work out okay. We’re often frightened when we begin new things and face new challenges. Like the first time you learned to ride a bicycle, the first day of school or day camp, your first trip to the dentist. Things always have a way of working out, even when we’re scared that they won’t. Divorce will be the same way. Things will be new and different for a while. We’ll have new ways of doing some things … some new responsibilities … some differences in our schedules. But life will go on. We will get used to the differences. Some of them we may even prefer. And after a while, we’ll look back and say, life is different than it used to be, but it’s all okay. I’m okay, our family is okay and, most important of all, we still love each other. That is a lot better than okay. It’s great!

5) Mom and Dad will always love you. No matter what happens, no matter what changes occur, one thing is for certain. Mom and Dad will always love you. That will never change. Regardless of where we live, what we do and how old you get. You can count on that. And don’t ever forget it. These core messages are the foundation your children will depend on when they are feeling frightened, sad or insecure. Repeat them often in your own words and your own style. You’ll be rewarded in countless ways as you and your children encounter and overcome the challenges of life after divorce.

* * * * Rosalind Sedacca, Certified Corporate Trainer and relationship seminar facilitator, is the author of the upcoming ebook, How Do I Tell the Kids … about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook™ Guide to preparing your children — with love! The book provides expert advice which helps you to create a unique personal family storybook that guides you through this difficult transition with optimum results. Rosalind can be reached at . For free articles on child-centered divorce and a free ezine, go to: © Rosalind Sedacca 2007 All rights reserved.