Families in Divorce

A friend asked for advice about his parents getting divorced.

Remember that extremely tough situations can lead to good outcomes. The darkest periods in my life have been part of my path to a great life.

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The couple:

a – don’t focus on right/wrong – focus on desired outcome and not adding to the pain of the situation

b – if there isn’t abuse/addiction in the relationship then work to save it – the NY Times has a great series about baby-boomers getting divorced that says it better than me. The series is called Unhitched: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/booming/lessons-learned-when-its-all-over.html

c – if things are truly over then don’t fight – you never get the time and emotional pain back.

d – people waste tremendous energy worrying about money – if you fight then large sums of money will evaporate. Be willing to settle to avoid pain and suffering.

e – never ever give bad news in writing

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Friends and Family – your #1 role is to listen, not to fix.

Help the couple focus on what matters: (a) not fight; (b) end the cycle of pain; and (c) achieve a mutually desired outcome.

Families waste huge amounts of energy seeking to fix other people’s marriages. It’s not your problem to fix. The family’s role is listening and emotional support.

Specifically as a child, or younger sibling:

a – it is embarrassing to fail in front of our ‘youngers’ – can change a family dynamic. Youngers should be very sensitive to the embarrassment the elders are likely feeling.

b – parents often want approval as much as kids do – many adult children aren’t aware of this need for approval. That’s too bad as it can be a rich source of self-knowledge.

c – it’s better to use outside sources (counsellors, books) to influence change – many elders are closed to direct advice from youngers. If you get hostility then you may have triggered pain in the elders arising from 1 and 2.

d – if you can’t help yourself from giving advice then chose your best stuff (not more than three points) and say as little as possible. Better yet, you could say something like… “hey, I see my role is to listen and support your decisions. However, if you ever want a couple ideas then let me know.”

e – people in highly stressful situations often show cognitive impairment – lapses in memory and reduced ability to reason. Your elders might be stressed, rather than senile.

Everyone will be tempted to take sides – remember that (absent abuse/addiction) there’s rarely a clear right/wrong. A smart person can always make it seem like it’s the other person’s fault. Emotional truth is relative.

Focus on outcome, break the chain of pain and listen.

To be a partner in a successful relationship (after my divorce), I needed many years to improve myself. I was also comfortable with being alone. In other words, I was able to improve myself to the point where I didn’t expect another person to complete (or serve) me.

The person that seeks to fix everything can become a focal point for blame. Personally, I’m ok with that as a leader’s role is to take the blame but I need to remember my goal/role in relationships is not to fix anything.

People thank us for love, listening and being there. Years after my divorce, I remember who was there for me – I don’t remember specifics and the searing pain is completely gone.

Faced with a lack of trust, my decision was to end the marriage. I have good friends that decided otherwise and have enviable marriages, that continue today.

Why is that?

If my marriage works for me and my spouse then that’s enough. We don’t need to justify our love to other people. This keeps us focused on what we control – our actions towards each other.