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Reblogged from Marriage Crisis Manager on February 22, 2017
Guest blogger Tim Backes of CustodyXchange.com specializes in assisting divorced and separated couples as well as legal professionals and making their lives a little less hectic when it comes to the painful process of separation and communication. In this article Tim shares some great advice on how to talk to your kids about the family’s future.
Divorce is an agonizing experience. It’s tough on many things — your emotions,
finances, and most of all, kids.
While you can shield your children from a lot of things, divorce is one of those things
that needs to be dealt with head-on. If a potential divorce is brewing in your
marriage, kids will probably pick up on it . They feel the energy of an impending
separation or divorce as something large and looming in their lives.
When the day comes for you to address the issue directly with your kids, there are
ways to do it that are much healthier than other ways, and if you get one thing right
in how you divorce, you have to make sure it happens when dealing with your children.
Delivering the News
Once you have decided to divorce, and you know the date your spouse will move
out, plan a meeting together approximately two weeks beforehand. Both spouses
should be present with the children if at all possible, and both should approach the
conversation in an adult-like way. You will focus on the facts and know that blame
and shame will not be a part of this conversation:
1. Remember, the truth will set you free. Children are often more in-tune
with what’s happening than many parents realize, so don’t try to mislead
them or minimize. Let them know the divorce is due to a problem between
you and your spouse and not in any way related to them. Be firm that you
will divorce, and will not be reconciling. Tell them truthful, general things
like, we just aren’t a good fit anymore and we grew apart. If they ask
questions, answer them honestly. Take responsibility when necessary.
2. Put the kids first and remember the Golden Rule. Divorces can fall within
the range of an amicable split to a knockdown-drag-out. If you have children
you owe it to them to put your heated feelings aside and act mature and
reasonable toward each other and them. Promise yourselves you will never
speak poorly of each other to your children.
3. Express your willingness to be available. This does not mean dropping
what you are doing to run to your child every time they need. It has to be
reasonable. When it is your turn to have the kids, they need to stay with you,
and when they are with your ex, you will not rescue them when they are
disgruntled. When your child is upset with your ex just support them by
saying life is tough, and that they need to work out parent issues with the
parent they are angry with. Refuse to be in the middle. At the same time, let
them know you are available by phone should they need or want to connect.
Ask them if they would like you to call on a regular basis and even at a
regular time. If your child reaches out, be there. Listen to what they have to
say, even if it’s something simple like a short story about something that they
learned in school that day. This helps them maintain some sort or normalcy
in their lives, which helps make them feel safe.
Just because you are getting a divorce does not mean you will no longer be a family.
You will always be a family, and families exist in all sorts of configurations. It is not
divorce that messes kids up so much as does the consternation and anger expressed
between the parents. To have the best result you can possible have, control your
behavior with your ex, and always be respectful. You can bet that your kids are
watching, and they need to see you treat their parent decently and fairly.
Tim for more information on CustodyXchange.com.
Still, nothing ups the odds of divorce more than having children from another marriage added to the dynamic. There are a multitude of ways having kids can send a couple who otherwise might stay married, running to divorce court. This is the reason that I tell couples with kids still at home to think twice, three, four times before saying I do again. And if your kids are grown you should only have to think twice.
Here are the kid-related complicating factors that often break second marriages:
• A spouse doesn’t bond with the other person’s kids. Sometimes a step mom or dad doesn’t feel the love for the new step kids and doesn’t appreciate spending time with them. It can create a situation where the parent feels torn between the new spouse and kids, and that’s a terrible feeling.
• A spouse puts his or her kids before the new marriage. If you decide to marry, your spouse needs to come first. If you put the kids first, the chances you’ll divorce go even higher than the already high average. In any marriage, no matter if your first or fifth, marriage always comes before kids.
• Preferential treatment of biological children. When the love, money, time and treatment blatantly favor a spouse’s own over the steps, it causes the new spouse to resent and lose respect. The kids see it, too, and it’s especially troublesome and dividing when one set of kids get to live a higher socio-economic lifestyle than the others.
• The kids hate and refuse to accept the new step parent. Why? Because the relationship started as an affair, or the kids perceive them as an obstacle to their parent’s reuniting, or the kids want their parent all to themselves. Kids will be fiercely loyal to a parent who was left due to an affair, and a step parent who was the “other” woman or man will have a next-to-impossible job winning them over. Also, kids want their parents together, and if they can’t have that, they want their parent to themselves. A stepparent is difficult to tolerate, and that’s what many kids do, tolerate. Putting innocent children in such a position of discomfort is unconscionable.
• One spouse is enmeshed with a child, creating jealousy from the new spouse. Sometimes a parent has a relationship with a child or children that is close in an unhealthy way. If a new spouse feels like a third or fourth wheel it’s not going to be good for the marriage.
• Differences in disciplining the kids, or one spouse telling another how better to raise their child. If you judge and criticize there is an 85 percent chance you’ll be divorced in 5 years. If your spouse has kids, it’s best to step aside and allow them to raise them in their preferred way, and you raise yours your way, or if you don’t have kids, stay out of it. (That is why I think the role of stepparent is exceeding difficult. Doing it successfully requires a person to set their feelings aside for the higher good of the family.)
• One spouse attempts to parent older children he or she didn’t raise. When you marry someone with a baby or toddler it is entirely appropriate to treat the child as any parent would. But when you come in late in the game, when a child has a history of two parents and is age 9 or over, you best defer to the biological parent to do the disciplining or face serious resentment from the child. For older children, your best bet is to stand by in a supportive friend role.
• Older kids don’t feel comfortable with a new person in their world. Think about it … a new adult arrives in your house and you’re supposed to live with them all or half the time … it’s not comfortable, it’s weird, sort of like having a house guest that doesn’t leave. It makes me cringe when parents try to force their children to “love” the new intruder. For most kids it will take them years, often five or more, to adjust to it, if they ever do. Knowing the children are uncomfortable will weigh on many biological parents.
I am a hard-liner when it comes to second marriages when young children are involved because I deal with the damage of it most days of my professional life. If your marriage ended in divorce, I think the best thing a parent could do is hold off on serious relationships until the children are launched – at least until they’re in their teens or later. While I am a huge believe in adult self-care and being pro-active about getting your needs met, I think if you divorce, your focus must be on your children first and foremost. They didn’t choose divorce, you and or your former spouse did. What kids need after such a huge change and disruption in their lives is you. Bringing in a stepparent is usually unwanted and barely tolerated, except in rare cases.
This article was featured on Huffington Post on March 7, 2017.
They told me their issues, which weren’t that complicated or major, but could not be resolved because Mike always clammed up whenever his wife approached him with her criticisms and complaints. Mike refused to talk because he said his wife was witchy when she came after him and once he responded he couldn’t trust how she’d react.
“Doctor Becky this woman is like a damn drill sergeant,” he said as he glanced at Laura. “You have no idea how impossible it is to get a word in with her, so I have chosen not to even try.”
“From this day forward,” I said to Mike. “You need to know that it is never acceptable to give your wife the silent treatment, no matter what she says or does. You may never go mute again, get it?”
He nodded, but said, “What do I do, then? She might bite my head off. You don’t know what she’s capable of.”
“No matter what she does or may do, talk to her like an adult when she approaches you with a concern. Stay calm, and no matter what she says or does or how she does it, YOU will respond with calm words, you will be an adult, OK? You need to know that it is childish to stop speaking to your spouse. It is not relational.”
I then turn to his wife, Laura. “It is also not relational to chew a person’s butt out with criticism and harsh complaints. What you are doing is childish, too. You can’t play the drill sergeant anymore. You must find another way to approach your husband with your needs and wants.”
“Well how do I approach him, then? He’s not a great listener.”
“I don’t listen because of how you approach me,” Mike said.
“You have a right to make a request,” I said. “Adults know they can’t control their partner, so they don’t demand, they make requests. Like, ‘Would you mind turning the TV volume down, please?” Or, Honey, ‘If you find it difficult to pay the bills on time, would you mind allowing me to take charge of it?’”
“What you don’t do is walk in and tell them what a loser or jerk they are, or how badly they screwed something up, cause if you do then they’ll shut you out,” I said.
One term I use a lot in my private practice as Marriage & Family Therapist is: being relational. I think it is a pretty huge concept that everyone should be aware of – here is how it works: Most couples that come into see me are behaving in ways that block relationship, or back-and-forth healthy interactions. They do this by being verbally aggressive or harsh on the talking side, and defensive or shutting down on the receiving side – a couple cannot communicate if this is what is going on. What we need in a relationship is for both partners to be able to keep their emotional walls down so they can communicate and connect on an ongoing basis. You do this by being respectful and making it safe for the other person to talk to you by remaining calm and adult-like in what you say, and in how you receive information.
Here’s a few rules of thumb on how to do this:
• When you become aware of an issue with your partner, don’t let it sit too long.
• Choose the right time for the conversation. Don’t ask to talk on the last win-or-lose play of the Super Bowl. Wait until you both have some relaxing space and time and then softly and gently request a conversation.
• The conversation. Your tone and body language must be soft and non-intimidating and your best self must be in charge. Tell your spouse how you feel about a certain situation, then make a humble request that you two work out a change or compromise. Ex: “Honey, it hurts my feelings deeply when you talk to your mother negatively about me. It has a feel of disloyalty to me, so I really need to make a request that you not talk to her about me. Would that be OK? I really need this from you.” If your spouse refuses to cooperate after such a reasonable request, you probably have deeply serious issues a therapist could help you with.
• If your spouse approaches you softly for a conversation, then you as the receiver need to be open and soft in return. Sit in a relaxed, non-defensive position with your best self firmly in control. Make sure your facial expressions and body language are open and relaxed. No matter what your partner requests, promise yourself you will make sure they feel heard by validating their feelings, then respond calmly and respectfully. Ex: “Wow, honey, I see that my confiding to my mother in a negative way has really hurt you and caused you to feel I am disloyal. That is not the kind of husband I want to be. I will not speak to her again. You can be sure of that. I am there for you and I want you to know that. I am so sorry I did something that hurt you so much.”
Remember, the idea in these conversations it to be, kind, soft, respectful and recognizing of each other’s feelings. This is what being relational is. It is creating a peaceful and safe environment so you can talk about your feelings and concerns without fear, and controlling your responses and reactions so your partner can say what they need to say without fear, too. The next important step is to be responsive to what your partner is requesting, so long as it is reasonable. Honoring your partner’s reasonable requests and needs is a very important piece of being relational. You bend, and they bend for you.