Yes, No, Maybe So? Want to Take a Second Look?

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Second chances. Who doesn’t love a good redemption story? As a divorced person, I believe in second chances. I believe in starting over. I believe in growing, change and learning from your mistakes.

But how do you honestly give someone a second chance especially if trust is an issue and what are some good reasons for doing so?

I recently read an article about some couples who broke up and then got back together after either realizing what they gave up, a lot of internal reflection, personal growth and some groveling.

I think if two people honestly want to give something another go, why not go for it? But the key word is “two.” Do both people truly want the other person or is just because someone is lonely or just craves company or attention?

I know couples who have divorced and remarried and made a successful go of it. I know couples who have been on the brink of divorce and worked things out. Many of these couples say the key to their success was a variety of things but open communication was consistently the common denominator.

There’s a ton of advice and articles written on the subject. Some say you should work out your problems. I think in some cases (especially in infidelity) that is certainly viable. But I think a lot of issues between couples come down to communication, trust and differing expectations or places in life.

No matter the problem, if both people are willing to put in the effort, and personally work on self-awareness and growth, it has the possibility to work. But if one person isn’t “all in” or isn’t willing to commit the effort, the possibility of success seems unlikely.

I went through an exercise of a pros and cons list to determine if I wanted to give someone a second chance. I wrote out all of his characteristics, values, habits, etc. and divided them into the two columns. It wasn’t as simple as adding up each side to see which was longer because sometimes, those things in the “con” column carry a lot of weight and are big deals.

We all make mistakes. I know I have. Sometimes I don’t communicate effectively. Sometimes I get emotional.

In the end, I determined I didn’t have sufficient information to make an informed decision.

But how do you build trust?

Truth About Deception gives some great tips on rebuilding trust:

  1. Create Understanding
  2. Apologize effectively
  3. Explain point of view
  4. Make promises
  5. Follow through on promises
  6. Discuss how promises are being kept

Pyschology Today has additional suggestions:

  1. Forgive yourself
  2. Forgive the other person
  3. Trust yourself
  4. Trust the other person

What I learned after my divorce is to trust myself and know my own truth. After the lies, deception, cheating, manipulation and gas lighting during my marriage, it’s been hard to figure out if I’m seeing something through that filter or if something is really off. Sadly, I know many women in that same boat. Experience with dating and talking to tons of people about their relationships has helped immensely.

I believe that a person’s actions speak louder than their words and if a person shows you they want another chance and puts in the effort, then it may be worth a second look especially if their plus column is pretty long.

I think in the end, we all want someone who can appreciate us for who we are, short-comings and all. Someone who can see our weaknesses and love us because of them not in spite of them. Someone we can grow with and do life with. Someone who challenges us to be better and explore the things we love. Someone who excites us and creates energy. Someone who has a similar or complimentary vibe.

I have a sign in my house that says “we do second chances.” Sometimes I ask my boys if they want to try something again or rephrase something especially when they get cheeky. We get do-overs because that’s how we learn and get better. It seems that applying that same mind-set to relationships would be beneficial. Extending grace to someone else who is equally imperfect but still lovable seems like a win-win in my book.

Learning From the Fall

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“If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall.” Brene Brown

When we were kids, we fell, we got up and we tried again. It is what we were taught… I had some pretty serious falls growing up and learned lessons from each of them. What I’ve realized as an adult is that I was more fearless as a child than I am as an adult.

Around the time I started elementary school, I decided that I would roller skate up a steep asphalt incline that was probably way steeper than I should have attempted. I got a couple of strides in before I fell, my knees and elbows hit first, but then I hit my chin and I bit thru my tongue. Blood went everywhere, I skated the rest of the way home for my mother to bandage me up and ask what in the world I was thinking. I learned not to roller-skate up hill, that there are better ways to fall than elbows and knees first and that some scars never go away. While the scars may remain, I also learned that you can and must learn to forget about them.

Another time, I was at my grandparents’ lake house with my cousins. We were jumping off a couch even though we’d been told numerous times not to. All of the adults were outside and we thought we could jump further if we gained enough height. I landed on the coffee table chin first and put a hole through my mentolabial sulcus (that indented part between your lower lip and chin). I still have that scar and learned a practical lesson: if you’re going to jump, the area should be clear.

Before my grandfather passed away, he decided (after much pestering on my part) to let me learn to ride a moped. I was in 4th or 5th grade. I knew how to balance and drive down the road fairly well, so I tried to turn in the street. I didn’t have the feel for giving it enough gas and turning part.

The first time, I turned too sharply and dumped the moped on top of me. That didn’t work, so the next time, I tried taking a wider turn but let off the gas too much and dumped the moped again. Take three: I took a wider turn and gave it more gas. I almost made it, but then didn’t turn sharp enough and gave it too much gas. I aimed straight for the curb and flipped over the moped. It was the first time I actually saw stars (like in the cartoons). It knocked the breath out of me and scared my grandfather to pieces. The third time was not a charm for me, but I got back up and did it right the next time.

Each of those falls taught me something. In elementary school I was more pragmatic, willing to learn and let my ego go than I am as an adult.

For whatever reason, as we age, many of us say that falling hurts more. It bruises our ego when we feel we should’ve learned a particular lesson earlier in life. The past several times I went skiing, I kept saying I wanted to learn how to snowboard, but I backed down because I didn’t know if I had it in me to repeatedly fall (fail) and get back up and do it again. I lacked the bravery I had when I was a kid. Sometimes, we don’t allow ourselves to get into situations where we are likely to fail whether it’s learning something new, going for a job or promotion we want or just making ourselves vulnerable to another human being.

In the last couple of years, I’ve learned that falling isn’t so bad after all. I still carry the scars and the lessons learned from my many falls, but the wisdom and experience gained from each one is invaluable. My friends have seen me at my most vulnerable and still love me anyway. I earned a great deal of respect from my children seeing me fall and get back up. In fact, my connections with those people in my life are even stronger.

I learn a great deal from my falls, they make me wiser and stronger. I’ve become that same pragmatic little girl who picked the asphalt out of her knees and said, “Well that didn’t work” and tried it a different way.

We just have to remember that if we fall, we shouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed about it. It just means we are trying. We are putting ourselves through growth to become a better version of ourselves. So whether you’ve recently gone through a divorce and are putting your dating stilettos back on, or learning how to parent your child on your own, or are just feeling stuck, remember that falling doesn’t mean failure. It just means that that way didn’t work. Being brave doesn’t mean doing it right the first time. Being brave is falling repeatedly and getting back up again, stronger and wiser.

Erecting Boundaries, Not Walls, To Protect Myself

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I’m a sensitive person. So far, I’ve lost my younger sister followed quickly by my mother and then my grandfather who helped raise me. As a result, I built walls, really thick, tall walls, to protect myself from being hurt.

Growing up, I was friendly to most people, but only let a few people get close. I tended to be more of a relationship person, preferring to develop close relationships with a few rather than date around. All of this was a way to protect myself from being hurt.

I wasn’t aware of the concept of boundaries until after my divorce when I learned what to look for when someone crosses my boundaries. Up until then, I just built walls to keep people out.

I had set boundaries with my kids, but I didn’t think of them that way. When they whined, I loving looked at them and let them know when they could speak where I could understand them, we could talk. I held firm. I was able to do that with my children because of the way I had been raised and modeled my parenting that way.

However, I hadn’t really seen examples of that in the context of romantic relationships. The only thing I truly understood about boundaries had to do with sex. But what about boundaries when it comes to how you’re treated?

I tend to learn through reading, processing and then discussing with others. One of the best books I’ve read on boundaries is “Boundaries in Dating” by Cloud and Townsend.

There were a lot of “a-ha” moments for me and situations where I found I had been on the receiving end and guilty of some things.

Some of it you read, and think, “Well, duh,” but I’ve never honestly focused on it and processed it in terms of a relationship. I haven’t analyzed relationships and what I’m feeling. I’ve had some key takeaways in forming my boundaries for future relationships. Here are some quotes that rang true with me.

  • “Loss of Freedom to Be Oneself.” My relationships with people are the most important thing to me. I’m happiest when I put effort into maintaining those. I’m happiest when I’m free to be me. If I’m alienated from my family, friends, church or the things I love, it makes me vulnerable.
  • “Many people with boundary problems overstep their bounds and don’t know when to stop giving of themselves.” Ding, ding, ding. I’m soo guilty of this.
  • “Good boundaries help you know how much to give, and when to stop giving.”
  • “Truthfulness is everything.”
  • “Where there is deception there is no relationship.”
  • “The real problem is that when you are with someone who is deceptive, you never know what reality is.”
  • “It is one thing to have loved and lost. It is another thing to have loved and been lied to.”
  • “There is nothing wrong with dating someone, enjoying their company, and finding out where a relationship is going to go. That is almost a definition of the dating circumstance. But as soon as someone is sure that dating is not going where another person thinks or hopes that it is, that person has a responsibility to tell the other one clearly and honestly. Anything less is deceitful and harmful.”
  • “Compliant people have a habit of attracting controlling, self-centered people anyway, and you do not want to do that.”
  • “If you are dating someone, and there is a problem in some way that he or she has treated you or some hurt that you have suffered, you must be honest. Being honest resolves the hurt or the conflict. When you are honest, how the other person responds, tells you whether a real, long-term, satisfactory relationship is possible.”
  • “A lot is lost…if both people are not facing hurt and conflict directly. In reality, a conflict-free relationship is probably a shallow relationship.”
  • “People who can handle confrontation and feedback are the ones who can make relationships work. If you get serious with someone who cannot take feedback about hurt or conflict, then you are headed for a lifetime of aloneness, resentment and perhaps even abuse.”
  • “Two Types of Liars. There are liars who lie out of shame, guilt, fear of conflict or loss of love, and other fears. They are the ones who lie when it would be a lot easier to tell the truth. They fear the other person’s anger or loss of love. The second category are liars who lie as a way of operating and deceive others for their own selfish ends. Just plain old lying for love of self.”
  • “Lying destroys.”
  • “Probably every human being is growing in his or her ability to be direct and completely vulnerable with feelings and deeper things of the heart.”
  • “I have to be with someone who is honest with me about what they are thinking and feeling.”
  • Don’t become attracted to someone’s attraction to you. I’m summarizing here. You want to make sure you’re attracted to someone’s character and values.
  • Don’t be hampered by your insecurities. Be with the kind of person you truly want to be with, not just someone who is safe.
  • Reflect on long-term patterns of someone.
  • “Fear of the Unknown.” By minimizing differences, you keep your relationship pleasant, superficial and covertly dishonest. Indirectness is a problem and limits how close you can be to someone.
  • “Destructive Personal Traits such as “is defensive instead of open to feedback. Is self-righteous instead of humble. Demands trust instead of proving himself trustworthy. Avoids closeness. Things only about himself instead of the relationship and the other person. Is controlling and resists freedom. Condemns. Plays “one up” or acts parental. Is a negative influence. Gossips. Is overly jealous or suspicious. Negates pain. Is overly angry.”
  • “Love satisfies. It does not leave you romantically pining.”
  • “Say no to letting your heart get involved with a person whom you would not choose as a friend.”
  • “Deal with each relationship on its own merit so that it will not interfere with others.”
  • “Romance is great. Sexuality is great. Attraction is great. But here is the key: If all of those are not built upon lasting friendship and respect of that person’s character, something is wrong.”
  • The difference between a healthy romance and a romanticized friendship.
  • “Pay attention to things like openness, freedom, mutuality and the like.”
  • Being afraid to deal with our deficits and looking for someone else to fulfill those. “It is about using another person to avoid dealing with our own souls. When we decide to stop piggybacking on someone else’s strengths, they are not the problem. We are. And growth can begin.”
  • “When you depend on another person for what you should be developing, you no longer have control or freedom in that aspect of your life.”
  • The difference between taking in “love, comfort and instruction of others in order to grow spiritually and emotionally,” and a relationship that has dependency but no growth.
  • “Dependency that does not lead to growth ultimately creates more immaturity in the person.”
  • “Opposites often depend on each other. That is not the problem as long as that dependency spurs each member on to maturity and completeness.”
  • “Attraction based on values is much more mature than attraction based on what you don’t have inside.”
  • “Set boundaries on your tendencies to rescue each other from your character deficits.”
  • “Be agents of growth, healing, and change for each other, specifically in these issues.”
  • “Don’t be someone you are not just to gain someone’s love. As soon as she had begun to be a real person with needs and desires of her own, he was unable to deal with the equality. It was his way or the highway.”
  • “Be yourself from the beginning. A relationship like that has mutuality and partnership. It has give and take. It has equality. It has sharing and mutual self-sacrifice. You will quickly find out if you are with someone who is able to share, or someone who has to have his or her own way all the time.”
  • “Don’t Be Kidnapped. He just had subtly negated most of the people and things that were important to her.”
  • “It is interesting sometimes to see how the people who love someone often express the anger that the person is unable to express themselves.”
  • “She was being separated from her friends, support systems, and everything that was important to her, even her values.”
  • While dating, don’t allow yourself to be separated. Our support systems: “gives us emotional support, truth and wisdom, courage to take strong stands and values or morals, take strong stands with hurtful people, comfort and strength to let go and grieve difficult situations and people, the knowledge and skills that we do not possess.”
  • “Faith, hope and love remain. If someone can keep hope going, then through faith and love, great things can be accomplished. it is not false hope.”
  • “False hope makes the heart sick. When we hope and hope and yet nothing happens and there is no reason to keep hoping other than hope itself, then despair settles in.
  • It’s detail and wishful thinking.”
  • “You cannot blame another person if you are not treating her righteously. We must get the log out of our own eye first (Matthew 7:3-5).”
  • “God accepts reality about the person, grieves his expectations and forgives. he faces the reality of who a person is, forgives that person, and then works with the reality of who he or she is.”
  • “God gives change a chance. God waits for the change process to work.”
  • “God is longsuffering, not eternal suffering. it ends at some point when it is clear that the person is not using what is being given to grow. God withdraws effort. Not because he is mean, but because it is clear that waiting would not make any more difference.”
  • “Principles like honesty, kindness, firm boundaries, forgiveness, responsibility, faithfulness and the like will protect you.”
  • “Silence, coldness, distance and sarcasm can do the same damage as words do.”
  • “If the good is not worth the bad, you can leave.”

Honestly, this book is full of great advice. I highly recommend it for anyone who is dating or in a relationship and interested in making it better. Boundaries are about letting the right people in. Walls just keep everyone out. Boundaries allow you to have meaningful connections with healthy people; walls do not.

A Time of Discovery: 14 Things I Learned Since Divorce

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In the year and half since my divorce, I have learned more about myself than I did during the previous 10 years. Someone I met right after my divorce asked me what has been the most valuable thing I’ve learned.

I can tell you, it’s been a year of discovery. Do you remember when your toddler discovered how to crawl, how to walk, or discovered a new flower? Everything was new and exciting and wonderful. Do you remember that look of pure joy on their faces.

That has been my life during these 18 months of freedom. Just like a toddler, I’ve stumbled, I’ve fallen and I’ve gotten back up to explore some more, all with eyes wide open at the world before me.

I’ve learned:

Resilience: I’m more resilient than I thought. I’ve learned that my kids are too.

Patience: Some things do indeed take time. Although I’m typically extremely patient with kids and most people, I prefer quick solutions to problems. I tend to see problematic situations and conflicts as something that needs immediate attention and problem-solving. But some situations just don’t work that way.

My faults: I have several and I’ve become keenly aware of my short-comings and what I need to work on.

Independence: Growing up, I was fiercely independent and strong-willed. I lost that somewhere during my marriage, but I have found it again.

Family: is my core That sounds like a no-brainer. My kids have always been my first priority. But staying in an abusive marriage where you are disrespected in front of your kids is not, in my opinion, putting your kids first. I thought it was for a long time. Instead, it gave my boys the idea that I was weak. They don’t think that anymore. I also allowed myself to be separated from my family. Getting back to my roots has given me stability and strength.

I don’t care what other people think: This is something that has been rather constant during non-stressful times. But when things got tough and the person I trusted broke me down, I suddenly cared what everyone thought. I was concerned about what people were saying. It was stupid and will drive you crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I do listen to my friends and take their advice and constructive criticism into consideration, but I no longer allow what others think to dictate my own self image.

Communication style: I prefer direct, honest communication. It doesn’t always mean it has to be delivered harshly, but I prefer to let people know where they stand with me and expect the same from them.

Weed the garden: Not everyone is invited into my circle and I’m not always invited into someone else’s. And I’m good with that.

Kindness and compassion is the key to my happiness: I make mistakes. So do others. I think everyone deserves second chances, sometimes multiple chances. I care more about a person’s heart and intentions. I love to love. Happiness is a daily, hourly choice. I’m kinder toward myself and allow myself to learn, grow and make mistakes. I’ve stopped beating myself up when I make a mistake. I learn and move on.

Different Loves: I learned what it was to actually be in love with someone. I learned how I feel when I am in love and more about what I’m looking for in that special relationship. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t work for me. More importantly, I’ve learned that I’m truly happy with waiting for the right person at the right time. I’ve learned that I can still love someone’s essence and how I feel around them even if I don’t love how they treated me.

Conflict avoidance: I do not like conflict. I want everyone to hold hands and sing kumbaya. I read books on conflict resolution. Can’t we all just get along? But sometimes in my effort to fix something, I make it worse. Sometimes, the better choice is to simply walk away from people I will never see eye-to-eye with and who have vastly different values than I do. Sometimes, the choice to be kind to myself means not engaging with people who make me anxious or uncomfortable. Learning when to work toward a resolution and when to walk away has been a big discovery.

Reflection: I need time to reflect on my thoughts, feelings and emotions. I need time to reflect on big decisions, to weigh the pros and cons, to figure out why some things work and some things don’t. I do a lot of that through writing. I do some of it by reading. I do some of it when I’m running, working out, driving in my car or talking to friends. It’s part of my self-care and something I’ve learned to respect. When I push that time aside for a busy social, work and single-parent calendar, my body revolts, tells me to sit down, pause and just be. AND, I love to vacation by myself!

Reality is a mind-set: Success is a mind-set. Happiness is a mind-set. What you focus on is what you will become and what your reality will be. If you have sad thoughts, you will be sad. If you believe the world is your oyster and you should seize every opportunity, then you do. Just like the music you listen to can alter your mood, the thoughts in your head will direct your actions.

When one door closes another one opens: I know it’s a cliche. But sometimes, it’s a cliche because it’s so true. When things are taken away, you have the opportunity to fill it with something even better.

The one thing that has been constant since I was a little girl is that time is precious. Time with my children, time with my friends, time to myself. My mother’s death taught me that in spades. Nothing is guaranteed. I tell my friends and family how I feel about them. I hug, I laugh and I choose happiness every day. Life is too short to hold onto grudges or to be around people who bring you down or create a toxicity in your life.

Filling My Child’s Emotional Cup

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After my divorce, I heard about the book, “Five Love Languages.” I was intrigued by the thought that you could speak to someone and possibly fill up their cup if you knew what love language they spoke. I was also curious to know what mine would be. But as I was reading the book, I saw that not only can it apply to your romantic relationships, but also to your friendships and your kids too.

Realizing that my thought was probably not an original one, I looked to see if author Gary Chapman had written any books about children and found “The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers.” I stopped reading “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” and picked up a book that would actually make a difference in my life.

The divorce, the aftermath of the divorce and my children’s father’s impending criminal trial have taken a toll on my boys. Although we do a lot to focus on healing, resilience and that our thoughts have more control on our mood than external forces, I wanted to see if there was something I could do to help them get through it.

When you hear the five love languages (words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch) you can kinda guess which ones mean the most to your loved ones. I think most people give love the way they want to receive it.

However, reading the book increased my understanding of each, the subsections of each and how to go about filling their love tanks and giving them the emotional support they need in the way they need it. The book also provides ideas on how to go about fulfilling those needs.

Honestly, a lot of the tips are things you pick up intuitively about your children, but it focused my attention on what means the most to them. So, if your child tends to readily do things for you, their primary love language may be acts of service.

It’s also helped me identify what my primary love language is as well. When you identify what it is and how you can speak their language, it helps strengthen those connections and bonds with your children.

Quality time is one of my boy’s languages and part of that is quality conversation. He has always loved to have long, deep conversations at bedtime. For a long time, I thought he just wanted to delay going to sleep. I enjoyed them so much that we would usually talk for 30 minutes before I’d cut it off and make him go to sleep.

Thankfully, those bedtime conversations have extended to talking in the car and just randomly throughout the day. I’ve learned that he prefers to have them when it’s just the two of us so I ensure he and I get that one-on-one time together. But it also includes sharing funny videos, singing loudly and off-key together and doing a number of other silly things.

One of the most important things I did while reading the book was to talk to my boys about the different love languages. I wanted them to guess which is their primary love language. (They LOVE these kind of conversations and getting in touch with their emotions and feelings btw. Doesn’t every teenage boy? They humor me. They’re sweet.) But, it helped confirm my guesses.

Chapman’s website also offers a free test you can take to determine yours and your children’s. I scored high on a few of them which is not uncommon. What was the most interesting is that my boys primary love languages ended up being my top two as well. I probably would’ve said that physical touch was one of my top, because there are times when a hug just makes everything better, but it ended up as fourth on my list.

My other son’s love language is the one I grew up with, how I was raised and how I’ve raised him. Acts of service isn’t just about doing things for others. For me, it’s also about teaching them independence so they can be successful. It’s about family and helping out the family to take care of all of the things we need to take care of so that we are all fulfilled and our responsibilities are met.

In the end, it has been a focused learning experience on how I can best communicate with my boys and provide them the support they need in the most effective way.

Order book if you’re interested.

6 Tips for Surviving Your First Holiday Season After Divorce

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Change can be hard. Depending on your arrangement, you may or may not have your kids for Thanksgiving or Christmas. No matter your situation, here are some tips on not only surviving the holiday season, but for thriving.

  1. Create New Traditions Look at this as a great opportunity to do things your way. Were there things you did during the holidays that didn’t bring you joy? Think about the traditions you had and want to keep. Think about traditions you loved that got dropped during your marriage. Find new traditions by talking to friends and searching online. I love being active and playing football (or some kind of sport) on Thanksgiving. My ex liked to sit on the couch so we never did those things. My boys loved spending our first Thanksgiving with my family and doing fun things like playing football and Twister.
  2. Practice Self Care Remember to go easy on yourself. The holidays are hectic. They can be stressful and busy for some and lonely and awkward for others. No matter where you are on that spectrum, remember to not isolate yourself. As human beings, we crave connections. We want to be around people who understand us and “get” us. So, whether that’s your family or your friends, make sure to spend time with them. That first season, I cut back on my social schedule. I spent more time with close friends and family where it felt like a warm blanket on a cold night and made sure I did things that brought me comfort.
  3. Make a Budget Too often, we try to recreate the gift giving we were able to do when there were two incomes. Accept that there is just one income. Remember when you were a kid? What do you remember most? The feeling of family or the gifts you received? My favorite holiday memories are when we went to my great grandparents house at the lake. Those times with all of my cousins, eating, playing games, having fun and watching football are some of my favorite. Trying to stretch your finances thin will just increase your stress.
  4. Answer Questions Factually If your children are small, they may not understand why their other parent isn’t there. Even older children may not truly understand that a divorce means you aren’t getting back together and what that first year truly looks like. Understand that they will be upset. It isn’t that they don’t want to be with you, it’s just that they miss their other parent too. Tell them that you understand their feelings and it’s okay that they miss them and that it’s normal. You can also explain (if this is the case) that they’ll get two Christmases – one with mom and one with dad.
  5. Help Others Helping others and seeing other people in different and sometimes worse circumstances can help give you perspective. Remember that to give is to receive. When you focus on making someone else’s day brighter, making someone else’s smile bigger, it takes the focus away from your pain and discomfort. It also gives your problems perspective.
  6. Be Patient Understand that the first year will be hard, not only on you, but also your children as you all adjust to a new normal. You may not get everything right all of the time. It’s okay because we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up over them. Learn from them and move on. This is my biggest hurdle. When there is a problem or something that hurts my children, I want to fix it.

We are a product of our environment and what we choose to focus on. When we focus on positive images and joyfulness, we can internalize that and spread joy. If we focus on what we don’t have and negative images, that is what we will spread. May your holidays be merry and bright!

Post Divorce: What I Learned on 30 First Dates

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After my divorce, I had little idea what kind of guy I wanted to end up with. I met my ex-husband when I was 19. Prior to that, I only had a handful of relationships, but always had lots of guy friends.

I decided to be open to dating the whole spectrum: guys from their mid-20s to early-60s with incomes ranging from hourly workers to men with enough personal wealth they don’t ever have to work another day in their life. It spanned professional athletes to desk jockeys. I thought I’d find some commonalities between age groups or income/education levels, but nope. Communications styles, levels of commitment, levels of energy, and the way they treated me all differed. It just boils down to the individual and what type of guy he is.

Honestly, when I was going through my divorce, besides finances, getting back into the dating scene was one of the most terrifying thoughts of being single. But, it’s been enjoyable. Even the skirt chasers are entertaining. I’ve ended up staying friends with a few of my dates and we have enlightening conversations about the different sexes, dating, parenting and just life.

Buyer beware of these types

Bench warmer (still finding myself/still a boy): These guys are the most frustrating because some of them have potential. But if they aren’t going to get off the bench to chase you, you need to move on. They lurk. When you find yourself saying a guy has potential, no matter how many boxes he checks or that feeling you get, you need to move on. If and when he ever decides to step up to bat, then he can get in the game. Until then, you’re better off alone.

Emotionally unavailable: These are harder to spot. Sometimes you can get further down the road with someone and realize they are never going to be able to take a relationship to the next level. Something is holding them back. It may be an ex, or something else that has happened. My friend got mixed up with someone who was very unavailable. It didn’t stop him from pulling her close and then pushing her away. It’s not a good place to be.

Take a hard look at how you feel around him. Do you mostly feel anxiety or do you know where you stand? Even if there are brief periods of feeling amazing, but most of the time you’re just anxious, then they may be emotionally unavailable.

Skirt chaser: These guys are all about the chase. You will never be enough because you aren’t special to them, no one is. They just want a skirt to chase, doesn’t matter which skirt, so long as they are “in the game.” Once they feel they’ve caught you, they don’t know what to do with you and they’re on to the next one. This one is easier to spot quickly, just look at his Facebook friend list. TONS of single women? Yep, red flag.

The funniest example of this was when I went to a work conference. Some mutual friends introduced me to this guy (I’m assuming it was for the sole reason of us both being single, because as soon as he opened his mouth, I was like ‘no’.) He grabbed my phone and put in his number using the nickname “hot pants.” Classy. I bumped into him throughout the conference and he made no effort to be discreet when he’d check out a woman. I’m talking craned neck, walking backward. Total cheese. Subcategory: F-boy as in “send me a pic babe.” No Thanks!

I do kinda feel bad for them. There will always be someone prettier, funnier, sweeter, hotter, whatever-er. What they don’t understand is that there’s always someone “better” than them too – hotter, more successful, fitter, etc. What matters is that someone choses you for you and for all of your quirks.

The rescuer: These guys want someone to take care of, or rescue. They barely know you and they want to spoil you, take you on trips, fly you away and just overwhelm you with stuff. For me, this means strings and a cage. No thanks, I’m not a puppet. I’d rather be single and independent. This does not include someone who is just trying to do something nice for you or be there for you after you’ve gotten to know each other. That’s normal. Pampering is one thing, trying to rescue you or buy your love? No Thanks!

The narcissist or control freak: Worst date was with a guy who spent the entire brunch talking about himself. If that wasn’t bad enough, he proceeded to order for both of us without consulting me and then told me how the food should be eaten with the different sauces. There aren’t enough mimosas in the world to make that tolerable. RUN!

Stage 5 clinger: Please get off me because I can’t deal with this. I need space. You make me want to move to Mars.

The guy next door: Luckily, most guys seem to fall in this category. They’re just normal, run-of-the-mill nice guys.

You may see yourself a bit in each of those categories, but these guys take things to a whole different level. Here’s the big self-awareness thing I learned: I’ve been guilty of being in most of these categories while going through my divorce (yep, another reason not to date before your divorce is final or for the first year after).

Lessons learned

Dating different guys helped me create a list of characteristics for what I want, which is a helpful exercise. I’m not married to that list though. I’ve noticed that a guy can check all of the boxes, but it comes down to that connection. It’s either there or it isn’t.

The whole process of dating allowed me to figure out what dating process make me the most comfortable, and what it will look like for anyone to be successful with me.

We all have baggage. It boils down to which imperfections you can live with. Those who are self-aware, warm, genuine and empathetic are the ones who are easiest for me to be around. A guy who is a kid at heart while also being responsible and having his sh*t together would be awesome.

The key lesson for me? Finding someone who captures my imagination and lights me on fire is rare. Like “shooting star” rare. I didn’t find that shooting star until after my divorce. It’s like eating McDonalds all of your life and then tasting something from Odd Duck or Trulucks. You just can’t go back to McDonalds. Even if you’re starving, break down and go through the drive-through anyway, it’s never satisfying so you’re just back to square one and craving some crab cakes.

Unfortunately, that shooting star didn’t work out, so I’ll just make a lot of friends in the meantime and hope another comes along. After all, there are a lot of stars and one of them will eventually shoot through the sky.

Because another thing I’ve learned is that there’s a TON of single people and guys are willing to drive and fly for miles just to go on a date with you.

Here’s to finding that shooting star!

The Shame Game and Domestic Violence

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In Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly,” she discusses shame, the importance of understanding and combating it. She says, “Language and story bring light to shame and destroy it.” She couldn’t be more right.

When I decided to leave my ex-husband for good, he set out to shame me in every way possible: my weight, my age, my looks, my ability as a mother, my worthiness as a future wife or partner, my ability to support myself and our children. Of course, that behavior had started long before, but it had never been a concerted, targeted and daily effort. He put all he had into it. He was laser-focused and deadly accurate. After all, we’d had 20 years together. He knew my fears and my weaknesses.

He began an ongoing campaign to strip away the rest of my self-worth and my safety in every way possible. And he succeeded to a certain degree. His determination to “make me pay” was terrifying. His complete lack of remorse, his objectification of the mother of his children was fascinating from a research perspective, but mostly it was just frightening. He was cold. There was no remorse or empathy.

An absolute mess, I felt like I was drowning. I lived in a constant fight or flight mode while trying to function as a mom, car pool driver, friend, daughter and employee.

Near rock bottom and backed into another corner, something in me said, “eff that.” Why am I letting him define me? Why am I letting him determine my happiness? My future? My self-worth? Why am I continuing to give him control of my life? Isn’t that part of why I left?

Something happens when your deepest fears of shame and humiliation are reached, you realize that you have nothing else to lose. I also began to share with some of my friends what I was going through, even though some had already witnessed it. Their empathy and reassurance, combined with my new “eff that” attitude, was the life raft I needed to keep from drowning.

It was freeing. I decided I truly didn’t care what he thought. His issues are just that, HIS issues. I began to rebuild. I focused on the untethered joy I feel when I am with my children, my friends and alone. I focused on God, on the love I have for others, on loving myself.

Then he was arrested. His story hit the news and my first thought was to take my kids and return home to the safety and comfort of my family. All I could think of was, “we have to move.” How would my kids survive this? Other kids can be mean.

Then I took a moment to calm down. I’ve lost several loved ones and know from experience that one of the worst things you can do is make life-altering decisions in a crisis. So I took stock.

I was a child when my mom died. My family kept my day-to-day the exact same. I was not uprooted and it made the adjustment of life without her easier. I realized I couldn’t uproot my children and take them away from their friends, their schools, their neighborhood and everything they had ever known even if I just wanted the comfort and security of my family.

But then a great thing happened. There was an outpouring of support. For me. And more importantly, for my children. There was empathy, compassion and a love from my neighborhood. (If you’ve seen “Bad Moms” I’m talking about the PTA moms, the stay-at-home moms, the working moms, the soccer moms…) I had known these families for years. They rallied around us and I am forever grateful and humbled by their compassion, love and offers of help. Those connections helped me see past the pain and humiliation.

One of the things I hear most is that people are impressed with my strength. But the thing is, I was never truly alone. Those connections, those bonds, those relationships that I formed with all of those families have never been broken. Those connections are what keep us intact. Brene Brown writes, “A social wound needs a social balm, and empathy is that balm.” Community is that balm.

I realized from friends who moved away from our neighborhood that what we have is unique. The bonds we formed when we built our houses, stayed at home and nurtured not only our own kids but each others, are solid and unique. That lesson was learned a thousand fold. Those same people who lift you up, who care about you and yours, they see your vulnerability and love you for your weaknesses and your strengths. That feeling of community and God’s grace is truly a blessing.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes and will continue to make more. We’re human, we all do. But I won’t be shamed by those mistakes. Yes, I’ll feel guilt and I’ll be sorry when and if my actions don’t align with my values. I’ll try to learn from them so I don’t repeat them.

What I’ve also learned is that I can hold what has happened apart from who I am. I can remember the love I once felt for him, be thankful for my beautiful children and forgive myself for not seeing ALL of the red flags and staying through years of abuse. I forgive my 19-year-old self and all of the excuses in the last 20 years. I can also feel compassion toward someone who was clearly hurt at some point before I ever came along and who could ever want to hurt someone so badly to want to “make them pay” for everything that has ever gone wrong in their life.

My girlfriend works for a domestic abuse association. She is the one who encouraged me to write, to tell my story, to help others. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, nearly 3 in 10 women (29%) and 1 in 10 men (10%) in the US have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by a partner and report a related impact on their functioning. Domestic abuse takes many forms.

Shaming is a way that abusers keep people trapped. Shaming is a way they keep their victims silent. You feel that you have no where else to go, but you do. Once you understand that you are enough, it makes it harder to shame you. “When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.”

I know it’s hard to share. This is painful to write and even more so to publish. There will be people who judge, who will see me as a victim. No one wants to be viewed that way. That’s why you stay silent. You keep that shit shoved in a closet and put a smile on your face. But it’s important to share. To not be silenced or shamed. You are not defined by others choices. Your life is what you make it.

Remember and Know that You Are Enough and when you are ready, Choose Joy.

Financial Lessons Learned When Divorcing a Narcissist

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We’ve all heard the saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But when you’re trying to leave an abusive relationship, negotiating how to divide your assets may seem less important than physical safety or just keeping your sh*t together for your kids and your job.

Even if you aren’t leaving a toxic relationship, divorce is stressful and often brings out the worst in people. No matter what your ex says or does, your financial health and what you take away from the marriage is to help establish a good, stable and financially-secure home for your children.

My ex told me all kinds of crazy things that, embarrassingly, I fell for. He was/is connected to our legal community and used his status to manipulate, bully and threaten me into a “uncontested” divorce which he quietly took to a local judge who signed off on it.

Just remember, to a narcissist, everything is your fault and he is the victim. Wrap your head around that and you’ll have a better chance of taking your emotions out of it and making better decisions when he tells you something/offers advice. It’s similar to when your toddler threw a fit or whined to try and get something. You look at them calmly and let them know where your boundaries are.

He said if I pushed for half of our assets, I’d lose and get nothing. He said he would also take our children away from me if I tried to go after any of our assets and that I wasn’t entitled to child support.

I forgot how much it actually costs to set up an entire household. Most people accumulate their things over time, like when you go away to college and start a home with your spouse. Starting over by buying home essentials, kids clothes, furniture, etc. adds up quick.

You need to have a thorough and comprehensive look at your financial situation and plan accordingly. There are several things you want to avoid when dividing your assets especially with a narcissist.

Don’t:

  • Get emotional. Stick to the business of dividing assets. It doesn’t matter who did what.
  • Assume that they will be fair and act in the best interest of your children.
  • Just walk away. Not only did I think that there was a chance that what he was telling me was true, but I also thought that if I just let him win, the abuse would stop. People say that the path of least resistance can be the best policy when extricating yourself from a narcissist. I disagree. And my experience has proven that his “wins” are ultimately never enough and only pacify him for a short period of time.
  • Take all of the debt. Unsecured debt is a shared liability, not just the person’s whose name it is in.
  • Settle for less than half of your assets. I put him through law school and was the primary bread winner until I had our second child. At that point, I quit my job to stay at home and raise our kids. His reasoning was that since I supported us for six years and he supported us for 12, I wasn’t entitled to anything. It didn’t matter that my 401k went to him to start his law practice, or that I bought our first home, which we still owned, or that my family kept us afloat during his lean years, or that my income made up 1/3 to 1/2 of our monthly family income (at least the part I saw.)
  • Skip Discovery. Between his business accounts and cash from his clients, I had no idea how much money he made. Discovery is key.
  • Underestimate the value of property. Rental properties are worth more than just their actual value.
  • Forget to evaluate pension plans and other retirement.
  • Forget to look at your long-term financial health and the needs of your children. They will need cars, insurance for those cars, college, etc.
  • Underestimate the cost of the kids. Everything from class parties, yearbooks, and school supplies to clothes, extracurricular activities, and school projects costs money. What is a fair division of those? Don’t leave anything off the list. Who pays for summer camp?
  • Confuse community property and separate property.
  • Take your spouse’s word for it. If your spouse owns a business, get a business valuation and have someone seriously look at all financial documents and assets.
  • Let him just wear you down. The whole thing is exhausting even if it isn’t contentious. It’s tempting to just throw your hands in the air and be done. Go exercise instead, or call your girlfriends. Fill yourself up with self care and then look at the financials again.
  • Give up child support or set up a private arrangement. Going through the attorney general’s office allows them to track payments and then enforce on your behalf if things go south. This is much better than having to hire an attorney and take your ex back to court.
  • Shoot for unreasonable timelines. Gathering all of this takes time and yes, it’s draining. If your soon-to-be-ex is a narcissist, you will be in for a long battle.
  • Forget about taxes and deductions. When it comes to filing, things like “head of household” and who claims which child on their taxes needs to be clarified in the divorce.

Women who initiate a divorce can be made to feel guilty especially by a narcissist because they NEED to win. Women often end up walking away from anything that resembles fair. But it isn’t just about being fair, it’s about continuing to provide for your children.

Doing your due diligence when it comes to getting a comprehensive look at your financial affairs is reasonable and equitable. You can’t divide something if you don’t know what that something is. Keeping your wits about you and your emotions in check (easier said than done) is key when divorcing a narcissist.

It’s also important to remember that your lawyer is not a financial advisor. He or she can advise you based on their experiences, but if you have a complicated financial situation, it may be better to hire a specialist. Also, remember that this is not about taking someone to the cleaners or revenge. It is about dividing your assets in a reasonable and equitable way to provide two financially secure homes for your children.

Disclaimer: I’m not a financial adviser or lawyer.

Signs of Abuse and Focusing on What Matters Most

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On the eve of my minor surgery, I’ve taken time to focus on the little things that put a smile on my lips:
My boys’ faces and smiles.
Driving with the windows down at night with the music blaring and my youngest and I belting out the lyrics (all the wind blocks out what a horrific singer I am).
Smelling all of the antiperspirants at HEB because suddenly my youngest has outgrown plain ‘ole deodorant.
All things pumpkin spice.
My beautiful friend who is driving me to and from and staying with me while I’m out like a light and drooling.

It turns out my chronic sinus infections were partly because of the internal damage that happened when my nose was broken years ago. I thought it was simply cosmetic. Because only doctors ever really notice it, I haven’t felt compelled to shell out $3,000 – $4,000 to fix it. I’d rather take a vacation.

But it turns out that a broken nose is more than just a vanity thing. An X-ray showed that my nose is seriously jacked up.

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence comes in a lot of forms and like my nose, it’s the internal damage that you can’t see that can be the most damaging. National statistics show that “on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.”

But those statistics only account for physical abuse. “Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional or psychological abuse.”

Another form of abuse is stalking. “One in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked. Stalking causes the target to fear she/he or someone close to her/him will be harmed or killed.”

In my opinion, gaslighting is one of the worst forms of abuse because it makes you doubt your sanity.

Victims of domestic violence stay silent out of shame and fear. No one wants to be known as a victim of anything. We want to be known for our accomplishments and our positive attributes.
Even if victims do speak up, there is little the law will do unless physical violence actually occurs. And if that victim is stuck in a situation, turning to the authorities gives their abuser more ammunition to use against them.

An abuser seeks control and when they start to lose it, they ramp up their efforts to keep it. Controlling behavior comes in many forms. “Psychology Today” lists the following:

  • Isolating you from friends and family.
  • Chronic criticism – even if it’s small things.
  • Veiled or overt threats, against you or them.
  • Making acceptance/caring/attraction conditional.
  • An overactive scorecard.
  • Using guilt as a tool.
  • Creating a debt you’re beholden to.
  • Spying, snooping or requiring constant disclosure.
  • Overactive jealousy, accusations or paranoia.
  • Not respecting your need for time alone.
  • Making you ‘earn’ trust or other good treatment.
  • Presuming you guilty until proven innocent.
  • Getting you so tired of arguing that you’ll relent.
  • Making you feel belittled for long-held beliefs.
  • Making you feel you don’t ‘measure up’ or are unworthy of them.
  • Teasing or ridicule that has an uncomfortable undercurrent.
  • Sexual interactions that feel upsetting afterwards.
  • Inability or unwillingness to ever hear your point of view.
  • Pressuring you toward unhealthy behaviors, like substance abuse.
  • Thwarting your professional or educational goals by making you doubt yourself.

But there are more subtly controlling behaviors as well.

  • Ingratiating behavior
  • Never being understood
  • Silent treatment
  • Expecting mind reading
  • Defining problems
  • Black and White – everything is just fine or horrible.
  • Asking questions
  • Excessive talking
  • Never agreeing
  • Pretending not to understand others
  • Abusing truisms
  • Trolling
  • Lying

After being criticized daily and told that I was old and fat, I started working out again. Fifteen pounds lighter and back in shape, it didn’t matter to him. I still wasn’t good enough for him. But what I saw was that I would never be. In fact, no would ever be good enough for him because the problem was with him, not me or anyone else. Taking care of myself lead not just to physical changes but mental ones as well. That discipline made me mentally and physically stronger. Strong enough to actually, finally, leave.

Getting away is a win. I’ve never been happier even on the days when he files motions that cost me thousands of dollars, time off and energy to fight it. It’s a win because I’m free and no longer a daily puppet in his show. Eventually it will all come to end. He’ll get tired of fighting or end up in jail. I believe in karma, the goodness of the world and God.

Restraining orders are hard to get. Lawyers are costly. The system is designed to protect the abuser more than the victim. But I can honestly tell you that it can be done. You don’t have to end up in the hospital to get away. And on those days that just suck and don’t go your way, you can focus on the little things that put a smile on your face.

5 Controlling and Manipulative Relationship Signs to Watch Out For, Because Love Isn’t Supposed to Be Restrictive
Subtly Controlling Behavior
20 Signs Your Partner is Controlling
Recognize a Controlling Person