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.

The Problem with Dating Advice

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After getting a divorce, I signed up for online dating sites, read tons of articles about dating and signed up for all kinds of newsletters on dating advice.

I’m approaching my second divorce anniversary (divorceary?), and I was cleaning out my junk email inbox. The many subject lines from these dating newsletters frustrated me.

  • “Top 3 mistakes women make that cause men to lose attraction”
  • “If you’d only known the right thing to say to him…”
  • “Can your clothes really help you attract the guy you want?”
  • “Playfully say this if you want him to ache for you all day long”
  • “A simple way to change his mind and his heart”

All I can say is, are you kidding me?

All of these emails imply that there is something wrong with women. That if we change just a bit, we can catch the man of our dreams.

Women (and probably men too) have enough criticism coming at them. I’m considered an attractive woman, and I do believe that, but there are days when I look in the mirror and all I see are flaws. Most people have those days. We don’t need someone giving us dating advice about how we need to change to attract the right man.

This advice gives the underlying message that men are perfect beings and we just need the right bait to attract that elusive fish. This advice is similar to what a girlfriend told me soon after my divorce. She said I needed to start listening to country music to catch a man, “Um, no.” (I have started listening again, but not to catch a man. I realized that, I do, in fact, like some country music after going to a few concerts with friends.)

But, I’m not going to change my clothes, my look, what kind of music I listen to, or who I am to attract any man. They would be attracted to an imposter anyway and what fun that would be?

Personal Growth

I do believe in personal growth. We can all become a better version of ourselves. And I do take time to reflect on how I could’ve handled a difficult situation better whether that’s a conversation with one of my children, a coworker, friend or a someone I’m dating. But that is just life and what you should do to become a better, happier person.

I want to become a more effective communicator, a more giving person who can stand firm on my boundaries and on how I should be treated. But I want to communicate that in a firm but kind way.

And I know there are things I’ve done to push someone away and there are things men have done to push me away. But that is part of the learning process.

One guy barely communicated in a passive and passive-aggressive way and pushed me away, and another over communicated and pushed me away. It’s different for everyone. There’s no magic bullet, no secret sequence of words on how to catch a woman or man.

Heck, I can’t even tell you what the magic amount of communication is for me.
What I can say is that open, direct, assertive (not aggressive) communication with me is key. Being able to say what you want and need is critical because otherwise how can the other person know if it will ever work or if they can deliver?

Be You

In the movie Field of Dreams the voice says, “build it and they will come.” So, here’s my dating advice: Be the best version of you and the right person will come. Make yourself happy.

The right person will be attracted to you for being you. And I can tell you from experience that I don’t want to date someone who is trying to be someone else. That mask falls off eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later).

I believe in being the most authentic and genuine person you can be. That is how you attract the person of your dreams not by clicking through an email to learn exactly what to say and when. Or to try and guilt you into thinking if you had only known a few key words to capture their heart you wouldn’t have lost them.

When you show up and are vulnerable with the person you are talking to, you are giving your all, and that’s all any of us can hope for. Sometimes it’s a good match and sometimes, not so much.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day Solo: I Love Me

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I don’t have a significant other this Valentine’s Day, I have something better: I have two incredible boys and a ton of friends and family who are simply irreplaceable. I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s a silly made-up holiday to sell a bunch of stuff that will either die (flowers), make you fat (sweets) or just reduce the size of your bank account (jewelry).

But what I love about it is that people everywhere celebrate love. So for the first time ever, I’m making myself my Valentine this year. I love me. I love that I sing loud and off-key in the car and at HEB and really just wherever the mood strikes me. I love that I dance in the open and dance in the rain. I love that I am often unintentionally funny because I do really silly things. I love that I don’t take myself seriously. I love that I’m generous, kind and forgiving. I love that I treat my body like a temple and sometimes like an amusement park. I love that I love amusement parks.

I love that I have courage to keep my boys’ lives steady even when it would be so much easier to move home or just anywhere else and start over. I love that I let myself be vulnerable when it would be easier to say that relationships are for the birds. I love that I have values and boundaries and that my favorite word is one you don’t hear in polite company.

So for all you single peeps celebrating today solo, cheers to you! I hope you remember to love and celebrate yourself today.

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.

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!

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.

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

You’re Not Stuck, You’re Scared

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Making a change can be scary. But unless you’re in prison, you aren’t really stuck. You just can’t make a decision…or can you?

When so much information is at our fingertips, we tend to research things to the nth degree. Analysis paralysis takes over.  What if it doesn’t work out? What if I fail? What if it isn’t the right choice? Am I doing the right thing?

Those questions can swirl around your head with the same effect of water swirling down a toilet. They have the potential to empty you, to drain you, to paralyze you with fear… in short, they are unproductive and add no benefit to your mental health and happiness.

It’s one thing to look at and weigh all your options within a reasonable timeframe. It’s another thing if you let those choices bog you down.  And it’s quite another if you let someone else control you and your choices.

I listened when someone I loved told me I couldn’t make it without him. He said I’d never be able to support myself, that no one would ever hire me because I’d been out of my career for too long. He told me I’d end up like his mother, dependent on others to help me out. He told me I was too old, too fat, too many kids and too ugly for anyone else to love me. He told me no one would ever love me like he did. (God, please I hope not. If so, I haven’t done my due diligence.) He told me that when he was finished with me, I’d be homeless, penniless and I’d lose my children.

With encouragement like that, I was paralyzed with fear and indecision. Even though I knew in my head that those things he said about me were bogus, my heart sometimes would fall into despair and need a reminder that the lies were not real…and not me.

I’ve heard similar things from other women. I’m stuck, how can I support myself? Am I doing the right thing for my kids? Will they be mad at me? Will he turn them against me? Is this the best decision? What will people think if I stay? What will people think if I go?

In “The Power of Love” Sue Johnson lays out the physical effects of love. “Sociologists are also finding that our life partner is often our only reliable source of support and comfort. Love’s function is safety and survival.”

So what happens when that breaks down in a marriage and it’s hard to figure out what the best option is? “Emotional disconnection literally hurts. Brain scans show that rejection by someone we depend on is processed in the same part of our brain, and in the same way, as physical pain.”

Well, I finally stopped being paralyzed with fear. I decided that while I could not control the situation or even control him, I could control how I react to the situation and at least control me. I got back in shape and lost 10 lbs. I landed a full-time job and more than doubled my income from my flexible part-time job. From that moment in time, I stopped letting fear get in the way of making decisions. Even if the decisions may not always be perfect, they were my decisions and it was empowering.

If I thought it was a nightmare being in my marriage, it was nothing compared to what would come after I began to separate myself from my ex and everything that came after our divorce. In almost every instance I felt like it was a dance: two steps forward and one step back. Each chapter brought it’s own challenges and times when I felt stuck, scared and unsure. Fight or flight mode kicks in and makes decision-making nearly impossible.

I’ve heard from others who feel stuck in unhappy situations. I would never be so bold as to tell someone what decision they should make, but I will say that you shouldn’t be scared to make one. Life is now. Why stay stuck in an unhappy situation?

Some were unhappy and decided to make their marriage work. Others decided it was better to leave. But the end result and the point is that they made a choice to make their situation better.

I’ve had a few friends who were afraid about what other people would think about their decision. People will judge. They will take the kernel of information they have and make a decision about your situation. But you can’t live your life trying to please everyone. Because of what I’ve been through, I’ve heard from countless people who are going through all kinds of issues. You never know what someone is going through.  Even those who judge you harshly are most likely dealing with their own issues.

Some people will judge you for leaving. Why didn’t you try harder? But no one else has to live your life. That’s your job. It’s your job to be the best you that you can be and to make yourself happy. You can’t spread joy if you don’t feel it yourself. What comes out of you is what is within you. So if you want to spread joy, you must have it to begin with.

I read somewhere that you should flip a coin, because in that singular moment you’re waiting for it to land, you typically figure out what is in your heart. I also seek advice from friends whose judgement I trust. With all of this information at our fingertips, we often forget to trust in our instincts and listen to our hearts.

You have to trust your decision making is what will lead to the best outcome, not necessarily the path itself. It is all within you if you choose to empower yourself.

The picture above was the trail I ran the other morning. I had no idea where it went or if it would take me in the right direction. But I knew that I would make the choice to enjoy the journey of discovery that this trail had to offer. So, I just kept running and the path lead me to this beautiful fountain. My run this morning was a physical reminder that sometimes you just have to have faith and keep going…

My aunt and uncle have this sign in their bathroom and it was the perfect reminder that a greater power has control of my life. I may not understand why things are happening the way they are, but I have faith that if I can control my fear, I won’t be stuck and God has it under control.

Parenting Through Fiction

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After my children spend time with someone, they come back to me parroting back words of hate targeted to specific groups of people. I know where these words came from and I know that they are not their own words because they are verbatim the words I heard from the person they spend time with.

Words can harm. When planted and continuously fed these same words, they can take root and warp a person’s world view. I’m determined that these words will not be able to take root.

My children are having problems effectively dealing with conflict and each other when they come home. They are quick to anger and quick to call each other names. It’s heartbreaking to watch and to hear the intolerance.

These are not my same sweet children. Like with any other problem, I wanted to find a solution. In typical “me” fashion, I got a book (or two or three).

I’ve read the Harry Potter series to them for years. I bought the newest book and to my surprise, it’s written as a play. So, we all have parts and take turns reading the play at night. Just like the other Potter books, it’s full of great teachable moments about relationships.

This one seems to serve up those teachable moments in almost every scene. It’s been a wonderful example and has provided some great discussion about healthy and unhealthy relationships as well as healthy and unhealthy reactions.

I also turned to a nonfiction book, “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High.”

I had them take the assessment tests to figure out their style under stress. The assessment breaks down the categories into silence or violence, which are the typical reactions to stress. Under silence, you have masking, avoiding and withdrawing. Under violence, you have controlling, labeling and attacking. The book is designed around conversations and how even violence looks in dialogue. We’ve been reading the book and discussing the lessons off and on.

When they got into an argument the other night, I stood listening for a bit. Neither were raising their voice, but the things they were saying to each other were so sad. I’d heard enough to get the gist and that they were clearly not going to resolve it themselves, so we all sat down and had a chat. We discussed what they were saying and how what they said fell into the different categories of stress, how people react when they feel disrespected, attacked and so forth. We discussed how their sibling’s words made them feel. I tried to get them to get really specific about their feelings and they did a great job.

Then we circled back to the critical questions in the book:

  • What do I want for me?
  • What do I want for others?
  • What do I want for the relationship?

It made my heart happy that they both wanted each other to be happy and they wanted their relationship to be good. It makes it easier when they both have the same goals.

I know that they will continue to have disagreements with each other and other people. I know that they will continue to be exposed to hateful messages and toxic people. But, I’m hopeful that the lessons they learn will carry them onto the path of improving relationships, empathy and understanding.​