Relative Evolutions - Evolve, Don't Dissolve

What if We Did Divorce the Way We Do Marriage?

Previously, I asked the question, “What if we did marriage the way we do divorce?” The situation was somewhat silly, as the post was meant to inspire consideration. My true intention was to introduce a new question:

What if we did divorce the way we do marriage?

wedding cupcakesLet’s start by reviewing a traditional wedding… when a couple plans their ceremony, they consult with various professionals. It’s likely they’ll visit multiple locations before deciding where to hold the event. They’ll spend some time at a bakery. They’ll price a few potential caterers and florists. Quite often, couples meet with a spiritual leader for pre-marital counseling. The Future Mrs. procures the products and services of a bridal boutique while the groom and his dudes rent tuxedos at another specialty shop. The honeymoon is planned with the assistance of a travel agent, or at least a travel-specific web site. Throughout the (sometimes incredibly stressful) process, family and friends provide assistance, opinions and recommendations while the couple makes all final decisions.

When the Big Day arrives, the bride and groom are surrounded by those who love and support them. Old stressors are erased by new joy as The Kiss commences, dinner is served and the gift table grows heavy with celebratory offerings selected from a registry. As the husband and wife embark on The Rest of Their Lives, they feel confident, supported and loved.

Now… what if divorce looked more like marriage? Imagine, if you will….

Allan and Jamie have been married for nearly 15 years. They have twin teenage daughters, one hyper dog, two autonomous cats, six exotic fish and a bunch of other assets and debts that aren’t as much fun to itemize. After a decade of pretending to be a happy couple, they decide to stop pretending and separate.

As a team, they broke the news to their daughters, parents and best friends (on separate occasions). They assured their children that they were committed to being parents, regardless of how their living arrangements might change. Their parents were shocked, yet overwhelmingly supportive of what they knew was a difficult decision. Their friends remained supportive as well and offered to help in any way they could.

After that, Allan and Jamie scheduled an appointment with a therapist to assist with the emotional processing of what would take place. They met with a financial advisor to discuss the options of their investments. They talked to a real estate agent about their home and vacation property. They sat down together and looked at their bank account balances while considering new budgets. While the details came together, they held regular family meetings in which updates were shared and feelings were expressed. Knowing the needs and fears of their children, they spent some time with a mediator to construct a schedule illustrating how Allan and Jamie would share their parenting time for the first year. The mediator also helped them have a more productive conversation around some hot-button issues they’d been frustrated with. Throughout the discovery process, Allan and Jamie remained in control and on the same team.

When they’d painted a clear-enough picture how to proceed, they put their plans into action and filed the appropriate legal documents. They commemorated the occasion with a small ceremony during which they exchanged vows of respectful release to each other, as well as vows of unwavering support to their daughters. After the ceremony, family and friends gathered for a party to celebrate this new chapter for the family. Gifts included a vacuum cleaner for Jamie and a coffee maker for Allan. Games and dancing continued into the night.

As the family members stepped forward into The Rest of Their Lives, they felt confident, supported and loved.

Parental Alienation… an Interview With Dr. Jennifer J. Harman

Jennifer J. Harman, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Colorado State University. I discovered Dr.  Harman when I watched her TEDx Talk about Parental Alienation. While watching, I was intrigued because, unlike many professionals, Dr. Harman didn’t focus solely on the diagnosis of parents and children. She talked broadly about the societal stereotypes and how our attitudes about mothers and fathers allow alienation to take hold. I was fascinated and wanted to know more.

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Harman. She told me that Parental Alienation isn’t just a Family Issue, it’s a Gender Equality issue. We also talked about her research, her book and what all of this might mean for the future. You can take a look at our discussion here:

I’m so appreciative of the work Dr. Harman is doing. I love the idea of broadening the conversation to a point where it’s no longer so accusatory and personal. For those of us who stand around and point fingers at families affected by alienation, perhaps it’s time we realize we have 3 fingers pointing back at us. Maybe a mirror is the greatest tool for turning this trend around.

P.S. Parental Alienation Awareness Day is April 25. Please share Dr. Harman’s research as part of the conversation.

Apr 7, 2016 - divorce    No Comments

Resource: The Divorce School

The Divorce School

On April 1, 2016 The Divorce School opened for its first semester. This fabulous resource is a collaborative effort between Divorce Magazine and and brings a wealth of information to those navigating the divorce process.

I’m honored to be a member of The Divorce School Faculty, and my segment focuses on Overcoming The Shame of Divorce. But shame is only one of many topics covered in the program, students of the school can choose to learn from experts on the topics of Fraud, Infidelity, High Conflict Separations, Legal Issues, Alienation, Blended Families and more.

The Divorce School is free to register and the information will be available through June. If you’re struggling, or even just curious, I encourage you to check it out.

Mar 31, 2016 - divorce, marriage    No Comments

Marriage is Work

printer photo

“Marriage is work.”

We hear the words all the time (as if to suggest those who divorce aren’t working hard enough). As a result of the comparison, I often liken marriage to a job:  first you have to prove yourself worthy, then you get hired and everyone rejoices because a vacancy has been filled.  There is hope and optimism that the team will move forward and accomplish great things together. You have to show up every day, even when you don’t exactly feel like it. You have to use the skills you have as well as learn new ones as you grow. There are changes to roll with, likely in the form of surprise projects and revised deadlines. If all goes well, your work is (mostly) enjoyable and appreciated and everyone is (mostly) happy.

But there are times when the stress is too much. On occasion the duties of the position are misrepresented in the beginning, or the expectations change to become unreasonable. An employee might be lied to, cheated or abused in some way. Sometimes positions are eliminated via organizational restructuring. Preferential treatment, intentional sabotage and lack of appreciation/respect will send productivity into a tailspin. What began as a great opportunity could become a dead end.

What’s a partner/employee to do?

Because good jobs are hard to find, giving up is rarely the first choice. A few suffer in silence and might self-medicate to deal with the stress. Some rise to the challenge and take on the task of self-improvement to inspire a healthy change. Others share their concerns with a higher authority such as a supervisor or HR representative. A handful of individuals who’ve been painfully wronged will consult an attorney.

Do those tactics work?

Maybe. Maybe for awhile. Maybe not at all.  Sometimes Resignation becomes a necessity for wellbeing. One employee might hold out hope until the last possible second, then declare “I quit!” when the proverbial straw breaks the camel’s back. Another will secretly search for a new job, taking care to secure greener pastures before having The Talk with the boss. A third option is to resign and take some time off for classes before transitioning to a more fulfilling career.

In all cases, leaving one’s post in a committed position is rough. The process involves much disappointment, second-guessing, confusion, guilt and awkward good-byes. But there’s also a knowledge that it’s all for the best. And there’s hope for better conditions and appropriate personal fulfillment down the road. Often those who leave a job will find support from friends and family. Such security and optimism propels them forward through positive personal change. When circumstances improve, everybody cheers.

Marriage is work. So why do we congratulate those who leave a dead-end job while shaming those who leave a dead-end marriage?


Mar 23, 2016 - divorce    No Comments

The First Day of Spring

On Sunday I saw massive lines outside Rita’s Italian Ice. The throngs of people waiting in 50-degree weather in Central PA was indicative of a long-awaited annual tradition:  free icy deliciousness in celebration of The First Day of Spring.

This holiday of sorts represents more than flavored ice. The first day of Spring is also known as the Equinox, referring to the equal amount of day and night experienced across the planet twice a year. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, our days have been getting longer since December, and now that we’ve passed the Equinox, we’ll enjoy more sunshine than darkness for the coming months. Doesn’t that sound fabulous?

I see many similarities between the cycles of nature and the process of divorce. Couples typically experience a period of increasing darkness before reaching a turning point. Although separation comes with a glimmer of hope, families continue to struggle as the light returns slowly. Individuals shelter themselves as best they can from the cold uncertainty of the changed landscape. But then comes the Equinox and light finally overtakes the darkness. Warmth returns. Hope returns. And growth is visible.

As I type these words, birds are singing and daffodils are blooming outside my window. Somewhere out there, separated parents are enjoying a connected conversation while their children look toward the future with hope, excitement and optimism. A season of light has begun.