If you're anything like me, a mom who loves her kids and cares about her husband (now ex-husband) and family, then you were definitely not too psyched about pulling the trigger on a separation and/or divorce around the holidays. The holidays are hard enough within traditional married families. So establishing new customs and traditions for your new non-married, co-parenting family status can be incredibly stressful.
So what are we calling this type of family these days? "Broken family" is a sad, stigmatizing term from the 70s. I also find the term "intact" family equally horrific, as it implies that somehow families that do not fall under the "mom, dad and some kids" structure are not intact.
Being one of those 70s kids with a family "broken" in more ways than one, I have come to understand that family are the people who support you and love you no matter what. And, without question, my kids have that even though their father and I live under two separate roofs.
Now, at the start of a new year, we are all faced with that small voice inside of our heads that keeps whispering about the changes we want to or need to make.
For those experiencing difficulty in our marriages or partnerships, sometimes our hopes and dreams for the new year involve a desire to reassess our relationships. We may feel tempted by the thought of separation or divorce, and that produces more anxiety and guilt. Our thoughts can feel antithetical to everything we think is "right" and what we are "supposed to do." These thoughts often come out something like this:
"The idea of being married to this person for the rest of my life fills me with profound sadness."
"Deep down, I know I should not have married this person but was too scared to admit it to myself or anyone else before I got married, and now we have these kids …. and this house …. it's too late."
"I am only staying in this marriage for the kids. if it weren't for them, I would have had the courage to leave long ago".
The list goes on and on but the pesky truth keeps at you and it becomes harder and harder to deny that you need to make some real changes that will seriously affect your marriage and family.
Making the decision to divorce is one of the scariest, hardest decisions you will ever make. It will forever torment you if you didn't do EVERYTHING you could to make your marriage work. So do the work.
By asking questions of yourself and your partner, you might discover new information that could redirect the course of your relationship. Here are seven tips to help you reassess the state of your relationship, to guide your decision-making process for the new year.
1. Invest in a good therapist.
If you can't afford it, look for CSWs that are covered by your health plan.
2. Learn Imago dialogue, perhaps with your new therapist.
It's very common to stop being able to actually hear your partner. You THINK you are but you aren't, you are just planning your retort in your head while they are talking. Imago is a brilliant technique for communication which you will DEFINITELY need if you are planning to raise children together.
3. If you are having an affair, STOP.
Just stop it. Finding another person to offset your unhappiness, or distract you from the problems in your marriage, is not the solution. I promise you. If it's meant to be, they will still be there. Give yourself at least six months to a year free of any outside intrigue. No texting, emailing, i-chatting, g-chatting. Nada. Let it go. If you are actively engaged in outside shenanigans, you will never feel clean about your decision to end your relationship.
It could be mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, or other forms of meditative activity. Whatever it is, bring some sort of meditation practice into your daily life in order to quiet your mind so you can hear that "still small voice" very clearly.
5. Be honest — with yourself and others.
If you are someone who doesn't tell anyone what's going on in your life, experiment with opening up. Start getting honest with your closest friends, family members and others in your support network about what's going on with you and your marriage. Tapping into what your feelings and thoughts are out loud will be very clarifying.
6. Clear the drama.
If you are someone who likes to make your private issues public, and who never shuts up about your marital issues, reconsider what you're doing to cope with the difficult emotions. Stop talking. See #4 (get quiet and centered). We can often hide in the noise of our dramatics. Your deep feelings with feel more honest and authentic with a clear head.
7. Start writing and rehearsing your truth.
Get very clear about what your deal breakers are. For example, "I want to be a marriage where both partners are willing to address their addictions," or "In order to grow as a human, I need to live unmarried in the world."
Note that your truth MUST begin with I not "you". This isn't about her or him. It's about you. Learn to express your feelings without blaming or shaming. There is no place for "I am leaving because you ________." You gotta own your truth. It's the hardest thing but it's the most truthful powerful thing. Blaming is for cowards.
The holidays are over. You can stop playing "perfect awesome family" for a little while and see what happens.