Divorcing in the New Year – or Not

‘these couples seem to hear nature saying “you can’t do what you’ve been doing for another year.” ‘

FayPsych Staff

It’s a strange fact, but divorce lawyers across the country can tell you that January is a very busy month for divorce filings.  Couples that have “held it together” through the holidays for the sake of the children, or to “keep up appearances” for extended family, or who weren’t quite yet ready to give up on their own visions of their relationships, flip over their calendars to January and start making real moves toward divorce.  They begin researching divorce on the internet.  They start asking around about lawyers.  They start writing checks to attorneys.  It’s as if someone, somewhere, flipped a switch – New Year, new life.  A life without their spouse.

On the flipside of this, those of us who specialize in couples therapy find our phones ringing off the hook when we return from our New Year’s holidays.  Couples who have not yet decided to take that ultimate step toward divorce and still want to work on their marriages seem to feel a sudden sense of urgency about marital therapy when the new year rolls around.  Just as some birds feel the strong pull to migrate, and some animals feel the annual drive to hibernate, these couples seem to hear nature saying “you can’t do what you’ve been doing for another year.”  The start of the new year gives them the extra push they need to finally pick up the phone and make an appointment with a couples therapist.

While it is an excellent thing that these couples seek help at the start of the year, it is a sad irony that they are unable or unwilling to recognize the need for that help the rest of the year (and perhaps in years past, as well).  Sometimes, by the time they make that first phone call to our offices, they are dealing with anger and resentments that have had time to grow from small sparks to four-alarm fires.

Many of us make New Year’s resolutions– to lose weight, quit smoking or maybe even take up a new hobby.   We often do better at keeping some of those resolutions than others.  As each new year turns over we feel an urge to make something better out of the new year that we are given, and to try and be our best selves.

For those of us in committed relationships, perhaps the best resolution–and the most important one to keep in order to become our best selves–is to be vigilant about our relationships throughout the coming year.  To have a truly great relationship, this means acknowledging that where there is smoke there is fire– any time of the year, and doing something about it in the here and now.

Copyright © 2012 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

Why NOW is the Time for Your Relationship

FayPsych Staff

“We’ll start having sex more after I’ve lost weight.”

 “We’ll spend more time together after I’ve gotten the promotion at work.”

“We can focus more on each other when the kids are older.”

“Once I stop traveling so much there’ll be more time for us.”

“My mom really needs me right now.  I know you’ll understand honey.”

How many times have you heard a friend say something along these lines, or maybe even uttered something similar yourself?

Couples tend to put off for tomorrow what they should be doing in their relationships today.  It’s easy to become nonchalant about our partners and our relationships.  It’s easier still to avoid the anxiety-provoking facets of our relationships and face them ‘some other time.’  We just assume that our partners will always be there for us, no matter what.  We so often fall into the bad habit of putting them on the back burner while we prioritize everything and everyone else ahead of them—jobs, kids, extended family, you name it.  But we do so safe in the knowledge that one day, when we’re ready, we can refocus our attention on them and they will be waiting for us.  The problems we have in our relationship can be worked out when that someday comes along too.

Only it doesn’t always work that way in the real world.  Couples who put off tending to the current needs (and trouble spots) within their relationship may find that their partners are not waiting for them when they’re finally ready to fully invest in and work on their relationship.

Many of the couples who present to therapy as a last-ditch effort to save their relationships have discovered that this “wait for another day” approach has had devastating consequences when they have finally decided to focus on their marriages.  Some have learned that it has left their relationship filled with resentment and so devoid of intimate connection in the here and now that they have chosen to seek out other connections through extramarital or emotional affairs.  Others have found that their partners did not want to wait for them and felt it might just be easier to leave the marriage altogether.  For those who have not yet reached this “critical” stage, there can still be a lingering sense of disconnect, loneliness, and “how could this happen to us?”

It’s terrible to see people who once had strong emotional connections come apart, especially since most of these couples could likely have avoided their fate if they had applied greater vigilance earlier in their relationship.  The damaged relationships described above didn’t happen overnight, it took time for their battle scars to be inflicted.

So what can couples do for their relationships to strengthen them right now?

Recognize that your relationship requires an investment of your time and energy on a daily basis.  Given the stresses and strains that career, children, extended family and other external factors may place on you as an individual this may be easier to pull off some days more than others.  Remember that your effort each day is part of a long-term investment in you, your partner, and your relationship that will pay dividends far into the future.  Some days you will do a better job than others, as will your partner.  Learn to forgive yourself on the days that your performance isn’t quite up to par, and extend the same forgiveness to him/her.

Try to remember what dating your partner was like when prioritizing your day.  When you were dating, your energy and focus were on your partner and your relationship while other aspects of your life became background players in those heady hormonal days of your early courtship.  This prioritization has likely reversed over time. While your partner can’t be your number one thought every waking minute, moving him or her up the list more consistently will make a big difference in how you feel about the relationship and how he/she is likely to feel about it as well.

Imagine what you would do differently if you were vying for your partner’s affections against a rival suitor.  Most couples have given up pursuing one another since the “deal has been sealed.”  Once you’ve stopped the chase, he/she feels less desirable and you are likely to be less engaged in your interactions with your partner.  Resetting your mind to the notion that you are in competition for your partner’s affections can help you bring out your A game.  Maybe you’ll pay a little more attention to how you dress and groom yourself, perhaps you’ll open the car door for her or send him a sexy text message– whatever the things are you think would catch your partner’s attention and win him/her over again.  Have an affair with your spouse!

If you are putting off being close to your partner because of your own physical, psychological or spiritual issue(s) you will address it/them– now.  If you’ve been holding your partner at a distance sexually (or otherwise) because you’re embarrassed that you’ve put on a few pounds, now is the time to do something about it.  If you have problems in your relationship with your father, that are affecting your relationship with your partner, now is the time to talk to someone about them so that you can resolve them once and for all.  The bottom line is, don’t expect your partner to either fix your problems or wait forever for you to decide to take care of your problems while they damage your relationship.  Take responsibility for yourself, and take action – NOW.

If the two of you are really stuck, seek guidance from a qualified couples therapist – now.  One of the biggest mistakes couples make is waiting too long to seek help when they come up against a problem in their relationship that they can’t handle on their own.  Rather than letting a problem pattern become entrenched, or letting resentments build up for years and years, talk to a professional who can help you learn new skills for addressing the issues the two of you are facing in a healthier way.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

Why Smart Phones Aren’t So Smart in the Bedroom

Couple in bedFayPsych Staff

It’s the end of a long day and the kids are tucked in for the night.  You and your significant other have finally crawled into bed and are actually blissfully alone for the first time all day.  It’s the perfect chance to reconnect after a day devoted to careers, kids, and running a busy household.  You lean back against the soft pillows, alone at last.   And then it happens:  instead of spending the evening snuggling together, exchanging intimacies about yourself and your day while you enjoy the pleasure of physical contact with one another, you both bring out your smart phones.

Soon you are both under the covers chatting, but distracted by email, texts and other electronic delights.  The chance for a real connection with your partner is gone again tonight, just like it was last night, and probably will be again tomorrow night.

It’s a scene that’s played out in bedrooms across America every night; night after night, after night.

The conversations in those bedrooms often go something like this:

He:      So, how was your day? (checking email)

She:    It was okay I guess. (reviewing social media app)

He:      Hey, I saw Joe at Austin’s soccer game.  (composing email)

She:    Really? How’s he doing? (sending text message)

He:      He said he’s doing alright, but the divorce has been hard on the kids. (opening                     another app)

She:    I still can’t believe he and Abby fell apart like that. (reading text message)  You                     don’t think that could happen to us, do you?

He:      I don’t think so, they were really having troubling connecting there at                                       the end… (starting a game)

Couples often come to therapy complaining about “poor communication.”  They say that they’ve ”lost touch with one another,”  and that they no longer have true intimacy in their relationship.  It is not surprising that intimacy can seem so lacking in our relationships when we are unable to get our partners to look up from their smart phone screens and make eye contact with us, even when we are alone in the privacy of our own bedrooms.

In our hurried modern lives, those few hours and minutes we share alone with our partner at the end of the day are a rare chance to reconnect and recharge our relationships.  Yet many, many couples fail to take advantage of this time, either because of fatigue or fear of true emotional intimacy with their partner. (Yes, the very thing couples complain is missing from their relationships is often the thing they are unconsciously avoiding. We’ll talk more about this phenomenon in future blog posts.)

It’s easy to go through the motions of a conversation while “playing” on a smart phone (or other electronic device), much like the couple in the example above.  We may be “talking” to our partner, but there is no true intimacy to the communication.  We may be in the same room, but there is no real physical or emotional connection, even though we are physically present.

When couples allow this kind of disconnect to go on night after night, for a significant period of time, their relationship begins to suffer.  If it goes on too long, the damage may become irreversible.  (Many of the couples who seek therapy at our practice because of an extramarital affair cite the lack of intimate communication as one of the factors that lead to the affair.)  A committed, loving relationship needs true connection on a regular basis to flourish and remain passionate.

So what’s a modern couple to do?  If you find that you and your partner are
slipping into the smart phone trap, here are some steps you can take to reconnect with one another:

De-stress

Establish pre-bedtime de-stressing rituals for yourself so that you don’t meet your partner in the bedroom filled to the brim with anxiety. (You’ll also be less tempted to grab your phone as an outlet for that stress).

Un-plug

With your partner, establish a cut-off time for using phones in the bedroom.
For instance—no phone use after 9:00. Stick to it!

Talk, Touch, Connect

When the phones are switched off, it’s time to talk, touch, and reconnect with your
partner.  Look your partner in the eyes and tell him/her what is really going on in your world.  Make a physical connection through touch.  Listen to what he/she has to say
about what is going on in his/her world.

NOTE:  If you have gotten in the habit of “zoning out” with your phone instead of focusing on your partner, this may feel strange and awkward the first few times.  Looking your partner in the eyes is an intimate and giving act, and it shows him/her tremendous respect.  Take a deep breath to help you relax while you are relearning how to connect with your partner– remember, this is a huge investment in your relationship, and well worth it.

If you will really open up to your partner and learn how to have “pillow talk” again each night, you will be surprised how much closer you will feel to him/her and how much less
desirable that smart phone will seem in comparison.  After all, no text message, email, or game can possibly hold a candle to feeling truly close to your partner.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

What Every Two-Year-Old Knows– The Power of “NO”

FayPsych Staff

"The word no must have a place in our lives if we want to live as healthy, happy, mature adults..."

A friend of mine had been experiencing a particularly bumpy few weeks and I invited her to lunch to blow off some steam.  She was troubled by her role as treasurer with a fundraising organization she had belonged to for the past several years.  Squabbles within the group’s leadership over the past few months had come to a head, and she felt torn between wanting to contribute to the group, and her desire to remove herself from the stress and anxiety of being exposed to all the bickering, along with the burden of the job of treasurer itself.

As we talked over a light lunch at our favorite restaurant, she recounted to me the three emails she had already received that morning related to the group’s latest saga.  “I’m
at my wit’s end with this – I have a full-time job I can barely keep up with as
it is.  I just don’t need this drama in my life. ” She said in exasperation.  I think
I’ve finally had it.”  The group’s dysfunctional ways were often the topic of our lunches, so I was not surprised to hear about this latest turn of events.

She was absolutely right. She didn’t need drama in her life. She had a very demanding career, as well as young children and a husband at home who needed her time and attention. As we talked, I reminded her that she had practically been made treasurer at gunpoint two years ago, and that it had not been enjoyable for her at any point since she had begun the job.  She had taken on the position with great reluctance, and it had proven to be as time-consuming and politically charged as she had feared.  She had hoped initially, that the good the fundraising organization did for the community
would outweigh the heavy toll the position took on her.  Over time though, it became clear that was not the case.

“I’m seriously thinking of resigning.” She told me.  “It’s just not worth it.”  She shook her head in frustration.  “I knew I never should have taken on this position.”

She had reached a crossroads, but on a journey that could have been avoided altogether with just one powerful little word – NO.  Had she had the courage two years prior to say no to the nominating committee (and she clearly knew she shouldn’t take the position back then), the stress and anxiety she had experienced over these last
two years could have been completely avoided. She would not have spent hours away from her family and her work, thanklessly trying to please the fundraising committee’s board, had she uttered that one small word– NO.  She knew she should have done it at the time, but she just couldn’t bring herself to say it.

It’s amazing how difficult it is for most adults to utter a simple two letter word.  I think of how often I have witnessed a toddler in a fit of two-year-old zeal throwing around
the word no as effortlessly as they might a toy.  At this stage of development, when a child is discovering his own sense of self and separateness from other people, he
delights in telling other people no as loudly and as often as possible–  especially if things aren’t going his way. He is learning how to establish boundaries and use language to make those boundaries clear.  While adults are reluctant to use the word no, a two-year-old relishes the word.

As we grow older we learn to be much less self-centered than our two-year-old selves, like my friend, who is a very caring and compassionate woman in every way.  This turn toward a more selfless outlook is a natural and necessary part of our development, but it can have a downside.  Our concern for others may make us vulnerable to suffering at tasks or in situations that make us miserable, or do damage to our relationships and sometimes even our health.  As we grow up, shame and guilt also enter our lives and become powerful motivators for our behavior.  We may make decisions based upon our fear that we are “not enough” or are “not living up to expectations.”  We find ourselves saying yes to things we are absolutely clear are not healthy for us, but we feel powerless to conjour up that two-letter word that holds the key to releasing us.

When we become disconnected from the ability to say no, out of misplaced altruism, guilt, shame or fear, we allow others to hold us hostage and use us for their own purposes. We may also wrongly believe that we are acting out of love when we fail
to say no to a parent’s, child’s, spouse’s or other family member’s requests,
when in fact, that failure to say no may be the most un-loving thing we can do,
both for that individual, and ourselves.

It’s easy to slip into the failure to say no trap over and over again;  it happens when we
over-indulge our children by not saying no (teaching them that they can expect to have whatever they want, whenever they want in life),  when we let our own parents
run over us with unreasonable expectations or demands (leaving us to simmer with silent anger at them while we limit our own life choices or our own family suffers from our misplaced loyalties),  when we let a friend coerce us into spending time doing something we don’t want to do (when we know it will make us anxious and cause friction at home), when we let our spouse’s desires overwhelm our own needs time and again (until resentment builds to the point of damaging or destroying our marriage).

The word no must have a place in our lives if we want to live as healthy, happy, mature adults with strong and enduring personal and professional relationships.  Without establishing appropriate boundaries with this powerful tool, we set ourselves up for lives filled with anxiety, depression and other psychological maladies. We also set ourselves up to fail as parents and as romantic partners; we doom ourselves to raise children with unrealistic expectations that the world will never be able to meet, and we assure that we will never give our partners the best of ourselves.   If we truly want to be loving, we must demand the best of ourselves, and for ourselves, and we cannot do so without the power of no in our lives.

My friend and I talked some more over dessert and she decided she would tender her resignation that afternoon.  I could see she was tense about having to talk to the board’s president about her decision. When we said our goodbyes I reassured her that her decision was sound.

I spoke to her the next afternoon and she told me she had officially resigned.  She also said the president had begged her to take another position on the board.  I asked her what she told him.  “No,” she said simply.  I could hear her smile and her relief over
the phone.

Over the next couple of weeks we caught up by phone several times, and the sheer delight she expressed at the free time she now had on her hands along with the stress she was not experiencing was almost contagious.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC

Dating Again After Divorce – When is it Time?

FayPsych Staff

The best of times, the worst of times. The end of your marriage can be both devastating and liberating – ending one stage of your life and entering a new and uncharted world, unencumbered by your former partner and by the expectations that you and he/she had for you in that former life. At some point in this transition, most people begin to ask themselves “am I ready to date again?”

There are no arbitrary rules for how long to wait before beginning to date after a divorce, but it is wise to proceed with some caution before getting back in the game. While it may be easy to spruce up your wardrobe, lose a few pounds, or try out a new hairstyle to get ready to put yourself “ back on the market,” it’s important to give some thought to your emotional readiness to return to dating. Jumping back in before you’re ready can lead to more pain and poor decisions. You may end up hurting yourself, the person you’re dating, and if you are a parent, possibly your children. There is a lot at stake.

When it comes to being ready to date again, not everyone moves at the same pace. The timing is not driven by how long you were married or how long your divorce process took – each situation is different. And, for people who have been divorced before, they may be surprised that how they recovered from a previous divorce and returned to dating is very different the second go-round.

Here are some things to consider when you evaluate your readiness to date again:

Have you taken time to grieve the end of your relationship?

Divorce brings to an end the union of two people, a household, and often splits apart a family. As divorce has become more common in this country we have begun to look at it more as an outpatient surgery – a little pain today and you are up and around and “over it” tomorrow. As cavalier as we try to be, it is a time of loss, pure and simple. It is important to recognize this, and to allow yourself to fully grieve what has been lost.

Have you taken responsibility for your part in what led to the end of the relationship?

Your knee-jerk reaction to this question may be to say “He did ____” or “she was ______” and that’s why the marriage ended.” On the face of it, that makes some sense; however, a marriage always consists of two people. Unless your marriage lasted only 24 hours, what he did or how she was acting was interlaced with your own behavior. Taking responsibility for how you interacted in this relationship will help you better understand what to expect from yourself (and what you may need to work on) in future relationships. Identifying the patterns of behavior that are keeping you stuck and learning new ways of working within a relationship will be key to having a successful relationship next time around.

Have you reached a point at which you are comfortable being alone?

Being comfortable with yourself and really knowing yourself are important prerequisites to dating or entering into a new relationship. After having been in a marriage for some time, it is important to get to know who you are as an individual again. What do YOU want to do when you have the house to yourself? What are YOU going to do when you are the one calling the shots? How do YOU want the future to take shape? Dating or seeking a relationship should be done because you know who you are and what you want, NOT because you are trying to escape loneliness.

What will you do to avoid “picking” a similar partner and falling into old patterns the next time around?

Maybe your ex was controlling and that led you to fall into your passive patterns of behavior – you believe that’s what broke apart your marriage, so now, what you say you want is a sensitive man. When we become accustomed to interacting with certain personality types we tend to gravitate to them again and again because they feel so familiar and so comfortable – even when they aren’t good for us. So, when you are dating, if you frequent places where men like your ex like to hang out, you are likely to meet men like your ex. Dating these men is likely to lead you right back into your old ways of thinking and behaving.

Have you gotten your “house” in order?

In the aftermath of a divorce it often takes time to iron out the financial, legal, housing, and other logistical wrinkles left in the wake of the dissolution of the marriage. These housekeeping matters may seem mundane and somewhat laborious, but it is important that they are addressed before you proceed with dating or entering into a new relationship. If you are stressed by pressing money or other divorce-related matters, you cannot be your best self when dating. And what healthy person would want to date someone with lingering legal or financial entanglements?

Even if you feel that you are ready to date again you should proceed with caution if you are motivated by any of the following reasons. These are signs that you need more time to work on yourself, your current life situation, and/or to grieve your marriage before proceeding:

You feel your child or children need a Mom/Dad in their life to replace your ex in your home.

Dating to find a surrogate parent is unfair both to the people you date and to your children. While a divorce may leave a void because of custody or other issues, seeking to fill that void through a new and untested relationship is a dangerous recipe for everyone involved. If you have parenting concerns, community parenting support services are available to help you transition to your life as a single parent. Look online for local support groups and community service programs in your area.

You need financial support.

No healthy individual should want to date a person who is looking for financial rescue. If a divorce has left you in a difficult financial situation, credit counseling or other community support services are much more appropriate avenues to pursue than a relationship from which you are seeking financial stability. A relationship based on “rescue” is unhealthy for both parties.

Other people think you should be dating or in a relationship.

Family, friends, even co-workers may feel it’s time for you to “move on” and “get over your ex.” While they may be well-intentioned, you, and you alone should determine when you are ready to date again. If you are allowing this pressure to drive you back into the dating pool again, it may well be a sign that you have not regained a strong enough sense of yourself to be ready to date again.

You want to “get back” at your ex.

Revenge may be sweet, but dating should be about you and for you, and should have nothing whatsoever to do with your ex. If you are dating to get back at your ex, it is a sign that you have not completely gotten over him or her and you have more grieving to do before you can move on to another relationship. (Not to mention how unfair it is to any potential dating partners you may involve in your revenge scheme.)

You feel it would help you “get over” your ex.

Using a dating relationship to “recover” from your marriage simply does not work. If you feel you need to use a dating partner as a substitute for your ex, it is a sign that you have not completely grieved your marriage and that you have more work to do in this area. No relationship will ever replace your marriage and no person will ever replace your ex (that’s why it is so important to allow yourself to work through the grieving process). However, there are other wonderful people and wonderful relationships out there when you are ready and the time is right.

If you find that you remain “stuck” and cannot get to a place in which you are emotionally ready to date, consider talking to a qualified therapist. A good therapist can help you identify the issue or issues that are holding you back from moving toward new and healthy relationships post-divorce.

When you’re ready to date:

If you think you have reached a point at which you have grieved your marriage, gotten your “house” in order, know yourself better, and are truly ready to proceed with dating, take a deep breath and proceed slowly. Those old butterflies are likely to return as you embark on a new chapter of your life and begin exploring the possibility of new relationships. You will likely make some mistakes, but hopefully, with some self-reflection and lessons learned from your marriage, you will do better when you meet that next special someone.

Copyright © 2011 Fayetteville Psychotherapy Associates, PLC