173132360I find that what my clients want most is to return to a happy, peaceful life. Divorce is a place of upheaval with many unknowns. Will my kids be okay? Where will I live? Will I be able to make ends meet? Will I ever be able to retire? These questions and more interfere with the normal rhythms of life. The fear and anxiety of not knowing the answers cause distraction at work and sleeplessness at night. How can peace of mind be restored? A good place to start is the practice of acceptance. By acceptance I mean merely acknowledging what is, without judgment or wanting it to be different … without resistance. Whenever you find yourself feeling a negative emotion such as anger or frustration, it is likely you are resisting an external circumstance … wishing that something or someone were different. While it is natural for human beings to resist the unpleasant, a lot of time and energy can be spent trying to control external circumstances beyond our control. Acceptance is merely acknowledging those circumstances and allowing what is in life to be as it is, without judging it as good or bad, or wanting it to be different. Practicing acceptance can help you let go of the pain, stress, anger and anxiety that inevitably accompany divorce. Here are a few reminders:
  1. Acceptance does not mean giving up. Empowered action comes from a place of clarity and serenity.
  2. You can’t change other people, but you can change your response to them. While what your former spouse or partner thinks or feels is beyond your control, your mindful response to a situation can have a powerful effect.
  3. Resistance can get in the way of solutions. The inner stillness that comes with acceptance enhances your openness to previously unseen possibilities.
Genuine and lasting happiness and peace come from within. You alone are in control of how you will experience life moving forward from this very moment. It is your choice not to suffer. Finally, here is a quote that has helped me through many of life’s challenging moments: “Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care. Letting go doesn’t mean we shut down. Letting go means we stop trying to force outcomes and make people behave. It means we give up resistance to the way things are, for the moment. It means we stop trying to do the impossible–controlling that which we cannot–and instead, focus on what is possible–which usually means taking care of ourselves. And we do this in gentleness, kindness, and love, as much as possible.” -Melody Beattie
It may be hard to believe, but 2014 is two-thirds of the way over. Did you set a new year’s goal that you have long forgotten about? Now is as good of time as any to set a new goal and hold yourself accountable. With the kids going back to school maybe you will be getting up extra early anyhow or have time after you drop them off at the bus stop to get a quick workout in? With schedules changing, now is the time to add a new health and fitness goal into your routine. With cooler temperatures and the leaves changing colors, fall is the perfect season to take up exercising outdoors. Taking on a physical challenge, like running, after divorce is very common. It may be the desire to be in better shape, desire to prove to yourself that you can accomplish a goal, or maybe it’s just to pass the extra time you may now have, especially if you have children that are now being “shared.” Getting started in walking, running, or joining a gym not only boosts confidence, but it is also a great way to meet new friends. Do you need another great reason to start working out post-divorce? It’s a proven stress reliever, something everyone can benefit from. Many fun fall runs around the Twin Cities have caught our eye recently – the Glo Run, Hot Chocolate run, Monster Dash, and turkey trots, oh my! Grab a friend, sign up together, and have fun doing it! You don’t have to be fast, it’s all about goal settling and doing something for YOU!
It seems it’s nearly inevitable that at some point we all have a friend going through a divorce. The support we offer during that trying time can often set the precedence of the friendship going forward. The same holds true for someone battling a disease like cancer; whether you turn your back and quietly whisper or are brave enough to offer support shows not only the value or your friendship, but your true character. So how can you help? First and foremost, be a good listener and offer emotional support. You don’t have to have all the answers, but listening intently and letting your friend know that you are there to listen or be a shoulder to cry on anytime, day or night, is important. Remind them that are worthy of happiness. Constantly reassure them. Reassure them that a divorce is not a reflection of who they are. Reassure them that they are an amazing person, and that you are there for them whatever happens. Be aware of the divorce emotional cycle. Your friend will be feeling so many emotions that will constantly be changing. Reassure them that they have the right to their emotions and that healing is a long process that no one can put a timeline on. Have compassion and allow them their feelings and validate their need to process things in their own way. Remind them that divorce does not define a person. Eating is probably not going to be at the top of their priority list, not to mention stomaching a full meal with a broken heart. Cooking for one is no fun, so providing them with small meals and healthy snacks can be helpful. Also if they have children to feed, providing meals they can quickly throw in the oven and not have to work about shopping and meal prep would be a huge help. Be adventurous – try a new food that you’ve never tasted before. Spice up your grocery list with 3 (healthy) new items to try. Offer your friend a place to stay, help looking for a new house or apartment, moving help, etc. On top of possibly needing help physically packing or moving, ask if they need help getting things sorted out with bills, budgets, and finding a divorce support group. Get out and about. Try new things. Say YES to something new. Activities are important. Take a walk together, try out a new restaurant, summer outdoor concerts, go for a bike ride, try out a new sport, and stick to the ones you love. Every day, learn at least 3 new words of a language you admire. Create a bucket list. Write down your biggest dreams – and take little steps in making them happen. Be a positive part of their life. Offering support doesn’t have to mean spouse bashing, simply listening when they need to talk and planning activities to help them take their mind off things for a bit can be a world of help. Find the joy in the everyday.
sb10065918f-001Recently Daisy Camp received a letter from a 2007 Daisy Camp graduate, Karen. We appreciate hearing divorce success stories and thought Karen’s is a great one to share as proof that, “everything happens for a reason.” Even in your darkest days of divorce, always remember there are brighter days ahead. Her letter is reprinted below with her permission. Jennifer, I wanted to let you know what you do is important. I was at the lowest point in my life in 2007, after a 22 year marriage to my high school sweetheart and two kids, he left me for a women 15 years younger than me. I was devastated and had no idea what to do. That’s when I came across Daisy Camp. I attended the Saturday all day session and the most important thing I took away from it was the fact that I wasn’t alone and other women were going thru something similar. I received a lot of information that day and received some great advice that helped me navigate the legal process as well as give me the strength to get up every morning and “fight back for my life.” Well, here I am 7 years later, my children are now young adults and living on their own. Following the divorce, I went thru counseling and joined a separation and divorce support group through my church. Through a Catholic dating website I met a wonderful guy who went through the same experience as me. In fact, we were both married and divorced the same year, both have two boys, our oldest sons have the same name and our birthdays are just 6 days apart. We bought a beautiful house in the country and I have a new life. I have made a lot of new friends and have a job that is challenging yet fun. Thank you for having the courage to start a resource like Daisy Camp to help other women!! On a side note, my Ex and his girlfriend just had a baby in December. I laugh when I hear that he is doing feeding and diaper changes at the age of 51 while I’m enjoying a glass of wine and sitting next to a fire reading a book and realizing that everything happens for a reason! Karen, A 2007 Daisy Camp Graduate
My daughter Sarah with her grandmothers
My daughter Sarah with her grandmothers
Perhaps the most important advice I can give someone going through a divorce is to keep the long view in mind. Although it is easy to be swamped by the immediate emotions, the years after the divorce are where you see the impact of your decisions on your entire family. And nothing brings it to the forefront like a milestone event for your child, which I am currently experiencing. My daughter Sarah graduated from high school and will soon be heading off to Wellesley College. This summer has been marked by a graduation weekend with extended family, and soon I will join my fiancé and Sarah’s dad to move Sarah into her dorm. Bringing together the extended family for graduation post-divorce could have been painful and awkward. But it was a wonderful, celebratory weekend filled with love for Sarah and our love and respect for all members of the family. Sarah was in grade school when her dad, John, and I divorced. Divorce is always painful, but we were blessed with a team of collaborative professionals to assist us in the process. I have known for years that a collaborative divorce launched our excellent co-parenting relationship. What really resonated on graduation weekend was the impact on the extended family. My mom flew in from Arizona and John’s mom flew in from New York. These grandmothers had not seen each other since Sarah’s baptism. John’s brother came from Pennsylvania, and he had not seen my mom since our wedding 24 years ago. Also in the mix was my fiancé, Josh, his daughter Lily and his parents. I admit I was a bit nervous about seeing my former mother-in-law and brother-in-law, but it was incredible. We all worked together setting up for Sarah’s graduation party, had multiple meals together, carpooled to the ceremony and sat together cheering for Sarah as she collected her diploma. The love was abundant in all these events, which was priceless. Here’s what collaborative practice allowed for our family: we began to forgive each other and start healing. If we had litigated, the resentments would have become entrenched. By forgiving each other for our failures in the marriage, we could open up to respect and even love towards each other as parents of our amazing daughter. Our tone set the tone for our families – no one needs to choose sides or hold resentments. We can celebrate with full hearts. When we wave goodbye to Sarah at Wellesley this month, she can feel secure knowing her crazy, blended family is behind her, laughing, hugging and linking arms. I am looking forward to the next milestone, when we can all gather again. I know that wouldn’t be possible if we had litigated our divorce. I hope every parent going through a divorce strives for more than just being civil to each other. My hope is that you can celebrate the gifts each parent and family member brings to the life of your child. It starts with your divorce process – collaborative practice allows you to transform your relationship.
482285789I recently attended a symposium about divorce entitled, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” At first glance you might wonder whether we had anything to talk about. What do love and divorce have in common? Isn’t divorce the result of the loss of love? Sharing ideas with others interested in improving the divorce process reinforced my belief that love, forgiveness and compassion are the keys to divorcing well, and that divorce can indeed be a healing process. Divorce is an all-too-common event these days. We all have friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers who have experienced becoming unmarried. Some just barely survive and are stuck looking back at their divorce with regret and resentment. Years later they continue to bad-mouth their ex and blame their divorce for their ongoing unhappiness. Their inability to be present and available has long-term consequences for their children as well. Most of us also know people who not only survive, but thrive in their post-divorce lives. They are somehow able to accept the major changes in their day-to-day lives and move forward. By doing so, they are healthy role models for their children and fun to be around.  What accounts for these vastly different outcomes? Personality certainly has something to do with it. Some humans are blessed with more optimistic outlooks than others. Seeing the glass half full reduces anxiety about the future. Life circumstances also play a role. Good health, steady employment, and a healthy balance sheet contribute to feeling better about what lies ahead. However, several decades of experience tells me that one factor trumps everything else in terms of one’s ability to recover from divorce … the ability to forgive. Anger, bitterness, blame and resentment are feelings associated with the loss of a loving relationship. Grieving the loss is necessary in order to get on with life. Tara Brach, a leading western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening, who was a symposium presenter, says, “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.” Rather than being lazy and stuck, working through one’s grief with a therapist, clergy person, or trusted friend can lead to understanding and forgiveness. Acknowledgment and forgiveness of one’s own contributions to the divorce are essential, as is forgiveness of the other person. In the Collaborative divorce process, our professional team includes a neutral coach and a child specialist, both of whom assist the parties in reaching closure with regard to their marriage and defining their future co-parenting relationship. “When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each others’ presence.” -Fredrick Buechner
500048813Becoming friends with your ex? Or even friends with your ex’s new boyfriend/girlfriend? Do these friendships sound impossible to attain? Perhaps there is something to be learned from the infamous Tiger and Elin Woods’ divorce. Elin recently went on vacation with Tiger, their two kids and Tiger’s current girlfriend, Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn. The modern blended family – where friendships, and even vacationing together can happen successfully. If befriending seems like a long-shot for you, try to put bitterness and grudges aside when you consider that new boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses will be around your children, whether you like it or not. Co-parenting is not easy, and it will take time and effort to find the right grove in your new lives. Daisy Camp recently hosted a co-parenting workshop at the Collaborative Alliance, titled “One Bridge to Peace,” where co-parenting tools were provided that allow even one willing, caring parent, to relate peacefully with even the most bitter and contentious co-parent. Depending on how newly divorced you are, joining each other on vacations may seem like a long-shot, but remember, even introducing yourself and keeping the lines of communication open with you ex’s new companion can go a long way. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll find yourself vacationing in the Bahamas or at Disney with your ex!
465782093Dogs have long been known for their ability to have healing effects on the sick, but did you know that adopting a dog while going through the divorce process can provide another wonderful form of therapy? Whether getting a new puppy or adopting a dog, there is value in adding a furry companion to your life. Man’s (or woman’s) best friend alleviates that empty feeling you may now be experiencing when you walk in the door at night. Divorce often time leaves you feeling unwanted, just like many of those dogs at the shelter, which makes that canine even more relatable. Perhaps that dog came to the shelter from a divorced family herself. It has been proven that people benefit from interacting with canines. Simply petting a dog can decrease levels of stress hormones, regulate breathing, and lower blood pressure. Research also has shown that petting releases oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and affection, in both the dog and the human. Dogs respond to human emotions, and seem to know just when their companion needs a little extra loving. A dog, or other animal, can also be helpful for children coping with a divorce. Research shows that a dog can be therapeutic for a child experiencing a divorce crisis. A pet teaches a lot about coping skills, at a time when their parents may not coping very well. Cuddling up to a dog or other critter can be calming, and teaching a dog a new trick can be rewarding. If you are looking for a constant companion, who will help reduce your stress levels (and won’t talk back!), adding a new furry friend to your home may be a good divorce healing solution for you.
6207-000165 Sometimes Life’s lessons are subtle and elusive.  Other times, they’re less so. In mid-March, my granddaughter arrived “in the usual way”, big dark eyes and a head full of dark hair that had all the nurses exclaiming.  My stepson was beside himself with joy and tenderness.  My wife’s feelings radiated from her face like a beacon.  That was Thursday night.  On Monday, the new parents brought the baby to St. Johns Hospital to visit Grampa, who was failing, and in and out of awareness.  Grampa was able to sit up and hold his great-granddaughter.  “Sweet baby!” he murmured repeatedly, smiling down at her. The next day, Grampa returned to his assisted living apartment under a hospice arrangement.  The last weekend of March saw my wife and I camped at his bedside from Friday on.  Relatives came and went, and as the significance of the moment registered, I expressed my feelings in poetry.  Monday morning he slipped away.  The funeral was three days later. In each case, I was reminded of the majesty and grandeur of Life’s primal events; of how great is the illusion of human control over the most important matters of our lives.  I wondered at the ability of a tiny baby to  cement two young people together, and suddenly found myself thinking how insane is the notion that anything could ever separate her parents.  Yet, as a divorce lawyer, I see it every day.  And I was humbled once again recalling my clients who reconnected with the joy of their children’s births at the same time they were witnessing the death of their marriages; who saved what they could and grieved the loss of what they couldn’t.  Occasionally, I hear from them, reporting that the Great Wheel of Life did, in fact, continue to turn; that sometimes the lessons they learned were not realized until months or even years later.  It made them, they report, much more sensitive to the teachings of any given moment.  It made them participants, rather than mere spectators, in their own lives.  It made them think.
Divorce is one of life’s most stressful events. In fact, research shows that ending a marriage is second only to the death of a spouse as a predictor of illness. So in order to stay healthy, it makes sense to incorporate stress-reduction techniques early and often throughout the process. Here are three suggestions:
  1. Find an emotional outlet. It is common to focus on the loss you feel at the end of a relationship. While you may be tempted to suppress these unpleasant feelings, doing so will prevent you from moving past them. Make an effort to confront your negative emotions by talking them out with supportive friends or a therapist. It is normal to want to isolate yourself, but relationships are important. The end of your marriage does not mean that you must go through life alone. Putting your thoughts and fears on paper can also help you articulate your feelings and gain some clarity about your past, present and future.
  2. Practice self-care. Stressful times require that you become more intentional about taking care of yourself. Eating nourishing, nutrient-rich foods will give your body the fuel it needs to maintain your energy levels. Regular exercise can lower your stress levels and provide a healthy distraction from your worries. Treating yourself to something you love, such as a round of golf or massage, can alleviate stress.  Creating space for relaxation is essential also, whether it’s reading a good book, doing yoga or mediation, or taking a nap. Self-care is essential to the healing process.
  3. Feel gratitude. A breakup is painful and can make it difficult to look past your immediate feelings of pain and loss. Taking the time at the beginning and end of each day to recognize the many gifts you have been given can increase your sense of well-being. Try pausing at various times during the day to remind yourself, “I am grateful.” Some people find it helpful to keep a gratitude journal. Consciously choosing to be grateful on a regular basis can brighten your outlook on life.
Establishing these three healthy habits can help anyone reduce stress. They can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing the disruption of divorce.