Tag Archives: divorce

distressed teen

Ask Mabel: How do I help my distressed teen post-divorce?

Dear Mabel, 

I have been struggling with some issues my children are having and was wondering if you had any ideas. I got divorced 11 years ago after my ex-wife was derailed. After much struggle, I did finally get full custody of our two children, with visitation rights granted to their mother. The children have continued to be with me ever since.

Several years after the divorce, we found out that my ex was selling the property that should belong to my children and thus began a lawsuit. During the legal process, we found out that my ex and her husband had abused the children. The court ruled that she could no longer bring the children back to her house and could only meet outside a few hours a week. Shortly after, their mother decided to forfeit her right to visit.

Since their mother has stopped visiting, my youngest daughter who is now a teenager has become more withdrawn. She doesn’t say much to her sister and me, is very impatient and shows resistance. I don’t understand why. She does play games and laugh with friends and has good grades in school so I don’t put a lot of pressure on her. After all, I feel like personal safety is the most important and she is now safe.

Lately, I have been thinking about how they were in the years after the divorce. There was one time when she was about eight years old that I went to pick her up from her mother’s house. She was very timid at this time, cared a lot for others, but was also afraid and confused and would take my hand anywhere we went. I have tried for a while to understand why she might be like this. I think her character is very delicate, and these family incidences have really hurt her.

Now she is shutting down. She is pretending she no longer cares and refuses to communicate with us about her pain and frustrations. I have talked to her sister about it and she agrees that she is in a lot of pain. I want to help but I don’t know what to do. What do you think — (1) Should I go to their mother and ask for her to resume visits? (2) Is this just part of adolescence?

Thank you for your help.

 Sincerely, 

Mike from Wyoming 

Mabel: 

Hi Mike, This sounds like a tough situation. I am glad you are reaching out for help. Your daughter may or may not be going through pain from her mother’s abandonment. Only by talking to her, then you would know. I’m wondering if you and your daughter have any one-on-one time together to foster a father-daughter relationship. If not, it may be a good time to start. She probably won’t immediately open her heart to you. It takes a few tries. Be consistent. Talk about fun stuff first to build trust and relationship.

I wouldn’t recommend forcing visitation from the mother. The mother is an adult. If she wants to visit, she has her own free will to initiate contact. If a parent doesn’t want visitation, she may treat the children negatively. She might not want to be involved and in turn may resent the child. 

Moreover, because there is a history of abuse, we don’t know whether the children want contact with their mother. The children are older now, they have a mind of their own about how they feel towards each parent. If the mother initiates contact, ask the children first to see what they want to do. Don’t force the process on the kids. Your daughter may have mixed feelings about seeing her mother. Keep the conversation open-ended and avoid saying “it would be better if you see your mom.”

Also, I would consider getting your daughter help from a licensed counselor. She could greatly benefit from having someone outside the family to talk to who might be able to help her sort through things and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Sincerely, 

Mabel

coparenting with ex

How Do You Coparent When You Don’t Get Along?

Divorced parents, who don’t get along, are always asking me how they are supposed to coparent when they are always fighting? The truth is, they can’t. If you can’t get along and are always being harsh or disgruntled with each other, you can’t successfully co-parent. 

You have to make a choice. One parent can take primary custody of the kids and end the co-parenting relationship altogether, or you can decide to make a change. Together the two of you can make the decision to be civil with each other, to be kind, to communicate effectively and calmly because you have to. You have kids that need their parents. Constantly putting them in a toxic environment or bad-mouthing each other in front of your kids, is not helping them. In fact, it is doing the very opposite.

Shift In Dynamics

Someone in the relationship has to start this shift in dynamics. One of you has to make the choice to keep your mouth shut for the sake of your children. Ok, so you don’t agree with your ex’s behaviors, personal choices, or whatever it is that irks you but I am sure you can agree on one all-important thing: You love your kids. You want the best for your kids. 

Your kids need to be in a positive environment. They need to be raised in a place where they feel loved, safe, and comfortable turning to either parent in times of need. As a parent, you need to help guide your children in making the best decisions and you need to set an example. If your children are always seeing you and their father and/or mother arguing, name calling, being verbally abusive, or talking bad about each other behind the others back, you are teaching them that this behavior is ok. And, your child is likely going to experience more feelings of anxiety, depression, and unhealthy coping mechanisms. They will likely withdraw from both of you because they don’t feel safe and secure with you. 

Best for your Child(ren)

You decide. But, the answer is simple. You have to get along with your ex in some capacity in order to raise your children in a healthy environment. To do what is best for them, you need to get past your differences. If you can’t, then it is time to decide who your children should be with. 

Seeking help from a licensed counselor can also help you to determine the best course of action for you and your kids. 

What to do when your stepkids ‘hate’ you?

It is hard being a stepparent. You may feel like an outsider entering a family where there are children that are not blood-related and have another mom or dad living in a different house. You may butt heads. You may feel like they “hate” you. 

There are many reasons why a stepchild might be angry and uncomfortable with you being around. First, they may blame you for their parents’ separation. They might think “if my dad/mom never met you, my parents would still be together.” You, as the adult, likely know otherwise. But, that is a hard concept for a child whose home has suddenly become broken. 

They might have been holding out hope for their parents to get back together, and now that you are in the picture their hopes have been shattered. They likely see you as not their “parent,” since you have come into the picture after they already have two parents. They might fear you will try to control them or put rules into place that are different from what they are used to. 

Gaining Acceptance

Obviously, this is a tricky situation to navigate. You love their dad/mom and you want to have a blended, happy family together but you feel like you will never get in good with your stepchildren. What can you do? How do you earn their acceptance? 

First, understand these things take time. Your stepchildren are going through their own internal struggles and they need time to adjust to the idea of you being around. You need to work to develop a new normal. Don’t try to take the place of your stepchild’s mom or dad, understand your role is not the same. Instead, work to start new traditions with your stepchild. Maybe you can be the one to take them someplace special occasionally. Open up to them, be honest about your life and let them know they can trust you. 

Ease into their lives. Don’t try to jump in too quickly. Start small. Talk to your spouse so that you are on the same page with rules and discipline so that you aren’t trying to overrule him/her/they. 

Talk to them. Show them that you can be a friend, a shoulder to lean on, a team player; not a replacement but rather another person on their side. 

If you feel like you are in an impossible situation or need guidance on where to start, consider seeking family counseling with a licensed professional. They can help all of you to move forward in a healthy way that works for everyone. 

Ask Mabel: Co-parents disagree on electronic use

Concerned Client: My husband and I have a blended family. I have three kids and he has two. My children are with us most of the time, while his share time between our home and their mom’s. Lately, my husband has been trying to manage the amount of screen time my kids get when they get home from school. He doesn’t believe they should have any. Instead, he would rather see them do their homework or play outside. He thinks any tablet time is setting them up for bad habits as adults. His kids usually go to their mom’s house after school and they have as much screen time as they like, and he can’t do anything about it. 

I am frustrated because I have always let my kids have an hour when they get home to relax and unwind with their tablets. They play games, watch shows, whatever their heart desires. I think it is important that they are allowed this freedom. I feel like my husband is micromanaging my kids because he doesn’t have a say in how his kids spend their time after school. I don’t like it. I don’t think he has a right to step in on this issue. I have always been on board with co-parenting to a point but I feel like my husband is lecturing me on something that I don’t think is a big deal because he can’t say these things to his ex-wife. 

What do you think? Am I overreacting?

Mabel: It is hard for kids in these situations. Kids are kids. It doesn’t matter what the adult issues are, his kids might feel like second-class citizens because they see your kids getting screen time and they are not allowed. It is important that you and your spouse try to find a middle ground. Put aside your adult issues and find a way to unify the situation so that all the children have the same rules. 

If there is inequality in the household, his kids may not respond to your parenting. They will have the conscious or unconscious impression that you always side with your kids, and your kids are treated better than they are. Screen time might not seem like a big deal, but I am sure to the kids it is a huge issue. 

How to tell if divorce is the right decision: Part 3

This is part three (read parts one and two) of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider. How can a couple decide if divorce is the right decision? 

The third option for couples to consider, which will be examined during discernment counseling, is marriage counseling. This option is the best when both parties acknowledge a desire to try. This means they will commit to six months of intensive marriage counseling, during which time divorce is off the table. Now, this isn’t a fix all. It is not saying that the couple will not get divorced but it is saying they want to give their marriage a chance to be healthy again. This choice requires a lot of work from both parties and a commitment to be open and communicate honestly with each other. 

For example in the case of fictional clients Sam and Jill, the two of them constantly argued about the house being a mess, bills not being paid, and general disorganization. Sam would get frustrated with Jill and they would argue. Jill would cry and promise to try to get it together, and would eventually repeat old habits. Sam did not feel like he could live with Jill anymore but he wasn’t sure he wanted to live without her either. 

Marriage Counseling

During discernment counseling, it was determined that Jill might be suffering from symptoms of adult Attention Deficit Disorder that had gone undiagnosed. Jill began to get help individually to work on these issues while also attending couples therapy with Sam. Together they both gained valuable communication skills, as well as tools to help with organization and running the home. 

The couples counseling that Sam and Jill endured together strengthened their marriage and allowed them to make an informed decision on whether they truly wanted divorce. It took commitment from both of them and a desire to try.

If you and your spouse are on the brink of divorce and you aren’t sure what to do, discernment counseling can be a valuable tool in helping to determine the best path to this complex life-altering decision. Call a licensed couples counselor to learn more. 

How to tell if divorce is the right decision: Part 2

This is part two (read part one here) of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider. 

The second option for couples to consider, which will be examined during discernment counseling, is separation. If during the counseling process it is determined that one or both people in the couple simply cannot stand the idea of being together any more then separation would likely be the best option. This is a couple that no longer wishes to live under the same roof. One or both of them has a strong desire to end the relationship and is not willing to try to repair it at this time. 

Choosing to Separate

A couple that chooses to separate will each go their own way and will likely later file for divorce, unless after a brief separation they do decide to make the effort to fix things. It is impossible to fix a marriage if both parties are not open to the repair. Even if one of you is adamant about trying to fix things, if the other is unwilling then fixing things is unlikely. This is when discernment counseling is helpful. Because it looks at the needs, wants, desires of both parties to help determine the best path for the relationship. The goal is to help the couple come to an equitable decision, both are in the process, both are participants, both are involved. 

A broken marriage takes a lot of work from both parties. It takes commitment to change, openness to communicate, and willingness to try. Without those core desires separation may be the best option. 

How to tell if divorce is the right decision: Part One

This is part one of a three-part series on how to determine if divorce is the right decision for you as a couple. This series will dive deeper into the options couples who are thinking of divorce have and the factors they should consider. 

Making the decision to get divorced can be one of the most difficult decisions a couple can make. There are a lot of factors that play a role and there are many details to consider. Nobody wants their marriage to end in divorce but it is, unfortunately, a common reality these days. If you and your spouse are considering divorce — how do you know if it’s the right path for you? 

Discernment Counseling

When seeing a couple who is considering divorce it is important for us, as counselors, to help not just one partner but both to explore three options. The process is called discernment counseling. Developed by Dr. Bill Doherty, discernment counseling focuses solely on helping couples to decide what they want to do with their relationship. It is unlike traditional marriage counseling, which is designed to save a marriage (but doesn’t work unless both partners are fully on board). Generally, discernment counseling is brief with the goal of getting couples unstuck so they can move forward in whichever direction they have determined to be best for them. 

Making the decision

The first option for a couple to consider is to do nothing. Doing nothing is exactly how it sounds. It means everything stays put. Couples that choose to do nothing will not seek any additional counseling. They simply will keep things as is in hopes that whatever bumps their marriage is facing is just a “phase” that may eventually pass. A couple who chooses to do nothing may not be ready to make the decision of whether or not to get divorced. Maybe they have kids and they are just not ready to put them through that process, or maybe they are holding out hope that things will get better. Whatever their reasoning chances are they may return to discernment counseling at a later date, or decide down the road to seek marriage counseling. 

How long should it take to get over a divorce?

The other day someone asked me how long it should take to get over their divorce?

While I would have loved to give them a simple answer, it is not that cut and dry. The truth is it will take—as long as it takes. Every situation is different. Divorce itself, even if you and your partner agree that the marriage is not working and divorce is the best option, is not easy.

Your marriage ended for any number of reasons that can be hard to accept. Your divorce challenged your innermost voices, it put strain on your self-esteem and turned your entire world upside down. It is not supposed to be an easy thing to recover from. Even if you know in your heart that it was the right choice, it doesn’t mean that you will instantly feel wonderful. 

Your Internal Core

When you got married you expected to be with your partner forever. You made a commitment to each other to care in sickness and in health, to stand by each other in times of stress, and to grow old together. Just the mere factor of that not working out is a huge disappointment. It is a major blow to your internal core as a human being. 

That is not even taking into account things like children, pets, shared possessions—like homes, cars, etc. You are now faced with figuring out a new normal. If you have children you are likely feeling the strain of their own emotional distress. You are trying to make things as easy as possible on them, while it is hurting you to see them hurt. You may have been forced to move out of your home, split up possessions that may have been of high importance to you, and you may be feeling more financial strain than ever before—divorce is not cheap. 

All of these things make getting over such a thing extremely difficult. Don’t try to rush your heart. Instead, take comfort in knowing that you will find that new normal. You will. You will be able to move on. Your kids will be ok. You will find that happiness, that relief, whatever it is that you need. You will. In time. These things take time. 

Counseling services are always there for you if you need an extra set of ears to bounce things off of, or if you need guidance in how to move through this major life change. 

Surviving Valentine’s Day Post-Divorce

The day of love is here, but you aren’t feeling it. You recently got divorced and want to forget this day even exists. And maybe that is what you do, maybe you distract yourself with something else. Valentine’s Day can be a hard day for anyone not in a relationship but especially for someone who recently got out of a marriage. 

Create a new normal

Maybe burying yourself under the covers of your bed looks really good right now. I get it. But, I generally don’t encourage avoiding situations. This day might be hard but doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of it. Avoidance just pushes away feelings that will show their face later down the road with more strength. 

Rather than avoiding the dreaded Feb. 14, embrace it in a different way. You can celebrate Galantines Day, as it is often called, and treat your friends to a special date. Share a moment with the girls and relish in how loved you are. If you have kids, treat them to a special dinner. Embrace the day as a time to show love to those in your life, not just a romantic partner. 

Try something new

Take it as an opportunity to do something you wouldn’t have been able to do before. Make a new normal. Maybe you love Thai food but your ex did not, take yourself shopping and buy yourself something special, get your hair cut, your nails done, or get a massage. Use the day as a day to love yourself. Recognize that the most important person in your life is you. You deserve to take care of yourself, to treat yourself, to show yourself how much you are loved and how much you deserve. 

Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Take yourself to a movie, do something special for someone else, whatever it is that makes you feel good. Read a good book. If the idea of being out with other couples just makes you cringe, then don’t. You don’t have to expose yourself to uncomfortable situations. Rent a movie, order in food. The bottom line is to ask yourself what matters to you? What is something that would make you feel good? Then do it. 

If you are feeling particularly down, take a moment to think of five things you love about yourself. Write them down, repeat them to yourself. You do you. Make this day about love, loving you, loving your friends, your family, your pets, whoever has been there for you. You will get through. Tomorrow is a new day. 

How to ask for a prenup

Explaining to your fiancé your desire to have a prenuptial agreement can be difficult. It is a touchy conversation that often can result in an argument because, in order to talk about a prenup, you have to talk about divorce. 

Talking about divorce before you have even walked down the aisle can seem counterproductive. It might come off as hurtful. Or it might seem to your partner that you are not fully invested in the relationship. But, let’s be real. Divorce rates are staggeringly high. Half of all marriages will end at some point. Even if you insist that won’t be you, different people have different reasons for wanting that prenuptial document. Maybe you witnessed a friend or family member lose everything in a messy divorce and you want to protect yourself. Or, maybe you just want to feel like you are being responsible. Whatever the reason, if it is something you feel passionately about then you need to have a conversation. 

So, how do you approach such a sensitive topic?

1.) Prepare — Before starting the discussion, grab a piece of paper and fold it in half. Write down ten reasons why you want a prenup on one side and then write down potential responses from your partner on the other side. Being mentally prepared for the discussion and what might come up is key. You need to have a deep understanding of what you want and why you want it. Be authentic and honest with your reasoning. 

2.) Have a conversation, don’t issue demands — Instead of saying “we are getting a prenup,” say “let’s talk about a prenup—what do you think about getting one?” Wait for he/she/they to answer before responding.

3.) Stay calm—Avoid being defensive or argumentative. Don’t get worked up that your partner may not agree with you. That will only make it worse. 

4.)Really listen, ask questions — Have an open mind. Listen and try to see your partner’s perspective as well as your own. 

5.)Talk about it as early as you can — Don’t wait until the week before your wedding to have this conversation. Even though you might know what you want, your partner might not have thought of it in detail. They will need time to assess their feelings and maybe some space to consider your reasoning. If the conversation does not go over well consider approaching the topic again at a later date.

Getting a prenup does not mean your marriage is doomed from the beginning. It just means you want to be prepared for the worst case scenario, and that is ok. The best thing you can do is keep communicating with each other about your thoughts and feelings. 

What do you think about prenups?