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Financial Life After Divorce for Women

When I was a young teenage girl, a nice older lady who was working at a grocery store got into a brief conversation with me about college education. She said, “Make sure you get a college degree to put in your back-pocket, in case you end up having to fully support yourself.” I didn’t find out the details of her life, but it’s probable that she was warning me to protect myself against a situation in which she had found herself entangled.

Rewind to about 50 years ago. The reality was most women didn’t think too much of careers or earning a living because that was, and perhaps still is in certain people’s view, the sole responsibility of their husbands. But as time went on from that point, divorce went on the rise. So has the rate of women receiving college degrees and entering the workforce.

Frequently for women, filing for divorce means more changes in lifestyle than separating from a lover– it means taking charge of their financial lives and becoming independent. These ladies are in good company, since the trend of women in the workforce is on the rise globally, divorced or not.

Bringing Home the Bacon

The cost of living is an expensive feat (an understatement for those residing in places like California or New York City). Those going through the divorce process would also agree, which is why it’s not only important to find ways to lower the cost of divorce, but also make sure you are able to support yourself as a newly single person with one lonely income.

Financial independence is increasingly important for women, who are still in the process of obtaining equal status and pay within the male-dominated work environment. They are making significant strides, as of late, and are predicted to do so even more in the near future.  Not only are 4 in 10 global workers female, an expected 1 billion more will become paid workers within the next ten years.

Educational feats provide similar and even more impressive statistics that show the increasing presence and potential for women in the economy. Outshining men within the developed world, 6 out of 10 college diplomas are earned by women. It seems the encouragement of the grocery store lady and others like her has worked.

Why Female Breadwinners Are Necessary

The continually high rate of divorce in the last of half of the 20th, and the beginning of the 21st century means women who are left single, and many times with children, are no longer dependent on men for their own sustenance. On top of this fact, it appears rare in the current economy to see even a marriage-intact household fruitfully surviving on only one income. Women are stepping up to the plate, not only for themselves but for the sake of economic progress within the American home and worldwide.

The Right and Wrong of Conflict

78057026Whether filing for divorce or not, relationships usually deal with conflict at one point or another. Anyone who has ever been in any kind of argument knows it feels good to be right, and not so good to be wrong. However, psychology research has shown that the right and wrong, or “the truth,” of relational conflict is much more relative and fuzzy than we tend to believe.

When an incident or disagreement takes place, there is almost always two, or perhaps multiple, sides of the story. Each person believes their version of the truth is right and any other is wrong. But what if all versions are right, or all versions are wrong? Or what if there is no right or wrong?

These questions are probably more frustrating than enlightening, so I’ll go ahead and get to the point now.

Cognitive Dissonance: The “I Am Always Right” Syndrome

“People selectively hear and see what matches their beliefs and experiences,” explains Christina Curtis, a leadership coach who writes for Psychology Today. “They then lace each action of the event with meaning, and seek validation from those around them.”

In psychological terms, the above theory is called cognitive dissonance, when you find or sometimes actively create supportive evidence that you are right to avoid any feelings of being wrong. It’s a self-protective defense mechanism we use to avoid those negative feelings and instead keep ourselves standing in an angelic, heroic light.

The downside of this mechanism is the way it becomes destructive in relationships, especially the most intimate, conflict-ridden relationship of all: Marriage. Playing the right vs. wrong game allows disagreements to escalate and belittle the opponent, preventing quick resolution and reconciliation that can follow under ideal circumstances.

Victim vs. Villain

Another way of terming what is right and wrong within relational conflicts is calling out the victim and the villain. The victim is the right one and, of course, the villain is the one in the wrong. In order to protect yourself from being wrong, the other person slides into a downward spiral in your eyes, as you find evidence that they’ve been wrong all along and have characteristically selfish, villainous tendencies.

The main problem with this conflict approach is the way cognitive dissonance emphasizes the negative and downplays the positive in a partner. The victim ends up ignoring certain facts while self-servingly highlighting only the facts that support viewing the other as a villain. Rather than alleviating conflict, it’s simply worsening it.

The Potential Upside of Conflict

By escalating conflict, the two opponents bypass the opportunity to work through it thoughtfully and come out the other end stronger as a couple. Researcher John Gottman “found that stable marriages consistently had 5 times more positive behaviors than negative behaviors during an exchange.”

Even though there may be negative things to express during marital conflict, or conflict that occurs while going through the divorce process, focusing on all the positive facts about the other person produces more positive results. Seeing conflict with objective, all-encompassing eyes, instead of biased, self-serving ones helps you see all sides of the story, not just one version of the truth.

How does the theory of cognitive dissonance affect your view of relational conflict?

Women’s Divorce Rights: Progress in Uganda

skd284550sdcAlthough there are many circulating opinions regarding divorce in the U.S., we are lucky enough to have fair divorce laws in this country, whether you’re a man or woman. Until about a decade ago in Uganda, their law made it unfairly difficult and rare for a wife to initiate divorcing her husband, while letting husbands divorce wives quite easily. Now that Ugandan laws are changing, and representatives are standing up for the rights of women, the oppression of women in divorce is finally lifting.

Change of Law, Change of Heart

Cases of women initiating divorce in Uganda have been on the rise ever since 2004, when a court got rid of a sexist divorce law. The law allowed a man to swiftly divorce his wife merely upon proof of adultery, while a woman only had a case if she could prove her husband had committed sodomy, desertion, or bestiality.

Now women can file for divorce on account of abuse, adultery, or for any other matter in the marriage that lowers their quality of life. As a result, legal officials and activists report, the number of divorce cases overall has multiplied, showing how needful the unfair law repeal actually was.

Thanks to sympathetic Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, even more progressive changes may take effect within the year. Lawmakers are working to pass a law that would solidify men and women as equals within marriage, including making marital rape an offense, and securing equal distribution of property upon divorce.

Taking a Stand

Referring to how he likes to turn his courtroom into a classroom, Ugandan court magistrate David Batema pronounces,“[t]he major aim of the lesson should be to point out to the man that marriage, as of now, is a partnership of equals.”

Batema is a forward-thinking man who, among other activists and legal authorities, is admirably standing up for women, thereby helping to create a better, more egalitarian future. Many times during feminist revolutions like this one, oppressed women are the ones leading the way. It’s refreshing to see males stepping up to the plate, defending and empowering women.

Batema believes in protecting women’s freedom of choice, saying “that’s why in my career I have never refused to grant a divorce where one partner wants it,” he said. “Marriage is supposed to be voluntary.”

Confronting Stigma

Still lingering among traditionalist and church official thinking in the conservative, East African country is that the rise in divorce is shameful. What this kind of opinion disregards as unimportant is the overwhelming instances and likelihood of abuse from which these women are rightfully escaping.

As Maria Nassali, a family law teacher and activist, emphasizes, “[w]e need to kill the stigma associated with divorce. She’s not being selfish when she gets a divorce. She’s not being immoral. She just wants to be a human being.”

When a culture teaches and expects women to be submissive to their husbands, and disables them from making choices about their own well-being, the women are deprived of human rights. Thankfully, voices like Batema and Nassali’s are being heard, and the culture of female submission in Uganda is changing for the better.

Hitting the Snooze Button: How Lack of Sleep Affects Relationships

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We know that getting enough sleep is an important part of being healthy. My doctor tells me that persistent sleep deprivation can not only put a temperate damper on your brain performance and immune system, it can lead to more serious health problems down the road. What is relatively new to the discussion of sleep, however, is how it affects significant relationships, namely marriage.

Recent studies show that lack of sleep can impair important aspects of caring communication within marriage. Not getting enough shut-eye is shown to increase attitudes of selfishness and ingratitude regarding spouses, which in a broader perspective may eventually contribute to filing for divorce.

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of the Bed

Researchers at UC Berkeley studied 60 couples between the ages of 18 and 56 to see what kind of effect inefficient sleep had on feelings of gratitude.

In one version of the experiment, each partner kept a diary recording changes in sleep quality and the following interactions with their significant other. Another study videotaped the couples tackling problem-solving tasks together, evidencing that those who had a poor night’s sleep showed less appreciation to their partner. Results showed that in both experiments, sleep deprivation meant less thank-yous and decreased attentive validation between lovers.

As lead researcher Amie Gordon explains, “Poor sleep may make us more selfish as we prioritize our own needs over our partner’s.”

The Ills of Modern Life

The causes of not getting enough sleep are innumerable. Observe a typical city-dweller, corporate office worker, or yourself, and you’ll notice what busy lives we lead. From rush hour traffic to fast-food for dinner, everyone seems in a rush and strapped for precious time, not to mention the constant stimulation we receive from the technologies of internet and iPads. All of these things have the power to compromise sleep quality, and consequently our health and relationships in the process.

“Poor quality sleep and insufficient sleep can negatively affect mood and judgment, making us cranky and less apt to greet the inevitable ups and downs of life with perspective and an even keel,” says Michael J. Breus, clinical psychologist and Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. This depletion of emotional willpower can leak into our most important relationships of all.

Sleep and Marriage

Married couples as well as people who have gone through the jarring divorce process may not attribute relational or marital problems to lack of sleep, and it rightly would be irrational to place a large part of the blame on it. But it’s the little things that count in the long run.

Lack of sleep could be a result of an individual’s lifestyle, a kind of busy life that is letting certain aspects of emotional and physical health fall to the wayside. Daily habits can turn into a vicious cycle of poor sleep leading to poor emotional health and neglecting the significant details of your romantic relationship, such as expressing the loving salve of gratitude. Taking the proper time to care for yourself, by doing things like maintaining healthy sleeping habits, will strengthen and renew other aspects of your life, including the relationships with those you love.

Collaborative Divorce: Stuck Between Contested and Uncontested

78630844The availability of the collaborative divorce process is gaining steam as more states sign it into law. A less adversarial form of divorce, collaborative divorce still allows the couple to make all separation agreements without sitting, or heatedly standing, in a courtroom.

Although uncontested divorce is the most ideal case in which spouses can settle things peacefully on their own, a collaborative agreement involving two lawyers keeps the situation out of any court drama that often ensues during contested cases. Thankfully, a new collaborative divorce law was just passed in Washington, solidly making available a more peaceful divorce experience for all involved.

Terminology Lesson

Just so we’re all on the same page, here are definitions of most kinds of divorce:

Uncontested Divorce: A divorce in which the couple agrees on all allocations of marital property, child custody, child support, and/or alimony. Uncontested divorce essentially eliminats the need for lawyers or a judge in court. An uncontested divorce usually gives a no-fault grounds for divorce.

Contested Divorce: The opposite of uncontested, contested divorce means the couple cannot make a settlement agreement on their own due to disputes. Lawyers and a judge are needed to make the settlement for them. The process is longer and more expensive.

Mediated Divorce: A divorce where the couple hires a mediator, who is usually a divorce attorney trained in mediation, to help them settle allocations agreeably.

Collaborative Divorce: Similar to mediated divorce, except the couple hires two lawyers, one for each spouse, to help them come to an agreement and draft the divorce settlement.

Good News for Washington

Despite its effectiveness, the collaborative divorce option is only enacted in a few U.S. states. One state that just made it available and signed it into law is Washington, to the joy of many supporters.

Called the Uniform Collaborative Law Act, it enables couples to utilize mental health professionals and child specialists as well as lawyers to make the out-of-court option run even smoother. Child therapist Kristin Little remarks, “You’re helping people to be good parents through the divorce, so you’re actually preventing a lot of the damage that can occur during the divorce.”

Indeed, going through divorce is especially hard on children, who tend to be caught in the eye of the storm. “I have been doing family law litigation 25 years and court is no place for families,” says Washington based lawyer, Cynthia First. When disputes need to be resolved themselves, leaving them out of the court’s hands means less hassle and more peace.

Amicable Splitting

The best way to settle any conflict or disagreement is through reasonable compromise and speedy resolution. That kind of attitude and problem-solving leads to feelings of goodwill for the ex-spouse and life after divorce. Even though spouses often have serious disagreements over what will happen to their life’s possessions during divorce, they can find a way to temper them independently through options like collaborative divorce. The collaborative divorce process frees up more time and resources for the divorcee to focus on other things, like moving on.

Baby Boomers’ Booming Divorces: Self-Fulfilling Prophesy?

84120557The rate at which baby boomers are divorcing each other defies many traditional expectations, obliterating marriages that have already lasted 25 plus years. Perhaps it’s not so surprising when you remember that the generation came of age as supporters of the cultural upheaval defining the 60′s. Again, many baby boomers are breaking tradition.

You would think marriages that have lasted so long would continue lasting throughout the end of the spouses’ lives. But statistics have been consistently proving that perception wrong, as more older couples enter the divorce process without looking back. There is a theory circulating that gray divorces are the result of the generation’s original expectations going into their marriages, expectations involving the high-held goal of self-fulfillment.

The Stats Tell A Story

Although the overall divorce rate peaked in the 1980s, a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research shows that the baby boomer divorce rate has doubled in the last 20 years. Among those 50 years old or older, the divorce rate went from 1 in 10 in 1990, to 1 in 4 today.

Experts speculate this is partly due to empty-nest syndrome. As opposed to fidelity being a main cause, divorce attorney Don Cosley says, “The reality is that lack of communication is often the deal breaker. Empty nesters wake up one day and realize they have nothing in common with their spouse. That’s because they haven’t kept up the communication in their marriages.” It’s possible that children may have been what was holding a relationship together, so that when they leave the nest, so might love.

Self-Fulfillment, Individual Needs, and Happiness

Social workers and relationship coaches, Linda and Charlie Bloom, offer up another theory regarding the age of entitlement. In addition to baby boomers living longer than any other generation thus far, “those born after 1946 have entered marriage with a goal that was not shared by any previous generation: self-fulfillment.”

At the base of this hypothesis is the notion that, growing up in an era of greater affluence and opportunity, these baby boomers–like the generations that have followed them–feel a sense that they deserve happiness handed to them on a silver platter. And this is the kind of expectation that fueled their motivation to venture into marriage.

While there is nothing wrong with valuing happiness, your individual needs, and personal growth, believing that someone else, your lover, can simply bring all of that to you is a grave mistake. The marriage becomes a blame game of him or her not doing their part to make you happy, when in fact, much of your happiness and success depends on you and the work you put into it.

As the Blooms emphasize, lasting love and happiness comes with your own “willingness to take responsibility for the fulfillment of a desired outcome and making the effort to bring it about.”

Lesson to Learn

Maybe it’s time for the term “self-fulfillment” to be taken more literally, meaning that we fulfill ourselves independently from spouses, and he/she is wonderful icing on the cake. When that shift of attitude takes place, marriage becomes a game of mutual helping and progressing, not finger-pointing. Judging by the high rate of seemingly successful baby boomer couples filing for divorce, it’s likely that they can benefit from this change of perspective.

Divorce from a Young Child’s Perspective

The dramatic event of filing for divorce is a manifestation of problems within the spousal relationship, which children are innocently caught in between. What’s even more emotionally troubling to contemplate is the common tendency for children, especially young ones, to somehow feel responsible for their parents’ separation. While that responsibility is always far from the case, they internalize the divorce and struggle to understand its complex reality.

What children need to always understand, no matter what is happening in any aspect of their life, is their unfaltering, complete innocence. Parents and other family members can help them remember this universal fact by paying attention, talking through the emotional difficulties, and showering their children with consistent support and reassurance.

Center of the World

What if you were able to read the diary of a small child going through their parents’ divorce? According to Stephanie Duckworth, licensed clinical manager at a behavioral health agency, it would sound something like this:

“If only I had been better, maybe they wouldn’t have broken up. Maybe, if I’m really good, they will stop fighting and get back together. Mom said she hates him, but I don’t. I really miss him, even if he does dumb stuff sometimes. What if one day Mom decides I do too many dumb things and doesn’t love me anymore? I feel so sad and my tummy hurts. I don’t tell Mom. I don’t want to make her more sad or mad or both. I don’t think she would understand. My family is broken. I feel broken.”

An important thing to remember about young children is the way they understand their place in the world. It’s hard for them to see that certain family problems have nothing to do with what they have or haven’t done, and they are in no way to blame. The world they can comprehend is small and they themselves are at the center of it, with parents in tightly intertwined proximity.

It’s evident from the excerpt that the vulnerability of young children creates a tendency to be confused and blame themselves. This affects their behavior in certain ways, like shutting down, becoming moody, and not talking about their feelings to their mom or dad, fearing that this would make things worse, and that they are the cause.

Effective Communication and Support

Talking about feelings is key. Even if the child prefers to speaking out to another trusted adult besides the parent, it is incredibly helpful. Like adults who keep things bottled in, children who do so run the risk of developing physical symptoms of the stress, such as head or tummy aches. Releasing emotions in mutual, simple discussion will help remedy this as well as their feelings of being to blame.

Without overwhelming them with too much information about the details of the divorce process, parents should work to state the facts and reassure their child of their unconditional love. It’s also important to avoid saying hurtful things about the other parent in front of the child; children love both their parents. In return, they need to know that they will always be loved, and reassurance of their innocence.

Delaying Divorce: Delaying the Inevitable?

57441057The sadness and emotional stress the divorce process involves makes it tempting to delay a divorce, perhaps permanently. The question anyone who is contemplating divorce would benefit from asking themselves is this: “Am I just delaying the inevitable?” It is a tough question no one can answer but one spouse or the other. If the answer is “yes,” then delayment means staying in a marriage that is in a constant state of turmoil in favor of putting off the other, more temporary, turmoil of cutting the marriage ties.

There are a few clues that point to the reality of imminent divorce, the basic one being that you are utterly miserable on a daily basis. That’s a pretty good sign. Otherwise, coming to the decision to divorce can be confusing and daunting. It’s usually time to divorce when you are preoccupied with the constant thought of doing it, and all attempts at convincing yourself or your spouse to change things have failed.

Lost, Desperate Causes

Sometimes grim reality is hard to face. But as soon as you face and accept difficult things, the quicker you’ll be able to do something about them and move forward. This philosophy is what therapist Abby Rodman incorporates in her article chronicling common cycles in which partners delaying divorce find themselves entrapped. Here are a couple to look out for:

Trying to Change Your Spouse’s Mind

We’d all love to have the superhuman power of magically changing someone’s perspective or feelings regarding a long-standing issue, whether it be the story of how your marriage went wrong, or whether divorcing is the right thing to do. The tough reality of this kind of push-pull situation, Rodman explains, is that it doesn’t work. Emotional stances that serious rarely, if ever, convert to the other side of the argument. So taking months or even years to attempt this feat is unnecessary delayment.

Pushing the Blame

Another type of counterproductive attempt at persuasion is fighting to determine the blame of the relationship’s approaching demise. Part of escaping this trap is taking responsibility for mutual blame. As Rodman says, “You’ve both played a role in the disintegration of the marriage. In the end, does it really matter who shoulders the blame?” Arguing over a faulty, biased claim like blameworthiness is never-ending and definitely doesn’t solve anything.

The Choice is Yours

A main piece of invaluable advice when residing in the limbo of divorce that’s possibly looming on the horizon, is to follow your heart. As cheesy as that may sound, it’s the key to staying true to yourself. Only you know the day to day reality of your marriage and how it’s affecting your livelihood. If the thought of filing for divorce repeatedly haunts your mind, it must be for good reasons. Trust yourself and the life you want your future to hold.

What do our readers think? What do you believe are the clear, tell-tale signs that divorce is the right decision?

Costly Divorce Coping

If you are human, you have probably fallen victim to the lure of instant gratification many times in your life. With the rise of high speed internet and technology, we are used to getting what we want quickly. Patience tends to wear thin in the modern world, and when it comes to negative emotions, patience wears even thinner. But appropriately dealing with difficult feelings associated with traumatic events like filing for divorce, is necessary in order to move on and heal.

Coping with hard times in unhealthy ways, such as through spending money or other methods of instant gratification, only serves to numb and trap yourself within negative emotions, which delays recovery and is harmful to your future. Choosing healthy self-soothing methods and working through your emotions instead ensures positive healing and growth.

Pleasure-Seeking Methods

Things that bring sugar-coated pleasure are easy to accumulate. Buy that expensive, gorgeous pair of shoes, or eat that second piece of cake, and your sad mood will take a hike quickly, with indulgent delight eagerly taking its place. The problem with this method of self-soothing is the way it only works temporarily, and usually causes future issues down the road.

Financial: When it comes to spending money to make yourself feel better, there are obvious negative ramifications. Not only does it deplete assets most likely needed during a divorce, it can handicap your financial independence afterwards.

It’s helpful to make sure your motivations are healthy before making any financial decisions during a fragile emotional time. This Huffington Post article quotes financial planner, Douglas J. Eaton, advising, “The most important question to be answered is: ‘What is the most important to you about your money and why?’…Do some soul-searching to define who you are and do not allow your money to define you.” Excessive spending cannot save you from the emotional distress of divorce, so it’s wise to keep spending in its rightful place on your list of priorities.

Self-Numbing: Additionally, any gratification you do savor from self-indulgent coping mechanisms, like overeating, is short-lived and empty. The emotions of sadness, anxiety, or frustration need to be worked through, not covered up or avoided. If you avoid and numb them, they will simply return after your pleasure of choice fades.

Our impatience with negative feelings results in instantly gratifying behaviors that only serve our present state, not our future. As writer Polly Campbell informs, “We move into ‘present bias’ when we want immediate gratification–in the case of sadness, we want to feel better–so we become impatient and ignore the greater benefits that come when we settle down and wait awhile.”

What Are Better Ways to Cope?

The main necessity for healthy coping in the face of the divorce process, is facing it bravely. This means not being afraid to feel your sadness and then seeking the right kind of support to overcome it. As a result, instead of pushing bad feelings away temporarily, you take control of them and gradually become free. Support from family and friends helps with this process, and doing enjoyable activities, that don’t involve harming your future assets or physical health. Patiently taking care of yourself and your future is the key to thriving recovery.

What are some other healthy ways to cope with divorce?

Steps to a Strong Marriage Foundation

83163694While it’s helpful to pinpoint what causes divorce and relationship dissolution, what is perhaps even more beneficial is knowing how to create a solid marriage. Every relationship is unique and there is no specific roadmap that eliminates the possibility of throwing in the towel and filing for divorce. There are, however, general surefire ways to give a romance the best shot at succeeding by setting a foundation to build a strong marriage.

An all encompassing piece of wisdom is to remember that a marriage is not a happily ever after fairy-tale that will never let you down. Like the ever changing events in one’s life, people evolve too, and so should a relationship. Constant work and progress is necessary to nourish those strong bonds that sealed a couple together in the first place.

Steps to Strength

Some things couples can do to make sure they are putting their best feet forward include fostering good habits of communication and compassion. Licensed Master Social Worker, Nathan Feiles, offers tried and true suggestions in his blog featured on PsychCentral. Here are a few gems.

Acceptance of Flaws: It can be tempting to make someone your project by striving to change, fix, and perfect. Trouble with this scenario is that it doesn’t work and is often met with resentment. People have flaws only they can change, if they take it upon themselves to do so. As Feiles says, “The trick is to be with someone whose flaws you can handle.” Accepting someone means accepting all of them, the good and the bad.

Similar Values: At the same time, there are certain flaws or, more accurately, differences that could significantly impact the relationship. Having drastically differing values from your partner tends to mean much more conflict and misunderstanding. “While some values are likely to not align, hopefully the foundational values of your relationship are,” explains Feiles. For example, a couple would most likely fair better when they have similar religious and political slants. While opposites sometimes do tend to attract, sharing important values and beliefs provide a solid foundation.

Good Listening Skills: Name some top qualities you value in your best friend, and one of them is bound to be a good listener. When there are problems or successes in life, we all need an open ear and mind to share them with and support us. Since a marriage is similar to spending every day with a best friend, the list of desired qualities is similar. Listen to your husband or wife with sincerity and empathy, and they will feel loved and want to return the favor.

Marriage Maintenance

The key to successfully fulfilling all of the above guidelines is to keep them in check and updated. Taking stock of what kind of maintenance your marriage requires and what needs tweaking keeps it from sliding down the slippery slope that could lead to an even slipperier divorce process. All of the work that goes into marriage upkeep requires patience and dedication. Luckily taking care of loving strongholds of acceptance, shared values, and listening skills, ensures a stable foundation from which to grow and build.