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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.

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.

Love Addiction Causes and Consequences

87730262Can someone be addicted to love? Judging by the title of this blog, the answer is, yes. Love addiction might sound like an almost positive quality to have, but in it’s clinical, psychological diagnosis, it’s a real addiction, and therefore, a very real problem. Those afflicted with this ailment can find its roots within their childhood experiences. They then see its ramifications in their later romantic relationships, with an intensity that may often lead to heartbreak, ranging from an inevitable breakup to filing for divorce.

Love addiction is an intense obsession with the beloved to the extent of disregarding yourself and your own, at times basic, practical self-care needs. It sounds like a classic romance movie from the studios of Hollywood, but the reality of being pathologically addicted to someone is more devastating than tantalizing.

Fear of Abandonment

Lingering behind the clinging, desperate relational behaviors of love addicts is deep-seated fear that they are not loved at all and are at constant risk of abandonment. A PsychCentral article explains the neurosis origin: “People generally become love addicts due to a past history of abandonment from their primary caregivers. Adult love addicts usually recognized as children that their most precious needs for validation, love, and connection with one or both parents were not met.”

The past sets off a pattern of seeking to fulfill those unmet needs of self-esteem in destructive ways that continue to deplete the very self-regard and love the addict is searching for. What results is an unhealthy dependence on incoming approval and attention from the beloved they obsess over, tightly clasping to them in fear that they will leave.

The Addict’s Faulty Solution

One interesting aspect of a love addict’s romantic habits is the seemingly opposite fear of intimacy mixed in with the intensity of their obsession. Their particular lack of self-confidence results in both “a conscious fear of abandonment and an underlying subconscious fear of intimacy. To a love addict, intensity in a relationship is often mistaken for intimacy,” the article states.

By intensity, it generally means the constant effort to be with the romantic partner at all times or no what he or she is doing all the time in a controlling way, always seeking attention and validation. They overly depend on the other to make them happy and take care of all of their needs, thereby neglecting to take care of themselves and the quality of the relationship. This could create tense feelings of resentment on both ends and eventually lead to an even more contentious divorce process.

The Real Solution

What the love addict really needs is self-awareness and self-love that comes through dealing with past hurt emotions and experiences. Depending on the intensity of the addiction, therapy is usually needed to accomplish this feat. Real love means taking care of yourself as well as the other person, and being a whole, self-sustaining individual who is happy with themselves, without depending solely on someone else to bring them happiness.

What are our readers’ opinions of love addiction and its possible contribution to some cases of divorce?

Alimony & Sexism

76755050When the word sexism pops up, it’s common to tag it as a women’s problem; women face injustices in the workplace, and in home-life expectations. But sexism affects men as well. Questions and activism are on the rise regarding the fairness of alimony, and the regular handouts men are oftentimes required to pay ex-wives after filing for divorce. A centuries old system, alimony is beginning to be labeled as out of date with the changing times and gender roles of modern society.

Although every divorce case is different and requires special discretion, many states still require husbands to pay lifetime alimony, with few exceptions. It is especially deemed unjust by these husbands when the wife is fully capable of supporting herself if she so chose. The alimony law’s unfairness in these cases brings up the question of its value and promotion of a different kind of sexism that holds firm to strict gender expectations that are no longer appreciated.

“It’s not fair; it’s the law”

The main argument against lifetime alimony law is that ex-wives are reaping these monetary benefits for no good reason, other than the law states they should because it’s stuck in a 1950’s mentality. Opponents, consisting of both men and women, as discussed in an NPR article, are in favor of modifications, such as the new law in Massachusetts that customizes and determines alimony according to marriage length.

One such alimony opponent discussed in the article is Tom Leustek, a New Jersey based professor whose ex-wife has a Ph.D. Still, he was ordered by a judge to pay her lifetime alimony, since she had ended up quitting a high-paying job to start a less financially rewarding psychology practice. Leustek argues her earning potential is still alive and well. He quotes the judge, who said, “It’s not fair, Mr. Leustek; it’s the law.” That was the turning point leading him to take up activism through a group, called the New Jersey Alimony Reform, that seeks to modify the law in a similar way Massachusetts did.

Stuck in the 1950’s?

The term sexism comes into play when you consider the state of marital affairs of the past, in which most women in America stayed home to care for the house and children, while the breadwinning men trotted off to work. It was and continues to be a limiting stereotype that is still in the process of being eradicated as more and more women step into the workforce and increase their opportunities.

Businessman Raymond Posa is another alimony questioner who faced a similar situation to Leustek’s, agrees that the divorce law needs to change with the times. Referring to the assumptions made by alimony enforcement, he says, “It’s like you’re incapable of getting on your own two feet, and you need to depend on this person for the rest of your life?” If women are making their own money, it makes sense for the patriarchal notion of depending on a man to fall to the wayside where it belongs.

The Perfection Trap and How it Hurts Marriages

86515138A big part of the work of being married is biting your tongue and accepting your spouse, mistakes and flaws included. The alternative is a downward spiral of criticism and resulting resentment that often leads to a contentious, exhausting divorce process. Whether one of the partners (or God forbid, both) are bona fide perfectionists or not, letting perfectionist criticisms and expectations infiltrate a relationship is destructive, yet preventable with a little perspective and self-awareness.

There are a few key triggers and remedies of the perfection trap. An overlapping, general principle to remember, which we all sometimes easily forget, is the good-old golden rule: treat others how you’d want to be treated. Somehow the unexpected desire to nit-pick and judge others, especially those you care for the most, causes us to overlook this nugget of truth that creates harmonious love in relationships.

Self-Awareness and an Empathetic Perspective

Luckily, understanding the origins of one’s penchant for criticizing a beloved helps to crawl out of the contention trap and see a situation for what it really is. Susan Heitler, Ph.D., offers a few insights to what triggers lashing out and how to zap the tendency before it zaps your marriage.

1. Physical Stress: There’s a new-world term I found circulating the internet pages of social media–”hangry.” The word is a combination of “hungry” and “angry.” We’ve all been there, whether it’s due to hunger, physical exhaustion, or other bodily plights that seemingly render our ability to be nice unlikely. Before you know it, you’re spewing fiery, venomous words of disapproval and complaint every which way you step. The trick is to be aware when you are in those vulnerable states and fervently warn your spouse about his/her resulting danger in your presence. Take care of yourself and you’ll be more likely to take care of others.

2. Mental/Emotional Stress: The same goes for other kinds of wear and tear. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or trying to juggle too many tasks at once, you are more likely to find fault in your partner in crime. Little does he/she know that the criticism isn’t really about them; it’s about their partner’s stress needing to find release on something or someone. Taking it out on another person doesn’t help, of course, but instead only creates another stress to add to the list due to the inevitable arguing that ensues. Realizing that your stress is the result of other things besides your partner’s relatively minor faulty behavior will help you stop and think about your actions before they do damage.

3. Different Perspectives:  Finally, stepping outside of yourself to see the world with your partner’s eyes will do wonders for the marriage, especially in those times you’re tempted to point out mishaps. Perhaps when they make a mistake, they are going through some stress of their own. Sharing inner turmoils will strengthen empathy and understanding.

Take Home Message

No one is perfect; not you, not your spouse, not a single human on the earth. Everyone knows this fact on some level, but just about everyone tends to forget it when they feel the urge to blurt out others’ flaws without tact or compassion. It would be a tragedy to let petty things build up to the point of filing for divorce. To avoid that road and the pain of criticizing loved ones, let’s all follow the golden rule and forgive imperfections.

Evolving Divorce Opinions

Times and commonly held views are changing, and new research on Americans and the Brits further points to exactly how. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, divorce is becoming less taboo and more accepted, even while the dream of marriage is still alive and well.  Granted, this greater acceptance of the divorce process is more prevalent among younger people than older generations.

The growingly popular opinion is while divorce remains rampant and many have had to feel the pain of it themselves, or through other couples who are parents, relatives, or friends, it has also become more normalized. The news of divorce is no longer the shock it once was perhaps because it has become so common. The perspective is beneficial to people who might otherwise feel shame, adding to the emotional turmoil already accompanying the split. Essentially, divorcees no longer have to worry so much about what others think of their choice.

The British Take

A new study published in the UK Daily Mail shows how the amount of people labeling divorce as a stigma is shrinking. Specifically, out of a poll of 2,000 people, about two thirds say the stigma is no longer existent. There are significant differences in opinion according to age, with 56% of 18-24 year-olds saying divorce is still taboo, and 67% of 24-54 year-olds saying divorce is still taboo.

The article quotes British relationship counselor Christine Northam explaining how it’s changed from past generations: “Divorce has become much more familiar in modern life; it’s not the hushed secret it was years ago…There is no such thing as a painless divorce; we are just getting better adjusted to it as a part of modern Britain.”

At the same time, many if not most people are still hopeful and greatly value the institution marriage and all it implies. Only 4 percent said divorce was a word they most frequently associated with marriage, the most common words associated with marriage being commitment and love. They consider 28 years-old the best age to tie the knot.

What Americans Think

Americans view divorce as much less of a shame than other behaviors possibly perceived as immoral. According to a recent Gallup poll, an impressive 68% of the Americans surveyed believe divorce is morally acceptable.

Similar to the Brits, there is still a high value placed on the sanctity of marriage, with a whopping 91% saying marital infidelity is morally despicable. There is a strong sense of despising hypocrisy in how people choose to live out their romantic lives. It seems the prevailing opinion is you are either in a marriage all the way, or you might as well file for divorce.

A respect of individual choice then is becoming much more important than traditional views of sticking through a marriage through thick and thin. While divorce is now seen as more of a personal choice that should be accepted as normal, when you are married, happily- and faithfully-ever-after is the ideal.