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Cartoon angry woman's face

3 Ways to Handle Divorce and Anger, If Things Are Getting Ugly

Divorce and anger go hand in hand.

Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage … Divorce and Anger obviously go together, too. Right? Well … at the very end of the season finale of #DivorceonHBO we hear the main character Frances, who is divorcing her husband, leave this voicemail for her husband: “I imagine that, somehow, you didn’t bother to think through this imbecilic move – you simply wanted to fuck me at any cost. But you have made a terrible, awful, IRREPARABLE mistake.  And you’ve LOST, Robert. You have lost EVERYTHING now!”

Uh, oh. There it is. It all just went sideways.

Oh, how easy it is to give into anger when you are in the middle of divorce, especially if it’s justified (though don’t get me wrong, it’s just as easy to get caught up in your anger because of things that you perceive to be happening, whether they really are or not.) In Frances’s case, she asked and was granted permission by her husband to swap weekends with him, to take the kids skiing.  He changed his mind at the last minute though, because he was furious with her for getting their assets frozen (which actually her attorney did; Frances didn’t really understand what the attorney was doing) and therefore reported her to the police for kidnapping. Which, of course, completely freaked the kids out. Which, of course, completely ticked off Frances, so she lashed right back out at him, hence the voicemail. See the pattern here?

Listen, if you are getting divorced right now, I know you may be feeling really, really angry. And you probably have every right to be furious. Maybe he cheated and lied about it for years … or perhaps he was a workaholic and ignored you, never noticing how very lonely you were … or maybe he abandoned you emotionally and focused his attention on the kids … or perhaps he simply left you without warning and you never saw it coming. You need to make him pay for this right? Well, I’m telling you right now, letting anger drive the legal process is not going to result in you getting the revenge or justice you seek. It will only result in a longer drawn out ugly divorce.

Divorce and anger must be untangled

I’m not suggesting you cease feeling angry … you have every right to that feeling. What I’m suggesting is that you cannot afford to let feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness or even primal raw rage dictate how this divorce will unfold. These emotions must be separated, for your sake and for your kid’s sake as well.

Imagine Anger is a monster inside of you. If you feed it, it gets big and strong. If you allow it, that monster will take over your brain and start to think for you. But Anger has no perspective, no intelligence, no problem solving or rational thinking. Like most monsters, it’s just hungry, so it does things to get fed. It feeds on fear and outrage and hatred and will stop at nothing to stir up those feelings to get a meal. It will stir them up in you and it will not stop there – it will convince you to lash out at others too, so it spreads, and your spouse is the most obvious target.

Feeding this monster does two things: (1) It keeps you in a place where you cannot think clearly nor make smart decisions because the monster is in charge and (2) It forces your spouse into the same position. Now we have two adults, neither of who is capable of making responsible decisions, because both are blinded by Anger.

You must stop feeding Anger the Monster.

As said before, I’m not simply telling you to stop feeling this way. Anger isn’t just going to go because you wish him away. You must honor how you feel, while at the same time figure out ways to navigate the divorce and make good decisions for you and your family. I offer you three things to keep in mind, as a start:

3 ways to handle divorce and your anger, if things are getting ugly

  1. Trust yourself, if only a little.  Listen to that little voice that tells you it can’t be what it seems. Investigate the situation before you let it ignite you. Did he really say that? Would he really do that? Maybe not. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt if you think there is the smallest chance you are overreacting.
  2. Find safe ways to vent and process the anger.  Much like a teakettle that’s corked up, your anger will explode if you don’t find ways to vent the steam. Talking with someone you can trust explicitly or writing in your journal may be important ways for you to get out all that negativity in safe ways.
  3. Get perspective from someone objective. This means someone who is not close to the situation, preferably a professional.  A therapist, divorce coach, social worker, or clergy member will have the expertise you need to help you see things through other perspectives and help you make rational decisions. If Anger threatens to take over, it’s imperative you find someone who is trained to deal with these strong feelings and can help you tame that monster.

Frances says to her dad at one point, “Well, neither one of us is being particularly good to the other, but ya know, apparently that’s how these things go, so….” No, Frances, that’s not right.  Things don’t necessarily have to go that way, unless you let them. You can choose not to let your emotions take over in your divorce, and instead find ways to be civil and communicative with your spouse so you avoid those miscommunications and hurt feelings that Anger so thrives on. You must take active measures to starve the monster.  The best way to do that is with a little help from others.

If you are experiencing feelings of rage and bitterness and just don’t know  to reign it in, Liza and I can help. Reach out to us for a free 45-minute consultation and we’ll help you find ways to deal with your strong feelings while helping you make good decisions about your divorce. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

Considering divorce advice and fear

Divorce Advice: How to Get Over Paralyzing Fear

In this follow up article, excerpting highlights from her interview on Progressive Radio Network, SAS Cofounder and divorce coach Kimberly Mishkin offers divorce advice to women who are thinking about the frightening steps to divorce.

Why is divorce so scary? Each of us has our own unique set of fears, but for so many of us, it’s the time we feel that we’ve lost while being unhappy. Life’s too short, and we know that we will never get any of it back. We made choices, and they led us here, seeking out divorce advice online and looking for connection wherever we can. And while there’s solace in knowing you’re not alone, there’s a certain kind of pain in it too. You’re not special. Your grief, your loss—it is yours, yes, but is one that’s shared, too, by so many. Instead of resisting that pain, though, we recommend you lean into it.

The fact that you’re not the first person to experience this particular pain means that there are plenty of people you can turn to for divorce advice. There are smart, strong, and savvy shoulders out there for you to lean on. There are people who can help you face your fear, stop overthinking divorce, and take the leap.

Jack: How do you address it when people feel fear?  You can’t say, “Get over it.” So how do you balance the fear and getting people to take action?

Kimberly: Actually, we sometimes use the acronym, “ACT.”

A: Act

The first thing you need to do is get somebody to be your ADVISOR, a divorce coach or therapist, for instance. We recommend you talk to someone who is a professional, but if you can’t afford a coach, it could also be someone like an HR representative at work or the guidance counselor at your kid’s school (someone who has given people divorce advice before).

In the first stages of divorce, your attorney might be able to point you to other resources. But no matter what, you absolutely need an advisor. You need to talk about your divorce out loud. You need somebody to give you feedback. You need somebody to help you think it through. You need a professional with tried-and-true divorce advice you can trust on your side.

It’s just impossible to do it all in your head, all on your own.

Jack: You had an advisor?

Kimberly: I did. At first, I wasn’t telling anybody at work, and it was torture. I had compartmentalized to such a degree that I was a totally different person at work than I was on the weekends.

It was exhausting and the anxiety started to come out of my pores. I was getting injuries or I was getting sick every other day. The anxiety was literally eating me up inside until I had to reach out and get some help.

You need an advisor. You need somebody you can trust, somebody you know is genuine—who doesn’t have a personal stake in this, somebody who can be objective.

The second thing you need to do is COLLECT INFORMATION.

C: Collect Information

Start collecting information from anywhere you can. In New York, especially, there are a ton of free workshops, but there are also free online resources, downloadable pamphlets, and E-books. There’s a wealth of information and divorce advice out there—you just have to start looking for it.

Most people fear the unknown more than anything.

Deborah: Right.

Kimberly: So, the more you collect information and educate yourself, the more the fear will start to subside because you’ll understand what you’re looking at and what the realities are.

And the third thing is to TAKE STEPS.  Just take baby steps.

T: Take Steps

Start a journal. Get a bank account of your own. Change the locks if your spouse has moved out. Call a friend and make plans for once a week.

The key is to do something different—take one tiny step, which will lead to more steps that take you on a journey to divorce recovery. Once you get that momentum going, you will feel real change happening.

For more on this interview, read “Divorce Coaching: The Female Take” or listen to the complete interview here.

Whether you are considering a divorce or already navigating the confusing experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to support them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce.

SAS offers women 6 FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, your family, and your future. “A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.” – SAS for Women 

Thinking over divorce advice

Divorce Advice from a Woman of a Certain Age

After my divorce, I needed advice, strategies, and moral support to get through the relationship mess that I was living in. I needed to move on but felt I needed divorce advice and support to get there—someone not young but not quite old, from someone like me: a woman of a certain age.

I began the search by looking for a self-help book that would offer me relief. Visiting more than one bookstore, searching online, and checking out the ever-present Saturday morning yard sale for discarded but useful books (I don’t know why I like that genre), I was astounded to find nothing that offered help for the middle-aged woman.

Why is it that no books existed for the middle-aged woman experiencing un-engagement, separation, or divorce? Do writers think that women like us will just muddle through it and move on without any support?

True, middle-aged women are strong, resilient, and feisty, but, as in many other areas of our personal and professional lives, we are often ignored. I had enough. So I decided to write my own story full of tips, strategies, success stories, and divorce advice from middle-aged women who have lived through their own relationship trials and who have come through the experience with their sense of joy and self. These women have survived divorce and healed through their divorce recovery, and are now in a better state than they ever imagined they could be.

How did they do it? Here are a few teasers from my book, The Feisty Woman’s Guide to Surviving Mr. Wonderful: Moving on with Humor, Laughter, and Chutzpah!

Since you seem to ache and feel awful from head to toe, seek out as much divorce advice and as many, varied (no matter how weird that they may sound) types of help that you can stand. You will know when enough is enough.

Seek out a professional

One woman I know sought out a life coach to guide her through this process. Be sure that your coach suits your personality and style. Check out her training and certification. Her life coach, actually, first recommended a 60s “cure” for dealing with the stress of a divorce. This unusual strategy involved a field trip to Colorado and a cleansing ritual, but the woman in question declined. Instead, she chose something more traditional to focus and to calm her nerves: a therapist.

Consider the right professionals who abound these days. Women no longer have to reinvent themselves in the dark. You might consider a divorce coach or therapist who specializes in divorce recovery or life changes. Or even better, an educational divorce support group that teaches you about rebuilding your life and gives you a safe space to discuss divorce advice—with other women! Learning best practices and how to cultivate your confidence, address your fears, and save for retirement will advance your divorce recovery time.

Keep a journal

Many women prefer to write divorce out of their systems. Keeping a diary, just like many of us did as teens, really helped another friend of mine. She wrote whenever anger welled up in her. She wrote and wrote to keep herself from doing harm to her Ex and the new chick in his* life. She filled many books (who wouldn’t?).

When it was time to move on, about a year or so later, she contacted a Native American healer friend to assist her in the journal burning. They both knew that if these journals were ever read by anyone else that it would be bad news, so they set up a time and place for the burning of the journals. She invited a few friends who invited a few friends, and standing around her bonfire, with special added herbs, they freed my friend from her Mr. Was Wonderful and his bad karma. The bonfire has become a yearly ritual sans the bad karma and with the addition of lots of wine.

Keep the right friends around

I was talking at 9 months of age, so this strategy would have worked for me. Talk things out as long as your friends can stand it. But make sure they are the right friends. You need to trust them. They will keep your confidence. They know that you are hurting and want to offer up divorce advice and help you in whatever way they can. Set up talk times so that your words will not interfere with their lives. Do not call after 11 pm or you will both be sleep deprived on top of everything else that you are feeling. You don’t want to lose friends since losing your spouse may be about all that you can handle at this point and isn’t fair to anyone.

You can also talk to yourself, but if you start having a full-on conversation with yourself, you should probably stop immediately. A friend began talking to herself at home, but made the mistake of starting a conversation with herself in the grocery store and, boy, did she ever clear the produce section. She stopped shopping at that store and never went back again.

Your immediate neighborhood has some great people who you may have had limited contact with previously. And while you’ll want to be careful what you tell them if you are still navigating your divorce (you don’t want the information coming back to haunt you), you also never know what potential new friend is close by. After her divorce, a friend of mine found out just how rude her Ex was to a neighbor when she started up a conversation one Sunday afternoon. They became instant friends and remain close today.

Even the unexpected ones

If you are a “hater of children,” maybe try getting over that and make friends with the kids in your neighborhood or building. We’re not past the time when children will pass up the opportunity to mow your lawn or bring in your groceries (for a small fee, of course), but even the power of a friendly wave is not to be underestimated. One friend met her new beau through a neighborhood child. Even if you are not ready for this new man, stranger introductions and lifetime memories with a great guy could be waiting for you.

Volunteer—yes, you

Since you now have some free time on your hands, try volunteering. Someone may need your more than your Ex ever did. One friend volunteered at an animal shelter. Animals offer the best unsolicited affection out there. Dogs are a great judge of character and can make you feel special and loved during a time when you feel very un-special and unloved.

Another friend volunteered at the senior center in her town. She learned new dance steps, how to cheat at cards, and developed a real knack for chess. Still another acquaintance took a jaunt overseas to volunteer in an orphanage. The plight of those children made her look at her divorce in a new light. All of the women mentioned here felt that they became better people because of their volunteering experiences and who doesn’t want that in her life?

Moving forward isn’t about getting just any divorce advice, it’s about getting the right kind for your unique situation. If you, too, are looking for the wisdom of a woman of a certain age, someone who has been in your place before and tried on this particular pair of well-worn shoes, than know that you can find what you’re seeking if you look hard enough. A trusted and smart divorce attorney, therapist, financial advisor, or divorce coach—no matter who you need by your side at this particular moment in your divorce recovery journey, they’re out there.

Guest post by Elizabeth Allen, author of The Feisty Woman’s Guide to Surviving Mr. Wonderful: Moving on with Humor, Laughter, and Chutzpah! a collection of break up stories, including her own. Available on Kindle or paperback through Amazon, Allen’s book is a humorous guide to helping you move through the divorce fiasco so you come out a stronger, more vibrant, confident, powerful, and totally evolved woman.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unique challenges women face when dealing with divorce or navigating its afterward. Discover the smartest, and most educated, next step for you and your family. Schedule your free, 45-minute coaching session with SAS now.

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Couple in courtyard thinking about divorce advice

When to Introduce Your New Beau or Belle to Your Kids

Ok, you’re finally divorced. You’ve signed the papers and made peace with your decision. You’re done listening to divorce advice and ready to start living again. At long last, you are free to do what you want, go where you want, and be with whom you want.

Or are you?

It’s not so simple if you have children.

I claim no formula or easy divorce advice

But I suppose this is as good advice as any: First, have the Newbie, or if you prefer, your New Beau or New Belle, pick you up for dates with a brief introduction to the kids. (And no, he* should not bring presents!)

If this new relationship goes on for two or more months and you are speaking to or seeing him on a regular basis, then the next step is to have the “talk” with him. The “talk” centers on how he has to be sensitive to the kids and their love for their dad, and how, in general, he can’t move too fast.

Your New Beau can begin to establish a relationship with the kids (perhaps he might offer to take them to the park, bowling, or bicycling), but activities should be neutral—things that will neither excite them too much nor dismay them. Keep it simple.

Staying over will have to wait. Children understand that sex is a whole other step towards something that might be permanent. If your children are pretty secure and your New Beau has handled this right, you can explain in your way that you are now “going steady” with your new partner and he might be staying over once in a while. If that plays badly, postpone the overnights for a few months.

No matter how many times one tells the children the divorce was not their fault, many kids still think it is. Many also fantasize about their parents reconciling. Never, ever agree that this is a possibility! Do not let them hold out hope, but rather remind them that Daddy has a new life and is probably dating some nice people. Remind them you have a new life, too, and that you and Daddy are much happier now.

It may not be easy

Your kids may weep or get angry. Comfort them, but hold your ground. It is certainly possible that other symptoms will emerge: bed-wetting, depression, sadness, and meltdowns are often typical for children of those recently divorced.

If these symptoms or behaviors continue, I recommend you talk to a professional who specializes in divorce advice and perhaps secure professional help for your children as well. This may include family counseling. Do not let it fester. Unusual symptoms are literally a cry for help. If you cannot afford private counseling, call one of the many agencies, religious or secular, who might help you find a low cost or volunteer professional.

This said, some children may very well welcome a new person, someone who can help them with homework, throw a ball around, or talk movies or hobbies. Here, too, be cautious. Unless you are certain this person is indeed your next partner, you do not want your children to become too attached to him and risk yet another disappointment. It is, for sure, a delicate balance.

If it works out, you’ve dodged a bullet and can look forward to a happy new future. But what if it doesn’t?

What if your New Beau has his own version of the “talk” with you?

The “I can’t commit” talk, or you just sense he is cooling off? Don’t try to convince yourself otherwise if you sense he is distancing himself because he probably is. This is why—like everything in life—timing is so important. You do not want your children newly invested in a relationship that will upend their world again. For if they are, you will have to start all over with your kids; explaining that you are sorry that he was not the right person for the family, but it was something between the two of you, and the demise of your romance did not hinge on them, the children, whom he thought were great.

Never let the kids think it had anything to do with them. And even while you are dealing with your own loss, and perhaps comforting your children, you must show them by word and deed that life goes on. There are movies, games, and adventures that await—all kinds of exciting and marvelous family activities that will distract both you and the kids.

Remember to learn from this relationship, too. Gauge for yourself if you brought him into the family too soon and do not make that particular mistake again. As a divorcée and mother, you must go smartly into your new life. Maybe, just maybe, there really isn’t going to be a time in your life when you should ignore good divorce advice. You are free in many ways, but most importantly, you are free and wiser as a result of your life decisions.

A novelist, therapist, mother to three, and grandmother to five, Sheila Levin is twice divorced. Find her books, Simple Truths and Musical Chairs at Amazon.com.

Although SAS periodically features links to and writing by other professionals on the SAS website, SAS for Women™ is not responsible for the accuracy or content of that information. As for what is best for you and your future, SAS always recommends you speak to a professional to discuss the particulars of your situation.

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

Listening to divorce advice can save money

Divorce Advice: Lose Your Emotional Attachment to Money

All good divorce advice should acknowledge that there are many parts to breaking up. It would be easier if the end of a marriage could happen in one clean break, of course—if you could go to a doctor, have them reset the bones of your life, and walk away knowing that in X amount of months you could take off the cast and be healed and whole again. But in reality, there’s breaking up legally, physically, emotionally, and financially, to name just a few vital parts of the process. We can’t exactly control how long it will take to make it through to the other side of divorce or who we will be when we get there.

As financial experts who work with women, we know that women in particular must recognize that all these parts come into play when divorcing, but at the same time, women must strive to separate them. This is especially true when it comes to money.

You must aim to separate your emotions from your decisions. In fact, you must treat the financial part of your divorce as a business transaction.

Find professional support

But this is easier said than done. A lot of women have anxiety about money precisely because they have an emotional relationship with it. So our first piece of divorce advice is to find support (a coach or therapist who specializes in divorce) to help you learn about your emotions and how they impact your decisions.

A professional can help you learn how to understand, harness, and compartmentalize these emotions. Again, this is particularly important when it comes to money.

Ensure you understand your financial outlook

Our second piece of divorce advice is to work with a financial expert who will take the time to educate you on what your real financial choices are so that five years from now you are in the best financial place you can possibly be in.

The key to managing your money throughout your divorce negotiations and, more importantly, the long-term is to keep your emotions in check as best as possible and focus on looking at your financial FUTURE. A forward-looking focus gives women the greatest chance at getting the best possible divorce settlement. And her best financial settlement will usually avoid spending a lot of money on attorneys and going through a lengthy court process.

You must aim to separate your emotions from your decisions. In fact, you must treat the financial part of your divorce as a business transaction.

The benefits of keeping your emotions in check

One of our clients felt a lot of anger at her husband* when he decided to move out. This ratcheted up further when he did not always live up to his custody obligations, leaving her in a lurch and disappointing their eight-year-old twins. Although their relationship was strained, the couple agreed to try the collaborative divorce process. When giving out divorce advice, I often tell clients this is an excellent and cost effective way to for them to divorce, but it also requires good communication.

Our client worked hard at keeping her emotions in check and the yelling to a minimum. Whenever she needed to speak to her husband about issues, she held her tongue and remained civil. When they hit a tough negotiating bump, trying to work out the amount of child support she would receive and who would pay for the twins’ educational expenses, her relationship with her husband was stable enough so that she called him directly and had a productive conversation.

Our client often shared with us (and her therapist) how difficult and painful each and every interaction with her husband was and how hard it was to keep her emotions in check. Due in large part to her self-control, the negotiations moved along quickly and her financial settlement was equitable. He ended up agreeing to pay a bit more monthly alimony and child support than the guidelines indicated. He also gave her a little more of the joint cash than she expected.

Now six months post-divorce, she has a smile a mile wide. We often use this example he anger and injustice that dominated her thoughts during the process seem like a distant memory, and she relishes the feeling of financial security that comes with winding up with enough money to live a reasonable lifestyle.

The pitfalls of being unable to let go of the past

Contrast this experience with that of another client. She and her husband had a second home in Connecticut where the family spent their summers, and it held special memories for her. When the couple separated, her husband made the Connecticut home his main base, and soon after, his girlfriend moved in. He wanted to buy our client out of her half of the house as part of the settlement. He offered her 10 percent over the market value to move the process along. Angry at him for living there with another woman in seeming bliss, she demanded that the house be sold. She admitted to us that the house had become tainted in her eyes, and she would never want to step foot in it again. But she was determined that he should not get to live there.

We showed her that financially it made no difference whether she received half the value of the house from him as part of the settlement or half the value of the house when it was sold. Unable to let go of her demand despite recognizing the financial reality, she spent the next nine months and tens of thousands of dollars only to have a judge ultimately rule that he could keep the house and pay her half.

The outcome of financial negotiations will dictate what lifestyle a woman will be able to live for years after her divorce. The importance of obtaining the best reasonable financial settlement cannot be emphasized enough. To achieve a good financial outcome requires a cool head and following the divorce advice of professionals who have been in your shoes.

Writers, Ellie Lipschitz and Dorian Brown are Certified Divorce Financial Analysts (CDFA’s).  Their specialty is working with women on the business side of their divorce. As CDFA’s, they educate and assist their clients to understand the financial aspects of their divorce so they can confidently negotiate an optimal settlement. 

*At SAS for Women, we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.

children and divorce

Will the Kids Be All Right? Long-Term Effects of Divorce on Children

Talk to any splitting parent, and it’s the kids.

No matter where you are in the process — deliberating, looking for divorce help, separated, or even, “I’ve signed the divorce papers, but I still feel like I’m going crazy,” — if you are like I was, you worry: what about the kids?  How will my personal story play out?  How will my kids fare as “children of divorce?”

When I was debating my own divorce, I was fixated on my girls. Their well-being was the single most-deciding factor as to whether I would or not pursue the unspeakable. I had to find out.

In a detached “social scientist” kind of way, I asked various friends and acquaintances who were children of divorce. Did they feel okay? Did they think of themselves as reasonably adjusted? How screwed up were they as a result of their parents’ split? What I heard and discovered were answers that were decidedly mixed.

For example, while one female twenty-something friend was matter-of-fact, telling me the divorce in her family “was not even an issue,” another man in his forties still sounded tired. “There was so much fighting,” he sighed, “I wish they had done it earlier.” Others were more emotional. An old friend I went to college with seemed personally injured (all over again) when I conceded the question was really about me. I was considering divorce and I needed to know how she felt today. She was and is “scarred,” she replied growing cool. It may have happened more than thirty years later but she was still not willing to “forgive her parents.”

Then I looked to the professional community, I asked doctors, shrinks, and counselors, “What is best for the children?” But here, too, I learned no clear-cut answers. The uniform professional response was that when it comes to divorce they had seen both good and damaging results; but everyone I spoke to, in one way or another, encouraged me to reflect on the issue of conflict in the household.

How much conflict is too much?

I wondered. And by what standard of measurement?  We all know that in any relationship no two people always agree, but at what point does the number of disagreements cross the line? My husband and I were not good conflict-resolvers, so, as we grappled with divorce, how could we expect to resolve conflict over our conflict? It sounded like a vicious circle to me. I reflected and Googled more.

If only I could find the data on the long-term effects of divorce on children, I reasoned, I’d have clinical evidence. This information could guide my decision-making then and going forth. But what my forays in the dark turned up, was that just like the story of any marriage, there are always dissenting opinions and mitigating factors that prevent absolute clarity. There are few longitudinal studies that conclude anything decisive about kids and divorce.

The work of two of the better-known researchers, Judith Wallerstein and E. Mavis Hetherington seems at odds.  In The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study (2001), Wallerstein reports long-term negative effects on children of divorce. In For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (2003), Hetherington reports that not all kids fare so badly, and that divorce can actually help children living in high-conflict homes.

Seemingly oppositional, these studies also remain controversial for their methodologies.  They compare “children of divorced parents” as a group to kids whose parents “did not divorce.” The first group is never compared to those kids whose “parents almost divorced,” or to those whose parents “kept it together but fought every day,” or to those whose parents never fought.  It’s a flawed comparison.  It reveals only that being part of a happy family is better than being part of an unhappy one.

What is especially strange and surprising is that as much as divorce is a reality in American society, social science has not yet figured out a way to measure the nuances of our reality.

To some extent, Wallerstein and Hetherington do agree on one thing; as do all the studies and serious commentaries ranging from scholarly work to the more legit blogs to parenting magazines: divorce is bad. Divorce is a stressor that poses short and long term risks.

Learning from experience

What I have learned from my own divorce and subsequent divorce recovery work with clients is that the long-term effects on your children will usually depend on your divorce itself. A peaceful divorce ( — if that is not an oxymoron) or at least a more amicable divorce will have less negative impact on your kids.

Understand that conflict in the home does not always mean out of control fights or domestic abuse. Too few of us realize that all of our words and actions during and after a divorce affect our children. In fact, the actions and words shared between fighting parents are the leading cause of unhappiness in divorced children. For this parents must hold ourselves responsible. Individually or together, we splitting parents often send negative messages to our kids.

You’ve heard that “children are like dry sponges”? So are they also incredibly receptive to their parent’s feelings and the emotions one parent is feeling toward the other. Of course, no one intends to send the wrong message to his or her kids. But there is something about the crisis, our own drained, sleep-deprived or adrenalin-fueled state going through divorce that often has us letting loose or withdrawing, just when our kids need us the most.

Look to yourself first

If you are concerned about your children and divorce, then you must consider your own words and actions.  How will your behavior impact their recovery? Don’t look to others for how the divorce played out on their kids. Do focus on your goal: to minimize your children’s exposure to conflict and negativity.

Suggestion 1: Every day as you face and interact with your children, help them understand that the divorce is not their fault. Be open and available to them when they need to talk. As one client told me recently, her daughter is more anxious than she is usually, now that the separation is starting.  But to my client’s credit, she recognizes it’s not just words her daughter needs: “It’s the extra hug.”

Suggestion 2: Be there for your kids and also try to put in place a way for your children to receive additional support.  A therapist or counselor, as an objective sounding board, can do a lot to help your child understand what is happening and alleviate his/her sense of guilt for the circumstances.  Look for developmentally-appropriate books, videos and resources, too, that will help your child understand what s/he is going through.

Suggestion 3: Above all, show your children that you are a still a family no matter how you define your marital status. Your kids need good parents now more than ever, and this is your chance to do your best regardless of how things have been in the past.

SAS for Women is an invaluable resource for women contemplating a divorce or in the actual throes of divorce. SAS women are educated and prepared, while making smart and thoughtful decisions for everyone they love. You are invited to talk with SAS and learn what is possible for you through a FREE consultation. Schedule your confidential conversation here