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Finding Clarity in Your Divorce Chaos

Finding Clarity in Your Divorce Chaos

How do you see straight? If you are looking for a particular kind of divorce help — finding clarity in the midst of your chaos — you would think it’s a normal question to be asking, a worthy goal, an actual state you could attain if you just put the time in or found the right guru. How do you see straight?

And yet, confusion, self-doubt, and overwhelm remain. There are so many thoughts and feelings running through you as you stand on the divorce cliff ( — or after having actually jumped) that it probably seems like your head and your heart are mortal enemies who absolutely refuse to get along. Seeing straight about your divorce is not something they can agree on.

Why? well, there’s a lot scrambling through your head. At any given moment you might be wondering: How will you survive? Of all the moves in front of you, which one is the smartest? Will your spouse be angry and vindictive? How do you help your kids escape unscathed? Where will you find the time to do everything you think you must do or (don’t yet know) to do? And, of course, what about the money?

Parallel to your brain’s endless swirl of questions — on another plane entirely — is your heart, pounding and fluctuating… What if he’s* your best friend? How do you live with the guilt? If your marriage isn’t abusive (he just sits there), do you still deserve to get divorced? And what if you feel completely broken? How do you get over the betrayal if he’s the one wanting out? Or, what if you are afraid that the narcissist will never let the divorce end?

This internal tension between your head and your heart can make it hard for you to find clarity, or to feel anything but overwhelmed. You might be feeling a sense of being trapped, or a desperate need to give up.

You could also feel inadequate; like you alone are particularly challenged by this situation. You alone are particularly weak or unprepared. You alone are unable to determine, as you look out at an endless field of fires, which fire to put out first, where to start, and what to do next.

But take it from us, this seismic, ebbing and flowing conflict inside you? It’s par for the divorce course. As crazy as you may feel, you are completely normal. So, please, stop gaslighting yourself. It is possible to find the help you need to get through the divorce, both within yourself and from others.

Today, instead of just reviewing and rehashing what you know and don’t know, let’s try something else. You are going to slow things down and begin to manage this crisis (and let’s not pussyfoot around this, it is a crisis).

But first understand, that if you are in an abusive marriage, your situation is in a separate category. We urge you to stop reading this article and consult this piece instead,  Steps to Take if You Are in an Abusive Marriage. The actions to protect yourself in an abusive situation are very different from the ones we will discuss below.

Finding Clarity in Your Divorce Chaos

Let’s begin. Find a piece of paper, or go to an open document on your computer, and continue reading below.

Part I. Letting Your Brain Unload

Step 1: Imagine building a wall between everything that’s happening in your head, and everything that’s happening in your heart.

And then, put your hand on your head, and connect with your brain. What are some of the pressing questions your mind wants you to ask? What does your brain want to desperately know?

Close your eyes and listen. Your brain is interested in facts, certainties, black and whites. Your brain is not interested in your feelings and their nebulous activity. That’s your heart, and we’ll get to your feelings soon enough 😉. Give your brain permission to only focus on the practical steps of getting a divorce.

Perhaps your brain is wondering:

How will you get divorced? 

How will you respond to your husband’s request for a divorce? 

Do you use a lawyer? A mediator? Can you do this divorce DIY?

How do you get full custody of the kids? Or, can you? 

How do you know what your financial choces, or questions re, if you’ve never managed the finances in your house?

Give yourself 5 minutes to brainstorm the questions weighing on your brain. Write those questions down, as related or unrelated as they may seem to one another.

Step 2: Now look at the questions, and organize them by putting the most important ones first.

How do you know which ones are the most important? Ask your brain, which ones seem the loudest today.

Step 3: As you look at these reorganized questions, ask yourself who can help you get the answers to your divorce questions.

Write the person’s name, or the type of professional you need, next to each question. 

Note: this step is not asking you “What are the answers to these questions?” but rather, “Who can help you discover the answers to these questions?”

SAS Tip: A lot of divorce problem-solving is not solving the problem per se, but rather, solving the mystery of whom you should turn to for the smartest answer to the question. Who’s that person for you?

It would be normal if you thought your divorce and your circumstances were utterly unique. Everybody does. But underneath your situation, we guarantee you, there are general truths and laws that apply. Your questions concern issues or dilemmas that other women have asked too. So, instead of recreating the wheel, trying to extract your answers by spending hours on Google (which by the way, will never work), or listening to what your Soon-to-Be-Ex says, find the professional or person who has helped others move beyond their issues!

To gain perspective and truth, you need to seek help from divorce professionals and people who have recovered (and healed) from divorce.

Professionals who can help you with your brain’s questions include a divorce attorney, a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), or a good financial advisor, and perhaps now, but certainly long term, an accountant. The most comprehensive resource no matter where you are in the journey is a divorce coach. A good divorce coach can help you organize, prioritize, connect to vetted referrals, and help you sequence your steps, and importantly, formulate your questions and strategies.

People who are healed are those who have moved on from their divorces and are now living better and happier lives. A good indicator of being healed is that they are not telling the same old story about the downfall of their marriage. They understand and are willing to discuss their part in its demise. This is a special, hard-earned clarity they’ve attained, having surviving and finding help in the midst of the divorce chaos.

Step 4:  Act.

Move! Get out of your own head. Connect, and consult with the right people to advance your knowledge, and understand what is possible. Let your brain feel relief that you are actually doing something, instead of just ruminating about these issues.


Read this SAS piece if you wonder how to find a good divorce attorney to start your legal education. It’s critical you learn your rights, and what you are entitled to BEFORE you start carving things up.

 If you are contemplating it, or would need help in finding clarity dealing with the chaos of divorce, you are invited to schedule a free, 15-minute consultation with us. We will help you cut to the essence of your challenges, which will save you precious time. We’ve successfully and lovingly supported women through divorce coaching for more than a decade. Learn why. Visit here to meet with us.


Part II. Giving Space to Your Feelings

Step 1: Now, leave this brain side of the wall and take a couple of big, cleansing breaths. We’re now focusing on your heart. Put your hand to your heart, close your eyes, and take three big breaths, breathing into your heart space.

Ask your heart, what are its loudest feelings TODAY?  

Write those feelings down. And don’t settle for one or two feelings, instead allow your heart to really open up and name the many, many emotions you are carrying inside of you. Give yourself five minutes to really dredge your heart.

(It’s important to name the feeling, not the story behind the feeling. So “Overwhelmed,” “Unsure,” or “Confused,” and not, “I don’t know what to do because Fred is saying one thing, and my mother is saying another.”)

Step 2: Observe the diversity of your feelings – they can be all over the place and seemingly, oppositional.

Your emotions are not rational or linear; they are in “motion”. This is why they are called emotions. For example, you might be feeling “fear” and “anxiety,” coupled with “hope” or “excitement.”

Step 3:  Pick the loudest emotion.

Observe which one seems to be the very loudest today.

Step 4: Slow down even more, and connect with that feeling. Ask yourself, where does that feeling live in your body?

Locate where it resides in your body, and if you can, put your hand on that part of your body (is it your chest, your throat, or your legs?) Physically connect with that part of the body, and close your eyes. Ask the feeling, what does it want you to know today?

Is it…

afraid you will never survive?

forecasting that you will always be alone – that you are not loveable?

it telling you that your divorce means you are a failure, and that everybody in this world will now know the truth? You are a loser.

Spend 3 minutes writing down what it wants you to know. If your brain interjects and starts problem-solving for the emotion, ask your brain to soften and bring your attention back to your heart, and this feeling. Stay connected as you channel, and write down your feelings’ messages.

Step 5: Now read over what this feeling has told you, and decide what you want to do with the message.

Notice that this feeling carries with it memories of you and your past. Is it focused on an unpleasant outcome from a past experience? Ask yourself, what’s different about that past experience, as compared to where you are today?

Notice as well that this is just one feeling of a multitude of feelings you hold today. The questions for you now are:

What can you do to show this feeling that you’ve heard it? 

How will you honor this specific feeling with an action?

What will you do to support, or lighten it?

For example, if this feeling is projecting that you will be alone, you’ve always been alone, and you will die alone, then you might commit to calling an old friend or beloved family member regularly, to cultivate your connection to others. Or you might join a divorce support group, so you are in a community to learn and be with others who can help you understand what you are going through.

If you are feeling anxious, you might show your anxiety that you will go outside daily and walk around in nature and sunlight. This will help you metabolize anxiety’s sense of nervousness and dread. Studies have shown that connecting with nature can greatly boost our capacity to withstand stress.

For many women, finding support for understanding their feelings, and what to do with them amidst a chaotic divorce experience, means working with a good therapist or coach trained in supporting people dealing with divorce.

Your feelings, just like the messages from your brain, need attention to feel that they are being listened to and not ignored. Connecting with them regularly allows you to plan out how to manage your own health and wellbeing before, during, and after separation and divorce.

Conclusion

When facing a major life change like divorce, it’s hard to tease out what to consider or do first, or even, how to begin. Yet, when we slow things down and really look at the individual pieces, one by one, we can evaluate them, their specific needs, and take mindful actions in response.

Devising a system to examine ourselves can help us begin the process of slowing things down.  One way of doing that is looking at what’s happening in our brain, and what’s happening in our heart. Then we can begin by taking action on behalf of each of them – not together, not at once – but separately and thoughtfully.

Action is the common denominator, and in many instances, the action involves stepping outside and connecting with something other than ourselves (or Google). These critical and lifesaving touchstones may be divorce professionals, divorced friends serving as mentors, or an entire community of like-minded individuals. Stepping outside of ourselves may also quite literally mean heading outdoors, to allow the healing effects of nature to shift our systems and expand our sense of space, hope, and light.

Stay committed to you.

Read 36 Things to Do If You Are Thinking About Divorce to support yourself and to continue taking healthy steps.

NOTES

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

Divorce Checklist for the Modern Woman

The 55 Must Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist

Once you’ve reached an internal decision to divorce, you probably wonder what the external steps to the process will entail. The truth is that your journey is just beginning, and in order to determine the best possible outcomes, you’ll want to be educated and prepared. You may find yourself exhausted searching the internet for answers, only to feel more confused than when you began. We understand this, which is why, drawing from our decade-long, divorce coaching practice, we’ve compiled our most thorough divorce checklist to help you stay focused on what’s important.

A few critical reminders before we get started: Never threaten divorce unless you are ready and organized to file. While you may be anxious to get started with your new life, it’s important that you hold off on filing until after you’ve worked through some of the important frameworks we outline below.

Also, if you have had a divorce thrown at you, do not agree to anything until you are legally informed of your rights and entitlements. Chances are your spouse has been planning this for a long time and you deserve time too to catch up with how things will be split and what is fair for you.  Do not be pressured into agreeing to anything. This is most often a tactic on your spouse’s part to ensure the process takes place fast and before you can advocate for your rights.

Most importantly, do not begin with the list below if you are dealing with abuse. Instead, read our safety guidelines for leaving an abusive marriage. There are other, critical steps to take first.

For those ready to begin the work of getting educated and putting their plan into action, here is a holistic approach to supporting you — and the smart steps to take. Here are your 52 Must-Do’s on Your Modern Divorce Checklist.

Your first black and white steps…

1. Begin by getting a free credit report.

You’ll want to check it for any errors or open accounts that you may not know about. This will also prompt you to start paying attention to your credit score. You’ll want a good credit score, or work on nurturing one, so you can rent an apartment, qualify for a mortgage, or begin the process of establishing your personal financial identity. You can get a copy of your free, current credit report from Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.

2. Open a checking and savings account in your name at a new bank. 

Go to a bank that you and your spouse don’t currently use (—think fresh starts, so there’s no risk of any confusion between names and accounts). We also recommend you use a large institutional bank so you take advantage of the bank’s various complimentary services and professionals who can help you establish your independence, like mortgage specialists or certified divorce financial analysts and planners.

3. Open a credit card in your name alone.

This is another step toward building your personal credit. Research the best credit card for your lifestyle. Consider one that pays you back with cash toward your statement or cash to your savings.

4. Make a list of all your assets: everything you OWN individually and as a couple.

Don’t forget less obvious things like airline miles, perks, or reward points, and make sure you include any inheritances from before and during the marriage.

  • You will want to collect the latest statement for each asset and record account numbers.
  • Photocopy or use your phone’s camera to record documents that are not in your possession.

5. Make a list of your debt: everything you OWE individually and as a couple.

Don’t forget school loans and personal loans, and a list of anyone who owes you money, how much they owe you, and when they’re supposed to pay you back.

  • Gather a current statement on the debt and a statement from the time of the separation (if it’s already happened.)
  • Photocopy or use your phone’s camera to record documents that are not in your possession.

6. Track what is happening to marital debt.

According to divorce law in most states, you and your spouse are responsible for one another’s debt. You’ll want to lessen this potential burden.

  • Be on the alert if your spouse is spending recklessly. (You can put notifications on your accounts for any high spends or withdrawals.)
  • If this happens, talk to a lawyer right away about legal steps you can take to limit your responsibility. (See step #19.)

7. Gather the past three years’ tax returns.

If you can’t get your hands on yours, contact the IRS for your transcripts or report (the latter costs but it’s what a lawyer would rather evaluate). And be careful with the IRS mailing the reports to your legal home address. Will your spouse get the mail first?

If you cannot access the financial documents, it’s not unusual. When you meet with the lawyer to discuss your circumstances (see below), you will share what you do know and ask the lawyer what happens when one spouse does not know anything about the finances in a divorce. (It’s more common than you think!)

8. Collect passwords to all financial accounts if you can access them.

You may need to access information in your financial accounts, so you’ll want to be sure you have passwords on hand.

9. Create or contribute more to your Emergency Fund. 

An emergency fund is something you need throughout your life, but as you stand at this crossroads now, save cash by putting it to the side. You never know if you may have to reach for it in a hurry.

10. If You are a Stay-at-Home Mom (SAHM) Make Sure Your Emergency Fund Has 3 Months of Financial Reserves.

If you are the spouse with limited access to resources, make sure you have sufficient money saved to pay for three months of expenses. It’s not uncommon that the monied spouse will cut off the non-monied spouse financially during a divorce. (When you talk to a lawyer one of the questions you will ask about is temporary spousal support. (See #19.)

11. Write down your financial and non-financial contributions to the marriage.

Some contributions may be legally relevant and especially helpful to you.

Are there more documents you could organize as you head into divorce? Probably yes, but there’s no need to get ahead of yourself and do potentially needless work. So, wait. Unless a lawyer tells you otherwise, there are other things to tend to.

Practical To-Do’s on Your Divorce Checklist

12. Create a new dedicated email address for the divorce subject. 

Make sure all your communications on the subject go to this email address alone. This makes things easier to keep organized and lessens your chance of being compromised by your spouse.

13. Consider the technology set up in your home and exercise caution.

While using a secret email address is recommended, it is not a full-proof method of keeping your communications safe. If, for example, your cell phone and computer system are backed up to a “family cloud” account, whoever controls the account may be able to read phone numbers you call or any text you send.

We suggest that you contact your computer company (like Apple, Dell, etc.) and mobile carrier service (Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, etc.) and talk to a representative to learn if your computer or cell phone could be compromised. We also recommend you ask the representative if there are other measures you could take to digitally protect yourself.

Secure any passwords to shared accounts (especially financial if possible) and your private ones (such as social media accounts). Change all passwords to your private accounts.

14. Maintain privacy on social media.

Do not post anything about your divorce on social media. It could be used against you. Plus, it’s no one’s business but your own.

15. Get a Post Office Box so you can receive important mail to a private safe address.

Give the address to your lawyer. If you can’t afford a PO Box ask a friend or family member if you can have your lawyer send information to their home.


If you’re not ready to act but really, only in the “contemplating” divorce stage, you’ll want to understand what you could be doing instead of just pondering and pondering. For healthy and smart steps to take,  read our “36 Things to Do If You Are Thinking About Divorce.”


Clarify Who You Want to Be Through this Crisis

16. Early on, choose who you want to be as you go through the divorce. 

This will help you remain civil and treat your spouse with respect. If your spouse is the father of your children, remember you still have many important moments and milestones in your future together—birthdays, graduations, weddings, reunions, and funerals. Trying to do the right thing now and throughout the process may not change your spouse’s behavior, but it will set a powerful example to your children who are watching and wondering how it will shake out.

17. If you have kids, keep them in your focus

The best person you can be will also be in alignment with keeping your kids (if you have them) front and center. If you are committed to going through the divorce in the healthiest way for them, it will mean doing what is also healthiest for youbecause they need a mama who is healthy and strong and thriving. (Are you now? No, we know.)

For you to discover what the healthiest way is, it will require your getting educated and putting your ducks in a row (and not just cracking and announcing you want a divorce!). This is why you are here reading this list, and are ready for more. You’ve organized documents and started taking black and white steps, and now, you’ve checked in with who you want to be. 

Remind yourself, that person may be scared, but that person is strong.

Now you’ll learn about the law, your financial choices, how to talk to your spouse, and how to decide on parenting issues. You want to do all this if possible before you talk with your children. (Do not involve the children in your decisions making or encourage them to take sides. That is not fair. Your kids are not adults (even if they act it) and should not be burdened with your adult decisions.) 

What’s most important to know about your kids today, and moving forward, is that the way you and your spouse break up (the degree of or lack of acrimony), and the long-term relationship you and your coparent have is what will determine the long term effect of the divorce on your kids. You’ll want to do your best to negotiate everything fairly with him* so you lessen the risk of emotional problems for them down the road. To know what’s fair it’s going to require your doing the work on this page. 

And if you are divorcing a narcissist, this blog post in particular may help you stand straight as you face oncoming days: 41 Things to Remember If You are Coparenting with a Narcissist.

18. Identify who is going to help you through your divorce. Whom can you trust?

Certainly, you’ll consult with a divorce lawyer to learn your rights (see #19), but beyond the legal or financial decisions, you’ll want someone who can give you perspective, help you problem-solve, hold space for you to be emotional or however you need to be – in confidentiality. Do you have a good friend who has both survived and healed from their divorce? Be careful of friends and family who mean well, but who can’t help sometimes leading with judgment.

Many find the objective and professional support of a therapist or coach to be the best, and in particular, a professional who is experienced with supporting people going through and recovering from divorce. If you are looking for a community with holistic support (that is guidance with the practical, legal, financial and emotional things you must navigate), consider an all-female educational and coaching program like Annie’s Group.

Legal Steps

19. Understand the value of a divorce lawyer.

No state requires you to use a lawyer for your divorce but it makes sense to protect your rights and interests. Chances are that neither you nor your spouse is a divorce attorney and when it comes to the many things that must be legally handled in a divorce, you don’t know what you don’t know.

For instance, you probably don’t realize that many divorce laws are designed to protect women and children. Which is why, this is not a time to be cheap with your life, nor trust what your spouse is telling you. While hiring an attorney will cost money, it may very well save you money and stress down the road. According to the research, recovering economically from divorce is usually harder for women than it is for men. This further reinforces what we know in our divorce coaching practice: if you are a woman, and especially a mother, you cannot afford to make mistakes with this financial negotiation.

20. Identify a local divorce attorney in your state (because divorce law varies from state to state), and schedule a consultation to hear what your rights are.

In this meeting you’ll learn what you are entitled to, and what the law would say about your specific circumstances and questions. Do not rely on what your spouse says. Do not rely on what your neighbor says. Do not rely on what the gang says in your Facebook Group. And be especially careful if your spouse tells you not to contact a lawyer or that you and he can “do this on your own.”

No. Talk to a divorce lawyer, also called a family law or matrimonial attorney. And many of them give free consultations todayso do some research to save yourself. You are worth it.

You can find a lawyer by consulting legal directories such as Avvo.com or Martindale-Hubbel.

21. Before the meeting, organize and prioritize your legal questions about the divorce, and gather 3 years of tax returns.

Your primary agenda for this first meeting with a lawyer is to get answers to your questions and to understand what type of divorce you might be facing. You will want to know what the divorce laws in your state say about how you and your spouse will split assets and debt (which depends on whether you are in a community property state or equitable distribution state); and how the custody of your children will be determined (if you have them). You will also ask specific questions that are weighing on you.

22. We recommend you ask a lawyer about these issues as well

  • Ask the lawyer to explain alimony or spousal support to you, and then if it’s appropriate for your story, your best and worst-case scenarios for this support (especially if you’ve been out of the workforce).

Consider reading:

  • Discuss “temporary spousal support” and how it works, if you have special circumstances that prevent you from working, like your health or caring for a young or special needs child. You may need access to money while the divorce is pending and if your spouse is not willing, the court may have to order your spouse to provide it.
  • Leaving the house: can you leave the marital home with the children or ask him to leave once you announce the divorce? What are important things to know so your actions are not used against you in the divorce?
  • If you are the one who is initiating the divorce, talk to a lawyer about finding a place to live BEFORE you file. How can you afford a place? Or, what are the steps you must put in place to minimize the time you must continue to live together as a couple?

For other questions to ask a lawyer, visit our “Questions to Ask a Divorce Attorney“.


23. When you meet with the attorney, bring these things, so you get specific answers to your questions and fears:

1) Your legal questions, 2) three years of tax returns and 3) the list of your assets and debt. 4) You can also bring a friend or family member for support, but let the lawyer know beforehand so they can discuss confidentiality with you.

In the meeting with the lawyer, try to get your most important questions answered (that’s why you’ve prioritized them). But don’t despair if you don’t get ALL your questions answers. And do expect to walk out with new questions.

24. After meeting with a lawyer, evaluate the lawyer.

Was it someone who made you feel heard and protected? Could you work with them? Record your impressions and what you learned.

Try to meet with a total of three lawyers, if within your budget. Each lawyer will have different perspectives to your situation and the more you talk, the more you’ll learn about your options and how’ll you want to do this.

25. Then understand the different types of divorce.

Among them are DIY, traditional litigation, mediation, or collaborative approach, and think about which method is best for your story. Is it likely you can resolve matters without court? (You’ll want to understand the difference between an uncontested and contested divorce.) Will your spouse ultimately comply? Decide on which method you’d like to use to divorce and if any lawyer you met with, can help you.

26. If you use a lawyer, know that the lawyer works for younot your spouse.

If you do decide to hire a lawyer, to help you with your Statement of Net Worth or to review your Marital Separation Agreement (MSA) or to represent you in the divorce, you will have to use your own attorney. You and your spouse cannot share one, no matter what your spouse says. Divorce attorneys cannot represent both spouses. That would be a conflict of interest.

27. Let your lawyer know if you will want to change your name (back to your maiden name or something else?) after the divorce.

This will not be done officially until after the divorce is completed (see #51), but it’s good if the lawyer knows this is what you will want.

28. If you need perspective on how to find a lawyer or the right legal process for you, what to ask, what to do next, connect with a divorce coach who does this kind of work routinely.

An extra boon is that most divorce coaches give free consultations because they need to demonstrate what they do and how they can help.  Find one.

Before you move forward with speaking with your spouse about the divorce, we urge you to complete the important, additional steps below.

Financial Feedback Divorce Checklist

29. Determine who your Go-To Financial Person is for the Divorce.

We recommend you not rely simply on a lawyer to determine how things will be split, but to also learn what would be in your best financial interest long term. This requires a financial person skilled with understanding how divorce works.

Ideally, you’ll want to get this financial feedback AFTER you’ve heard the big legal issues in your divorce and BEFORE you announce a divorce or before you respond to your spouse’s request that you get divorced.

You can find this financial advisor at your bank or consult a CDFA. If you cannot afford to consult with one privately you might connect with SAVVY Ladies, a financial nonprofit dedicated to assisting women.

30. Ask a Financial Person these 7 Important Questions

  • What are the best things to optimize in the divorce given your age, skillset, and career options?
  • What is the best financial move for you regarding the marital home? (Should you try to keep it, give it to your spouse, sell it, hold onto it for a certain time, etc.)
  • What do you do with living together while divorcing? What can you afford? Many divorcing couples can’t afford to pay two mortgages or double rent and instead decide to stay in the same home throughout the divorce. For tips on surviving this particular purgatory, read “Women Share How to Survive Living Together During Divorce.
  • If you are leaving the family home, what is your expected budget for renting, or home-owning in the future? Consider your current living expenses and ask for help budgeting what you will need in the future.
  • What are specific financial needs regarding your children and how do you best ensure they be met? You may want to make sure 529 College Savings Plans are created or continue to be contributed to by both spouses? Or do you have a child with special needs who will need long-term financial attention?
  • What do you need to make as income in your future chapter? Consider reading “What Divorce Does to a Woman: You and Your Money.”
  • What is the financial advisor’s perspective on your securing health insurance?

31. Consult with a Real Estate Professional:

Learn the value of your house, what it would sell for in this market, what your options are for housing if you need to move. You can begin by consulting Zillow. But it’s usually in your interest to move beyond the internet with all things divorce and hear specific feedback about your story, your house, its issues, and its pluses.

32. Resolve your health insurance issue.

You’ve talked to the financial person about health insurance. Continue to explore what you will do, if you depend on your spouse’s insurance or he relies on you. There is COBRA to investigate, which is a federal law about health insurance. There is also the Affordable Healthcare Act, sometimes known as ACA, PPACA, or “Obamacare”.

By using its exchange, no matter what state you live in, you can enroll in affordable, quality health coverage. Visit Healthcare.gov to find the link to your state and to evaluate your options. You can also speak to a representative who can advise you. And know, that though the platform or the “Exchange” as it’s called, has a specific enrollment period, you qualify to join at any time of the year if you suddenly divorce or lose your job.

More Smart Moves on Your Divorce Checklist

33. Get a medical exam.

Be sure to take care of any medical issues before you divorce. If there are any hiccups in transferring medical insurance, you’ll want to be sure you’ve already taken care of any regular visits or concerns.

34. Identify and itemize your special possessions: these could be gifts or family heirlooms.

If you need to protect them, hide them, store them, or ask a friend or family member to hold them but make sure you disclose them in any legal documents so your actions cannot be used against you in the divorce.

35. Evaluate what you will need to do with The Move.

Will you be moving or your spouse? Will both of you? You may not want to, or be able to afford to stay in the family home. So this might mean starting to look for apartments ( — consult rentals nearby or AirBnB if you see the solution as temporary), or family and friends you might stay with for a while. This will depend on your financial situation.

If possible, talk to a lawyer about finding a place to live BEFORE you file. It will lessen the pain and stress of living together while getting divorced.

To learn more about moving out and how to go about it, read:

36. Keep a running list of all the documents you need to update once you complete the divorce.

Most legal documents cannot be updated until you have a divorce decree proving a change to your status. These things may include: filing a change of name, changing your will or creating one, or changing beneficiaries on insurance policies.

You can check with your attorney on when you can file changes to these documents.

Talking to Your Spouse and Telling Others

37. Identify your “D Day” and talk to your spouse before telling your kids.

There is never a good time to divorce, but there are better times than others. Look at your family calendar. Consider what’s happening in your children’s lives (are they applying to college? Maybe wait a little bit.) Or perhaps your spouse is up for a promotion, or you are? Evaluate your options and talk to a lawyer (see next step) and financial person about strategy, but after becoming informed and prepared, target a day to speak to your spouse. It could be a soft date, but it’s important to have an end date for ending the pain.

38. Check in with the lawyer you are going to use for the divorce (if you will use one) and discuss when you will file for divorce. 

Consider having “The Talk” with your husband before you tell the lawyer to go ahead “and file” and before your husband is served papers.

39. Plan the Day and “The Talk”

Consider where you will be (we recommend outside, away from home triggers), who will be around (can you arrange for the children to be elsewhere? ), what you will say (keep it simple), how you will do it (state it as simply as possible, be firm and clear but kind. “John, I just can’t keep living like this anymore. I want a divorce.”) Think about how he will respond and all the things he will say, but it doesn’t matter, your truth is your truth. Repeat your line: “John, I just can’t keep living like this anymore. I want a divorce.”

Give your spouse time to process what you’ve said, then discuss with him when and how you will tell the children. Make sure to share with him how it would be good if you both had a plan of how things will go before the children are told. Agree on a date for that and what you will say. This may take some time to allow for your spouse to catch up.

Drill down more by reading …

Parenting Considerations

40. Evaluate the best custody schedules for your family if you have children.

Many people don’t realize they can choose or create the schedules that they think would work best for their familythey don’t have to automatically do what the lawyers suggest.

Research your options and consider your and your spouse’s work routines and your kids’ needs. (Ideally, you are doing this with your spouse.) In general, the family court system will want your children to spend equal time with each parent, which means 50 percent of the time with you and 50 percent of the time with their dad. So, be honest with yourself and know it’s likely your kids will be away from you half the time. Do your best to make it easy on them.

If you don’t think your children should live with their father, make sure you talk to a lawyer about this. Be sure to also ask: “How much will it cost for me to try to get sole physical custody?”

Read this piece for important information: Best Advice on Custody for Divorcing Moms.

41. Make a parenting plan for the interim period until you divorce and for afterward.

This should include not only the parenting schedule but also involve details regarding holidays, important religious celebrations, medical, and educational needs.

42. Use a parenting app and create a detailed list of your children’s needs related to activities, health, schooling, and well-being.

To lessen confusion, stress, and direct contact, consider using a parenting app to keep everything organized and easily shared. A neutral tool will streamline your communication and information sharing. We suggest Family Wizard because it’s most often recommended by family courts. It is also the most well-known parenting app.

43. Prepare for what you will say, and tell your children together that you are divorcing or separating.

This is one of the hardest moments if not the hardest moment of the challenge, facing your kids and telling them how their reality is going to change. Discuss with their father what you will say to them in advance, and impress on him how important it is to have a plan to show your kids that there will be structure.

And know you may not be able to rely on their dad to team up with you for this talk.

For support and more steps, read:

44. Line up support for your children.

Tell your children’s schools as soon as you know there will be a divorce and ask for any resources the school may have or recommend. Evaluate therapists who may support your kids individually.  Children deserve a safe space to vent without worrying how it will affect you or your spouse.

Steps Toward Your Next Chapter

45. Take steps to separate your lives.

Begin separating how you do things and how you live.  Turn to others instead of turning to your spouse.  Are there other accounts you should be opening as you consider moving apart? And where will you live after the divorce? Did you ask the financial advisor what the best play is for you regarding your house or future living arrangements?

46. Think about your employment.

Whether this means going back to work, looking for a side hustle to increase your income, or transitioning to another kind of job, divorce can be a catalyst for our ambition. Yes, divorce can be a good thing. Ask the financial advisor what your expected reality will be for money after the divorce, what you will need to make for income going forward, and what you should be shooting for to contribute to your retirement fund.

47. If you are unemployed and have skills to find a job, your next critical step is to start your job search.

You might consider a career coach who can help you evaluate your strengths, strategize your resume, and organize your search, especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a long time. Check out iRelaunch for helpful resources, advice and guidance.

Post-Divorce Checklist

It didn’t happen overnight but now you are on the Other Side of divorce. Having arrived here, there are still things to take care of and new things to (excitedly) consider.

48. Make sure all retirement accounts, investment accounts, and monies got transferred over as stipulated by your divorce judgment.

Make sure you’re checking that everything was completed correctly in accordance with your judgment. Prepare to make whatever calls you need to.

49. Change beneficiaries on all your accounts and policies (unless you negotiated otherwise in your divorce).

You may not even remember all of the places you listed your Ex as a beneficiary or emergency contact. Make sure to change or check on these designations.

50. Get a few copies of your divorce decree notarized so you can submit it for official things in the future.

Then file it, baby!

51. Change your name legally if you choose.

Don’t forget your driver’s license, social security card, passport, credit card, and bank account to update. For many accounts, you will need to submit a copy of your signed divorce decree.

52. Change vehicle titles (if appropriate)

Again, what matters is what’s on paper. Even if you physically have the car, you’ll want to make sure it is legally yours and registered to you.

53. Check your credit report again.

Make sure nothing new has happened and you know what your current credit score is.

54. Create a new Will, Power of Attorney, and Healthcare Directive.

So much has changed in your life, and that means your end-of-life plans may be very different as well. Make sure to update these documents with your new preferences to avoid any mistakes once you’re no longer around to advocate for yourself.

55. Make a plan for how you will care for yourself and continue to create your best independent life.

You are not fully healed or completed just because you’ve signed a legal document. But you are in a very different stage than the beginning. You are now working on your divorce recovery. Critical to this recovery plan is identifying the right people you will surround yourself with going forward.

Read 100 Must Do’s for the Newly Divorced, Independent Woman.

For many, finding other women who understand what they are going through and what they have been through as with a divorce recovery group for women, can have a huge impact on one’s individual healing. Surrounded by others who “get it” can help you feel saner, provide calm and give you a much-needed perspective on your own story. With the right people, you’ll be able to speak honestly and authentically. You’ll even be able to share some much-needed laughs that others who haven’t been down this road (—sorry, Ozzie and Harriet) simply will never understand.

Closing Thoughts

Divorce is challenging. It’s a life crisis. But by compiling this divorce checklist and putting the items in one place with suggested sequencing, our goal is to slow things down and guide you as you get informed logically and healthily. In doing this we hope to lessen the overwhelm that naturally accompanies this crisis. Even so, this checklist may require multiple read-throughs depending on where you are in your process. If it’s too much to nail down all of these moving parts in one fell swoop or two (very likely) then simply save or bookmark our checklist somewhere safe for you to return to throughout your journey.

You will get through this. Breathe, and stay committed to you.

 

Notes

Whether you are thinking about divorce, dealing with it, or recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oftentimes complicated experience of breaking up and reinventing. 

SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you—and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

 

* At SAS, we support same-sex marriages. For the sake of ease, we may refer to the Ex as “he/him” but we understand that exes come with many gender identities. 

Facing the fear of Divorce Change Weheartit Size 2

Fearing the Change of Divorce

Think back to when you were a small girl and how, when you were little, the prospect of change was exciting. Perhaps you were scared but excited about losing that first tooth. But it meant growing up and that the tooth fairy was coming to reward you for being brave. Do you recall when you were invited to do grownup things? Like stay later at the table with adult guests, or accompany a teenager on an outing and how thrilled you felt? Larger than yourself, and suddenly bigger, more important than your peers. Change signified good when we were younger, and perhaps even faced with the shock of menstruation, a part of us welcomed it (maybe) with a particular horror fascination. It symbolized certain doors opening, and a private world of unexplainable mysteries and womanly secrets now to be yours. Most likely, though, fearing the change of divorce was not included in those early imaginings.

When we were little, we understood change as natural. We still do. However, with age, we have come to fear it. Older now, “wiser”, we resist change, we ignore it, and we pay to not see it. And in no place is change more fear-inducing than in our post-divorce, apocalyptic future, somewhere out there, in an unknown galaxy of life after separation.

This “resistance” begs a few questions. How do we look at the change that divorce inevitably brings in a healthy way? 

How do we make friends with it? 

And how do we prepare for it when we can’t know what’s out there?

Change and Its Thorny Opportunity

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom or losing our marriage, or losing ourselves in a marriage for us to see that something’s got to change because there are no alternatives. There simply is no other choice. That’s the gift for some of us, the catalyst: we have no choice. So, for those who are change-averse, sometimes it takes hitting the wall for change to be accepted. Others say they have no problem with change and embrace it with every opportunity. 

And yet there are degrees to change.

Genuine change is not about getting Botox or our hair colored. It takes work to learn what is changing, what needs to change, and what we want from the change. Put simply, it’s uncomfortable. Fearing the change of divorce is natural, but can also be seen as a huge opportunity for growth and yes, even improvement on the way we are currently living.

Change on the Inside

To understand change, we need to appreciate how our bodies are hardwired and what genuine hard work it is to change. We resist doing something different because it is physically difficult. The brain has hard-wired networks and paths. Any kind of change to our homeostasis or what our networks know as “normal” causes stress for the body. The body has to work extra hard to override old patterns and create a new response.

The fact is we’re not just lazy, or cowards when we’re looking at change: we are conditioned NOT to make it happen.

And society certainly reinforces this, or so it seems at first blush. If we look at myths and fairy tales around the world, they tell us, don’t leave home, don’t wander out of the village, don’t amble into the woods. Don’t change. For there, lurking is the Great Unknown, the wolf, the ogres, the dragons, they’ll get you. No, stay local and do what you’re supposed to do, what’s expected of you. If you don’t change, you’ll stay safe and out of harm’s way.  

But those myths are never about the common folk, the villagers or townspeople who continued doing they always did. The great myths are about that one unusual, individual who chooses to not heed the “stay-safe” words. The hero. The hero is called by the beyond and the hero pursues. S/he leaves the familiar stay safe world and goes off to face the unknown. And it’s that journey, that epic quest of twists and challenges, struggles and fights, that transforms the hero into a changed person, a leader for all. 

The lesson in those myths is not to stay with the same and what you know. If you want to lead a passionate life, it requires you to face change and its harrowing obstacles. It will not be easy, but in the failing, stumbling, and caterwauling on the ground, you will learn anew. As well, the lesson reveals that failure is a profound opportunity for learning.

Rather than focusing on fearing the change that divorce brings, ask yourself: What have you learned from your marriage? 

Preparing for Change When We Can’t Know Our Future

Perhaps you are feeling your fear about divorce, or battling dragons right now in the midst of the legal process. Maybe you’re facing your battle-weary self in the mirror after divorce. Wherever you are in the process, begin by taking stock of the pain you know so well. And then ask yourself, what do you want to do with this pain? Stay with it? Or, use its energy for something that will end it?

Scary, we know. But remind yourself, you’ve been afraid before. Fear has always been with you, ever since you were a child. It’s how you respond to it and what you do with the fear that matters most. 

Ask, what are your genuine choices today? Map them out. Will doing nothing and staying in your status quo end the pain? Or is it another path, where you will have to do uncomfortable things, like explore your options, learn about them and their long-term playouts, that offers a better chance of ending your pain?

Make Friends with Change by Making Friends with Others Facing It

Feel yourself fearing the change of divorce, and then begin. Take small steps. Find the right mentors and communities who can bolster your commitment to facing the fear of divorce in your life. These people hold the knowledge that will help ease your journey and liberate you.

In myths, the hero is always visited or inspired by otherworldly creatures, whether it was Pinocchio’s Blue Fairy or the god and goddesses in the Odyssey. Open up to finding your source of inspiration, your specific light that pulls you forward. This power may come from your spiritual practice or your therapist who’s helped other women leave difficult marriages. It might come from private meditation or the words of a divorced coach. Perhaps your guidance comes from another divorced woman who, further along her journey and healed, is turning to help you be guided from the demons, mishaps, and pitfalls along the way. 

Lean On Group Support!

Don’t overlook the power of the group. Maybe it’s a community of like-minded women, each seeking to learn if she should or should not divorce. Or maybe it’s a group of inspired divorce survivors who have similar values to you: they too are learning what they want from change as they support each other rebuilding their lives. The contagion of the group is powerful. Think of the successful, recovery model of peer-to-peer support in Alcoholics Anonymous, or the triumph of Suffragettes in the early 20th century. Being with others will inspire you, and you, with all your flaws and strengths, will inspire them. Together, there is group momentum. Together, there is greater success in numbers.

Accepting Change Involves Action and Calculated Risks

Though you are allied and supported, you must accept that there is no one else who can change your life. It will come down to the action you must take, and here, your body needs you to do something. You will meet with a lawyer to hear your legal choices, you will evaluate them. You will worry about the money, but you will find out the best business transaction for yourself. If you have kids, you will remind the children, once it starts, this is not about them, and that their daddy* and you love them very much. You will keep taking steps to prepare and integrate change, and to foster your best post-divorce life. You will remind yourself, you will continue to face fearing the change of divorce throughout your journey.


“I never heard of anyone regretting being brave.”  ~ SAS for Women Co-founder, Liza Caldwell

 


In spite of your ongoing fear, all of your steps will be in alignment with your best post-divorce life. Yes. If that is hard for you to imagine, then spend time visualizing what you want in your sweetest life. In the safety of the visualization, go big! Think about your ideal landing ground after divorce. Visualize peace and safety, think about the people whom you’ll have more time for, consider how your body will feel not being constantly triggered by your spouse. Allow change to be an inspiration for you. Don’t hold back. Nurture that vision and infuse it with healthiness and compassion, but also steel-edged resolve for honoring who you must be, who you truly are. Hold that vision front and center and ensure your steps, small or large, are directed toward that vision.

You will fumble. You will fall. Likely, you will find yourself on your knees, and on occasion, your children will be watching. Forgive yourself. You are human, not a god. But your body is an incredible thing. It’s seemingly hardwired to keep you small, and yet, you are learning it can also catapult you into new, exciting places and situations, where you can and will learn anew. You can adapt, and in this adaption, discover unpredictably beautiful things. There are risks with your moves, but there are often greater risks in doing nothing. You’ve accepted “something’s got to change” and you are giving it your all. This is the one precious life you were meant to live. 

Notes

Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing that makes a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you—and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

 

*At SAS, we support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity, however, we may refer to your spouse as “he” or “husband.”

Post Divorce

Is Happiness Even Possible Post-Divorce?

When a marriage is languishing in misery or the futility of irreconcilable differences, “happiness” may seem more conceptual than attainable. Sometimes not being unhappy makes the leap into the unknown worth the risk. But, at some point, either during or after the process, one question will become unavoidable: Is happiness even possible post-divorce?

The idea of post-divorce life actually being beautiful, let alone full of Under the Tuscan Sun movie-worthy transformation, may seem maddeningly out of reach. 

Sure, wouldn’t we all love to stumble across a decaying Italian villa and have the vision and lira to resurrect it?

Shaking down olives in late autumn, plucking basil from your window planter, spending all day preparing a Mediterranean feast for local friends… It all sounds so dreamy. 

And watching a divorcee go from non-functional to Florentine in under two hours—well, let’s face it, that makes anything seem possible.

Netflix, however, isn’t reality. And chances are you’re not going to become an ex-pat with your divorce settlement.

But you might. And that’s the point.

The Power of Post-Divorce Possibility

The question “Is happiness possible post-divorce?” isn’t a trick question or a test of your pragmatism.

Even if you hear it like a broken record, echoing from the dungeon of your shattered dreams, the answer is always yes!

But how? And when? How long does it take to get over a divorce, let alone to be happy?

While there is no foolproof formula for answering those questions, there are definitely factors that influence them. 

And one of the biggest factors is time. How long you were married and how old you are at the time of your divorce will affect your recovery.

If you’ve already raised your children, have your AARP card, and are a stone’s throw away from retirement, you’re probably in a gray divorce.

Divorcing after 50 or after a lengthy marriage means more baggage. It’s not necessarily bad baggage, but baggage nonetheless. 

Children, communication styles, habits, rituals, families, infidelity, vacations, jobs, memories, complicated assets and finances. It all gets mushed together into an identity that you now have to unravel. 

What do you keep? What do you throw away? What do you lug into counseling to understand? What do you use as a springboard to manifesting latent dreams and possibilities?

The longer you were married, the more likely it is that a big part of your identity became enmeshed in the care of others. 

Children, elderly relatives, your spouse—it can become almost impossible to tell where they end and you begin. After all, part of loving others is caring for them, sacrificing for them, compromising with them.

Redefining Your Happiness

You may not even know how to be happy if you’re not taking care of someone else. In that case, asking “Is happiness possible post-divorce?” is even more relevant…and possibly frightening.

Suddenly your dinner prep isn’t for a small army. It may not even require setting the table.

The only laundry you have to do is your own. 

And the only person who will be passing judgment on your housekeeping skills is you.

What’s the problem? those eager for freedom may ask.

The problem isn’t as much a problem as it is a challenge for those whose self-care has always taken a back seat to caring for others. 

All that outward focus, compounded over decades, may appear altruistic and mother-of-the-year responsible. But it can also become a shield that blocks you from the most important responsibility in your life: yourself.

So now you’re “stuck” with the one person you forgot about while you were making everyone else happy. And somewhere along the line, you lost the discernment that happiness within yourself is not selfish, but essential.

Getting through the divorce process is largely an exercise in discipline, resourcefulness, and compartmentalization. And, for all the calories burned, the exercise isn’t a fun one.

The reality of life in the wake of divorce is that it’s still a lot of discipline (especially financial) and resourcefulness. And grief and a medley of emotions can make a mess of even the most well-intended, organized calendar.

Learning to Slow Down and Focus Inward

The compartmentalization that allowed you to stay on course during the divorce process now has the freedom to open up. 

Yes, it’s still wise to put boundaries around your “divorce stuff.” But now is the time to start thinking expansively.

To be a bit cliche, it’s time to start coloring outside the lines, both literally and figuratively. 

(Seriously—pick up a cheap coloring book and some crayons and color a page. How do you instinctively color? Inside the lines? All over the page? With realistic color choices? Slowly? Quickly? Do you edit yourself? Do you add your own elements?

Put the picture into an envelope, write the date on the outside, and put it in a safe place. Make a mental note of how you felt as you colored. 

Repeat this simple exercise periodically, making the same mental notes.

After a year has passed, open your envelopes, pull out your pictures, and line them up. Do you see any differences as you journeyed through that first year? Do you remember differences in how you felt as you did something so simple and childlike?)

The point of doing such a rudimentary, seemingly nonsensical exercise is to help you connect to your own self-awareness. It’s a physical expression of what is so often locked inside and inaccessible for women after they are no longer sworn to the prioritization of others.

Visualize Happiness

The question now shifts from Is happiness possible post-divorce? to What would happiness look and feel like post-divorce?

Even as you reflect and grieve, it’s also time to meditate on who you are. Who is this magnificent person is with whom you are now spending so much time?

Who was she before she became a wife, mother, caregiver? What were her moonshot fantasies and superpower gifts? What did she always dream of doing if time, money, work, and family weren’t limiting factors?

Believe it or not, vision boards are still in vogue, even if they’re glued together on Pinterest. There is great power in seeing and writing what your mind repeatedly creates. 

Even if you are having to recreate yourself professionally and financially, opportunities abound for you to take classes in areas that interest you.

Even if all you do is watch how-to YouTube videos and TED Talks on subjects that stir your soul, you will be getting a free education. 

Keep a dedicated, unlined journal for taking notes and drawing pictures and diagrams. Allow it to be a testament of your journey to the life you only dreamed was possible.

Think of other women you hold in high esteem. If you can’t think of women you know personally, start with celebrities or influencers. 

Follow their social media pages and blogs. Interact in their comment streams. Make connections with other people who are inspired by the same women. 

And, again, take notes. You may not realize their worth today. But you most definitely will down the road when you marvel at how far you have come since your divorce.

Explore and Reconnect with the World

Begin to travel by yourself. Sound terrifying? Then start small and close. 

Take in farmers’ markets and art fairs. Rescue a senior dog so you have someone who is happy to go with you (and ecstatic to try samples).

Make one day a week your personal exploration day. Visit an art museum or specialty boutique, then take yourself to lunch. You’ll be amazed at how special that one day becomes to you. 

Commit to trying one new group or social event a month. There are Meetup groups, for example, for every interest under the sun (and then some). 

One of the best ways to help yourself and actually feel happy as you’re trying to “become” happy is to help others. 

Not only does stepping outside yourself to benefit another person do double-duty on the happiness front, but it builds your social network.

Build Your Social Connections

Divorce is one of the most isolating, lonely experiences you can go through in life. One reason women ask Is happiness possible post-divorce? is that they don’t know who “their people” are anymore. Whom can they trust? Who will like and love them for who and where they are? 

And the idea of braving a social scene that mostly centers around dating may be wrong-place, wrong-time.

So it makes perfect sense to involve yourself with others who have no agenda other than to bring goodness to people, animals, the community, and/or the environment.

In doing so, you will, without realizing it, build a new sacred circle of trusted friends who share your values…and possibly your place in life.

Finally, remember the importance of staying connected to women who support each other through the various stages of divorce and its recovery.

Happiness, after all, is found in relationships. And the most transformative relationships are those that encourage and strengthen the most important relationship of all: the one with yourself.

Notes

 
Whether you are navigating the experience of divorce, or that confusing place of recreating the life you deserve, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do it alone. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. SAS offers all women six free months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you — and your precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
Divorce Mediation

6 Essentials for Preparing for Divorce Mediation

Deciding to divorce is hard, and there are many big and little choices behind the ultimate decision. But there’s one question that many don’t grapple with: how do I want to divorce? This question is often left unaddressed because many believe that they’re doomed to have a litigious divorce. When most people think about divorce, they imagine the war-like scenario so often portrayed in popular culture. In this, one party is victorious, and the other is the loser. This image often involves mudslinging and scandal. While this route is one path to divorce, it’s not the only one. Moreover, it’s often not the best way to navigate an already difficult process. Divorce mediation offers an alternative solution.

What is Mediation?

One approach that’s continuing to grow in popularity—and is typically more cost-efficient—is mediation. In mediation, the parties meet with a neutral third party who guides them through the decisions that form their separation agreement. Mediation is an interest-based approach where the parties, together with the mediator, work to understand each other’s underlying motivations. Together, they generate creative resolutions to resolve any impasse. For that reason, mediation is not focused on retribution for marital grievances; instead, it’s a future-focused process intended to set the parties up for the next chapter of their lives. And most importantly for many of my clients, mediation provides absolute control over the outcome to the parties. This is because they—not the mediator—make all final decisions.

Who Should Mediate?

I truly believe that everyone (with limited exceptions) should attempt mediation before engaging in a traditional divorce model. Mediation is intended for (and should be used by) all who desire a less combative divorce process. Mediation also allows for more control over the timeline, cost, and outcome of the process.

Ideally, parties should attempt mediation before asking for court intervention. However, mediation is flexible and can be implemented at any stage of the process.

Mediation also can be used to resolve any issues relating to the divorce or a limited set of disputes. It can also be used for one issue, like custody. Thus, even if you’ve already begun a different process, you can still mediate—it’s not too late.

It’s especially important for parties who have children to attempt mediation. As I always tell my clients, children bind you for life, and the coparenting relationship is one of the most important relationships you will have—it does not end when your child turns eighteen. You and your Ex will forever have celebrations and life events that require you both to be present (graduations, weddings, and the birth of grandchildren, to name a few) so it’s best for all involved to try to learn how to move forward and get along.

The Benefits of Divorce Mediation

In fact, even if you don’t succeed at resolving your disputes in mediation, the mere act of engaging in the process produces positive results in the long run. A 12-year study conducted by Dr. Robert Emery shows that just five hours of mediation prompted parents to settle their divorce outside of court—and had positive effects on the coparenting and parent-child relationships. In fact, after just 5 hours of mediation, non-residential parents were more likely to speak with their children on a weekly basis and see their children more frequently. Moreover, the primary residential parent “graded” the other parent more highly in every area of parenting, including discussions related to coparenting problems.

Who Should Not Mediate?

There are three factors that make mediation an unsuitable process for some people to divorce. Since you are probably a woman reading this blog post on SAS for Women, you’ll want to understand them.

First, mediation should not be used if there is a history of domestic abuse (including physical, emotional, verbal, cyber, or financial abuse). A truly voluntary (and thus, enforceable) agreement cannot be made under threat or fear of abuse.

Second, parties who are not willing to be open about their finances are not suited for mediation. Since mediation does not include a formal discovery process, each party must be willing to produce documents necessary to illustrate the full financial landscape. Again, this is because a truly voluntary agreement cannot be reached if one party is not privy to all relevant facts.

Finally, mediation will be unsuccessful if a party is unable or disinclined to express themselves without an advocate present.

SAS Note: So, if you feel bullied in your marriage, if you’ve not had access to the money, don’t understand how the finances worked in your marriage, and/or your husband will not/would not share financial information with you, mediation may not be right for you. This is because you are not coming to the table at the same level of power as your husband. You may need an advocate, like a lawyer.

You’ve Made the Decision to Mediate, Now What?

1. Interview Several Mediators

Do your research and speak with several divorce mediators, either independently or together with your Ex. If you are speaking with the mediator separately from your husband, understand that the mediator will not be able to discuss content with you, but can discuss the structure of mediation and answer general questions. How to choose? Remember, you will share some of the most intimate details of your life with your mediator so it’s important that you feel comfortable with them. Moreover, not all mediators are attorneys, so make sure you understand the mediator’s background and whether they’re the right fit.

SAS Note: We recommend that the mediator you hire be a licensed divorce attorney. The truth is you want someone who really understands divorce law to help you complete this document. If your mediator is not a licensed attorney, you will pay extra to have it edited by a lawyer to make sure the document is legally tight before it gets sent off to court.

2. Gather Necessary Information

Create a file of your most recent financial statements (including statements related to bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts, and mortgages). Your mediator may request documents dating further back, but having your most recent statements will be sufficient for your first session. If you are unable to gather all of your documents, a list of assets and liabilities will often give your mediator enough background to get started.

3. Make a List of Monthly Income and Expenses

Recreate your marital monthly income and expenses based on historical data. At a minimum, these amounts should be based on an average of three months’ worth of data. Being knowledgeable about the family income and expenses will help you and your Ex have realistic conversations and expectations relating to spousal maintenance and child support.

4. Meet with a Financial Advisor or Certified Divorce Financial Analyst

If you feel unprepared to speak about finances, you should speak privately with a financial expert. This person should be experienced with understanding how your money will be impacted by the divorce. This is the case no matter what model of divorce you and your spouse choose. A Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (“CDFA”) will help you understand the marital finances and prepare you for the finance-related conversations that will occur during mediation.

5. Consult with an Attorney

At any point in the mediation process, you can consult with OR retain independent counsel. This helps ensure that any tentative agreements you’ve made or are considering make financial and practical sense for you long term.

This attorney will help you understand your rights and obligations under the law, before or during mediation. The attorney can even review the proposed separation agreement on your behalf. You should note, though, that not all attorneys favor the mediation process; it’s important to retain an attorney who is committed to your goal of succeeding in mediation. On the upside, more and more attorneys are willing to frame their mediation services as “unbundled services,” which are different than the traditional divorce retainer.

6. Adapt the Healthy Frame of Mind

There is no winning when it comes to divorce–even if you go to court. The sooner everyone comes to understand this, the better. When coming to mediation, be prepared to compromise and to come to an agreement. To help you do this, you’ll need to set aside your personal feelings. You’ll need to prepare to go to the “mind side of the wall” and prepare to work rationally. Your spouse may need to be reminded of this too.

Because making the decision to pursue a divorce is so challenging, it’s easy to forget that you have choices. For an increasing number of people, mediation offers a better path forward than traditional divorce models. As such, mediation has helped many families begin the next stage of their lives.

Notes:

Bryana founded Turner Divorce Mediation, P.C. after seeing firsthand the detrimental effects that litigation can have on a divorcing couple and their children. Through her mediation practice, she provides clients with a friendlier approach to divorce so that they are better equipped for a positive future. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about mediation, you are invited to email Bryana or you can visit her website.

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

How to Divorce a Nice Guy

How to Divorce a Nice Guy

Divorce may often be a painful and complicated process. When we’re leaving a lousy guy, the choice can be easier. We tend not to doubt what we want when all we want is Out.  But what if we need to divorce a nice guy? 

What if we’re wed to a good man, one who does marriage so much better than all the Horror Story Husbands we hear about?

He’s not a drunk or a cheater. Instead of condescension, infidelity, or abusiveness, he’s kind, loving, and devoted. He hasn’t lost three jobs in one year; he’s stable and good with money. Far from being indifferent to the children or annoyed by them, he adores them and raises them well. He’s fit, handsome and he thinks we’re gorgeous. 

The required fields are checked off. Everything about him tips the scales into the “good egg” box, and you know you never have to worry about him.

But you also know you’re unfulfilled. So, how do you divorce a nice guy?

This is where the concept of divorce becomes so much murkier. You are married to a stand-up guy. Maybe you even still love him as a friend. Perhaps he is your best friend. You trust him, you respect him… you just don’t want to be his wife anymore. 

The attraction, the connection, the pull to him has fled the bedroom. Something is calling you out of the marriage and you can’t continue to rationalize it away. But you can’t bring the ax of divorce down on your vows, either.

The Gamble of Marital Security vs. Personal Fulfillment

This inner conflict is normal and far more common than we realize. It’s also trickier to get out of because there’s no bad guy to rally against. But some women who take this gamble become the bad guy. They become the brunt of criticism by friends and family, particularly those who are highly pro-marriage.

People ask them why they’re throwing their marriage away. These people might strongly suggest therapy, or they might tell the “Bad Guy” woman she’s being fickle or selfish. According to this “conventional” view, staying married is the ultimate goal. For them, happiness can be sacrificed. And it takes an authentic, courageous woman to leave a perfectly good marriage and a perfectly good man.

It takes knowing ourselves well, and it requires the understanding that our soul’s most foundational nourishment lies within us. Perhaps it means deciding what we want, not what we think we should want.

How History Has Affected Divorce

It also helps to recognize that many of the practical reasons for sticking with a passionless marriage no longer exist. Few options existed for women in the past. In the early 1900s, American women were still legally designated as property. By the 1950s, the Betty Crocker generation still tended hearth, home, and children almost exclusively, with only a small percentage of women working outside the family dwelling.

That is not the case anymore. Relatively speaking, there are fewer barriers between American women and their careers. These careers often bring them excitement, social identity, and value beyond the picket fence, as well as the ability to make their own money–and plenty of it, in many cases.

That means that if they are unhappy in their marriage, they are not financially stuck in it. They can divorce even when their husband is otherwise a “nice” and financially supportive guy.

Women now do not have to settle for a good provider who can keep a roof over their head simply because he’s willing and able to do that. They have the power to leverage themselves out. They may feel awful about divorcing that really nice guy, but feeling guilty about something doesn’t mean we are actually at fault. 

Comparison Kills: Her Story is Not Your Story

“Women confide in me all the time that once they start researching divorce and hearing others’ horror stories about being abused, or mistreated, or how they’ve endured years living with a ‘narcissist,’ women in less dramatic situations feel their power dwindle and their guilt mount. How can they divorce a nice guy? Shouldn’t they just suck it up?” said divorce coach and SAS founder Liza Caldwell.

Guilt-stricken women describe their situation as platonic. They like their husbands but just aren’t sexually compatible with them. Instead of a union, the marriage feels like living with a roommate. And, in the midst of all this stifled uncertainty, guilt, and dissatisfaction, women may become passive-aggressive with their very nice guys. By staying in the marriage because they feel they should, they run the risk of becoming not-so-nice themselves. And in doing so, render an emotional disservice to their mate. This is how many come to divorce the typical “nice guy” husband.

Yearning for a Balanced Marriage

In some cases, women even feel sorry for their husbands. Perhaps he doesn’t make as much money as she does, or he is more in love with her than she is with him. 

Women can often empathize… almost to their detriment.  Pity is not love, and it is even less an aphrodisiac. A sense of emotional obligation is a strong tether to break, though.

“The ability of a woman to empathize with others, to stay in that place of constant caregiving to others, can be the death of her individual progress,” said Caldwell. “And while a part of her might be okay with sacrificing herself, what she doesn’t see is that she’s not showing up whole for the ones she is caregiving for.”

Women feel guilty, not justified, undeserving to act in any way that prioritizes their own needs or well-being. If they are mothers, I will often ask them: if their children were in this same situation, what would they tell their kids to do?”

“Then, women have absolute clarity,” she said. “They say, ‘I’d tell my daughter she deserves to be happy.’ So then, it’s really a question of us honoring ourselves, and valuing ourselves and our own lives as dearly as we tell our daughters and sons to do.” 

Leaving Your Best Friend

My partner of 13 years was a very good friend and an amazing man in many ways. He was intelligent, deep, forward-thinking, well-employed, good with money, MacGyver-smart about fixing things, honorable, very funny, talented, athletic, attractive, great in bed, and the best listener I’ve ever met. By all standards, I divorced a nice guy.

I know. Most of you are probably wondering if you can get his number.

Of course, he had his faults. He could be a U.S. Grade A Prime *%#hole. But overall? My Ex was a very good guy whom I loved.

Regret

A mate may fit well with one phase of our personal growth but not another. I don’t regret the decision to end our partnership, but I do regret some of my decisions leading up to it. By the time I made the choice to leave, it was the best one and has put a high dive under my self-development. But there were times before that–critically important choice points–where I could have made more effort. I could have been much more self-examining, more fearlessly committed to my own evolution. This could have made our commitment to each other stronger, our partnership richer. We also might have come to the same end result, but now I will never know. 

And having done some good Man Training for his new wife was, for a while, cold comfort.

It’s important to make sure we know what is really driving the choice to leave a good man. We need to honestly evaluate if we are the source of our own unhappiness. What are our real Primary Motivators, our true Deal Breakers? If our ego’s neediness is pushing this decision, it’s more likely we may regret the decision later. Refusing to deal with ourselves first, before looking at our husband’s effect on us, is a mistake. If we don’t confront the ways that we make ourselves unhappy, they will come back to bite us down the road.

How many women are blasé about their marriage and cope with it by stepping out and having an affair?  Is that fair to your Nice Guy? Does staying in a marriage and being unhappy, passive-aggressive or a grudge-holder serve your Nice Guy?  If you are not fully in the marriage and he is, is that fair? Does he deserve it? Or does he deserve the chance to meet someone who will meet him fully and lovingly, as he deserves to be loved? For many, the answers to these questions tell them that it’s time to divorce their nice-guy husband.

What about what you are modeling to your children?  How can you advise them to follow their own authentic selves and seek happiness compassionately with the world if you are not living that, too?

No one outside ourselves can “make us” happy, at least not for long. Lasting happiness only comes from within, and only from being fully and authentically present with ourselves. 

“Forever Love” or an Ever-Evolving Love?

Modern marriage takes a lot more flexibility than the original “institution” it was built for. People are beginning to shift the idea of marriage into one that allows for renegotiation. We are recreating it with a sense of dynamic yet committed impermanence. Instead of thinking in terms of “forever,” we are thinking in terms of ever-evolving.

This is what we are seeing develop from a mixed bath of infidelity numbers, the Living Apart Together trend, ethical non-monogamy, or not marrying at all but still engaging in loving, monogamous companionship.

We are pioneering a new marriage paradigm and recognizing that even “nice” and “good” may not last. What and who works now may not work later if each spouse is not growing into their potential and fully authenticated selves. And hopefully, we are learning to allow for that and accept it with grace.

Notes

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist, and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com.

Since 2012, SAS for Women has helped women face unexpected challenges that arise while considering, navigating, and rebuilding after divorce. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

How to tell if you're in a bad marriage

How Do You Know You’re in a Bad Marriage?

So, you had a fight. All couples fight now and then. So, you can’t remember the last time you had sex. You have young kids and a full-time job, and you’re exhausted. So, you don’t talk about anything but work and the kids. What is there to say that hasn’t been said already? Is all this normal, or does it mean you might be in a bad marriage?

For all the bliss and pixie dust that locked you into saying “yes,” you know that marriage isn’t a fairy tale. It’s hard work—boring at times, lonely at times, even briefly regretful at times.

But you’ve known enough couples happy in their lifetime marriages to know that the work is worth it. Marriage fulfills, heals, teaches, and gives life.

And yet, you’ve had this inner voice nagging you for a long time. Something’s not right. Why am I having doubts? And why am I so unhappy? Why do I feel so unloved? Who is this person I’m living with? How will I survive ‘forever’ like this?

You know better than to say anything to any of your friends and neighbors because all they see is a happy couple. Everything looks great from the outside, so saying anything would just rock the boat.

But they don’t see your life on the inside. They don’t feel the little blows of disrespect and sarcasm. They don’t see the physical and emotional distance that has become your norm.

Besides, your husband doesn’t even know that you’re struggling inside and wondering if you’re in a bad marriage. Would saying something make him angry, hurt him, make him not trust you?

Where to Turn for Support

If this is your first marriage, you have no prior experience for comparison.

If your parents were divorced or had a bad marriage, you have that negative modeling rooted in your psyche.


Should You or Shouldn’t You Divorce? Watch our free video class for ways to understand yourself.


How, then, are you supposed to figure out if your marriage is just going through a predictable phase or is actually a bad marriage?

Thankfully the internet has infinite choices for reading up on relationship problems and how to deal with them.

But, in the long run, it’s that same inner voice that’s making you question your feelings that’s also going to lead you to answers.

That’s not to say you have to find those answers on your own. At a time when your self-doubt is mounting, you need to have reliable sources of wisdom and guidance.

That may be your best friend who knows you better than you know yourself. It may be a therapist or divorce coach capable of listening for critical cues and giving you feedback on what’s “normal” and what’s not.

What’s important when you’re questioning yourself and your marriage is that you seek the help of someone with expertise and wisdom.

Can this person look beyond the veneer of your life and reach into the deeply planted seeds of discontent?

Can this person help you discern the difference between a bad marriage and a marriage that simply needs help?

A Word of Caution: Talking to Your Parents

One suggestion worth considering: You may have a close relationship with one or both of your parents. But unloading your marital concerns on them can actually work against you.

The fact that they’re from a different generation than you means they made decisions and life choices in a different context.

And the fact that you’re their daughter means they will instinctively side with you to protect you at all costs.

That alliance may feel good, but it won’t help you examine yourself and your marriage objectively. And it can also cause your parents to worry about you and/or view your spouse differently.

So how do you figure out if you’re just in a rut or actually in a bad marriage? Isn’t there a spectrum of “good and bad” for marriage? “Wonderful, great, good, OK, needs some work, all about the kids, unsatisfied, unhappy, miserable, afraid”?

There are definitely predictable signs to look out for. But no single sign is going to point to divorce. (You didn’t think it would be that simple, did you?)

You may want to start your query with a legitimate marriage quiz from a reputable source. Knowing the right questions to ask is a huge step toward satisfying that unsettled inner voice.

Below are several signs that your marriage may not be as happy as it should be.

(I’m being careful not to use the term “bad marriage” here because most marriages—even deeply happy ones—experience some of these symptoms.)

  • You’re not having sex anymore, or only infrequently. 

Physical intimacy is one of the exclusive gifts of marriage. It elevates your relationship above all others. And it’s an essential part of the connection between spouses.

Is one of you avoiding sex? If so, why? Are you exhausted from raising kids and working a full-time job? Do you not feel good about yourself and therefore don’t feel sexual?

Do you and your spouse discuss your sex life openly, or do you keep your desires and dissatisfaction to yourself?

Have you experienced sexual abuse, either from your spouse or from someone else?

There can be a lot of reasons for a decrease in sex. But an honest examination of and discussion about those reasons is essential to restoring this important part of your marriage.

  • There has been an infidelity.

Does having an affair mean you will divorce? Not necessarily.

Believe it or not, affairs can happen in a happy, “good” marriage just as they can happen in a bad marriage.

So, as heart-shattering as an affair is, it doesn’t necessarily point to divorce. It may be the impetus needed to learn the skills necessary for communicating needs, wants, complaints, and love in a healthy way.

  • You fight all the time. 

Living that way is exhausting. The volley of shouting, blame, and criticism can make you walk on eggshells and wonder why you’re even together.

  • You have stopped fighting altogether. 

Fighting, however, isn’t bad in and of itself.

It’s how you fight, when you fight, and especially why you fight that matter.

If you’ve muted your interactions in an effort to avoid the altercations, you may have decided you don’t have anything worth fighting for. 

  • You don’t feel heard. 

Marriage is supposed to be that safe haven where you can bare your soul and at least feel heard on a heart level.

Couples don’t have to agree on everything in order to listen from a place of love and concern for one another person’s highest good.

Not feeling heard—or feeling you just get “blah blah” lip service—is an important sign to pay attention to.

Likewise, are you listening to your spouse or shutting him out?

  • You don’t feel respected. 

Couples can go through tough times but still feel and demonstrate respect for one another.

When sarcasm, negative body language, interruption, control, and other disrespectful behaviors creep in, it’s time to pay attention.

  • You daydream about life without your spouse. 

Having the occasional thought of “What would my life be like if I hadn’t married?” isn’t unusual. Nor is wondering what it would be like to be one of your single friends.

But fantasizing about life without your spouse or with someone else points to deeper issues that need to be addressed.

Confiding in a therapist can help you determine if, for example, an underlying issue like depression may be affecting your perspectives.

  • One of you has an addiction. 

Addiction can’t survive without an enabling environment.

If one of you is an active addict, your marriage is inevitably riddled with codependency.

And, if your marriage is going to survive, you will both need to get help.

  • There is abuse. 

As with addiction, abuse can’t continue without an underlying dynamic to support it.

Domestic abuse is not something you can figure out or solve on your own.

If you and/or your children are being abused, it is imperative that you seek professional help and safety immediately.

  • The Four Horsemen come riding in. 

No one has done more research on the predictability of divorce than John Gottman.

If your marriage is being visited by what he calls The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling—pay attention. These are definite signs of an unhealthy marriage pointed in the wrong direction.

No one walks into a marriage with a perfect formula for making it work. But everyone who walks into marriage does so with a moving truck of history, experience, and learned behaviors.

Some issues, like addiction and abuse, demand immediate action and professional help.

Other issues, however, aren’t always so obvious.

If you and your spouse don’t have the communication skills to discuss them in a healthy way, that’s part of the issue. Communication is the issue.

You’re the only one who can decide if your marriage is worth saving. No one else can look at your life and tell you you’re in a “bad marriage.”

It’s your intuition, your desire, your choices, and your commitment that will ultimately direct you.

It really does come down to YOUR inner voice.

Listen to it.

Notes

Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”

 

Best Divorce Help

The Best Divorce Help Centers on These 4 Things

The mere prospect of divorce can be overwhelming, lonely, isolating, and confusing. And figuring out where to get the best divorce help, regardless of whether and when you decide, can be daunting.

Sometimes the most difficult part of a task is simply getting started. And that’s especially true with something as life-altering as ending a marriage.

Where do you even begin?

How do you strategize the pragmatics while navigating all the messy emotions and relationship issues?

Do you explore the process of divorce on your own, or share your thoughts with your spouse?

Do you separate or stay in the same home?

What about the kids? What about income?

What about…? What if…? How? When? Who?

You may be nagged by your inner voice telling you that something isn’t right. Something hasn’t been right for a long time. You can’t live like this anymore, but you don’t know what to do about it.

And so the clock ticks and the calendar pages turn…

And then you finally reach a fork in the road. You realize you have been overthinking leaving your husband, but haven’t taken any action. And you can’t keep living this way.

At the very least, it’s time to get answers, even if those answers lead you to stay in your marriage.

No matter what the outcome of your exploration is, the only way to deal with your fears is to move through them.

There are so many aspects of divorce, and no one but a divorce attorney goes into marriage well-versed in them.

What’s important to remember from the start of your journey is that divorce is a whole-life, whole-person experience. The approach to it, therefore, needs to be just as holistic.

We frequently discuss the transactional nature of divorce on this site, primarily as a caution not to lead or make decisions from your emotional place. Too often, women will back down when it comes to finances and assets, or they don’t think ahead to the future. This is an area, for example, that warrants a compartmentalizing of thought, emotion, and action.

But emotions are a huge component of both marriage and divorce. And they need to be acknowledged, dealt with, and supported, too.

For purposes of this article, we’re going to focus on four main areas of your well-being as you think about or begin divorce.

The smartest approach is the village approach. It involves strategizing the various areas affected by divorce and finding the best help, advice, and support possible for each area.

In essence, your first job in thinking through divorce is to build your village, your trusted circle of experts, friends, and support.

There are four common categories of support that you may require:

1. Clarity and Encouragement

It’s important to remember to think in terms of the big picture. Who has the familiarity, expertise, personal experience, and resources to guide and support you through this?

Perhaps you have a sister or best friend who has gone through the divorce process. She can be a tremendous source of comfort and been-there-done-that support.

You will also want to include expert professional help that can bring objectivity and strategic guidance to the table.

There are therapists who specialize in marriage and divorce issues. Finding one early in the process can be an emotional and procedural anchor for you, even after a divorce.

Some of the best divorce help you will find is from a divorce coach.

You may not have even known that profession existed. However, a divorce coach could be your greatest asset while navigating a divorce or a legal separation.

A divorce coach knows the process from start to finish. And a big part of her job is pointing you in the right direction at each stage of the process, based on your specific story and needs.

She will have access to resources you may not otherwise know you need. She will have experience working with other professionals in the area of divorce. And she will be able to steer you toward quality divorce help.

Think of a divorce coach as the ultimate guide and concierge for your varied divorce needs. A divorce coach had perspective, knowledge, resources, guidance, and support, all bundled into one person.

If you can’t afford to work one-on-one with a professional at this time, consider joining a group coaching program. You will not only receive guidance, but also you’ll receive support in the context of camaraderie with others going through the same process.

2. Emotional Stability

Sometimes the best divorce help is right inside you.

Your emotions are messengers, loaded with information that can lend insight and direction to your decisions.

I mentioned earlier that we often talk about separating your emotions from certain decisions. In no way does that mean that you should disregard or sacrifice your emotions.

Finding emotional support during the divorce process is of paramount importance.

You will need a place to “let go”—to vent, cry, stomp, question, and speak freely. You will also need safety and the assurance of like-minded, compassionate people who can help you discern the messages in your emotions.

All that fear, self-doubt, anger, sadness, grief, worry, exhaustion—you’re not the first to experience that cauldron of emotion. And you won’t be the last.

Sometimes the people you turn to for clarity and support—fellow divorcees, a counselor, coach, or support group—can help prop you up emotionally.

There is also an element of emotional stability that is often overlooked.

Self-care and good survival skills have never been more important than at this time.

We hear certain advice so often that we become numb to it, but now is the time to listen. Get plenty of sleep. Eat nutritious foods. Have a self-care routine. Exercise. Get out into nature. Meditate. Pray. Have a hobby. Create. All of these bits of advice are common for an important reason: they work!

The divorce itself, involved and exhausting as it is, is just the beginning of your new life. We need you healthy, strong, and encouraged for the journey ahead!

3. Legal Options

The time to have a legal consultation with a divorce attorney is before you tell your husband you want a divorce. And, regardless of your intended style of divorce (e.g. DIY, mediation, uncontested, contested, collaborative, etc), it is always best to have a legal consultation first.

If, however, you find yourself on the receiving end of divorce papers, you will want to find an attorney immediately for an understanding of what you should and should not be doing. This is where a divorce coach can be a diamond on a rough path.

Every state has its own divorce laws and procedures, and a divorce attorney will spell those out for you.

He or she will also walk you through the best- and worst-case scenario so you can be prepared and put yourself at the best advantage.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on Google for your legal advice! Sure, you can do some cursory research to generate questions and gain general familiarity about divorce laws in your state (alimony or custody laws, for example). But learn what the law says about your circumstances, and what you should optimize, from a lawyer who is looking at the details of your marriage.

4. Financial Choices

Yes, your divorce attorney can walk you through all the legal steps and their possible outcomes. But a huge part of any divorce is the division of assets. And that can get messy, depending on the length of the marriage and its accumulated investments and assets. Having a smart financial expert as part of your “village” is absolutely essential.

As a woman, you can’t afford to not find out what would be the best LONG-TERM plays for you because research says it’s harder economically for women after divorce compared to men.

So, don’t rush to get through the negotiation just because you want to be done. Be sure to learn what your must-haves are.

A good financial advisor (meaning one who has been in the business for more than 15 years and has seen various markets come and go) will be able to tell you about what’s in your interest in the near and LONG run. For this, SAS for Women adores Ronit Rogoszinski at Women + Wealth Solutions because she speaks plainly, educates, and clearly understands what women go through when they divorce. (And no, SAS received no “kick backs” from Ronit. We share her name openly because she’s impressed us with her service to our diverse — both, economically and geographically — female clients.)

Divorce is something no one needs to tackle alone. There is help available in every area of this painful (but liberating) journey—emotional, legal, financial, parental, etc.

The best divorce help starts at the center and works its way out. Establish your core supporters and allow them to help you expand your village from there.

By making a few wise choices at the foot of your journey, you may very well create a support system that sees you through life.

Notes

Since 2012, SAS for Women has been entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists, and support strategies for you and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Toxic marraige

27 Cautionary Signs You’re in a Toxic Marriage

Just like the proverbial frog in the pot, it’s nearly impossible to tell when you’re in the midst of marriage conflict that’s gone from warm to boiling, or when that humorous bite that initially makes for playful conversation begins to break the skin instead. There are the occasional stings of a partner who’s had a long day, and then there are the continual sniping, punitive remarks that spill over into damaging abuse, making your marriage toxic.

We’re hearing the term “toxic” a lot these days, referring to everything from environments to people to work places to marriages. Toxic simply means that something is poisonous, or has become so. Each of us can probably identify and add some of our own particular twists on what toxicity looks and feels like, or how it’s showing up in the people around us, or within ourselves. (We all have some toxic traits. No one is without a shadow side). It’s worth spending some time thinking about toxicity, because the more examples of it we identify, the more we can define this concept and see its insidious nuances and impact. When it comes to our relationship, understanding what constitutes a toxic marriage will help us decide if we’re going to leave the marriage or find a way to turn down the heat.

Check out the following 27 markers of a toxic marriage and consider their examples.  As you read, determine how present each one is in your life and what you will do  about it.

1. Excess Defensiveness

Perhaps you’ve tried to be patient: “Your husband is just acting this way because he’s* feeling vulnerable or stressed or working too hard these days,” you might say to yourself in the face of yet another snide comment. When your non-confrontational responses meet with repeated jabs, it’s hard not to get offended. And when you or your spouse hear criticism in even innocuous statements and questions, it becomes impossible to communicate. Moreover, constant defensiveness usually means your spouse has stopped taking responsibility for his behavior. It’s like trying to enter the flow of traffic next to a driver who only speeds up or slows down in order to block your efforts to merge.

2. Dismissiveness, Contempt, Condescension and Chronic Impatience

We can all get cranky, be less than tolerant, or even lose our tempers, especially under prolonged duress. But there is a demeaning quality to these communication styles, an implied attitude of superiority that suggests that the other person is beneath notice, not only not to be taken seriously but really seen as less important, less intelligent, and unworthy. Contempt diminishes—whether it is eye-rolling, smirking, sarcasm, or a blank stare followed by curt dismissiveness. Whatever the strategy is, the means of communicating these attitudes are myriad, and they are designed (consciously or not) to make the person on the receiving end feel stupid, worthless, or to undermine their confidence in their position.

Defensiveness and contempt are two of the four communication styles that the Gottman Institute identifies as the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” for a marriage. However, of the four, contempt is identified as the attitude most likely to lead to a divorce or split. The other two of the four horsemen are criticism and stonewalling.

3. Criticism

Criticism goes beyond just voicing a concern or complaint, which tends to happen on a case-by-case basis. It is more apt to be ongoing, and is directed at the other person’s character rather than at their behavior. It is often an assertion of an agenda and is generated in part by the same need for control that is at the root of contempt. Constant criticism is a practice of routinely finding something wrong with or in need of improvement in the other person. You might say that defensiveness and stonewalling are the toxic responses to contempt and criticism.

4. Projection

Projection is the result of anticipating criticism before it happens, or hearing it when it doesn’t exist. Defensive redirection is a version of the idea that the “best defense is a good offense”, but it occurs when there’s not actually a reason for it. Projection is one of the responses to childhood psychological trauma, where unpredictability and chronic undermining of confidence or other dysfunctional patterns create a running inner dialogue that is turned outward, like a song on repeat. A spouse may ask a perfectly benign, kindly intended question about how “a projector” is liking work these days, and hearing an echo of that inner critic, “the projector” might put some edge in her voice, or snap, or ask why they want to know or stonewall with a monosyllabic pout, thus putting an end to the conversation and alienating her spouse.

Projection is turning that negative inner voice outward. Instead of recognizing that the voice is our own, we unconsciously “hear it” coming from others. By making the “attack” come from someone else, we avoid the understanding that the person we actually need to confront is the one in the mirror.

5. Addiction

Addictions include dependencies on food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, exercise, gambling, sex, anger or even a belief system. It can be an attachment to status or social media. Addiction is a common reason for divorce and it really doesn’t matter what the addiction is. When an attachment to something overrides your ability to be constructively present to yourself and your partner, to the point that you or your spouse chronically and compulsively choose whatever that thing is over the marriage, it is a form of infidelity—an emotional affair.

An addict will face losing you and choose that thing over you anyway. They will usually find a way to justify it until they reach a point where they can’t cope with the consequences any more. At this point, they have to address their addiction and give it up, or keep doing it while giving up other parts of their life, from jobs and friends to spouses and children. Losing a spouse who you love is a consequence, but sadly, looking down the barrel of that loss is often not enough to keep the addict from engaging in the behavior. It’s never too late to give up an addiction, but it is sometimes too late to repair a relationship with a partner who came in second place to that addiction one too many times.

6. The Need to be Right

This tends to go beyond a partner who is just being a Know-it-All. There is a profound and constant need to be right, to be the “good guy” in the dynamic that seems to come from a deep-seated need to be in a position of authority, stemming from a need for control. It isn’t necessarily something the person is conscious of and can originate from trauma hangover, fear of loss, and/or a deep-seated, foundational insecurity, etc.

We might think of it as “White Hat” or “Podium Syndrome”, and it seems to incorporate everything from chronically talking over the other person in a conversation to condescension or maintaining an attitude that they know you better than you do. Inexorably analytical, the need to be right is defensiveness with a Ph.D. It is a polite war of attrition. It is scrutiny that’s done its homework.

7. The Power Differential

We live on a dualistic little planet: male-female, good-bad, dark-light, Republican-Democrat, God-Devil, happy-sad, yin-yang, dominant-passive, and on and on. We embrace shades in between; far more mainstream now are third and fourth gender assignments, the value of a multiple-party political system, the concept of many paths to “God” or however we define divinity, or don’t, and on we go. But we humans love our compare-and-contrast. In that vein, there may be a leader in a relationship, one partner who may be more alpha, or who has more influence in the ways we assign practical power. But unless that comes with an equal balance of power in the other partner somewhere else in the relationship, the scales are tipped to one side.

This hallmark of a toxic marriage leaves one person to stand and beat their chest, and the other to hobble along or be carried. If the more powerful partner seems to be actively engaged in maintaining a position of authority and keeping the power differential tipped toward them, this is where the marriage becomes toxic. Conversely, if the less dominant partner is engaging in learned helplessness or playing the victim–thereby wiggling out of carrying their share of the relationship’s workload, that is also toxic.


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8. Cross-Examination vs. Conversation

There are questions of interest and mutual understanding, and a give and take in an exchange of ideas, plans, thoughts, observations. Cross-examination on the part of a spouse, however, is not a sign of interest. Rather, it’s the mark of someone who not only has something to prove, but also who believes themselves to be in a position of authority. There’s room for rhetorical questions in the context of a philosophical debate or sharing of perspectives, but a constant barrage of “point-proving” questions—whether they are rhetorical or cross examining—has nothing to do with wanting to understand someone better. It’s an extension of the power differential, and another sign of a toxic marriage.

A cross-examination takes the fun out of relationship banter and backs a spouse into a corner. This disempowers and confuses. It creates self-doubt and only gratifies the ego of the questioner.

9. Insecurity

It doesn’t matter what form insecurity takes, and we all have a sense when we’re being insecure. Insecurity is the Wendy Whiner Within, it is the chronic need for reassurance. We all have insecurities; we all need occasional reassurance. Occasional. The trick in being healthy about our insecurities is to talk ourselves away from them rather than constantly asking our partner do it, or ask them to curtail any activity that “makes us feel” that way. (Keeping in mind that we are making ourselves feel that way more often than not). Sometimes we need a boost, yes, but the operative word there is sometimes. We are responsible for our own insecurities; our partner is not. And in fact, there is no way to make up for foundational insecurities.

For example, a husband’s insecurity shows up as a fear of his wife cheating. As a result, he insists that she is cheating, thinks about cheating, wants to cheat, used to cheat, and therefore will again… you get the picture. Sometimes, the more she tries to reassure him, the worse the insecurity becomes, because he then starts to wonder why she’s trying so hard to convince him and twists that into further “evidence.”

Trying to fill the hole of insecurity is like trying to dig quicksand out of a pit. If it’s a chronic issue, you just have to step out of the role of filling it and say, “I’m sorry you’re contending with this, but it is yours.”

10. Jealousy

Jealousy is a symptom of insecurity and can include jealousy of someone outside the relationship or inside it. Most of us can relate to the concept of jealousy, and if we’re not personally familiar with the scenarios that draw it forth, we can imagine them. Perhaps you may have a good male friend and confidante whom your husband doesn’t like you spending time with. Perhaps your husband has an attractive female boss or student he spends time with, both at work and in networking after hours, and you don’t like it. Or perhaps you are under-realized professionally and your husband lands a promotion or makes a creative move that ends up being wildly successful while you continue working in a job you barely tolerate.

You may do a fairly good job of showing enthusiasm on his behalf and pride in his accomplishment, which would be a healthier way of responding to your jealousy. On the other hand, perhaps you undermine his joy by pouting or drawing the conversation back to you by saying something like, “Well, I’m glad one of us is making it,” with a tremulous half-smile. That is a mark of toxic jealousy in a marriage. Also, it’s an act of putting a negative spin on your partner’s positive accomplishment and making the situation about you when it is not about you at all.

11. Manipulation

Manipulation is another off-shoot of insecurity or fear. Sometimes an abused wife may have to use subterfuge or manipulation to extract herself from the situation, which we might think of as justifiable manipulation. But other times, manipulation is dishonesty in a pink bow. For example, a wife might say, “Well, I just want you to think I’m pretty” when her husband asks why she spent $300 from their monthly budget on a pair of jeans. She wanted the jeans but made a desire to please him the reason for the purchase–and put a little dollop of guilt on it just for good measure.

Sometimes a manipulation is relatively benign and in fact managing people or personnel has an element of manipulation to it. The definition of manipulation is bending or shaping something to achieve a desired effect, which doesn’t have to have malignant intention. In a toxic marriage, however, manipulation often has malicious intent, such as controlling your partner physically or mentally, or prioritizing your own needs over theirs.

12. Testing

A form of manipulation, this is where one person—unconsciously or not—creates a highly charged scenario almost guaranteed to push a partner’s buttons. When the reaction occurs, the other person steps back and remarks on how uncalled for it was, even though they intentionally created the scenario. This is closely related to gaslighting, and is a form of emotional manipulation aimed at making a partner mistrust their own feelings so that they must rely on their partner’s version of reality.

13. Lying

If you have to lie to your spouse just to navigate the relationship, that’s a fairly good indication that, at the very least, there’s an imbalance. As with manipulation, a woman who is trying to extract herself from an abusive marriage may have to lie in order to achieve that. However, if you are lying to avoid day-to-day truths you don’t want your partner to know, such as flirting with an ex-boyfriend on Facebook or applying for a new credit card because you know you just maxed another one out, this is feature of a toxic marriage. Whether it has immediate negative consequences or a build-up of disrespect for yourself and your partner over time, this level of toxicity can become very destructive.

14. Walking on Eggshells

You avoid talking about something, meaningful or otherwise, simply because you fear your partner’s reaction. Perhaps you went to lunch with that male friend of yours who your husband is jealous of and you decide on your way home not to tell him, but he sees the restaurant receipt in your purse, and now you’re holding your breath in anticipation of a tantrum or an accusation that you’re attracted to your friend, or worse, cheating.

Or perhaps your husband doesn’t tell you about getting passed over at work for a promotion because he knows you will spend the next two hours taking it personally, and then the next few years nagging him about why he didn’t get it. Those are eggshells.

Either way, this withholding of information is a sign that your marriage may have become toxic, perhaps with other factors playing into this dynamic.

15. Anger

It’s one thing to get angry at something your partner does that hurts you or is unfair. This may include getting mad over the disregarding of a boundary you’ve established in your relationship, or something that has a detrimental impact on your children or your household. We all get angry from time to time. But if anger is your go-to emotion, if that’s your regular modus operandi, then you will have a corrosive effect on everyone around you. It’s also an element that can quickly contribute to creating a toxic marriage.

16. Passive Aggression

People employ passive aggression when they want to look like they’re taking the high road but are really taking the low road and hiding it under a layer of soft-spoken words. These words often point indirectly to the source of resentment without someone actually saying what’s on his or her mind. These can be couched as jokes or light commentary but are actually designed to be punitive. Because passive aggression can easily be denied, it’s often used as a covert way to do damage without taking blame for it—a hallmark of a toxic marriage.

17. Resentment

Resentment is often at the root of passive-aggression and usually has its root in anger over an issue that’s not been addressed. It could also be part of an underlying jealousy in the relationship or perceived imbalances in power. Either way, resentment (like contempt) is a highly damaging element of toxic marriage and needs to be resolved for the relationship to survive.

18. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a toxic behavior that’s complex enough to need its own article. This is an insidious and subtle form of emotional and psychological manipulation aimed at causing an individual to mistrust their own self-worth or emotions. A gaslighter invalidates their partner’s feelings and perceptions and instead forces them to rely on the gaslighter’s version of reality. This form of psychological control is a highly damaging sign of a toxic marriage.

Named for Patrick Hamilton’s 1938 play “Gas Light,” in which the husband’s character kept dimming the lights in the house and telling his wife it was her imagination until she went insane, gaslighting is the province of someone who has a deep-seated need for control. Sometimes it’s purposeful manipulation and sometimes it’s the unconscious defense mechanism of one who needs to be right and has a difficulty taking responsibility for their own damaging behavior.

Gaslighters need to be right and may have a difficult time accepting they are capable of hurtful behaviors. Their strength is knowing their partner’s insecurities and areas of self-doubt; they can be very clever at leveraging those to undermine their partner’s perception, judgement, and self-confidence.

Common gaslighting phrases can be things like, “It’s just your imagination,” “I never said that,” “That was never my intention,” etc.

Whether it is purposeful or not, gaslighters employ subtle wordplay to resist having to acknowledge that they, like everyone else, have issues that need to be addressed. Sometimes, we are being too sensitive and sometimes a joke is just a joke, and that is where it gets tricky with a gaslighter. This is why this particular form of toxicity is difficult to combat.


For more information on how to access your marriage and your own sense of worth, read our popular  “Overthinking When to Leave Your Husband”.


19. Never Taking Responsibility for One’s Own Behavior

This sign of a toxic marriage shows up in many ways, by gaslighting, redirecting, playing the victim, making excuses, or playing the martyr. Those who do not take responsibility for their own behavior project an attitude of “being exempt.” It’s difficult to maintain a healthy relationship when one half of that relationship can never take responsibility for their actions.

20. Sabotage

Sabotage in a toxic marriage can have many forms. You drink too much to spend time with your partner, and then are too hungover the next day to help around the house. You promise to go to an event with them and then work out so hard that you injure yourself and can’t go. Maybe you promise to contribute to a household expense, project, or gift and instead spend the money on something frivolous for yourself then claim you forgot. You procrastinate to the point that you lose opportunities and income, thereby negatively impacting your family and everybody’s hopes for moving ahead.

You commit to an event but create so much drama around it that you end up not being able to participate after all. Your partner has an important interview coming up, but because you fear he might actually get the job and thereby rise and become successful and leave you in the dust, you purposely pick a fight with him the night before so he’s too disturbed to study or even sleep. Clearly, this toxic behavior is not healthy and can cause a lot of damage in a marriage.

21. Exclusion

Do you get the impression that your spouse’s co-workers don’t realize you exist? Does he take vacations and trips home to see his family without you, spending money on unnecessary collectibles instead of offering to buy you a plane ticket? Does he leave you out of his Facebook page? This is a bit of what exclusion looks like, and is an indication that there may not be full commitment, that he’s hiding the relationship from others or just himself. It is not so much a sign of disrespect, but more one of disregard or lack of cherishing.

22. Ignoring Your Own Self-Care

Perhaps all of your time and attention gets pulled into managing and meeting your spouse’s needs, to the point that you continually push aside the healthy practices you’d normally engage in—working out, preparing healthy lunches ahead of time, going to your women’s group, meditating, or journaling.

We all cycle through phases with our self-care, but when it’s chronically shunted aside, or you are clearly trying to keep up the practice but your partner evinces a cavalier or even insulting attitude about it, this is not only a sign of disrespect on their part but also a self-centered lack of love or caring.

For example, you are trying to come up with a time to complete a task or do something together, and when you ask for a different start time in order to work around your women’s group and they make a cutting remark about it. That is a clear sign of a toxic marriage. Or, you might be a Stay-at-Home-Mom, whose entire day is subject to the schedules of your children. You know you have a certain time to get the kids to school and then hurry home to complete household chores. You also know that the only time you can possibly go for a jog (your mental, physical, and emotional outlet) is during a particular window of time each day.

But your husband calls you when you’ve just laced up your sneakers, wanting to remind you to process the health insurance bills today. You are quick to say you’ll get to those bills but right now, you need to go for your run. Your husband stops you cold with, “How selfish of you, prioritizing yourself again.” You hang up the phone. Do you go for your run or do you angrily go find the health insurance folder?

23. Physical Illness

Stress can cause physical symptoms, whether that stress stems from emotional, circumstantial or self-created situations. For example, physical illness may occur in the form of a migraine or low back pain when one person is doing the bulk of the work in the relationship and is the only one putting forth the effort to move it forward. Perhaps everything in the household revolves around an illness-prone spouse whose “flair-ups” somehow occur whenever something that threatens her sense of control or need for constant attention happens. The other spouse then has to take up the slack, and in the face of the added work and pressure, overdoes it and ends up with a slipped disc, pneumonia, or adrenal fatigue.

Physical illness is often the cumulative result of chronic stress and living inside a toxic marriage. (Tip: Schedule a doctor’s appointment.)

24. Draining

Self-created, physical illness is one way that married people can drain each other. We often create our own illness with our lifestyle choices. For example, a drain on the marriage might be a husband or wife who continually engages in self-sabotaging behaviors, like over-consumption of alcohol or unhealthy foods. You know this will make you feel lousy and lead to things like sleep deprivation or excessive weight gain, thus negatively impacting your relationship and yourself, but you do it anyway. That is a drain. Likewise, corrosive emotions like anger that are a constant presence are also draining. A chronically negative, bitter, or pessimistic attitude is draining.

Talking over your spouse, to the point that you drown out what they are saying so that you don’t have to face an uncomfortable truth about yourself, is draining. Other drains might be having to provide constant reassurance to an anxious spouse; catering to one person’s chronic and bottomless need for admiration, affirmation, attention or rescuing; constantly interrupting; brow-beating; playing the martyr; playing the victim…

25. Lack of Empathy

All of us can be selfish, and the ability to see and feel the truth of something from someone else’s perspective is sometimes hard-won, especially if it means we have to take an uncomfortable look at ourselves. There are people, though, who either can’t or won’t take any interest in what someone else might be experiencing. They see those around them as only existing to serve them.

Not only do they not care about the feelings of the people in their lives but they often see those people as characters in their play, so to speak. You might know them as narcissists, a well-known buzz word these days.

26. Exploitation

The same individuals who lack empathy or feel entitled to the spotlight may even co-opt a spouse or a child’s accomplishments as their own—seeing the people around them in supporting roles only. If the people in their lives stop performing well—thus reflecting on them poorly—or balk at serving their agendas or their needs, they withdrawal love, withhold approval, or issue some other consequence. Narcissists often form relationships on the basis of how the dynamic will serve them. They also do not possess the ability to see their own narcissism.

27. Lack of Listening

If one person in a relationship is doing most of the talking, particularly if they are “always right,” it’s probably going to be difficult for them to hear from the people in their lives that their behavior is hurtful. We all have behavior that is toxic or hurtful at times, so the ability to hear others when they ask us to address our own behavior is foundational to healthy relationships. Toxic behavior involves telling other people how they can improve but showing inability to take direction.

Despite all the ways that people and relationships can be toxic, though, they can heal, provided both people commit to doing the work. Whether it’s couple’s counseling or self-help, both parties must be willing (and able) to do the work required to negotiate healthy boundaries and communicate in a way that makes everyone feel valued.

Notes:

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer, former print journalist and feature writer living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys compelling content and the liberty to write about interesting contributors and innovative ideas. Connect with Jennifer at verbosej@hotmail.com 

 

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*We support same-sex marriages. For the sake of simplicity in this article, however, we refer to your spouse as your “husband” or a “he.”