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Financial consultation for a divorce

Smart Moves for Women: A Financial Consultation for a Divorce

When considering divorce, or before responding to a spouse’s request for divorce, most women know it is smart to consult with a divorce attorney to learn about their rights and entitlements. But few women realize it is equally important to pursue a financial consultation for divorce with an experienced financial advisor. Who is a good financial advisor? It’s not the one you and your spouse have been using (unless s/he is more in your pocket than your spouse’s.) This new advisor should be someone who really listens to you and your concerns as a woman, has at least 10 years of experience, and (most importantly) understands how divorce impacts your money. For this reason, you may wish to cut to the chase and consult with an advisor who holds the certified divorce financial analyst® (CDFA®) designation.

Marital finances are often complicated. If any of the following situations apply to you, you may want to consult with a CDFA even before you consult with an attorney:

  • You wonder if the income that supported one household could stretch to support two;
  • You or your spouse purchased the family home before marriage;
  • The marital estate includes multiple assets such as real estate, stocks/bonds/funds, retirement accounts, pensions, cryptocurrency or private equity;
  • You or your spouse receives equity compensation such as restricted stock units (RSUs) or stock options; or
  • You or your spouse is self-employed or owns a business.

Women Not Confident in Their Financial Knowledge Often Pay More in Legal Fees

We don’t need Sherlock Holmes to discover for us that many experienced divorce attorneys charge high hourly rates. Martindale-Nolo surveyed attorneys and consumers in both 2015 and 2019 and concluded that the cost of divorce was influenced primarily by the attorney’s hourly rate and the number of hours the attorney spent on the divorce case. According to the survey, on average, divorce attorneys charge between $300 and $365 per hour in California and $305 and $380 in New York. 

I work with women across the country, especially with clients in California, and many of them choose attorneys who are certified as family law specialists. These specialists charge between $350 and $575 per hour. Top family law litigators charge even more. 

Your lawyer serves a critical role, whether he or she is advising you as a consulting attorney during mediation with a neutral third party, or representing you from start to finish with respect to your case. But paying a lawyer by the hour to increase your knowledge on the financial aspects of divorce will result in unnecessarily high bills. This is not the best use of your money.

It makes a lot of sense to choose the right tool for the task, especially when that tool is less expensive. Most CDFAs charge rates that are 30% to 50% lower than the rates attorneys charge in their markets. So, if you want to learn how retirement accounts and pensions are divided, whether or not you can afford to stay in your house (or qualify to refinance the mortgage in your own name), how to negotiate a fair division of assets, and what you need to do to ensure long-term finances, then I recommend you arrange a consultation with a smart money person or a certified divorce financial planner.  

A CDFA Helps You Avoid Costly Mistakes

CDFAs are financial professionals who understand your budget. We look for ways to ensure we add value so your investment in time and money pays off. We help you evaluate settlement proposals before you get to the final, divorce financial settlement. Putting in the work in advance will help you avoid mistakes that could prove costly down the road. 

One of the most common mistakes women make is agreeing to a division of assets that might look fair today—but results in a less-than-equal division in the future because they did not consider after-tax values.

If child support and/or alimony (sometimes referred to as “spousal support” or “maintenance” depending on your state) occurs in your case, it is critical to work with a financial professional who can project your after-tax cash flow and assist you with preparing both a pre- and post-divorce budget. You do not want to commit to a lifestyle for you and your children that you cannot afford. And, conversely, you don’t want to pinch pennies and live in a state of anxiety if your CDFA concludes that running out of money later is unlikely.

How to Find a Good CDFA

You can find a CDFA in your area by entering your zip code on the Institute for Divorce Financial Analyst’s website. There you will find newly-minted CDFAs as well as experienced practitioners.  

Many CDFAs have Yelp or Google reviews so be sure to check those sites as well as ask for referrals. 

Ask your divorced friends for the names of attorneys, mediators, and CDFAs. I recently attended a birthday party for a former client and was pleasantly surprised to see two other former clients in attendance. I had only met with one of them via Zoom during the pandemic and it was wonderful to be able to give her an in-person hug. 

Everyone is using Zoom these days so you do not need to limit yourself to a CDFA in your local area. And, in my experience, Zoom is even better than in-person meetings when reviewing and commenting on documents and spreadsheets. As long as the CDFA is familiar with your state’s laws and has experience working with attorneys or mediators in your state, he or she should be able to provide value, but never legal advice (that is what your attorney does).

For example, since one of my specialties is determining the marital and separate property portions of equity compensation for employees of both publicly–traded and start-up companies, it is no surprise that many of my clients live in the San Francisco Bay Area when I’m physically located in San Diego. 

How to Prepare for a Financial Consultation for Divorce

Most financial advisors and CDFAs offer complimentary financial consultations for divorce. I offer consultations by phone and last between 15 and 30 minutes. I also provide 30-minute financial consultations for divorce to participants in SAS for Women’s Annie’s Group. Before your consultation, check out the advisor or CDFA’s website and read their resources. This is your opportunity to have a professional answer your basic questions before you ask specific questions relevant to your unique situation.

To make your consultation call most productive, it’s best to have…

  • a list of you and your spouse’s assets and debts and estimated values 
  • your last two years of tax returns. 

Some women handle the finances in their marriage, so this information is not hard for them to organize. But in reality, only some women have access to all that information so just do the best you can. Any information you can provide is helpful. You will also want to tell the CDFA how long you have been married, whether you are currently living with your spouse, and the ages of any minor children.

While the CDFA may be able to answer some of your questions, don’t expect him or her to answer all of them during a brief consultation. If you are the primary breadwinner in your family, and increasingly many women are, you’ll want to make sure you do everything to protect yourself and support your family. You’ll want to ask the advisor/CDFA how he or she works. Specifically, you’ll want to know whether the fee is hourly or flat-rate, and what you can expect to accomplish by working together. For example, I charge an hourly rate but also offer flat-fee packages for divorce financial planning and analysis before and during divorce like the “It Could Happen” and “Mediation Money Mentor” packages. 

Conclusion

No matter how you choose to divorce (mediation using a neutral third-party, traditional approach of you each hiring a lawyer, litigation, or DIY via an online platform), connecting with a financial advisor is just plain smart to ensure your best future. A CDFA can add value by reducing legal expenses and/or the time it takes to divorce. Once you become educated on your financial options and what is possible, you can more effectively and healthily advocate for yourself during the divorce process. You’ll avoid the possibility of making financial mistakes that will be detrimental to your future. I cannot tell you how many times I have introduced myself at a networking event where the woman will say to me, “I wish I had known about you when I was going through my divorce.”  

Notes

Laurie Itkin, “The Options Lady,” is a financial advisor and certified divorce financial analyst® and has worked on more than 250 divorce cases, primarily in California, either as a financial neutral or advocate to one spouse. Laurie has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Diego Union Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Reports, Parade, Redbook, and Forbes. She is a member of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners, the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts and the National Association of Women Business Owners and provides pro-bono financial advice to clients of the San Diego Financial Literacy Center and Savvy Ladies. You can request a consultation or sign up for Laurie’s monthly newsletter here

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women. We partner with you through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and rebuilding your life afterward. Schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS. Tell us confidentially what’s going on, and we’ll give you clear feedback, resources, and suggestions for your next steps.

Before you file for divorce

6 Must Do’s Before Filing for Divorce

Regardless of your situation, divorce is life-altering. Even if you expect to manage a calm break-up, the financial and emotional challenges could make divorce one of the toughest things you’ll do in your life. For this reason, many people do not prepare themselves adequately before filing for divorce.

Unfortunately, most people jump into divorce impulsively—or they face divorce unexpectedly—without ever preparing. In those scenarios, the risks of a bad outcome increase because at least one of you reacts from an emotional, uninformed place. This increases the likelihood of discord, conflict, and pain because “fear” is leading the charge.

Responding from a steadier, educated place will reduce pain in the long run. And so, before you decide to file for divorce or respond to a divorce filed against you, make sure to follow the concrete suggestions below to help get your footing. You must acknowledge your fear, but you must also listen to your brain and take these steps.

  1. Begin By Writing Down Your Questions

Taking action is important, in fact critical, but before you lunge in any direction, take time to be with yourself and to write down the biggest questions you have. Put the questions in categories if possible: legal, financial, emotional/life, practical. Then consider your questions and find the right professional who can help with them. Friends can only get you so far. A professional must look at your circumstances to help you understand your choices. A professional will have experience with these issues. Why do it all alone and exhaust yourself trying to reinvent the wheel?

  1. Gather the Necessary Documents to Get Feedback

Legal and financial documents about your marital life are essential in divorce. During the process, your lawyer and financial advisor will need to see various documentation to give you concrete feedback on what your best-case and worst-case scenarios are. Organizing your paperwork early on, including such essential files as investment and retirement account statements, tax returns, and pay stubs of your partner, will help your advisors understand the financial story and help you develop your best strategy for what you will negotiate for and live on.

Read Are You Thinking About Divorce? Important Steps to Be Prepared

  1. Consult the Right Professionals

Look at your list of questions and begin consulting the appropriate expert. Therapists can help you specifically with the emotional journey you are going through and offer guidance on how to take care of yourself during this time. The relatively new type of divorce advisor the “divorce coach” is a generalist who gives you an overview and structure for what to expect. They will help with some of your questions and help you identify clear steps to take in the right direction. Divorce coaches are also trained in supporting you with your emotional challenges as you are facing this transition. Well-resourced and connected, they can provide you with referrals to other seasoned experts, like a lawyer, therapist, or financial advisor who specializes in divorce.

  1. Legal Support

Even if you are thinking about it, or your spouse is telling you, “Let’s do it DIY!” it is critical that you, as an individual woman, get feedback on your legal situation. This means consulting with a lawyer on your own.

You should look for a traditional, licensed divorce attorney for this meeting and aim to learn what your rights are. Additionally, you should also learn what you are entitled to and what might be potential issues to resolve. You must hear what your state law says about your circumstances (and not rely on what your spouse is telling you.) You’ll probably have questions about child support, spousal support, temporary living arrangements, who determines custody, who’s going to stay or move out, or how to conduct yourself during the legal process. Like a divorce coach or financial advisor (below), a lawyer is that person who speaks to you confidentially and advises you specifically. A good one specializes in family or divorce law, and is experienced, compassionate, and makes you feel heard.

See this link for questions to ask a divorce attorney and how to prepare for that meeting.

  1. Consult with a Smart Money Person

Most often this is a financial advisor, but maybe your sister is an accountant and can help you determine which financial choices would be the wisest for you long term? Getting good financial feedback is not the work of a divorce lawyer, although your lawyer will have a legal perspective. A financial advisor will help you get clear on the financial picture and save you potential pitfalls. One of the goals of the divorce procedure is to have an equitable distribution of all your debts and marital assets. For you to get a fair share during your divorce financial settlement, it’s crucial to attain guidance on assessing your finances beforehand and to do projections for the future as an independent woman. Learning what you own and what you owe as a married couple is step 1.

  1. Connect with the ‘Good Ones’ in Your Support Network

Boundaries are important when you are going through a life crisis like divorce. You must be careful in whom you’re confiding in because most people, well-intentioned or not, are simply not trained in the divorce process or its recovery. Consider your inner circle. Who can you truly count on for support? Who reminds you of your best self? Who’s going to help you now and not judge you? Nurture those people, stay connected to them, and block others. Divorce is not a good time to go it alone. Having a safe place to vent, like a divorce support group, allows you to be more pulled together when you are looking at the financial and legal angles of the divorce.

Conclusion

Divorce is a life challenge few of us ever prepare for. It’s tough and, even in the least conflicted scenarios, requires a sensible game plan for you to healthily manage yourself and your expectations. Before filing for divorce, taking time to consult with the right professionals and to create the best plan will serve you greatly in the long term.

If you read the above six suggestions, you may find yourself saying, “Wow, I can’t even pull the money together to meet with an attorney let alone consider those other professionals!” If this is the case, then you owe yourself at least a legal consultation. The truth is you cannot afford to give away things you don’t know about. Contact your city or state bar and look for their lawyer referral lines. These resources often provide for lawyers who will give you a discounted or free consultation.

A legal consultation, ladies, is a minimum you should do before filing for divorce.

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women has been 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 precious future. Join our tribe and stay connected.

Coparenting Children’s Birthdays after divorce

Coparenting Through Children’s Birthdays After Divorce

Despite the high divorce rates, the end of a marriage is never easyespecially when you’re the one getting divorced. Obviously, it’s not easy for you or (most likely) your Ex. And it’s definitely difficult for your children. Children of divorce tend to wonder about things like what part they played in the breakup of their family and how their lives will change. For this reason, successful coparenting through children’s birthdays can be especially important.

Ideally, you will be able to coparent with your Ex and continue to provide your children with the love, support, and structure they need so they can begin to understand that your divorce isn’t about them. One way this can happen is if you’re able to celebrate your children’s special events like birthdays, graduations, and weddings as one happy, well-adjusted, expanded family.

As ideal as this sounds, it may not be a reality for you right now. (And it might never be if your ex is a narcissist and/or unable to coparent.) Right now, you might need to work toward truly being able to successfully coparent through your children’s birthdays after divorce. If this is your situation, remember that working toward something is hugely important to making it happen!

The Importance of Birthdays

Children love celebrating their birthdays. They excitedly wait for their special day to arrive. And when it does, they are the center of attention.

As adults, it is easy for us to believe that if we cannot work together right now to throw a joint birthday party for our child, that two separate ones will be just as goodif not better! (Assuming, of course, that you don’t turn the 2 parties into a competition.)

However, that’s not how young children (3 – 5 years old) view it. Children in this age range tend to believe that they age because they have a birthday party, according to research by Dr. Jacqueline Wooley. So, children in this age range would tend to believe that two birthday parties would mean they’ve aged two years instead of just one.

As adorable as this might be to contemplate, it is quite confusing for the child. And if their parents have also recently divorced, it is just confusion on top of confusion.

As children age, however, the idea of 2 birthday parties can become more appealing. Yet their ideal is still to have one party which their entire family attends.

Navigating Expenses for a Shared Birthday Party

If you can celebrate your child’s birthday together, who pays for what can often become a point of contention. It is not unheard of for one parent to plan the event with no regard to budget and simply expect the other to pay for it. This is not successful coparenting.

Coparenting through a child’s birthday after divorce requires communicationjust as every other facet of successful coparenting does. It doesn’t mean you each have to do exactly 50% of everything involved in throwing the party. It simply means that you don’t surprise the other with a bill or anything else at the end.

The size or extravagance of birthday celebrations after divorce may also be different due to differing financial situations. Your children may be disappointed that instead of the usual trip they had become used to, this year’s celebration will be a gathering of friends and family at home.

And as sad as you might feel about not being able to do this, the truth is that so long as you and your coparent take time to celebrate your child and let them know how much you love them, that is what your child needs more than a trip or a new iPhone.

Quality Over Quantity

Coparenting through your child’s birthday after divorce is really about the quality of the connection you have with your childnot about the number of gifts, the number of friends in attendance, or which parent spent the most. It is about the love, support, and structure you provide for your child as you celebrate their birthday and every other day of the year.

Divorce isn’t easyespecially for the kids. However, if you and your Ex can find even small ways to successfully coparent especially for special occasions like holidays and birthdays, you can go a long way toward building a strong foundation for your entire extended family. And, who knows, you may wind up being one of those families who can come together with new spouses and step-kids to celebrate life.

 

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

“A successful divorce requires smart steps, taken one at a time.” ~ Liza Caldwell, SAS Cofounder.

Make a move to support what’s possible for you and your children, hear feedback on your challenges, and learn specific black & white steps to take based on your story: schedule your free consultation now.

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.”

 

Tips for Amicable Divorce

Top 6 Tips for an Amicable Divorce

In the minds of many people, divorce and court trials are inseparable like smoke and fire. A few decades ago, this was the case. Fortunately, there are other options nowadays, namely an amicable divorce, where married couples don’t have to wage war against each other in court.

After the adoption of the no-fault divorce law in 1970, the divorce rate skyrocketed. A 2019 University of Virginia research report revealed approximately 3 divorces per 1,000 married women in the 1960s. In the 70s, this figure rose to 4.5, and 5.5 in the 80s.

These results suggest that divorce was increasingly viewed as a viable option for women; they were feeling more empowered, making more money, and feeling like they had more choices.  In the latter scenario, these divorces can likely be uncontested or amicable.

What is an amicable divorce?

An amicable divorce is not about being best friends with your (soon-to-be) Ex and liking each other. You wouldn’t consider divorce in the first place if your relationship was a loving one.

In the context of ending your marriage, “amicable” means “civilized.” It’s about resolving disputes in a nurturing and productive environment.

A peaceful divorce is actually not that hard to get to if both sides are willing to make an effort. You’ve probably heard of Conscious Uncoupling, for example, or divorce mediation, or Pro Se (DIY) divorces. To learn if one of these alternative processes is right for you, consider these six key steps to ensure a smooth and amicable process–and don’t forget to ask yourself: are you and your spouse capable of them?

1. Have an open mind for negotiation

Honesty and openness are the foundation of a successful negotiation. If one of the parties starts hiding valuable information, assets, income, etc., it’s not going to work. Agree from the very beginning to be truthful about all the aspects of your divorce. Otherwise, all your efforts will be pointless.

SAS note to women: It’s one thing to say you both will be honest, it’s another to know that you both will be. If your spouse has a record of deceiving, betraying or hiding things from you, go for a more traditional approach to divorce. Hire a lawyer who is a good negotiator on your behalf.

Naturally, in any divorce, neither of you will get precisely what you desire. Don’t expect your spouse to agree with everything you suggest just because you think it’s reasonable. Sometimes their point of view may differ from yours, and you’ll have to accept that.

During negotiations, the most vital thing is to stay focused on the key points that hold the most significant interest to both of you. How much money would you need to meet your needs after divorce adequately? Could your spouse (or you) afford to pay alimony (spousal support) and child support? You and your partner need to carefully approach all the details together and make a joint decision. That’s the essence of peaceful negotiations, right?

2. Focus on the desirable result.

Can you remember why you got married in the first place? You were in love and full of hope to walk hand in hand through life until death separates you. Unfortunately, not all of us can reach that distant goal.

Nothing has changed since then except that your goals are now different. Have you already determined what you really want from this divorce? If not, it’s high time to start figuring it out. But if you know where you’re heading, don’t let negative emotions lead you astray.

An amicable divorce is all about attitude. Reduce the tension to a minimum, and keep your eyes on your goal.

Take time to ponder over your life post-divorce. Do you see your Ex in it? After an amicable divorce, many couples remain friends and even sometimes spend time with their children as a family unit. You must agree that such a scenario is more pleasant than fighting endlessly over all sorts of things.

Act based on what is paramount to you and ignore everything else. Work through any disputes peacefully and make sure your communication is positive.

3. Treat each other with respect.

An uncontested divorce is only possible with mutual respect and politeness. Both you and your spouse are adults and can behave accordingly. It’s not as challenging as you might expect.

Start with getting into a positive state of mind and remain focused on keeping calm. Also, listen attentively to your spouse and contemplate their suggestions. Don’t let your emotions take over.

Whenever you feel like losing it to anger, take a deep breath and pause before saying or doing anything. Consider the consequences in the long run–will your current action improve the situation in any way? If not, give it up. Neither you nor your spouse will win if you keep insulting each other instead of resolving disputes.

Show civilized behavior. Don’t badmouth your partner in front of your children and relatives. And especially, don’t gossip about them on social media. You’ll only entertain the public and receive even more negative feelings back. Such actions also won’t help you to maintain an amicable divorce.

4. Think about your children’s needs.

Divorce affects everyone in your family, and especially children. They are very sensitive to any changes in mood and attitude between their parents. Remember yourself in childhood and what acute sensations of the surrounding world you had.

Now imagine how terrifying it is for a child to go through a family breakup. You don’t want to aggravate the situation even more by fighting with the other parent, do you? On the contrary, you want to protect your children and make them feel loved by both you and your ex.

Learn to trust yourself to be a good parent. The same goes for your partner. It’s time to loosen your grip and stop controlling everything and everyone around. Every good parent brings up their children with a position of love and a wish to make their lives happy. You will never be able to communicate well with your ex if you do not trust them with raising children.

And since we have touched on the issue of healthy communication, children need to see their parents find common ground and behave in a civilized manner whenever they meet. It can make a huge difference in a child’s emotional health.

5. Get an educational consultation with an attorney: don’t rush to hire one.

You cannot become your own divorce lawyer fast enough, despite what Google makes you believe. If you are thinking about divorce, and especially if you have children, assets, and/or debt, we encourage you to draw up your questions and consult with an attorney to hear what the law says about your circumstances. Do this before you commit to “how” you will divorce, or even, “if” you will divorce.

After you are informed about the law, you can decide if you will pursue DIY divorce, mediation, an online divorce, or a more traditional approach of you hiring an attorney and your spouse doing likewise.

Consulting with an attorney does not mean you are necessarily getting divorced. It also does not mean you are seeking to be adversarial or un-“amicable.” It means you as a woman are getting educated on your rights and what you are entitled to before you act.

It’s good practice to consult with other experts, too. For example, you may want to keep the house but need to learn if it’s really in your best financial interest. Consult with a financial advisor to learn the optimal longterm play for you (and don’t rely on an attorney for this.) You might consult with a parenting expert if you have concerns on what the best custody arrangement will be or how to support your kids through the divorce. Throughout the process, you might recognize that you are feeling overwhelmed and need to get strategic and healthy in your approach to all things “divorce”, in which case your best move is to schedule a free consult with a divorce coach.

The Legal Takeaway

Keep in mind that in divorce, you won’t always get what you want. The ability to find compromises is what makes a divorce amicable. On the bright side, you will be able to control the outcome by at least 50%. If you go to court, you will have to surrender to the will of the judge.

Do you trust absolute strangers to decide your fate, or do you prefer to do it yourself? Get informed, double check information, and choose wisely. It’s you and your children who will have to live with the consequences, not the lawyers and judges.

6. Forgive and forget.

You probably think, “How can I forget all those times when I was wronged during my marriage? And why should I? Now, I want justice.” Well, guess what? Such an attitude will bring you nothing but more suffering.

There are no winners in divorce. And you won’t feel any better if you keep blaming your marriage breakdown on your partner. Be wiser than that. Does a butterfly think about the time it was a caterpillar? No, it spreads its wings and flies. So, instead of focusing on your past and arguing over it, choose to take action to help yourself recover and move forward. 

Learn how to help yourself grieve the losses you experience, choose to live in the present, and plan for the upcoming future.

Is it worth the try?

An amicable divorce is a conscious choice. It can’t be involuntary, and it doesn’t work for everybody. You have to decide for yourself what type of separation you want and stick to it. Just keep in mind that no matter what method you choose, going down the hateful path only brings more negative feelings into your life. There is always a way to go about any situation productively. You can choose less stress and fewer expenses with a more positive experience by opting for an amicable process.

Jamie Kurtz is a divorce attorney and a member of the State Bar of California. She’s a co-founder of a law company helping people with uncontested divorces and a contributing writer for OnlineDivorce.com, a web-based service for divorce papers preparation.

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.

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.


What action steps can you take (without risk of regret) if you are contemplating divorce? We’re so glad you asked. Consider our 36 Things to Do If You Are Thinking about Divorce.


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 

 

Since 2012, SAS for Women has focused on the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience. 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.”

Life after divorce

How to Overcome the 6 Hardest Things About Life After Divorce

People talk a lot about what it’s like to get a divorce, but those conversations don’t often extend to what life after divorce is like. Because, unless you’ve been divorced, you don’t quite get what this next phase is really all about.

During divorce, there’s a certain process: you have items to research, things to get educated about, decisions to make, meetings to attend, paperwork to file, and on and on—all of which are black and white steps you had to take to complete the business transaction of “dissolving” your marriage. And while those steps felt overwhelming, frightening, and generally all over the place (you may be or have been sad, in shock, mad as hell, disappointed, betrayed, in denial, or numb), the process, nevertheless, had a way of keeping you grounded. You had a goal. To get through a “negotiated” document, sign it, and obtain a divorce.

Now, as you look around in your new life after divorce, your sense of time — and what to do with it — is different. Even if you are struggling and fighting for survival, your mind and heart may be ruminating on the past and on “the who” you will become.

Yes, your life after divorce will be your juiciest stage if you are open to it

This is the “finding yourself” stage, and we urge you to have no shame about it.

Discovering and taking care of yourself will include preparing for what’s coming in your life where possible (implementing best practices that give you structure) and also learning to let go. This stage involves taking time to consider deeply your story so far, what brought you to the end of your marriage/relationship, and the good and bad roles you played.

Discovering who you are can get messy in a different way than where you’ve been. You can’t blame your husband for everything anymore. It’s time to pick up your baggage.

Based on our work coaching women, here are six of the hardest things about life after divorce—and more importantly, what you can do about them to make room for the good stuff. Okay, now deep breath…

1. It’s gone. Your life as you knew it

Sounds obvious, but a few of us are Resistors to Reality, women who spend months (years?) in denial about the fundamental impact divorce will have (or has had) on our lives.

A Resistor to Reality might strive to or blindly maintain the lifestyle she had when married—going on similar vacations, eating out at trendy, higher end restaurants, or placing groceries inside her cart without checking the price or quantity (so accustomed is she to buying “for everybody”). She might be paying the mortgage on an oversized and overpriced home because she either feels she is owed it, can’t face the prospect of change, or doesn’t want a move to “affect the kids.” She might be worried about downscaling for fear she’ll lose her friends or her social standing.

But now we all know, no matter how “amicable” the end of our marriages were, divorce has a way of turning our lives upside down. Divorce will take you outside your comfort zone. Divorce is about change.

Ideally, you started to metabolize these changes during the divorce process, and if you haven’t, your life after divorce is going to be harder—not just materially but psychologically and emotionally. The sooner you come to terms with your new reality the sooner you can adjust, redirect, and start shaping the future you want. Working with a divorce coach –during the divorce process, or as you rebuild your life — will help you understand what you can and cannot do as you actualize your best next chapter.

You may not feel it yet, but inside this vast unknown of Life After Divorce — there is a great, big beautiful life waiting for you.

2. Even when you do your best, your children will feel the effects of divorce

You’re a woman, not a robot. During and after divorce, your emotions may remain scattered, frayed, or short-wired. Everyday decisions may seem insurmountable. You try to be strong, to let it all roll off your back, because you want to be the best mother possible. You want your children to see you stand tall instead of falling apart. But you will have bad days, just like we all do. You slip. You might vent about your Ex to your children. Or they’ll overhear (eavesdrop?) you badmouthing him to a friend or family member in a moment of frustration or desperation.

No matter how old your children are—even if they are adults or not living at home anymore—divorce will impact them. It may affect their outlook and their ability to connect with others, including you and your Ex. Your splitting up will alter holidays and family functions. And although you may feel some closure with your Ex after the divorce document is signed or he’s no longer living in the same house, if you have children, he* will always be in your life.

Divorce may mean communicating with your ex-partner whom you never communicated well with before. You may be dealing with things like support orders and visitations, drop-offs and pick-ups. Your children’s lives will be disrupted, and afterward, each of you will have to figure out how to move forward and create a new life together.

According to the research, you can best support your children (and thus, yourself) through divorce, and life afterward, by being mindful of the ongoing conflict between you and your Ex. Children who suffer the most are those whose parents keep the hostility alive, who don’t aim to try to do things as amicably as possible. It is not, as you might guess, the history of your marriage when you all lived together in the same house, but how you two (you and your spouse) navigate the divorce.

When dealing with your children directly, among the best things you can do is to acknowledge their pain and perspective and not badmouth their father. Listen to them. Understand that while the reasons for your divorce might be obvious to you, they are less so to your children. You can help them feel less confused by being straight and honest and keeping the lines of communication open instead of shutting yourself off from the world. This does not mean treating your kids as an equal (even if they are “old souls” or “smart” or so-called “adults”) but being open about issues surrounding the divorce in an age-appropriate way.

Should you tell your kids you are leaving their dad because he cheated? Because he embezzled money? Because he’s an addict? We urge you not to share the gorier details until you and your children are out of the heat, down the road, when your kids are grown up.

If you wonder how to break the news to your kids, need support parenting as a single woman or coparenting with a challenging Ex, or would even like books that you could read aloud to your children, consider our post on the 35 best books on divorce.

3. Certain friends and family have “disappeared”

Divorce means change and you’re probably feeling this, socially and family-wise. It’s a huge awakening for many of us that friends we thought were so tried and true have disappeared or become mute. It’s as if they fear your divorce might be contagious.

Though we’ve come a long way culturally, lessening the stigma of divorce, meaningful people in our lives might still pick sides—whether they are forced to by your Ex, feel compelled to out of a sense of fierce loyalty, or have a preference to be with the “more fun” or more moneyed-spouse. This hurts. And it not only shocks, but it cuts to the bone, especially if you have little or no friendships outside of those you formed with your Ex during your marriage. You may be feeling bereft as you start off your new life.

When it comes to family, it’s clichéd but true: blood is often thicker than water. You may have had a great relationship with your Ex’s family, for instance. Maybe they’re a big clan and fun and tightknit—and you always had a particular connection with some of them. Getting a divorce, though, can cause them to draw a line and side with their blood relative. The wonderful relationship you had with them is no mas.

In the wake of the space left vacant by others, it’s important for you to touch in with yourself and find new hobbies and interests—this will help you discover new people. Push yourself to get outside so you shift your mindset, to take up an activity you’ve always wanted to but never “had the time” for before, to volunteer or travel. You can even join a support group with other divorced women who understand what you’re going through and who are committed to recreating their lives healthily — with intention — too.

4. An empty house

Coming home after work, making dinner for yourself, eating it alone, and not having someone to share your day with (if you’ve always had that) has a way of making you feel like you have no purpose. This is even the case with divorced women who didn’t have a lot to say to their Ex in the evening hours while married. But somehow watching Jeopardy in silence or a movie you both enjoyed now seems particularly enviable. At least you could hear another person breathing.

If you have children, the silence in your home when they are staying with their dad can be deafening at first. All the sounds children make means lives are being lived, and the emptiness left in their place can leave you feeling lonely and unanchored. Who are you if your children don’t need you?

But know that this is just a phase, new pains that you will overcome. There is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. You may not be able to change the former, but you can change your mindset and decide that you never have to be the latter.

Use this time to reflect, to read, or to enjoy a quiet activity. Maybe you’ll become vegan (ha! Your Ex was such a carnivore!). Or you’ll adopt a dog from the humane society. Or you’ll use this time in the evening to meditate, do yoga, or go to the gym.

This alone time is important to your divorce recovery. You must come to terms with yourself and rediscover who you are before you can rebuild your life in a meaningful way or even show up whole and healed in your next meaningful relationship.

5. The shock of being “replaced”

Your Ex might start dating right after the divorce. He may even begin to date during your divorce proceedings. In either case, this can feel like a punch to the gut. Did he ever really love you? How could he date so quickly? What does she have that you don’t? Even if you wanted the divorce, it’s not easy to keep the green-eyed monster of jealousy at bay when you see or hear that the man you’d thought you’d spend the rest of your life with is hooking up (or more) with someone else. It can feel like torture.

Take heart, it’s not uncommon for many spouses to appear like they are “moving on” immediately after divorce, and some begin to date and sometimes remarry fairly soon. Those who do are often responding to the feelings of loneliness and/or the conventional understanding of what happiness is (to be married). If this is your Ex, he may not be pausing to reflect and heal from what you and he have been through.

The odds that his next relationship will be any happier than yours with him are very low. Very low indeed. He is simply not doing the work you know you must do in the early phases of your life after divorce.

To help lessen your pain, make sure you avoid contact with your Ex when possible, or places that remind you of him for a healthy period of time. Tell your friends (the good ones you still have) that you do not want to be kept au courante to what he is doing socially. It will hurt you. You are trying to look in another direction, with a goal of caring for yourself and nourishing you.

Develop a new daily routine that cultivates you, strengthen bonds with your family and friends, and makes space for you to metabolize all you’ve been through. Which brings us to our critical number 6 on the list. Keep reading.

6. Learning to let go and adapting to the Unknown

When you were married, you had a certain vision of your future. You probably had dreams of how you would retire, where it might be, who your social circles would be, what you would do, and maybe how often your grandchildren would visit. Divorce has changed all that. In your life after divorce, one of the hardest things is accepting that you must let go … let go all the dreams that involved him and, yes, others.

You must grieve and take stock of all the losses you have lived through. And recognize that you may not be grieving your husband so much as you are grieving a way of being and the fantasy that was your marriage.

Letting go means letting go of the idea that we can control everything

Life after divorce can be a painful time—it can also be a crazy time—but it is not a static time. The journey is not over. It’s just reached a particular place where it’s time for you to process your grief and reconnect with you and who you want to be. This is your work now.

After divorce, your canvas is blank. The slate is wiped clean. And as you stare at it, wondering, you might not have a clue what you want to fill it with. But let us assure you, you have no clue the marvelous things awaiting you. The hardest part is just getting started. Dare to discover. Pick up the paintbrush and begin.

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS to partner them through the challenging experience of divorce and recreation. Now you can learn the Art of Reinvention post-divorce. Secure female-centered support and wise next steps as you rebuild your life — practically, financially, romantically, smartly — with  Palomas Group, our virtual, post-divorce group coaching class, for women only. To promote sisterhood and protect confidentiality, space is limited.

*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.”

How to know when it's time to divorce

How to Know When It’s Time to Divorce

If day in and day out you find yourself unhappy with your marriage, it’s natural to have doubts. To ask yourself, “When is enough enough?” or wonder “When is it time to divorce?”

Being unhappily married is extremely uncomfortable and even hazardous to your health. You might feel off balance because you’re not fully invested in your marriage, but you haven’t yet given up either. You’re living in a painful limbo.

At times, part of you is (almost) ready to call it quits. But then another part of you takes over, and that part of you has more questions than answers. Questions like . . .

Will I be able to make it on my own?

Will getting divorced screw up my kids?

Where will I live?

Do I even deserve to be happy?

Besides my marriage, my life is great—can’t I just deal with it?

Could this be as good as it gets?

Maybe we’re just going through a rough patch?

So, how do you know when it’s time to divorce?

The truth is that everyone who has chosen to get divorced has had to make that decision on her own. That’s because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to deciding whether your marriage is worth saving.

Granted, there are some pretty black and white reasons to divorce:

  • Polygamy
  • Ongoing deception
  • Abuse (verbal, physical, or emotional) of you or your children
  • Substance abuse that remains untreated despite requests to do so

But most people find themselves in situations that are shades of gray, unsure whether divorce is right for them and their family.

And yet, so many couples do decide to divorce. According to a report published by AARP asking people to identify the three most important reasons they divorced, the most common motives were:

  • Verbal, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Different values and lifestyles
  • Infidelity
  • Falling out of love
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

What’s especially interesting about the results of this survey is that most people listed more than one reason for divorcing—in fact, they gave at least three reasons. The fact that divorce almost never comes down to one thing is part of what makes knowing when it’s time to divorce so difficult.

But if you are facing one or more of these common issues, that doesn’t necessarily mean that now is when it’s time to divorce. There are couples who face the same issues, work through them, and remain married—even happily married.

Then just how are you supposed to know if it’s time to divorce?

If you find yourself living in that gray zone, you owe it to your marriage (and to yourself) to exhaust all other avenues—to do your absolute best to resolve the issues in your marriage—before you decide whether it’s time to get a divorce. Only then will you be able to leave limbo, either by recommitting yourself to your marriage or by deciding that the best path forward is divorce.

What does it look like to exhaust all other avenues before deciding to divorce?

You’ll talk with professionals (a divorce coach, therapist, or couples counselor) who can help you gain the necessary clarity to decide whether to save your marriage. You’ll make your best effort to implement their suggestions not only for improving your marriage but for improving yourself.

Consider watching SAS for Women’s free webinar on this confusing subject . . . “Should I or Shouldn’t I . . . Divorce?

You’ll read books and articles about how to make a marriage work and then implement the ideas that make sense to you. And for those that don’t make sense, you’ll research to understand if you are best served by discarding them.

You’ll talk with people who have made their marriages work for the long haul. You’ll respectfully and fearlessly ask the questions you need answered. There’s a good chance that you’ll learn something about how to improve your marriage and maybe even something to help you with your own personal growth.

You’ll talk with people who are divorced and understand the challenges they and their children have faced and overcome. Then, you’ll understand the reality of divorce. That reality may give you the determination to try harder to save your marriage. It may give you the knowledge that you’ll be OK regardless of whatever decision you ultimately make. (Tip: Make sure you speak to divorced people who are healed—people who have done the work to fully recover from their divorce. They’ll give you the best perspective and not transfer their wounds to you.)

What you’ll notice when you learn and start implementing the ideas you glean from exhausting all those other avenues besides divorce is that you’ll be presented with countless opportunities for self-examination. As you learn more and try different things, you’ll naturally see yourself and your marriage differently.

That still doesn’t mean that you’ll suddenly have a lightbulb moment, that the world will send you a sign telling you divorce is right for you and that now is the time.

The truth is that you’ll gain clarity but not 100% crystal clear clarity about the fate of your marriage by taking the time to understand all the options and possibilities for your life both in and out of your relationship.

However, deciding when it’s time to divorce is rarely about being 100% certain you’re making the “right” decision. Instead, it’s more about understanding your options—all your options—so that when and if a tipping point comes, you’ll not only recognize it but be prepared for it.

So, if you’re asking yourself “When is it time to divorce?” you owe it to yourself and your family to explore those options. Roll up your sleeves, exhaust every possibility of repairing the issues in your marriage, and gain the clarity you need to feel comfortable—if not confident—making the decision to divorce.

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

To learn next steps or resources right for you as you seek clarity on if you should divorce or not, schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation with SAS today.

“A healthy divorce requires smart steps — taken one at a time.” – SAS