4 Ways to Get Divorced. Is A “Friendly” Pre-suit Pro Se Right for You?

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

If you have decided that getting a divorce is the best (and maybe only) option that will promote your future emotional and psychological well-being, and that of your spouse and children, your next step is to determine which of the four paths to a legal divorce is right for you and your circumstances.

To decide which path will serve you best, answer the following questions:

(1A) If you have children, what type of divorced parenting partnership is in the best interest of your children.  For most people, the answer to this question is either “Facilitating Friends” or “Accommodating Allies”, both of which involve high levels of good will and cooperative communication.  Read more about types of divorced Parenting Partnerships here.

(1B) If you don’t have children, would you and your spouse like to remain on friendly terms?

If you want a friendly divorce, you could select from among the Do It YourselfPre-Suit Pro Se (without attorneys), or the Pre-Suit, with Attorneys.

(2) How complicated are your financial circumstances?

Do you have customary assets like a home, car, bank accounts, and retirement accounts, as well as typical liabilities like a mortgage, car payment, and credit card bills? Or are your finances more complicated, involving a family business, a trust, or a complex investment portfolio?

If you have simple finances and no children, the Do It Yourself may work for you. If you have children and simple/moderately complex assets and liabilities to equitably distribute, then you could choose between Pre-Suit Pro se (without attorneys), or Pre-Suit, with Attorneys. If you have a highly complex mix of assets and liabilities, you may best be served by an Attorney Driven divorce.

(3) What amount of family resources are you able or willing to invest in the divorce process?

The Do It Yourself divorce is the least expensive, but comes with the need to complete complicated forms and work through emotional issues on your own.   If your finances are simple AND you and your spouse are detail oriented, well organized, have a high level of good will for one another and excellent communication and conflict resolution skills, then the DYI option may work for you.

The Pre-Suit Pro Se path (a friendly divorce without lawyers) is also relatively inexpensive.  For example,  fees for a friendly, Pre-Suit, Pro Se divorce at Amity Mediation Workshop on Florida’s Emerald Coast range from $1,400 to $3,000, depending on the complexity of your assets and whether or not you have children.

For this moderate cost, in the Pre-Suit  Pro Se option your mediator facilitates the emotional discussions and empowers you to reach mutual agreement on all of your current issues. The mediator also prepares your Marital Settlement Agreement , Parenting Plan, and Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.   Many mediators, like those at Amity Mediation Workshop, also include assistance with document preparation and Family Law Forms.  This type of one-stop shop helps simplify and de-stress the divorce process.

The Pre-Suit with Attorneys path is more expensive than a divorce without lawyers, but also typically less expensive and less adversarial than an attorney driven divorce.  Along this path to divorce, attorneys guide their clients’ decision making, but work in a collaborative manner with each other. The mediator  works directly with the parties to help them resolve issues and create their Marital Settlement Agreement.

The Attorney-Driven path to divorce is the most expensive and will vary by lawyer and region. According to Lawyers.Com , the average attorney fees for a divorce in Florida are $10,700 and the average total cost of a Florida divorce with attorneys $13,500.   The costs range depending on whether or not children and complicated assets are involved, as well as how acrimonious and protracted the process becomes.

(4) How quickly would you like to complete the divorce process so you can start building a stable future for you and your children?

The DYI divorce could be the quickest, if you have limited/no assets, no children, no problem completing the forms, and high levels of good will and cooperation with one another.

The Pre-Suit Pro Se friendly divorce without lawyers typically involves a one-hour planning session and two weekly 2-to-3 hour mediation sessions.  This means that by utilizing a mediation practice like Amity Mediation Workshop you could resolve all of your issues and be ready to file for a non-contested divorce in about one month.

The Pre-Suit with Attorneys path stretches over a longer time period than the Pre Suit, Pro Se, in large part due to the attorneys’ scheduling and the time they need for advance consultation and preparation with their client.  Still, this path is much quicker than the Attorney Driven path.

The Attorney-Driven path to divorce takes the longest .  According to Lawyers.Com, the average duration of the attorney-driven divorce process in Florida is 15 months and ranges from 7 to 30 months, depending on attorney schedules, the complexity of the case, and the amount of acrimony that creeps into the process.

So you decide.

If you are like most (but certainly not all) people, a Friendly, Pre-Suit Pro Se divorce may be your best option:

  1. You want to remain friendly with your spouse, especially if you will continue being Parenting Partners.
  2. You have typical assets and liabilities that can be equability distributed without complicated legal transactions.
  3. You would rather reserve family resources so that you and your spouse have the money you need to start over and build a stable future for yourselves and your children.
  4. You would rather move forward deliberately and begin building a happy, stable future rather than be stuck in limbo for a year or more rehashing the past.

At Amity, our guiding philosophy of civility and a friendly approach to facilitating conversations permeates our mediation work. And we embrace an optimism about what people can do with and for each other if they are simply willing to focus on finding solutions that are good for them AND for the others involved in their issues, especially children.  

We know that most couples and families truly value peaceful resolution of issues with as little hurt to those involved as possible.  We hope couples and families can stay together. But, our goal is to help people eliminate distress in their relationships and maintain peace, whether they stay together or not.

Our approach supports and guides individuals as they work to settle their differences and define for themselves the future of their relationships. If you have decided to divorce, share the Paths to Legal Divorce graphic with your spouse. Decide which option is best for you.  Then, start to Work it Out.

And, let me know if I can help.

P.S.   Deciding whether or not to get divorced is excruciatingly difficult. If you are struggling with that question, and need help working through the decision-making process, read my three-part series titled Should I Stay or Should I Go?




What Type of Divorced Co-Parenting Partner Are You?

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Divorce should not be entered into lightly, especially if you are a parent.   Marriages may dissolve. But, co-parenting is truly a “to death do us part” commitment, including all of the family life events in between.  Parents must choose (and it is a choice) whether they will have a friendly divorce or an acrimonious one.   The decision has a lasting impact on the parents, and especially their children.

This obvious reality may come as a shock to even the best parents who are wrapped up in the early stages of divorce. Parents contemplating divorce or dealing with the emotional, psychological and financial aspects of divorce often require a reminder that for children to become well-adjusted emotionally and psychologically, they need a safe, secure, and happy family environment.  They need their parents to be partners, to like each other ….to be friends at best and, at least, to peacefully co-exist.   And, they need this, whether their parents stay married or not.

Last week I helped a couple work out a Parenting Plan that included 50% time-sharing. To their credit, they understood that their daughter needed the love and care of both of her capable parents.  Yet, their conversation regressed into bickering, judgmental comments, petty accusations, and raised voices.  This conversation likely represented the destructive communication patterns that led to their divorce.  I was silently concerned about them and couldn’t imagine how debilitating it would be for them (and their daughter) if they kept it up for a life time.

They had requested “transformative mediation”,  which empowers parties to define their own issues and to understand each other so they can resolve the current issues, improve their relationship, and be better at solving future problems.  They wanted to get along for the sake of their daughter.

So I reminded them of the rules of civility we agreed to at the outset of mediation. And, I suggested that  transformative mediation was a good and safe place to start learning a new way to interact with each other.  I explained that they were no longer hostages to their old emotions or patterns of interaction and that they could build an entirely new relationship based on their mutual love for their child and their interest in building a stable future for him and for themselves.   To do so, they had to agree to be both physically and emotionally divorced so they could focus on the future, not the past.

Sounds easy, right? Why didn’t they know this already, right?

They did know what they needed to do to be good, supportive parenting partners. But, as the mother said, while she wiped away her tears, “We want to have a friendly divorce, we just don’t know how…. it’s like we can’t stop ourselves….it’s just who we are now….what choice do we have?”

So, I clarified their basic choice to be friendly or acrimonious and the likely impact of this choice on their child. My hope was to use the transformative mediation process to help them along the path to a better parenting partnership and a better post-divorce family life for their son.

I explained that divorce brings out the “crazy” in the best of us and encouraged them to be gentle with themselves and forgiving of each other.

Then, I complimented them on wanting to have a friendly divorce. Or, one that Dr. Constance Ahrons once described as a “good divorce” where “couples part without destroying the lives of those they love.  Their children continue to have two parents.  The divorced parents continue to have a good relationship with their children.  The families of these good divorces continue to be just that — families”.

In the mid-1990’s, as a counseling psychologist, Dr. Ahrons identified four types of divorced parents ranging from caring and supportive friends, to hostile and bitter foes: Perfect Pals, Cooperative Colleagues, Angry Associates, and Fiery Foes.  A fifth type, Dissolved Duos, discontinue contact with each other altogether.

As a social psychologist specializing in interpersonal communication and working as a family mediator, I approach the work of identifying  types of divorced parenting partners a bit differently because my job is not to psycho-analyze the divorcing couples.  Instead,  I provide couples a tool kit for handling conflict, a safe place to learn new ways to communicate with each other,  and I help them  resolve their issues amicably, reach mutual agreement on their current family issues, and direct their focus on building a stable future, rather than be stuck rehashing the past

I encourage couples to focus on the expected frequency of their contact and tone of their interaction, both with one another and in front of their children. And, I asked them some questions to help them decide for themselves how to begin building a friendly post-divorce parenting relationship.

  1. Given the age of your children, how often will the two of you need to communicate in order to coordinate shared parenting now, and as your children grow older? How willing are you to let hostile communication with each other impact your children’s development and detract from your ability to build a stable and happy future for yourself?   Divorced Parenting Partners - blog 8
  2. Given the holidays, extended-family events, your children’s birthday, school and extra-curricular activities, how often will you both be in the same public place at the same time now, and as your children come of age? How willing are you to let the distress associated with seeing one another detract from your and especially your children’s ability to enjoy school and extra-curricular activities?
  3. As married parents, how often did you show negative feelings toward each other in front of your children?   How did you feel about it on those occasions that you did show negative feelings toward each other in front of your children? How did your children react?
  4. Did you try to refrain from displaying hostility with each other in front of the children because you were married or because you didn’t want to upset your children? Why would your motivation change now that you are divorcing?
  5. On the Divorced Parenting Partnership diagram, which type of divorced parenting would characterize your current co-parenting relationship?
  6. Which type of divorced parenting do you believe will support the physical, social, intellectual, and spiritual well-being of your children?
  7. What do you have to change about the frequency and tone of your interaction in order to become that type of divorced parenting team? How might your co-parenting style naturally change as your children come of age

If you are contemplating divorce or already divorced, I encourage you to talk through these questions seriously with your parenting partner.   Decide together what type of Parenting Partnership supports your children’s social, emotional, and intellectual well-being and invest the effort to get past your anger and “work it out”.

And, let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate Divorce, Family, and Civil Meditations.  We also conduct “transformative meditations” that help divorced co-parents better understand each other so they can resolve current issues, improve their relationship, and be better at solving future problems.

 

 

 

 

 




These 3 R’s Let your Happy Relationship Bloom Naturally

By  Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Spring symbolizes rebirth and reminds us of the constant opportunity to refresh and renew our lives and our relationships.

And, if couples don’t get too caught up in “making” a happy holiday, they can use the accompanying spring break to relax and reflect on how to refresh their daily priorities, renew their relationships, and let their  “happy”  bloom naturally.

The 3 R’s of Relationship Improvement

Despite what people say, people don’t really learn from experience. Instead, they learn from reflecting on their experience.

Think about it.   Unless they reflect on their experiences, couples just make the same mistakes over and over again.

To renew their relationship, couples have to truly think about how their life could flow more easily and be filled with the simple pleasures that constitute true happiness, not the manufactured kind. This type of reflection usually begins with one person, who later shares it with the other.

So, this spring break try to capture some relaxing time for yourself and so that you can truly reflect on your relationship. Does your marriage seem routine?  Does your spouse seem like your roommate and not your best friend and the love of your life?  Do you fight about things that don’t really matter and avoid talking about the things that do?  Have you let the kids activities monopolize all of your discretionary time?  Have you let your own interests take away from time you could (and probably should) be spending with your partner?  Have you let financial concerns keep you from finding creative ways to bring simple joys into your relationship?

Whatever life stage or circumstance you’re now in, to let your “happy” bloom naturally again, you first have to identify the patterns you would like to improve, think honestly about what small changes would make a big difference, and keep in mind, that it might be YOUR approach that needs to change.

Once you have identified the existing patterns that interfere with the easy flow of happiness in your relationships, select the one non-threatening pattern that you believe — if changed — would bring a sense of renewal to the daily life of your relationship.  Later, you can address the other issues you identified.   Do one at a time, because the increased happiness you feel from the first change, makes subsequent changes easier to implement.

Begin to change the interfering pattern by refreshing the way you and your spouse/partner approach the issue involved. This will, of course, require you disclose what you’ve been thinking about to your partner.   The trick is to initiate the conversation with what’s called a “soft start-up”.  A “soft start-up” addresses the issue directly and head-on, but does NOT include criticism or blame. Begin with an “I” statement and say, for example, “Things are so hectic for us these days, I really miss having time to just hang out with you.  Will you help me figure out some small changes we could make in our routines so that there is more time for us to just be together?”

This refreshed approach will not work if your partner feels blamed for your discontent. Be sure to use the soft start-up and take the time needed to create a safe conversational zone. Then, don’t be surprised if you learn that your partner has been feeling the same way.

When couples refresh their approach to managing the daily patterns in their lives, they are able to reprioritize the allocation of their time, energy and finances; recapture time to invest in their relationship; and, create a sense of renewal and base-line happiness in their relationships. When this happens, couples don’t even think about how to make happiness, it just blooms naturally, like spring, every day.

So, share this post with your partner, brush up on the 3 R’s that let happy relationships bloom naturally, grab some couple time, and “work it out“.

And, Let me know if I can help.

 You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate divorce, family, and civil mediations.  We also are authorized to use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses  with our clients who want to stay together, but restore the joy in their marriage.

 




Secret to Romance in Marriage Will Surprise You

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

The secret to long-lasting romance in marriage is surprisingly simple, inexpensive, and fool proof.

It isn’t  a “romantic” candlelit dinner on Valentine’s Day.  And, unless you learn this simple secret and get primed for romance soon, it won’t be your Spring Break get-away to the beach (or the mountains), either.

You can’t purchase that loving feeling.

Events designed to be romantic flop when you aren’t already lovingly connected to your partner. Instead of helping you reconnect, the contrived candlelit dinner becomes a struggle for conversation topics and that romantic “get-away” reveals that you don’t really know what you enjoy doing together anymore. The empty feeling and disappointment these realizations produce lead, at best, to awkward silences and, at worst, to frustration, angry accusations, and harsh criticism. Either way, they don’t enhance that loving feeling.

You can’t purchase that loving feeling.  You just can’t.

But you can create it.

So, what’s the secret to long-lasting romance in marriage?  

You do small things often. You turn to each other in little ways, every day.

According to Dr. John Gottman, it’s that simple. In The Relationship Cure, Gottman explains that small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have a more positive impact on creating and sustaining marital romance than isolated, grand gestures.

These small loving actions also speak louder than words, when it comes to making your partner feel loved.   In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Saeideh Heshmati and his Penn State colleagues found an American cultural consensus that showing compassion and displaying affection (e.g. snuggling) on a daily basis rank higher on the list of what makes people feel loved than typical romantic scenarios or grand verbal declarations of love.

Convinced?     Ready to put this one simple action to the test?

Then, every day (yes every day) just try another small way of turning toward your spouse, instead of away.  For example:

Pay attention and respond with interest.

Notice when your partner subtly asks for your attention, affection, or support and give it. Look at the butterfly and comment on it when she calls it to your attention. Take his side when he shares a work concern. Show that you are glad (really glad) to see your partner at the end of the day. Respond with curiosity when your partner talks about family, friends, and other interests. Theses mundane moments of connection truly matter.

When you don’t have time to respond, express regret and take the time to explain.  Don’t say “I don’t have time”. Instead, say you wish you had time, clarify why you don’t have time, and set up a plan to talk about it “when I get home tonight” or “after the kids are in bed” or “when I get home from my meeting”.

Voluntarily (and routinely) take action to support and connect with your partner.

Fold the laundry or take out the garbage, when it’s not your turn. Run errands for each other. Make dinner together. Pay the bills together. Plan and host a dinner for friends together. Share each other’s burdens and you become more interdependent. Support each other’s contributions and you create a shared sense of purpose. These small, day-to-day gestures go a long way toward deepening your marital connection, helping your partner feel loved, and prime you for marital romance.

Look for small ways to send messages of love.

Send a text message of encouragement when you know your partner has a presentation, an important meeting, or a long day. Send heart emojis when you text the grocery list.  Pack a love note in your partner’s suitcase, briefcase, back pack, or lunch box. These notes don’t have to be poetic, or long, or even include words at all. Put on lipstick, kiss a napkin, and tuck it in the bag. Draw a heart on your business card and leave it on your partner’s windshield. Stick a post-it on the bathroom mirror. These small, from-the-heart expressions of love and support send consistently authentic messages of love and so they mean much more than a once-a year candlelit dinner or perfunctory bouquet of roses on special occasions.

How does this one simple action create more romance in your marriage?

If you’re like most people, you are surprised that the single most essential action that grounds your marital stability and contributes to your on-going romance is the simple act of turning toward your spouse in many small, routine ways every day.

Turning toward each other works because these repeated small gestures solidify your marital connection and promote positive feelings that will sustain your marriage during stressful times and grow the loving feeling of togetherness you share.

Take this loving connection and your positive feelings out to a candlelit dinner or on vacation, and the romantic spark you’re hoping for will ignite. But, chances are, if you adopt this one simple action – and turn towards your spouse in small ways every day – you won’t need expensive dinners or exotic vacations to stir up romance. You’ll have that at home every day.

If you engage in these small gestures every day, you’ll be going on date nights or vacation to enjoy each other. Not to save your marriage.

How do you begin turning toward each other?

If you want to strengthen your relationship and create more romance in your marriage, share this post with your partner. Then, start a conversation about the importance of being truly engaged in your routine interactions. Discuss the value of tuning into each other’s daily needs for attention, support, and encouragement. And, then imagine the difference that doing “small things often” can make in your feelings toward each other and the quality of your life together. Do your best to “work it out”.

Let me know if I can help.

 You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate divorce, family and civil mediations.  We also use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for our clients who want to stay together, but restore the joy in their marriage.

Sign Up Now  to receive Dr.  Jamie’s “Work it Out – Relationship Tips”  emails packed with practical, helpful, and fun relationship improvement tips.

 




The 1 (yes one) Simple Act that Primes Your Marriage for Romance

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

The secret to long-lasting romance in marriage is simple, inexpensive, and fool proof.

You’ve probably figured out that it isn’t that “romantic” candlelit dinner on Valentine’s Day or the perfunctory sex that followed. And, if you haven’t gotten primed for romance since then, it won’t be your Spring Break get-away to the beach (or the mountains), either.

You can’t purchase togetherness.

Events designed to be romantic flop when you aren’t already lovingly connected to your partner. Instead of helping you reconnect, the contrived candlelit dinner becomes a struggle for conversation topics and that romantic “get-away” reveals that you don’t really know what you enjoy doing together anymore. The empty feeling and disappointment these realizations produce lead, at best, to awkward silences and, at worst, to frustration, angry accusations, and harsh criticism. Either way, they don’t enhance that loving feeling.  You can’t purchase togetherness.

So, how do you prime your marriage for romance and lasting love?  

You do small things often. You turn to each other in little ways, every day.

According to Dr. John Gottman, it’s that simple. In The Relationship Cure, Gottman explains that small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have a more positive impact on creating and sustaining marital romance than isolated, grand gestures.

These small loving actions also speak louder than words, when it comes to making your partner feel loved.   In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Saeideh Heshmati and his Penn State colleagues found an American cultural consensus that showing compassion and displaying affection (e.g. snuggling) on a daily basis rank higher on the list of what makes people feel loved then typical romantic scenarios or grand verbal declarations of love.

Convinced?     Ready to put this one simple action to the test?

Every day, just try another small way of turning toward your spouse, instead of away. For example:

Pay attention and respond with interest.

Notice when your partner subtly asks for your attention, affection, or support and give it. Look at the butterfly and comment on it when she calls it to your attention. Take his side when he shares a work concern. Show that you are glad (really glad) to see your partner at the end of the day. Respond with curiosity when your partner talks about family, friends, and other interests. Theses mundane moments of connection truly matter.

When you don’t have time to respond, express regret and take the time to explain.  Don’t say “I don’t have time”. Instead, say you wish you had time, clarify why you don’t have time, and set up a plan to talk about it “when I get home tonight” or “after the kids are in bed” or “when I get home from my meeting”.

Voluntarily (and routinely) take action to support and connect with your partner.

Fold the laundry or take out the garbage, when it’s not your turn. Run errands for each other. Make dinner together. Pay the bills together. Plan and host a dinner for friends together. Share each other’s burdens and you become more interdependent. Support each other’s contributions and you create a shared sense of purpose. These small, day-to-day gestures go a long way toward deepening your marital connection, helping your partner feel loved, and prime you for marital romance.

Look for small ways to send messages of love.

Send a text message of encouragement when you know your partner has a presentation, an important meeting, or a long day. Send heart emojis when you text the grocery list.  Pack a love note in your partner’s suitcase, briefcase, back pack, or lunch box. These notes don’t have to be poetic, or long, or even include words at all. Put on lipstick, kiss a napkin, and tuck it in the bag. Draw a heart on your business card and leave it on your partner’s windshield. Stick a post-it on the bathroom mirror. These small, from-the-heart expressions of love and support send consistently authentic messages of love and so they mean much more than a once-a year candlelit dinner or perfunctory bouquet of roses on special occasions.

How does this one simple action create more romance in your marriage?

If you’re like most people, you are surprised that the single most essential action that grounds your marital stability and contributes to your own-going romance is the simple act of turning toward your spouse in many small, routine ways every day.

It works because these gestures solidify your marital connection and promote positive feelings that will sustain your marriage during stressful times and grow the loving feeling of togetherness you share.

Take this loving connection and your positive feelings out to a candlelit dinner or on vacation, and the romantic spark you’re hoping for will ignite. But, chances are, if you adopt this one simple action – and turn towards your spouse in small ways every day – you won’t need expensive dinners or exotic vacations to stir up romance. You’ll have that at home every day.

If you engage in these small gestures every day, you’ll be going on date nights or vacation to enjoy each other. Not to save your marriage.

How do you begin turning toward each other?

If you want to strengthen your relationship and create more romance in your marriage, share this post with your partner. Then, start a conversation about the importance of being truly engaged in your routine interactions. Discuss the value of tuning into each other’s daily needs for attention, support, and encouragement. And, then imagine the difference that doing “small things often” can make in your feelings toward each other and the quality of your life together. Do your best to “work it out”.

Let me know if I can help.

 You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate divorce, family and civil mediations.  We also are authorized to use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative Marriage Mediation with our client who want to stay together, but restore the joy in their marriage.

 

Sign Up Now  to receive Dr.  Jamie’s “Make is Work” emails packed with practical, and helpful relationship improvement tips.

 

 

 

 




Protect Your Marriage: Eliminate These 4 Toxic Interactions

By Jamie C Williamson, PhD

I’ve been working with couples who resolved to make one final effort to restore the happiness in their marriage. They sincerely want to try, but also don’t want to prolong the pain or keep rehashing the same tired arguments.

So, they begin by asking “How do we know if it is too late for us to save our marriage?”

That question can’t be answered in generalities because the “too late” threshold varies depending on the DNA of each individual marriage. But, certain types of negative interactions produce telltale signs that a couple is headed for relationship demise. These negative patterns are so toxic that they can (and often do) destroy a relationship.

John Gottman refers to these negative interactions as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. The worst of these is contempt.

Are these toxic interactions present in your marriage?

1. Criticism

Criticism is best understood when compared to a complaint. Complaints address a specific behavior, while criticism attacks a person’s character or personality.

Complaint: “I’m glad you’re home. But, the last hour has been hard on me. I get scared when you’re running late and don’t let me know. Can we agree that we won’t do that to each other?”

Criticism: “Well, you’re finally home…an hour late. You do your job. But, you can’t even show me the courtesy you would show one of your customers if you were running late. You’re selfish, self-centered, and never think of me.”

Don’t worry to much if this example of criticism strikes a familiar tone for you. A smattering of critical exchanges is common in marital relationships. But, criticism does leave your partner feeling rejected and hurt, which easily leads to a reciprocal negative response and the possibility of increased frequency of criticism between the two of you. And, if criticism become pervasive, it leads to the other more toxic negative interaction patterns.

If you find that you and your spouse are starting to be more critical of each other, do the relationship work required to assess the source of your critical interactions and make the changes needed to reverse the negativity in your tone.

2. Contempt

Contempt is criticism on steroids. Contemptuous comments convey disgust and are truly mean. People who communicate with contempt treat their partner with disrespect and mock their partner with sarcasm, hostile joking, name-calling, or mimicking. These verbal insults are often accompanied by eye-rolling and sneering.

Contempt grows out of long-simmering negative thoughts about your partner, which often result from unresolved conflict.  What starts out as a simple complaint, sometimes repeatedly recurs and evolves into criticism. If the issue continues to surface and remain unresolved, partners get fed up. These feelings can fester and grow into generalized contempt – which shows up as an aggressive attack from a sense of superiority, with the purpose to demean the accused person.

Contempt: “Welcome home Hot Shot! You’re so important that you don’t have to follow the rules. You work late, hit happy hour after, and leave your family wondering if you’re dead or alive. What kind of example are you setting for our boys? You want them to think that this is how a “real man” treats his wife and family? I could use a “real man” around here.”

Contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. According to Gottman, it must be eliminated if a couple wants to avoid divorce.

3. Defensiveness

Defensiveness is a common response during conflict, particularly when people feel unjustly accused or when they want to provide an explanation or excuse for their behavior. Unfortunately, defensiveness rarely leads to conflict resolution because, rather than acknowledge that your spouse has a legitimate complaint, defensiveness devalues your spouse’s concern and shifts the blame to your spouse, as well.

Defensiveness: “You know I’m crazy busy. I didn’t text because you’re always on me not to text and drive. And, I didn’t call because I’d just get voice mail – you’re always “too busy” to answer my calls.”

This defensive response shifts the blame to the wife and will likely escalate, rather than defuse the conflict. On the other hand, a non-defensive response shows respect for the wife’s concerns and will likely quell the conflict.

Non-defensive Response: “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry. You are right. I should have texted as soon as I realized I was going to be late. I love that you worry about me, but you shouldn’t have to. I know this isn’t the first time and I promise I’ll do better.”

People often react defensively when they feel challenged or threatened. Keep in mind that
a soft complaint is more likely to produce a non-defensive response while harsh criticism is more likely to produce a defensive response, and a negative spiral of more criticism and defensiveness.

If your spouse reacts defensively to what you meant as a complaint, your spouse probably heard the complaint as criticism. If this starts happening regularly in your relationship and you know there are outside pressures affecting one or both of you, just try to be patient and forgiving with one another. If there is no outside stressor affecting you or your spouse’s reactions to each other, then defensive reactions to a simple criticism could be a signal that the criticism is not as soft as you think or that there is an unresolved issue festering between the two of you. Try softening your criticism. If that doesn’t work, figure out what the issue is and don’t let it fester too long.

4. Stonewalling

Stonewalling involves a lack of responsiveness designed to avoid repeated conflict and negative interactions. Rather than confront an issue or respond to their partner’s concerns, people who stonewall withdraw from interactions by tuning out, turning away, acting busy, or otherwise disengaging in the conflict.

Stonewalling rarely occurs in the early stages of a marriage. Instead, stonewalling emerges after criticism, contempt, and defensiveness become overwhelmingly negative enough to make stonewalling an understandable response. Once stonewalling emerges as strategy to escape feeling flooded by negativity, it often becomes a self-protective habit that leads to emotional disengagement from the relationship.

Ironically, the more one spouse stonewalls in an effort to protect themselves against turbulent criticism and contempt, the more hostile the critical spouse becomes. When one spouse shuts down, the other becomes frustrated and tries even harder to be heard.

If they reach this stage, some couples start living lonely, parallel lives characterized by emotional indifference, peppered with occasional bouts of toxic negativity. Others experience a fiery meltdown and then divorce.  Hard to say which is more painful.

So, is it too late to save your marriage?

Think about the recent times you and your spouse had a disagreement. Did any of the Four Horsemen show their ugly heads?

Recognizing criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling is the first step toward eliminating them. But, to remove these negative communication patterns from your marriage you must learn and adopt new, productive communication patterns to use instead.

To get started, share this post with your spouse and have a calm, non-judgmental conversation about the lethal effect that criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling will have on your marriage if left unchecked. As you can see from this explanation, it takes two to create toxic communication patterns. It’s not about blame. Accept your part of the responsibility so your spouse will be more likely to do the same. Make a meaningful effort to “work it out”.

And, let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we are now authorized to use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for couples who want to stay together and restore the warmth and friendship in their marriage.




Follow the 5-Step Path to “Just Be Grateful”

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Happy people have figured out that it is not happiness that makes you grateful, it is gratefulness that makes you happy.

So, the trick to having a Happy Thanksgiving is simple: “Just Be Grateful” and, like this cornucopia, your holiday will be overstuffed with joyful thanks and generous giving.

Easier said than done, right?

After all, even David Steindle-Rast –  who coined the phrase “if you want to be happy, be grateful” – admits that obviously people cannot be grateful for everything.

Life happens.

Betrayal, hurt, disappointment, job loss, violence, death, disease, and family dysfunction are real. They cannot and should not be blithely ignored. They must be confronted, head on. And, time for acceptance and healing must be allowed. But, these misfortunes also must be kept in perspective. They are a part of life, not the whole of it.

So, in the face of life’s oh-so-real heartaches and stressors, how do you keep the pithy and affirming “Just Be Grateful” slogan from being trite and tiresome like “Just Say No” and turn it into something powerful and effective like “Just Do It”?

Consider this:

In his TED-Talk David Steindle-Rast suggests that the secret to being happy is not being grateful for everything that happens, but being grateful for each moment we are given.

Thinking this way, each moment becomes an opportunity to celebrate, to forgive, to understand to reconnect, to stand up, to love, to laugh, to let go, to welcome in, and to learn.

To “Just Be Grateful” we need to recognize the opportunities each moment provides us. But moments are fleeting and clouded by our feelings of loss, distrust, sickness, and hurt. How do we break through these emotional clouds and accept the moment we are given for the gift that it is?

Brother David suggests we adopt the “Stop, Look and Go with it” approach. And, it works for me, with a few modifications – today using the Thanksgiving Holiday as an example – I offer my Five Step Path to “Just Be Grateful”:

1. IDENTIFY WHAT IS TROUBLING YOU. What about Thanksgiving keeps you from being grateful? The preparation and work? The uncertainty of other’s behavior? The dread of dealing with your former spouse? Missing a loved one? The threat to your weight-loss goals? Loneliness?

2. CREATE STOP SIGNS. What physical sign or symbol can you put in place that keeps you focused on the moment of opportunity and not what is threatening you? Instead of drifting mindlessly into thinking about overeating, your Uncle’s political rantings, your co-parent’s faults, or your husband’s indifference to your hard work, create your own version of a STOP sign around your home that keeps you and yours focused on the initial purpose of a day of Thanksgiving. This will help you notice Thanksgiving Day as the special moment that it is, despite your concerns.  Here’s mine:

3. LOOK FOR THE OPPORTUNITY AND DEFINE IT YOURSELF. Does Thanksgiving Day give you the opportunity to apologize? To forgive? To reconnect? To be supportive? To show self-discipline? To abandon grudges? To embrace new family members? To show respect for your family elders? To honor those who have passed? To create new traditions? To help others feel included. To show your kids that you still care about their dad? To help less -fortunate others? To order in, stress less, and have more fun?

4. GO FOR IT! Act to take advantage of the opportunity you have been given. Claim the moment as yours. Act genuinely out of a sense of your newly defined purpose for the moment. Be grateful for this chance to learn, grow, make amends, support, show kindness, have fun, or make peace.

5. BE HAPPY.  Keep repeating steps 1-4 and you’ll get there.  It really is that simple.

President Abraham Lincoln seems to have understood the power of the “Just Be Grateful” philosophy when he created our national Thanksgiving Day holiday.

In the United States, Thanksgiving Day has two officially proclaimed purposes: To remind Americans of the need to thank God (however you envision God to be) for our “bountiful blessings” and to encourage prayer for the “full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and unity”.

With humility, I’ve taken the liberty to paraphrase President Lincoln’s October 3, 1863 official (and rather wordy) Proclamation that established a national day of “thanksgiving and praise”. The announcement was written by then Secretary of State William Seward and signed by President Lincoln just a few weeks after significant Union victories forecasted the near end of the Civil War. Although the idea of a formal day of Thanksgiving had been around in various forms for 200 years, Lincoln was the first president to establish a national day of thanksgiving.

He did it to help unify the American family, torn apart by years of war and conflict.

Like Lincoln, you, too, could use Thanksgiving Day as the mechanism to work toward your own happiness and toward enhanced peace and harmony among your immediate and extended family members.

To claim this opportunity, follow the five step path to “Just Be Grateful”.

If your desire for family amity has been gestating for a while, I hope this Five Step Path to Gratefulness will fill you and yours with happiness one moment at a time.  Identify what’s troubling you, create stop signs, claim each moment for something good, act and go for the joy, peace, harmony, tranquility and unity you can create in those moments.

Before you know it Just Be Grateful will be your new philosophy of life. And, then just watch what happens to those around you – this affirming way of life is contagious.

Share this post with people you care about that need to learn how gratefulness creates happiness and that, surprisingly enough, you can be in control of what you do with your moments of opportunity, not the other way around. Try to Work it Out  together.

And, let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop where we embrace the “Just Be Grateful” philosophy and do Family Dynamics Mediation that can make your house feel like home again.

If you liked this blog post, SIGN UP NOW for Dr. Jamie’s “Work it Out – Insider” emails packed with Hot Topics and Relatable Insights, plus helpful (and fun) relationship tips and insights.




It’s time! 5 Steps to Finally Letting it Go

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Fall is the time when trees remind us how important – and beautiful—it can be to let things go.

Trees let go of their leaves to save energy and protect themselves from damaging conditions. As the days grow shorter, trees sense the natural loss of light. In fact, trees can detect changes in daylight of as little as a half an hour. When trees sense the threat of colder temperatures and less sunshine, they undergo chemical changes that causes their leaves to shift from a green pigment to the colorful yellow, orange, and red we associate with autumn’s unique beauty.  Then, the leaves fall.

Lovely as this all is, it happens because, as the days grow shorter, trees block the veins that move water to the leaves. Once a leaf is completely choked off, it is detached from the tree. The trees know that letting go of the leaves is necessary if they are to cope well during winter and thrive in the spring.

So, how do you make like a tree and let go of what is draining your energy and threatening your ability to thrive?

Follow these 5 steps

1.     FACE REALITY. Identify the aspect of your current or past circumstances that drains your energy, keeps you agitated, and threatens your overall happiness. Many people have more than one bad experience, loss, injustice, betrayal, disappointment, personal regret, or broken relationship that troubles them. To get started on letting go, focus first on the concern that is most central to your identity, whether that be your marriage, your job, your kids, your X, some unjust treatment, or an unfortunate past event.

2.      ASSESS YOUR REASONS FOR HOLDING ON.   What do you keep telling yourself that justifies holding on to something or someone that brings you no joy, drags you down, or is toxic for you? What causes you to fixate on and try to reinvent the past? What rationale do you use to deny reality, sustain your delusions and prolong your ability to let the heavy burden go? Read these common examples. Then be honest with yourself and write down your own story.

a.   My inattentive husband will show more affection to me if I just lose these 20 pounds I gained since we got married.

b.   I got screwed. They moved me down here and then fired me due to downsizing. I thought my boss was my friend. But, all he cares about is the bottom line. Sure, they gave me a severance. But I have a house I can’t afford and a wife and four kids to support. So, I’m unemployed for no fault of my own. How dare they do this to me.

c.  My wife is an ungrateful, angry person (to put it nicely). So, when she starts complaining, I just start drinking so I can tune her out and give her something to really be mad about.

d. My unmarried, college-educated daughter ruined her life having a baby with a guy who is not remotely good enough for her. She supports herself but still expects me to treat her the same and to be a real grandpa to that child of hers. It all makes me sick, angry and sad. I can’t believe she embarrassed me and threw her life away. I just can’t pretend it’s all ok. It never will be.

e. He cheated on me. He and his tramp destroyed my family and shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. I’m going to get a cut-throat lawyer and make him pay for all he has done to me and the kids. I keep telling everybody what he did to me, so he’ll be treated like a pariah and our kids won’t want to be around him.

3.    REFRAME YOUR REALITY.   Rephrase the way you think about your situation and acknowledge your personal power and responsibility for your own happiness and peace of mind. In other words, face the facts. Delusional thinking and denial involve a misplaced sense of personal power. On the one hand, when people distort the reality of their relationships or life circumstances, they are accepting the belief that they have the power to change the past and/or to change others – which, of course, they do not. Nobody does. On the other hand, when people manufacture these types of distortions, they also are embracing the belief that they have no power to change themselves or their reactions to the people or past events in their lives – which of course, they do. Everybody does.

Face the facts. Then try reframing your response to that reality, so that you are the hero of your story, not the victim. Write your new story down using something like this:

a.   My husband is indifferent to me and has been for some time. Rather than accept the blame for his lack of interest in our marriage, I am going to tell him that he has two choices: Either enter marriage mediation with me or I will leave him so that I will be free to enter a new relationship with someone who truly loves me, just the way I am.

b.   Losing my job sucked on so many levels. And, it almost broke me both financially and emotionally. But, I know it was a business decision and not personal. I’ll use my severance to start a new career where I won’t have to travel so much. In a way, they did me and my family a favor. We sure learned what is most important in life: each other.  Now it’s my job to make sure we stay optimistic and get through this together.

c.   My wife is an unhappy, disgruntled person who is impossible to please. And, no matter what I do, she will remain unhappy until she decides to change herself. All of this drinking is very unhealthy for me. Rather than become a miserable alcoholic and blame her for it, I am going to leave her, file for divorce, and when the time is right, find a kind, optimistic person to share my life with.

d.   My daughter made choices that I believe are mistakes. No matter how much I wish things were different, I can’t change the fact that I now have a grandson and neither can she. I’m proud of her for accepting responsibility for her son. She is a loving and hardworking single mom. If she can do it, so can I. I will show her that my love for her is unconditional and that I can be a role model for my grandson.

e.   My husband was unfaithful to me, which is not ok. But, I know his stepping-out was just a symptom of the problems in our marriage. We were both unhappy. I will stop whining because, in a very real way, he did me a favor. Now I am free to find someone who will really love me. And, the kids will eventually be happier because they won’t hear us fighting all the time. I will encourage them to have a close relationship with their dad. We can have a friendly divorce that will make co-parenting easier and allow us all to be less stressed out all the time. I can do that for my kids….and for me.

4.    FORGIVE THOSE WHO HURT YOU, INCLUDING YOURSELF.   Reframing your story is an important step on the climb up to the high ground of forgiveness. Forgiveness challenges most people because they feel that if they let go of their anger they are either giving up or giving in. But, forgiveness is neither of these. Forgiveness releases you from the hold others have on you so you can truly let go of your hurt, anger, disappointment, embarrassment, or shame and focus on living out your new, much happier story line.

Forgiving others makes it possible to stop constantly re-igniting your anger about being deeply hurt, unjustly treated, used, or abused. Forgiving yourself, while also making amends to those you wronged, liberates you from the self-imposed shackles of shame, embarrassment, guilt, and remorse.

Forgiveness frees us all from the futility of trying to change things we cannot change. Forgiveness – for yourself or others – brings out your vibrant colors, cuts off the water supply to your pain, and allows the spent leaves of the past to fall gracefully to the ground. Forgiveness is NOT giving in, it is letting go. Forgiveness restores your positive energy, improves your ability to cope, and makes it possible to prepare for and thrive in your new life.

 

5.    FOCUS ON IMPROVING THE PRESENT.  Accept  personal responsibility for letting go of the coping strategies that drain your energy and keep you from thriving. Take advantage of the lessons learned and wake up every day determined to boldly face the facts and replace your denial and delusional thinking with acceptance and an authentic assessment your reality. Decide once and for all to change the way you respond to your circumstances. Write down and consistently repeat your revised story that makes you the hero, even if only because you are creating a second chance for yourself. Dream about and set goals for a stable, happy future. Commit to and plan for making progress on those goals each day.  Make a list.  Cross at least one thing off each day.

You CAN let go.

And, when your leaves of anger, resentment, disappointment, and heartache fall away, you will be much stronger and ready to prepare for your own delightful spring.

Henry David Thoreau described it this way in his journal entry for October 29, 1958:

“Nature now, like an athlete, begins to strip herself in earnest for her contest with her great antagonist Winter. In the bare trees and twigs what a display of muscle.”

Letting go shows your strength.

And, letting go makes you stronger.

 

If you are  finding it hard to let go of an unsatisfying relationship or something from the past that drains the joy from the present,  print this post, do some serious introspection, follow the five steps, and change your life for the better.

If it’s a current relationship that troubles you,  share this post with your partner, face reality, and decide together how to either let go of the past, or let go of each other.

And, let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop on Florida’s Emerald Coast where we do Marriage Mediation, Family Dynamics Mediation, and Divorce Mediation. We’ll help you let go of the past, focus on the future, re-calibrate the colors of your life, and remain on friendly terms, whether you stay together or not.

Sign Up Now  to receive Dr.  Jamie’s “Make it Work” emails packed with practical, and helpful relationship improvement tips.

Special thanks to Roger Di Silvestro of the National Wildlife Federation Blog for helping me learn why leaves fall from trees in autumn and to my friend Kathryn Fraser at Fraser Studios for her professional consultation on the media for this post. 




4 Habits To Keep Your Marriage Golden Even When You’re Gray

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

So, you’ve been thinking that if you made it through the seven-year-itch, a mid-life crisis (or two), and your kids’ teenage years, you’d be golden, right?

Probably…. but maybe not.

Although the divorce rate is declining for couples under 40, the divorce rate is on the rise for older adults. These days, one of every four divorces in the U.S. is a “gray divorce” – a divorce involving people over 50+ ending a long-term marriage.

According to the Pew Research Center, for adults 50 and older the divorce rate has roughly doubled since 1990 and for those 65 and older the divorce rate has nearly tripled. As a divorce and family mediator at Amity Mediation Workshop, I’ve gotten to know many “gray divorce” couples. They often seek a pre-suit, pro se divorce without lawyers because they want minimal drama, minimal expense, and minimal heartache for themselves and their partner, who they still care for deeply.

When the nest becomes empty, older couples with children often find they have very little in common. They focused on their children’s lives to the detriment of their marriage relationship and wake up one day realizing that they relate well together as Mom and Dad, but are not in tune with each other as Husband and Wife. For older couples without children, the similar realization that they are basically living like “roommates with benefits” is often delayed until they both retire.

Clearly, some long-term married couples seem immune to the dynamics of married life and steadfastly retain a healthy relationship throughout all the changes and challenges that naturally come to a long-term couple. Others experience the ups and downs and even consider divorce, but find a way to re-ignite the feelings that brought them together as a couple and they, too, stay together.

Still others look across the breakfast table at their spouse (who seems like a relative stranger) and think “how did this happen to us?”.

They aren’t angry. They are sad. They simply don’t want to live the next 20-30 years in an unsatisfying marriage that does not meet their emotional needs. With great reluctance they conclude that divorce – and the fresh chance it offers – seems like the better option.

Stay Golden with These 4 Habits 

Protect your marriage against this “gray divorce” phenomenon by adopting these four habits that will to keep your marriage golden, even when you’re gray.

(1) Treat your marriage as the foundation of your family. If you allow your marriage relationship to erode in the early years, you, your spouse, and your children will feel insecure, unsettled, and tense. Without deliberate care and attention, a once intimate, loving marriage could become conflictual and distant. Even if this type of distressed marriage survives until children are launched or careers have ended, the kids will likely be troubled and the couple will likely opt for divorce as a relief from their unfulfilling relationship.

When it comes to family priorities, put marriage stability first, whether you are a family with children or without.

(2) Create a long-term goal and work toward it together. Young adult couples are less likely to divorce if they are well educated. So, it makes sense for you both to earn a degree or a trade specialization. Older adult couples, however, are less likely to divorce if they are financially secure. This means that unhappy older couples who can least afford to establish two households in their later years, are the ones most likely to separate.

This trend seems counter-intuitive at first. But, it makes sense when considering that financial security typically results from shared commitment to a long-rang plan. Unless one or both members of a couple come from wealth or receive a substantial inheritance, to achieve financial security they must define their financial goals and form a joint commitment toward them, whether the goal be home ownership, college funds, debt reduction, a beach house, a 5th wheel, or a dream retirement. Enthusiastically working toward shared goals like these requires constructive discussions about conflicting priorities. But, at the same time, establishing shared goals creates shared interests, a joint commitment, mutual respect for each other’s effort and contribution, and reasons to celebrate your success – all components of a satisfying marriage…all something worth striving for and holding on to.

(3) Be your best physical self. Contrary to popular belief, gray divorce is rarely connected to male sex enhancement drugs that allow men to satisfy younger women. But, this doesn’t mean that physical appearance isn’t important to physical intimacy for older husbands and wives. According to research conducted by Karl Pillemer, author of “30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships and Marriage”, taking care of your physical appearance is important to keeping sexual intimacy alive in your marriage.

Fortunately, satisfied older married couples don’t expect their partners to conform to an unrealistic, unnatural standard. Instead, they expect each other to show affection and make the most of what they’ve got. So, create and work toward a shared goal to stay fit and healthy, clean up each day even when you’re just hanging out at home, hold hands, kiss regularly, and every once in a while, share passion and physical pleasure any way you still can, whether that’s dancing on the kitchen floor, rolling like thunder under the covers…or anything in-between.

(4)  Be your partner’s best friend. A romantic spark ignites initial attraction and typically continues to burn through courtship and only the first few years of marriage. Couples who have shared interests and a true friendship are the ones most likely to stay married and thrive when that romantic flame becomes embers and then, eventually only fades.

The single most distinguishing characteristic between happy couples and distressed couples is that happy couples are more likely to be best friends and actually treat each other as best friends would.

These married friends truly enjoy each other’s company and embrace their partner’s interests. They routinely create opportunities to be together doing activities they both enjoy and alternate between each other’s favorite activities. So, if your husband loves to watch college football, get excited about the game. If your wife loves musicals, buy her a season pass to the local Broadway series. Take exercise walks. Ride bikes. Plan trips and travel together.

Do everything together? Of course not. But, develop some shared interests that you both enjoy, even if you must fake it at first.

To sustain a life-long marriage, show an interest in what interests your spouse and treat each other with mutual respect. When you are upset by something your spouse has done, focus on the friendship and not the incident. Talk to your spouse as you would your best friend. That is the single most important habit of couples who remain golden, even when they are gray.

So, the first moment you begin to feel alone in your own home…. or the next time you worry whether your marriage will last your life time, remember these four habits of couples who stay golden, even when they are gray. Ask yourself if you have adopted these habits. Then, share this post with your partner and focus on the changes you both need to make in order to stay golden and “Work it Out”.

Let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation and Relationship Workshop, where we now offer psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for couples who want to stay together and restore the warmth and friendship in their marriage.

We also conduct Divorce Mediation for couples who have decided that divorce is their best (and maybe only) option, but want an amicable process that allows them to remain friendly and avoid expensive litigation.




Want a Future? Choose Forgiveness, Not Fighting

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

My friend Mike confided to me yesterday that he and his wife of over 20 years are getting a divorce.   Although the split was her idea, he was quick to choose to forgive her and focus on building a stable future for himself, his wife, and their children.  forgivenss-tuto

He told me he thought it all through carefully. He said he understood that even though he was content in their marriage, no amount of effort or counseling could put the joy back in their marriage for her.  Something was missing for her that he knew he could not provide.  And, he quoted Desmond Tutu saying “Without forgiveness, there’s is no future.”

This is a very mature, evolved perspective.  And, I wanted to check if it was real.  So, I asked “what about you and your feelings”?  You’re giving up a life that made you happy…a life that once made her happy…so that she can build a different kind of happiness without you.  Aren’t you hurt? Angry? Sad?

And, Mike explained:

Even after all this time to get used to the idea, I am quite sad over the family life I am losing and I want to make sure my kids hurt as little as possible.  And, I’ll admit I felt angry at first.  I wanted to hurt her.  I wanted her to beg me to forgive her.  But, I quickly realized I was more in shock, than angry.   

So, I stopped reacting and started to truly listen to her explanation, which she patiently provided a few times. Then I made myself think about our marriage from her perspective. About my own role in the deterioration of our romantic side.  I thought about the opportunities for happiness she could have in a different life.  And, I got it. I truly did.  After that, it was easy for me to tell her that I forgive her and to focus on solutions that worked for both of us, and our kids.

Why did forgiveness come so easy for Mike?

I know Mike pretty well.  He has strong spiritual beliefs that require him to turn the other cheek.  He also ranks high in his ability to take another person’s perspective. He can feel and express empathy.  And, he still cares about his soon-to-be X-wife, so he doesn’t want to try to make her feel worse than she already does.  In fact, he wants to help her save-face, so she feels less guilty and can regain happiness more quickly.

Mike also knows the value forgiveness plays in preserving a relationship.  He knows he and his wife will not be able to be good co-parents, if they do not forgive one another.

white-flag-surrender-large-paper-craftIn the end, forgiveness is a choice.

 A choice not to fight.

A choice not to hold a grudge.

A choice to surrender your pride to obtain peace.  In the end, waving the white flag of surrender, is a sign of maturity and strength, not submission and weakness.

What makes forgiveness difficult for some people?

People who generally find it hard to forgive others include (1) people with a fairly low self-esteem who build themselves up by viewing the other’s mistakes as much worse than their own and (2) people who are cognitively immature and have an underdeveloped sense of empathy.

But, even the most empathic and developmentally mature among us have to remind ourselves about the importance of forgiveness when the transgression is quite severe, has occurred too often, or is likely on-going – especially when the transgressor has not sincerely apologized.

(If you are seeking forgiveness, you may want to read “Effective Apologies Turn Conflict Aftermath into Healing Afterglow” to learn the five key attributes of an effective apology.)

There also is a common tendency, called the Fundamental Attribution Error,  that makes people view other’s mistakes as due to internal causes like their personality or character traits.  In Mike’s case, he could have said his wife’s falling out of love with him was caused by her “her lack of ability to keep her promises”, “her selfishness”, or “her overly romantic idea of what long-term married life is like”.

These are harsh judgments that would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Mike to forgive his wife and preserve a friendly relationship with her.

The flip side of the Fundamental Attribution Error makes it even more difficult.

Instead of assuming that our own mistakes are caused by our character or personality traits, we explain away our mistakes by attributing them to external causes like situational factors or life circumstances.  In Mike’s case, he would say “I was only inattentive because I had to work such long hours”, “It just the aging process” or “The guys count on me”.

These explanations allow Mike to let himself off the hook, rather than take responsibility for his part in the deterioration of his marriage.  Both sides of the Fundamental Attribution Error combined allow Mike to blame his wife and absolve himself.   To judge her harshly, rather view her through empathetic eyes.  To self-righteously hold a grudge, rather than forgive.

Fortunately, Mike quickly reframed his attributions and listened carefully to his wife’s concerns. He surrendered his pride and obtained an empathic perspective.  As a result, he and his wife have maintained a peaceful relationship as they try to reach agreement on important issues and build a stable future for themselves and their children, rather than keep rehashing the past.

Please give the Fundamental Attribution Error some thought.  Is this common tendency prohibiting you and your partner from forgiving each other, preserving a friendly relationship, and having a happy future?

If so, share this post with your partner (or anyone else you’re struggling with) and suggest that you both give forgiveness a try.

Surrender your pride. Choose not to fight.  Not to hold a grudge.

Choose forgiveness. 

Then, start to Work it Out.  Even if you are headed for divorce, you can make it a friendly one.   But, if you want to stay together, choosing forgiveness is necessary.  Without forgiveness, there is little hope for a happy future together.

Let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we facilitate divorce, family and civil mediations.  We also use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for our clients who want to stay together and  restore the joy in their marriage.

If you liked this blog post, SIGN UP NOW for my “Work it Out – Relationship Tips” emails packed with practical, helpful, and fun relationship guidance that you can really use to help your relationship work.




A New School Year – A New Family Type for You?

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

A new school year is the perfect time to refresh your approach to parenting and renew your approach to family communication.

After all, back-to-school, means back-to-routines for children and their parents or caregivers. In anticipation of this annual change, insightful parents adjust their family routines based on their children’s age, disposition, and learning needs. Bedtimes, homework, extracurricular activities, chores, screen time, friend time, meal times, and family time all get adjusted to match a growing child’s needs.

Establishing routines and expectations helps to decrease stress and create a smooth, predictable family life. So, this is all good….Probably even necessary for healthy child development and parental sanity.

Families also benefit when parents and caregivers review the way they interact with their children and make similar age-appropriate adjustments in parental encouragement of two-way conversation and parental expectations for conformity of attitudes and values.

Conformity Orientation denotes the degree to which children are expected to obey their parents without question and express similar attitudes, beliefs, and values. High conformity families express similar attitudes, beliefs, and values and try to avoid conflict. So, they seem harmonious. But, may not be under the surface. Low conformity family members express highly divergent attitudes, beliefs, and values and do not shy away from conflict. So, these families seem discordant. But, may actually be more supportive of each other differences than high conformity family members.

Conversation Orientation designates the degree to which parents and children openly express their differing points of view and remain supportive of each other in the process. High conversation families encourage members to discuss issues and alternative attitudes, beliefs, and values. Low conversation families discourage (and often sanction) voicing divergent opinions and refrain from open discussion. Instead, children are expected to think like their parents and do as they are told, without question.

With Conversation Orientation and Conformity Orientation in mind, Ascan Koerner and Mary Ann Fitzpatrick identified four types of families, which I have depicted in the “Types of Families” graphic below.

  1. Protective Families are low in conversation and high in conformity. They avoid conflict and emphasize the importance of agreement among members, but engage in little communication about issues. They expect children to obey their parents without asking challenging questions (except the ubiquitous “why”, of course).
  2. Consensual Families are high in conversation and high in conformity. They encourage (or at least tolerate) open communication about issues but parents still seek (and often expect) their child’s agreement on important values.
  3. Pluralistic Families are high in conversation and low in conformity. They encourage members to appropriately express different points of view and openly engage in communication, while remaining supportive of each other.
  4. Laisser-faire Families are low in conversation and low in conformity. They avoid communicating with each other, encourage privacy, and adopt a “do what you want” approach to conflict resolution.

Some relationship scholars argue that none of these four family communication types are better or more productive than the other types, saying “what works for some families will not work for another family”.

But I disagree.

My research on family conflict, my experience helping families solve problems, and my university-level teaching have convinced me that children need to learn how to formulate their own attitudes, beliefs, and values and to express their opinions in a civilized manner before they become adults.

And, I believe the best way for children to develop moral reasoning and learn to express themselves appropriately and effectively is through age-appropriate interaction at home.

In fact, I’ve numbered the Family Types 1-2-3 in the order that is likely to work best for most children as they move from pre-school through high school, with parents determining the appropriate pace of skill development for their child.

(Please note that I have intentionally left out #4 Laisser-fair Families because this family structure seems inappropriate for school-age children. The Laisser-fair approach ignores the interdependence of people who share a history, space, and a life together, so it is likely to be dysfunctional for an all-adult family, as well).

Here is your challenge:

As part of crafting your new back-to-school routines, review these Family Types with your parenting partner, whether you live together or not. Think about which combination of conversation and conformity is appropriate for your child’s age, temperament, and learning needs. Then plan time in your new routines that encourages the family interaction you believe is appropriate for you and your child. If your children are old enough, let them participate in the decisions about how your family will balance conversation and conformity this school year.

You can “work it out” together.

Let me know if I can help.

If you liked this blog post, SIGN UP NOW for Dr. Jamie’s “Work it Out – Insider” emails packed with Hot Topics and Relatable Insights, plus helpful (and fun) relationship tips and insights.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we do Divorce, Family, and Civil Mediation, as well as Family Dynamics Mediation for families of all configurationsFamily Dynamics Mediation re-calibrates communication among family members in a way that restores amity in your home.

 




Four Warning Signs on the Road to Divorce

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

There are four signs that signal a progressive, downward relationship spiral leading to divorce.   But, you can learn to recognize these cautionary signals and take a detour that will put you back on the path to a long, satisfying marriage.

Which couple are you?

This week I met two young couples.  Both couples have been married for about four years.  Both couples are loving parents of a toddler.   Both parents in both couples are gainfully employed in professional jobs that provide health insurance and retirement benefits.  Both couples seem to “have it all”.

But yet, they are distressed.

Amy and Brian are heartbroken because no matter how hard they both try, they can’t seem to stop having the same fights over and over again.  In contrast, Lisa and Mike feel angry because they each see their marital problems as the other’s fault and they have given up trying to talk about it because talking just leads to another fight.

From the outside looking in, these couples seem similar. Both couples experience a lot of conflict and feel distressed.  But for Amy and Brian there is still a high likelihood that they can bring the joy back to their marriage if they quickly take steps to turn their relationship around.  For Lisa and Mike, the chances are slim because they’ve gone too far down the wrong road.

Four Signs You Could Be Headed for Divorce
  1. You view your relationship problems as severe.  You started out as flovers (lovers who are also best friends).  But, now you notice that conflict is more frequent and has taken on a negative tone, especially for major issues that keep recurring.  This negativity then begins to bleed over into other aspects of your life, as well.  But, still you are turning toward each other to work things out.
  2. Talking things over seems useless. You begin to blame the other for your relationship problems and your relationship talk is characterized by complaints, sarcasm, reciprocated negative feelings, and problem escalation or flooding the conversation with multiple criticisms.  You start to turn away from each other and try to solve the problems individually, rather than as a couple.
  3. Spouses start leading parallel, but separate lives. To reduce conflict and tension, and to get some perspective on the relationship, spouses avoid talking about their relationship or issues other than those topics that surround their daily routines.  When other issues do come up, the intense conflict, criticism, and even contempt return.  So, you and your spouse begin to keep your distance and to live more like polite roommates than the intimate flovers you once were.
  4. You feel alone in your own home. When communication is restricted to routine matters peppered with the inevitable eruptions of intense conflict, there is little intimacy exchanged between spouses.   You may go through the motions of your daily routine and family life, and may even continue to have sex.  But, your marital intimacy has been replaced, at best, by cordial indifference or, at worst, controlled hostility that lies barely under the surface and frequently erupts.
Where is the Point of No Return?

Couples like Amy and Brian can more easily reverse the downward trajectory because they noticed the first warning signs of relationship distress.  Either on their own, or with the help of a psycho-education course like “Let’s Stay Together”, they have a good chance of restoring the intimacy and happiness in their marriage.

Couples like Lisa and Mike, who continued to ignore the warning signs, have likely reached a “point of no return” or will have a rougher road back to each other than they would have if they had noticed the early warning signs that they were possibly headed to divorce.

If you’ve been seeing the early signs that you are on the road to divorce, try starting a conversation about how to become flovers again.

If you think you might have reached the “point of no return” in your marriage, try starting a civil conversation about your choices:  Are you both willing to try the rough road back to each other or, if not, can you dissolve your marriage amicably before you hurt each other and your children even more.  Granted…that’s a hard conversation to have.  But, I’ve seen couples who thought divorce was inevitable find their way back to each other.  And, ironically, I’ve also seen many miserable couples build a better life for themselves and their children through divorce.

Whether you are seeing the early warning signs or afraid you are reaching the point of no return, share this post with your spouse, start a conversation to discover the right road for you,  and work it out.

Let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we (a) deliver our own “Let’s Stay Together – Marriage Refresher Course” – a private psycho-educational course delivered in a workshop-for-two format that serves couples who want to stay married, but also improve their relationship and (b) Divorce Mediation for couples that have decided to divorce but want to remain friendly and reach an agreement that serves the needs of all involved, especially the children.   If you aren’t sure, we can help you figure that out, too.

I’m a Gottman Leader authorized to deliver the Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work Couples Program and to use the Gottman Relationship Checkup when working with couples trying to decide if they have reached a “point of no return”.    I’ll help you work it out. 

If you liked this blog post, SIGN UP NOW for Dr. Jamie’s “Work it Out – Relationship Tips” emails packed with practical, helpful, and fun relationship guidance that you can use to make your relationships work. 




The Truth About Lies: Motives Matter

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Is it ever ok to lie? 

Not all lies are unexpected.  Not all lies are unethical.  Not all lies hurt others.  In fact, sometimes lying is the right thing to do.

Sometimes.  But, not usually.  Especially in a close personal relationship grounded in trust, like marriage.

Lying is only one of many forms of deception, which occurs anytime you knowingly allow someone to believe something that is not true.

And, yes…lies of omission (intentionally withholding information) are deception, too.

But, intent is a key ingredient here.  Intent differentiates between a “hard-to-overlook” deception and an “easy-to-forgive” honest mistake.  If you provide inaccurate or false information that you believed to be true, you did not lie. And, most people get that.

The motive behind the deception also influences how most people evaluate a particular deceptive act, with some motives being generally expected, some easily forgiven, and others being harshly judged.

The table below borrows from extant deception research (including my own) to illustrate that Motives for Deception fall along a continuum from Pro-Social to Anti-Social and are associated with specific goals and behaviors.

Deception designed to Benefit Others is engrained in western culture and part of our daily interactions. Most of us learned early in life that failure to engage in these pro-social actions is often considered impolite, unnecessarily hurtful, or disloyal.  We compliment our host, even if we didn’t care for the meal. We praise a child’s painting even though we can’t really identify the subject. We equivocate when a friend asks if we like her new hair style. And — although we may not substitute a lie for the truth, most of us willingly withhold information that might embarrass a dear friend, trusted colleague, and, especially our spouse.  There are certain stories we just don’t tell in order to help those we care about save face.

Similarly, people use Self-Enhancement Deception as a natural way to present their best self and manage the impression others have of them. Most of the time these self-enhancement strategies go unnoticed or, if found out, are easily forgiven because they are so commonly used by us all. We talk about our successes, but omit or minimize our failures. We blame the traffic for making us late, rather than say we overslept.  And, we pretend to know more than we do about wine, or the market, or our job – and then go study up.  Of course, when taken to the extreme of an out-right lie on a resume, routine fabricated excuses, or constant boasting, even these relatively harmless attempts to make yourself look good can backfire.

Self-Protective Deception crosses further into anti-social territory because it involves selfishness, and often ends up hurting others.  As such, depending on the issue and relationship involved, this type of defense mechanism can engender anger, create conflict, and reflect poorly on the deceiver’s character.

Self-Protective Deception, if discovered, has less of a negative impact on casual relationships than it does on long-term relationships and marriage because (a) close personal relationships are characterized by commitment and trust and (b) breaking that trust is a major violation of expectations.  Still, the extent of the negative impact of Self-Protective Deception depends on the importance of the issues, as well.  Saying you had a salad for lunch, when you really had a cheeseburger is much different than saying you were working late, when you really went to a bar with a mixed-gender set of co-workers.  Both will affect your partner’s perception of you, but the self-protective lie that has the potential to also hurt others is considered more unethical and more antisocial than the lie that doesn’t threaten others. And, naturally, when discovered, a Self-Protective Lie about an important topic erodes trust in a long-term relationship and also engenders hurt and anger, creates conflict, and erodes the relationship, as well.

Spouses may use Self-Protective Deception to protect their marriage relationship.  For example, a wife might lie about a regrettable, one-time infidelity to protect herself but also to maintain and protect her marriage relationship (and even her spouse).   If discovered, the wife has two problems:  She engaged in infidelity and then lied about it.  Explaining that she lied to “protect the relationship” won’t help much to mitigate the impact of these transgressions.

Deception focused on Harming Others can involve deliberately lying to harm someone’s reputation, to obstruct a colleague’s ability to succeed at work, or to interfere with a rival’s desire to start and maintain a relationship. These lies are considered anti-social and unethical. The most egregious and harshly judged lies, however, are those told to by people who deliberately hurt others by trying to deflect attention from themselves or shift blame from themselves to another, innocent person.

Thankfully, deception focused on harming others is relatively uncommon in satisfying, long-term relationships like marriage, because these healthy relationships are typically characterized by good will, positive regard, and cooperation, despite the occasional (and perfectly normal) conflict.

During relational distress, however, couples often exaggerate (or falsely accuse) each other of wrongdoing to gain the loyalty of their family and mutual friends.  And, worse yet, divorcing parents may lie about each other to gain the loyalty of their children.

Bottom line:  Everybody lies. And everybody knows it.  And, in certain situations, certain kinds of deception are considered pro-social, acceptable, and even desired.

But, before you lie to anyone about anything, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have your partner’s best interest at heart? Are you trying to help someone save face? Or trying too hard to make yourself look good?
  2. Will the deception help both you and your partner, or is it a selfish lie?
  3. What are the possible repercussions of your lie? If your lie is discovered (and the big ones usually are), how will it affect your partner’s feelings? Your relationship? Your own credibility? Your own reputation? The professional and personal well being of the subject of your lie?
  4. Could there be unintended consequences of your lie? Remember, if you lie to gain the loyalty of your children, you may hurt your former spouse, but you also deny your children a loving relationship with their other parent.
  5. How hard will it be to maintain the lie? If you exaggerate when talking to strangers on the plane, that’s one thing.  You’ll never see them again.  But, when you lie your co-worker, close friend, and especially your spouse, you will have to continue lying over and over again.
  6. How will the lie change you? If you tell polite, prosocial lies you’ll probably feel good about yourself and others will, too. If you deceive someone you love about an issue that is important to your relationship and you have to keep telling more lies to cover-up the first ones, you may become unrecognizable, even to yourself.

Once you’ve thought through these questions, I suspect you’ll be able to formulate your own answer to the question “Is it ever ok to lie?”

If you’re reading this post after a lie has already impacted your relationship, try sharing it with your partner to start a conversation (not a series of accusations) about motives.  The Motives for Deception grid will help you understand each other and separate small transgressions from big ones.  Most couples can keep small transgressions in perspective.   The big transgressions require more sincere regret, genuine forgiveness, a new relationship map, and a sincere effort to “work it out”.

Let me know if I can help.

You’ll find Dr. Jamie C. Williamson at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we do Marriage Mediation designed to help couples find solutions and reach agreements that re-establish trust.

 




Want a Long, Happy Marriage? Be Loving AND Stubborn

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

You might be surprised to learn that stubbornness in marriage is a good thing.

And a gift  that proves it is even better.

Some spouses try to create a happy marriage through grand romantic gestures like sending flowers, planning romantic dinners, or wearing sexy lingerie. While that is a pretty good plan for creating a Happy Valentine’s Day or Happy Anniversary, it is a woefully inadequate plan for sustaining a happy marriage.

Other, more enlightened spouses realize that love is an action word.

They know that to sustain a happy marriage over long term they must (1) act like (not just say) they are best friends with their spouse; (2) show physical affection and passion toward each other; and (3) demonstrate commitment to each other and their relationship.  These spouses understand that it takes all three sides of the Love Triangle to sustain a happy marriage.

In fact, they make it look easy.

Clearly, this kind of an approach to marriage, does make day-to-day life easier and more pleasant, in part, because relationship intimacy, commitment and passion fuse together to create a Teflon-type protection against routine ups and downs.

But, when real challenges enter a marriage, spouses need to show commitment on steroids! To sustain a marriage through life’s big challenges, couples need to be stubbornly persistent.  And it also helps to take a marriage refresher course, to prove it.

Some big challenges are invited, like raising children and building a career. Others are unwanted, like illness, job loss, alcoholism, or a big mistake.

But, what it takes to sustain a happy marriage through both invited and unwanted marital challenges is good, old-fashion stubbornness.   That is, couples have to want to stay together and to be unwilling to accept any other outcome.

Judy C. Pearson author of Lasting Love: What Keeps Couples Together, included in her book an explanation of the value of stubbornness provided to her by Larry Constantine, who at the time was the editor of Lifestyle and a professor of family studies.

Mr. Constantine explained that in this context,

“Stubbornness is a quality which keeps people hanging in there when problems seem to defy solution, when logic or fear or pain might otherwise lead them to quit”.

Relationship professionals like me often talk and write about the value of commitment in a lasting relationship. But, I think Constantine was on to something when he said that the important, but complex concept of commitment “pales beside the adrenaline of real stubbornness when it comes to sustaining a vital relationship”.

So this year on Valentine’s Day go ahead and display a grand romantic gesture, as it will create a happy memory and earn you some relationship points.   Go ahead and profess that your spouse is your best friend, your lover, and your soul mate all wrapped up in one.  But, if you really want your spouse to feel the love, repeat the promises you made on your wedding day.

Or you could channel Colbie Caillat and sing “I’m never gonna walk away….always gonna have your back”.   (Or maybe you might just want to have this cued up on your I-Pod. )

However you declare your love on Valentine’s Day, why not also share this post with your spouse and talk about the importance of being stubbornly committed to your marriage.   Then, when times get tough (and they will), you can remind each other of your promise to be stubborn.  If you are already in tough times, maybe these ideas will help you “work it out”.

Let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop where we offer a private, 4-session “Let’s Stay Together” Marriage Refresher Course to help couples deepen their intimate connection, work out any current issues, and master the essential habits of couples who stay happily married for a lifetime.

This built-for-two workshop makes a great Valentine’s Day Present because it shows you are stubbornly committed to your marriage.

Click here to check it out:




Resolving to Be Happy Might Require the Courage to Divorce

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Many people started out the New Year thinking about getting a divorce, even if they didn’t realize it at first.

People rarely include “get a divorce” on their list of resolutions. Instead, divorce becomes the unhappy (but necessary) by-product of resolutions like “This is the year I’m going to have the courage to change the things I can”…..  Or  “This is the year I’m going to start taking care of my own needs and quit trying to get my spouse to change”….Or “This is the year I’m going to stop playing these games and start a new  life — before it’s too late. ”  …or some other version of:  “This is the year I’m going to find a way to be happy”.

These are familiar resolutions, with the thought of divorce often hidden by the worthy intentions to make a better life. So, it follows that divorce filings peak during the post-holiday season, particularly in January and March.  The January spike derives from couples who do their best to get through the holidays for the children’s sake, and then act on their joint decision to divorce after the holidays.  The March uptick can be traced to individuals who decide they want a divorce before or during the holiday period but choose not to tell their spouse until after the holidays.

Sometimes, of course, people hang on to their last bit of optimism and believe that the holiday magic will rekindle their marriage flame. But, that rarely happens.  Instead, fake holiday warmth and cheer provides a stark contrast to true holiday joy.

And, by mid-January many distressed people decide to either stick with their resolve to take action or to resign themselves (and their spouse and children) to another game of charades or worse yet, family feud.

If you have resolved that “this is the year you create a better life for yourself and your family” you may have also reached the painful conclusion that getting a divorce is the best (and maybe only) option that will promote your future emotional and psychological well-being, and that of your spouse and children.

If so, your next step is to determine which of the four paths to a legal divorce is right for you and your circumstances: You can choose the Do it Yourself Divorce, the Pre-Suit Pro Se Divorce (with a mediator, but not attorneys), the Pre-Suit Divorce (with attorneys and a mediator), or the Attorney Driven Divorce.

To decide which path will serve you best, answer the following questions:

(1A) If you have children, what type of divorced parenting partnership is in the best interest of your children.  For most people, the answer to this question is either “Facilitating Friends” or “Accommodating Allies”, both of which involved high levels of good will and cooperative communication.  Read more about type of Divorced Parenting Partnerships here.

(1B) If you don’t have children, would you and your spouse like to remain on friendly terms?

If you want a friendly divorce, you could select from among the Do It Yourself, Pre-Suit Pro Se (without attorneys), or the Pre-Suit, with Attorneys.

(2) How complicated are your financial circumstances?

Do you have customary assets like a home, car, bank accounts, and retirement accounts, as well as typical liabilities like a mortgage, car payment, and credit card bills? Or are your finances more complicated, involving a family business, a trust, or a complex investment portfolio?

If you have simple finances and no children, the Do It Yourself may work for you. If you have children and simple/moderately complex assets and liabilities to equitably distribute, then you could choose between Pre-Suit Pro se (without attorneys), or Pre-Suit, with Attorneys. If you have a highly complex mix of assets and liabilities, you may best be served by an Attorney Driven divorce.

(3) What amount of family resources are you able or willing to invest in the divorce process?

The Do It Yourself divorce is the least expensive, but comes with the need to complete complicated forms and work through emotional issues on your own.   If your finances are simple AND you and your spouse are detail oriented, well organized, have a high level of good will for one another and excellent communication and conflict resolution skills, then the DYI option may work for you.

The Pre-Suit Pro Se path (a friendly divorce without lawyers) is also relatively inexpensive.  For example, Pre-Suit, Pro Se fees at Amity Mediation Workshop on Florida’s Emerald Coast range from $1,400 to $3,000, depending on the complexity of your assets and whether or not you have children. The fees may be even less if you qualify for the Court Sponsored mediation program.

For this moderate cost, in the Pre-Suit  Pro Se option your mediator facilitates the emotional discussions and empowers you to reach mutual agreement on all of your current issues. The mediator also prepares your Marital Settlement Agreement , Parenting Plan, and Child Support Guidelines Worksheet.   Many mediators, like those at Amity Mediation Workshop, also include assistance with document preparation and Family Law Forms.  This type of one-stop shop helps simplify and de-stress the divorce process.

The Pre-Suit with Attorneys path is more expensive than a divorce without lawyers, but also typically less expensive and less adversarial than an attorney driven divorce.  Along this path to divorce, attorneys guide their clients’ decision making, but work in a collaborative manner with each other. The mediator works directly with the parties to help them resolve issues and create their Marital Settlement Agreement.

The Attorney-Driven path to divorce is the most expensive and will vary by lawyer and region. According to Lawyers.Com , the average attorney fees for a divorce in Florida are $10,700 and the average total cost of a Florida divorce with attorneys $13,500.   The costs range depending on whether or not children and complicated assets are involved, as well as how acrimonious and protracted the process becomes.

(4) How quickly would you like to complete the divorce process so you can start building a stable future for you and your children?

The DYI divorce could be the quickest, if you have limited/no assets, no children, no problem completing the forms, and high levels of good will and cooperation with one another.

The Pre-Suite Pro Se friendly divorce without lawyers typically involves a one-hour planning session and two weekly 2-to-3 hour mediation sessions.  This means that by utilizing a mediation practice like Amity Mediation Workshop you could resolve all of your issues and be ready to file for a non-contested divorce in about one month.

The Pre-Suite with Attorneys path stretches over a longer time period than the Pre Suit, Pro Se, in large part due to the attorneys’ scheduling and the time they need for advance consultation and preparation with their client.  Still, this path is much quicker than the Attorney Driven path.

The Attorney-Driven path to divorce takes the longest.  According to Lawyers.Com, the average duration of the attorney-driven divorce process in Florida is 15 months and ranges from 7 to 30 months, depending on attorney schedules, the complexity of the case, and the amount of acrimony that creeps into the process.

So you decide.

If you are like most (but certainly not all) people, a Pre-Suit, Pro Se divorce may be your best option:

  1. You want to remain friendly with your spouse, especially if you will continue being Parenting Partners.
  2. You have typical assets and liabilities that can be equability distributed without complicated legal transactions.
  3. You would rather reserve family resources so that you and your spouse have the money you need to start over and build a stable future for yourselves and your children.
  4. You would rather move forward deliberately and begin building a happy, stable future rather than be stuck in limbo for a year or more rehashing the past.

At Amity, our guiding philosophy of civility and a friendly approach to facilitating conversations permeates our mediation work. And we embrace an optimism about what people can do with and for each other if they are simply willing to focus on finding solutions that are good for them AND for the others involved in their issues, especially children.  

We know that most couples and families truly value peaceful resolution of issues with as little hurt to those involved as possible.  We hope couples and families can stay together. But, our goal is to help people eliminate distress in their relationships and maintain at peace, whether they stay together or not.

Our approach supports and guides individuals as they work to settle their differences and define for themselves the future of their relationships. If you have decided to divorce, share the Paths to Legal Divorce graphic with your spouse. Decide which option is best for you.  Then, start to Work it Out.

And, let me know if I can help. You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop where we conduct Pre-Suit, Pro Se Divorces in an amicable environment.  Our approach to Divorce Mediation helps you to resolve your issues without another fight and to build a stable future for all involved, especially the children.

P.S.   Deciding whether or not to get divorced is excruciatingly difficult. If you are struggling with that question, and need help working through the decision-making process, read my three-part series titled Should I Stay or Should I Go?    And, let me know if I can help you and your spouse work through the decision together.

 

 




Money Can’t Buy Love, But the Right Gift Can

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

   girl-with-load-of-christmas-gifts
 ‘tis the season.

But, before you buy a diamond necklace, a food processor, a bag of new golf clubs, or any other gift for your partner, consider this.

Most gift givers assume that a more expensive present will be more appreciated, yet, receivers don’t appreciate expensive gifts more than other less expensive gifts.  And, that goes for gifts of clothes, wine, home décor, jewelry, and even the price of an engagement ring.

Research clearly shows that money can’t buy you love.  Instead, when it comes to gift giving, it truly is the thought (and effort) that counts.  

Or, said a different way, expensive gifts can’t buy you love; but the right gift can.

So, how do you select the “right” gift? 

Selecting the right gift begins with the understanding that the gift you give – no matter the cost – communicates how you feel about the receiver and the relationship you share.  If you want your partner to receive a message of love, appreciation, admiration, and commitment, then you need a gift that makes that statement.

A good gift is tailored to the needs and desires of the receiver and also communicates commitment to the relationship.

But, the best gifts do all of that and more.  The best gifts also reflect effort and high levels of involvement.

For example, if your husband dreams of owning a sail boat and, like most of us, you can’t afford it, don’t buy him a tool box or new pair of running shoes.  Show him you want his dreams to come true.  Buy him a sail boat (and captain) for a day. Arrange with his boss for a day off, schedule child care, buy him a pair of deck shoes.  Then, the two of you go for a day of sailing. Include a night sleeping on the boat, if your budget allows.   If that is too much, buy him a subscription for Sailing magazine, open a special “sailing” savings account, and start saving for next year’s rental or even boat ownership.  Just let him know his dream is your dream, too.

Or if your wife is a busy mother who longs for the romance and excitement of your early marriage but barely has time to blow dry her hair, don’t buy her a gold bracelet or the truly forbidden food processor (unless it comes with a cooking class in Italy).   If she longs to feel passionate again, show her she is still the woman you married. Buy her a day of luxury and romance.  Do all the planning. Book her into a resort spa, arrange for her to have a day off, arrange child care, schedule her a massage, mani-pedi, facial and blow-out (or whichever services you can afford).  Give her a new sexy top to wear with her black pants, and end with an overnight “date night” at the resort.  If that’s too much, then give her the mani-pedi, send the kids to grandmas, and prepare a romantic dinner at home.  Just let her know for sure that, to you, she’s not just a mom, she’s the love of your life.

happy-couple-with-giftIf you can follow the spirit of these examples and create a gift tailored to your partner’s unique needs and desires, you should be able to send a strong message of love, appreciation, and commitment to your partner.  These types of gifts truly have a long-lasting “wow” affect and create wonderful holiday memories.

Here’s another, less extravagant but still effective example.  Last year around Thanksgiving, my husband broke his favorite reading glasses.  He had a backup pair and could get along fine for a few weeks.  I could have easily ordered him a new pair of readers. But, I knew they wouldn’t be the same.  So, instead, I searched until I found an optometrist office willing to repair the old ones, wrapped the repaired glasses in tissue, and put them in his Christmas stocking.   When he unwrapped his repaired favorite glasses on Christmas morning, he grinned from ear to ear and said “this is way better than a new pair….how did you do it?”  And, I replied “that’s the real present – I had fun being your Elf”.

Getting the glasses repaired was tailored to his needs and the effort showed my commitment to him and our relationship.  The effort also showed a high level of involvement (I had to do a lot of running around rather than just order something on-line).

Best part:  The optometrist repaired the glasses free of charge.  And, although my husband received other more expensive gifts last year.  The repaired readers were his favorite because it communicated to him the lengths I would go to make him happy.   In turn, he was happy with me.

Money didn’t buy that all-around happy feeling.  It truly was the thought and effort that counted.

Love is, after all, an action word.

Give all of this some thought and get creative. Make this the year you give your spouse (and anyone else) the best Christmas present ever.

You also might try sharing this post with your spouse to start a discussion about what you both might want most for yourselves and your relationship this year.  Talk about what it means to recognize that the best gifts are not the most expensive.  The best gifts are tailored to the receiver’s unique needs and desires, reflect effort and involvement on your part, and demonstrate your commitment to the person and the relationship you share. Then work it out so you have the best (and perhaps, least expensive) Christmas ever.

If you would like to give your spouse a private Relationship Enhancement Workshop let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation and Relationship Workshop, where we now offer psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for happy couples who want to stay together forever.




Why and How to Date Your Spouse: 6 Tips for Successful Date Nights

By Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

date-night-dinner-outMost couples know they are supposed to have a regular “Date Night”.

Unfortunately, along the way they let familiar routines and their life partner/parenting roles overshadowed their on-going need for novel activities and their role as romantic partners.  They just can’t seem to have a night out that doesn’t involve talking about the kids, household tasks, scheduling logistics, and, worse yet, complaints about one another.

Still, most women and men alike, long to recapture the pre-marriage, mid-courtship “date-night feeling” when their conversation was both comfortable and captivating, their mutual attraction was electric and palatable, and the night was filled with the promise of deepening their intimacy and providing a delightful escape from their daily routines and stressors.

Never thought date night was so important?  Think again.

This longing to recreate date-night intimacy could be related to a primal urge for survival.  There is a well-documented connection between the support that comes from a well-functioning intimate relationship and the personal well-being of the relationship partners.  Intimate relationships buffer partners from the negative outcomes associated with the stress due to life events like pregnancy, birth of a child, job loss, illness, retirement and, of course, routine daily stressors, as well.

It’s not just that intimacy adds to a marriage.  Lack of marital intimacy and satisfaction actually causes harm to the marriage and the marital partners.  Marriages (and other close relationships) that lack intimacy and closeness tend to be unsatisfying, unstable, and highly conflictual. These relationships are associated with an increased risk of distress, physical illness, and poor psychological adjustment.

So, institutionalizing “date night” is not only fun, it can protect your marriage from deterioration and it can keep you and your spouse more healthy, happy, and able to manage your life stressors.

How to Date your Spouse:  6 Tips for Successful Date Nights

1. Make “Date Night” affordable. Don’t allow date night to add financial stress.  Decide about how much you can budget for your weekly date nights.  Your budget will determine (a) the frequency of your dates and (b) the location of your dates.  Most budgets don’t allow for a weekly night out at a special occasion restaurant.  But, most budgets do allow for a weekly Date-Night dinner, late night dessert, or glass of wine at home (after the kids are settled in) and a once-a-month Date Night out at a favorite restaurant for dinner or dessert.  Or, if you prefer, a picnic at a picturesque spot.

2.  Decide when you will schedule Date Night. For at home Date Nights, examine your weekly routine, find the time when a Date Night activity at home can be added to the routine (this might mean recording one of your favorite TV shows for viewing at another time).  Do NOT let other activities get in the way of this intimate time together.  For monthly Date Nights Out, set a routine night (e.g. the last Saturday of the month) and get it on the calendar.  Only make adjustments to your Date Night Schedule, for important events that cannot be scheduled on another day.

 Note:  Date Night may also be at lunch rather than dinner, depending on work and family schedules.  It’s the time for intimate conversation, not the time of day that matters.

3.  Decide who is in charge of planning  There are as many ways to divide the planning as there are types of marriages.  Here are some ideas to stimulate your thinking:

Planning monthly Date Night  

Work together to generate a list of restaurants that fit your budget and that you would both enjoy, then take turns picking a restaurant from the list and making the reservations, etc.  Be sure not to use this as a “gotcha” opportunity.  If you know your spouse is habitually forgetful about these kinds of things, then volunteer to be the one who always makes the reservation.  Or, if you have historically been forgetful about reservations, then you could use this as an opportunity to show your commitment to “date night”, your marriage, and your spouse.

When you generate the list of restaurants, also include other activities you could enjoy before or after dinner, such as a movie, a play, a concert, or a walk on the beach.   The secret is to always include a meal in a sit-down restaurant in order to create an atmosphere conducive to conversation.

Planning weekly Date Night at home  

Generate a list of ideas that work for you, depending on the time of your Date Night (dinner, dessert, night cap).  Then take turns executing your at-home date.  That is, take turns shopping for and making (or bringing in) dinner/dessert. Take turns setting the table or the cozy night cap atmosphere.  Use the good china and stemware (if you’ve got it).  Play music and, most importantly, turn off the television.  When it is your turn, avoid being too contrived, but do behave as if you have invited your spouse over to your place and take the lead, while allowing your spouse to help a bit.

date-night-at-homeBe sure not to use this as a “gotcha” opportunity.  If you know your spouse is habitually clumsy in the kitchen or very busy at a new job, let it be ok for him to bring in take out.  You might volunteer to pick up something from the store or help a bit with the cooking.   And, if you’re the one known to stay out of the kitchen, then you could get out of your comfort zone and use this as an opportunity to show your commitment to “date night”, your marriage, and your spouse.

When you decide on the best format for you Date Night at home, be sure to make it doable, without much negative stress.  (There will be a bit of positive stress that accompanies the planning of something you hope your spouse enjoys.)  Couples with children, often settle on the dessert and night cap option for their weekly at home date night.  Either way, the point is to create a time for just the two of you to talk, to relax, and to show love and support for one another.

4.  Make a Special Effort to Get Ready for Date Night. It’s a date.  So, whether it is your at-home Date Night or your monthly Date Night out, invest some time in refreshing your personal appearance.  At home, take a few minutes to wash up, spruce up and present your best “at home, relaxed” self.  For going out, do your best version of a date-night primp routine.  Present your best self, as you would have for a special mid-courtship date night.  Have fun with it.  For example, have the husband get ready first, then he can take care of the dog, settle the kids, and/or go get the baby sitter while the wife finishes getting ready, undisturbed.  You’ll be surprised how luxurious that can feel to a busy wife and how transformative it can be for her.  Whatever your relationship configuration, make sure Date Night out preparation adds anticipation, not anxiety to your date.

5. Turn off your cell phone during Date Night. (except maybe to have the waiter take your picture).   If you have small children and are truly (not artificially) worried about your babysitter being able to contact you, then put your phone on Do Not Disturb and only let the babysitter call come through.  I repeat:  Turn off your cell phone during Date Night.

6. The most important tip of all is to plan your Date Night conversation. If you want to avoid slipping into a night of talk about the kid’s antics, the household chores, and other logistics, you must have conversational starters at the ready.  You also need to be adept at gently changing the subject when your spouse starts taking about laundry, carpooling, home maintenance, or grocery lists.

So, make a list.  And, yes, write it down.  Write it down and then either commit it to memory or have a cheat-sheet in your pocket.  (You can’t put your list in your phone, because your phone is off, remember?)   You’ll find a full dinner’s worth of conversational ideas here.

After a while, inventive Date Night conversation will come more naturally.  You’ll make a note of something you read or see, and start generating your conversational ideas list days before Date Night.  You’ll do it because you’ll get addicted to the Date Night feeling it brings to you, your spouse, and your relationship.

Bottom line:  If you want to start dating your spouse….that is,  if you want to improve the level of intimacy in your marriage, then share this post with your spouse.  Talk about the importance of instituting or enhancing your Date Nights plans, and work it out.

And, Let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop where we facilitate divorce, family, and civil mediation. We also use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for couples who want to stay married, restore the joy in their marriage, and keep date nights going forever!




Beware of the Calm Before the Stormy 7 Stages of Divorce

by Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

depressed-before-stormYou have to pay close attention or it will catch you by surprise.  

Divorcing couples do move through predictable and understandable stages of divorce, each associated with different practical concerns, emotions, and typical behavior patterns.

But, divorce initiation often begins with a seemingly calm, barely detectable phase.   

Most explanations of the phases of divorce ignore this all important first phase experienced by the person initiating the divorce.   Instead, the typical list of divorce phases focuses on the emotional phases experienced by the person responding to their spouse’s request for a divorce.

A common explanation of the stages of divorce characterizes the divorce as the “death” of the relationship and draws on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s well known writing about the Stages of Grief to explain that people typically go through 5 stages of loss and recovery as a result of the divorce: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

You’ve likely read these models before.  And, because they can be useful when helping individuals understand their reactions to the divorce, I created and use one of these grief models, too.

My explanation of the phases of divorce includes the following 7 Stages of Rebuilding Your Life After Divorce.  (Notice this model focuses on the final outcome (recovery) not the initial feeling (grief).

stages-of-rebuilding-after-divorce-jamie-c-williamson

Depicting the life-rebuilding process in linear stages can help people know what to expect to experience when they go through a divorce and it can help people understand their own and their partner’s feelings and behavior.  These stage models help people realize that they are experiencing a normal response to a major life-changing event.

Do people go through the stages sequentially? 

Not typically.  Individuals generally move through all of the Stages of Rebuilding After Divorce over time; but, during this challenging time of transition individuals often move in, out, and around the stages as they work toward the process of acceptance and rebuilding their lives.   If individuals get “stuck” in one of the stages, they can seek help from a therapist or family mediator in order to move beyond that stage.

Do spouses experiences the stages at the same time?

Not often.  Usually the initiating spouse is ready to divorce and the responding spouse is reluctant to give up on the marriage.  Some are unwilling to divorce unless forced to do so.

The responding spouse often perceives the initiating spouse as indifferent or unfeeling, with comments as “you don’t seem so sad….you don’t seem to care at all”.  And, in some cases that could be accurate.

More often, however, the initiating spouse has actually cautiously contemplated divorce for some time and, as such, worked through most of the initial emotional stages of divorce BEFORE overtly introducing the topic of divorce to the responding spouse.  This happens in the relatively calm, Contemplative Phase of divorce that often goes unnoticed by the responding spouse.  Yet, it also often leads to divorce initiation and engenders the emotional stages of divorce and rebuilding.

The Calm, Undetectable Contemplative Phase of Divorce

When basically well-adjusted people begin to think about divorce, they typically experience a great deal of cognitive dissonance associated with balancing their personal needs and desires with their competing desire to uphold their commitment to their spouse, their marriage, and for some, their children, as well.

So, they do a lot of thinking.   They have moved beyond denial and experienced anger and sadness.  They assess what they appreciate and dislike about their marriage, their spouse, and how their spouse treats them.  They consider whether or not they would be justified in ending the marriage.  They consider how life would actually be better (or worse) if they were divorced.

Paradoxically, when people truly begin to contemplate divorce, they often are on their best behavior.  They haven’t decided what they want and realize that in the end, they could decide they truly want to stay married.  So, they don’t want to initiate conflict or degrade the marriage relationship, and they don’t want to send the signal that they are contemplating divorce, in case they change their mind.

When an individual moves out of the Contemplative Phase of Divorce and actually introduces divorce as a topic of conversation, the responding spouse is often, understandably shocked.  After all, the initiating spouse seemed happy, they weren’t having much conflict, and their day-to-day routine was running smoothly.  The initiating spouses did a good job covering up while contemplating divorce.  But, this left the responding spouse with little reason to suspect that divorce was on the horizon.  In addition, the initiating spouse seems unfeeling or indifferent to the responding spouse because the initiating spouse has already worked through anger and sadness to determine, although reluctantly, that divorce is inevitable, perhaps even desirable under the circumstances.

Transformative divorce mediation can help the responding spouse understand the Contemplative Phase, reflect back on the initiating spouse’s behavior, and retrospectively recognize when their spouse moved through the initial emotional stages of divorce.  That realization makes it easier for the responding spouse to work cooperatively with the initiating spouse through the acceptance and rebuilding phase of life after divorce.

If you and your spouse are struggling with the emotional Stages of Rebuilding Your Life After Divorce, share this post and try to work it out.   You may want to consider transformative, divorce mediation that will help you remain amicable while you work through your issues and reach agreement on how you will build a stable, but separate future for yourselves.

If you think your spouse might be in the Contemplative Phase of Divorce, share this post as a way to initiate a conversation about whether or not you are both happy in your marriage.  You might be surprised how often, with an early intervention, couples can work it out.

Either way, let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, where we provide the “Lets Stay Together” Marriage Refresher Course for couples who want to try to make their marriage work again and Divorce Mediation for couples who have decided to divorce, but want to do so amicably.




Couples Who Play Together, Stay Together

by Jamie Williamson, PhD

couple-playing-with-football-soft-edgesMarried couples who play together, stay together.  

But that doesn’t mean you should treat your marriage like a game.  If you treat your marriage like a game, you’ll get played and lose every time.  (more on that next week)

What it does mean is that couples who “play together” by engaging in fun, novel activities grow closer to each other, experience more positive emotions toward each other and their relationship, and as a result are happier and want to stay together.

Can it really be that easy?   Yes, it can.

Three Reasons Why Playing Together Helps You Stay Together

First, playing together in novel and arousing activities keeps you (and your spouse) from getting bored and your relationship from becoming a boring routine.

Boredom sacks the current joy out of your relationship and, if not addressed, leads to increasing dissatisfaction over time, the temptation to seek excitement outside the relationship, and/or ultimately the “we’ve just grown apart” explanation for divorce.

Second, playing together also helps you and your spouse connect the good feelings you experience during the activity to your overall relationship.

Third, participating in novel and arousing activities makes people feel happier in general, and when you are a happier person, you are more likely to be a happy partner and extend that positive emotion to your marriage and spouse.

How far do you have to go to keep you and your spouse out of a boring routine?

Off the couch, maybe.  But, not that far.

Go for a bike ride.  A movie in 3D. A canoe ride. Try a Stand Up Paddle board.  A new restaurant.  Get to know other couples — new friends you make together.

Remember, marriage is not a game.  Both husband and wife are on the same side.

bored-wife-watching-football-soft-edges

Marriage is not a game.  So be sure you aren’t keeping score.  If your wife “wins” because you agree to try something new that she recommended, you both win.

And, if your husband “wins” because you agree to try something new that he likes, you also both win.

Here’s a common example for football season (just remember, the point of the story is gender neutral)

If your husband really enjoys watching college football, learn to like it, too, rather than pout and try to make him feel guilty.  (You might have to pretend at first).  This will add a new activity for you to enjoy together.

In turn, he will naturally connect the fun he has watching the game with you to positive feelings about you.  As a result, he will be more likely to want to make you happy and will look for ways to do that – like take a cooking class, or run a 5-K, go with you to church, or start a weekly date night.

Husbands, keep in mind that if you initiate the weekly date night (for example), your wife will transfer her good feeling about that to you and, as a result, be more likely to want to look for novel ways to make you happy, as well.

The point is that if you want to avoid (or get out of) the rut of relationship boredom, you have to play together by engaging in novel and arousing activities.  It doesn’t matter who is ahead at the end of the first quarter.  You’re both on the home team.

Can the novel and arousing activities involve sex?

Sure.

But, you are unlikely to be any good at sex play, if you aren’t fully engaged with each other out of the bedroom.  And, if you suggest novel sex before you’ve shown a willingness to “get off the couch”, your effort will backfire.   First things first.

If you are starting to feel bored in your marriage, share this post with your spouse and talk about ways you can add some new activities or people to your life.   Discuss how the positive feelings you get from these new experiences will help you grow closer again, increase your relationship satisfaction, and decrease the likelihood that you will “grow apart” (or be tempted to find excitement elsewhere).

Pick a new activity and begin to work it out.  If your spouse won’t go along at first, try learning to like something your spouse already enjoys so you can do it together. Then, try to add something novel to you both.

And, let me know if I can help.

You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, LLC, where we do Marriage Mediation that can help make your marriage work again.

 

 

 




Effective Apologies Turn Conflict Aftermath into Healing Afterglow

By Jamie Williamson, PhD

I’ve said it a thousand times, but people still don’t believe me.      Blog 13 apology

Conflict can actually be good for your relationship.

Conflict can lead to greater understanding. Conflict can clarify similarities, differences, and preferences. Conflict can help couples learn how to deal with future conflict. And, perhaps most importantly, conflict can make it clear where efforts to communicate can and should be strengthened.

Surprisingly, conflict can be good for your relationship even if you occasionally behave badly (but not abusively) during the conflict….. as long as you master the art of the true apology.

Sure, using a conflict style that would be considered “constructive” creates a more pleasant conflict aftermath. Constructive styles that involve a concern for your partner and your relationship include tactics like collaboration or compromise, which often help resolve conflict and set the stage for forgiveness.

Likewise, using a conflict style that would be considered “destructive” creates a less pleasant conflict aftermath. Destructive styles that show little concern for your partner or your relationship include tactics like competing or avoidance, which rarely lead to peaceful resolution or forgiveness.

Your conflict style influences the conflict aftermath, for sure. But, what can make an even bigger difference is an effective apology.

What constitutes an effective apology?

First and foremost, avoid the “pseudo-apology” that goes something like this:  “I’m sorry you can’t take a joke” or “I’m sorry you are so upset” or “I’m sorry you just don’t understand”.

These statements are NOT apologies, they are critical statements that imply that your partner is overly sensitive rather than that you made a mistake.   Pseudo-apologies lead to more conflict, and, if used often enough, severely deteriorate the quality of a relationship.

In contrast, offer a “true apology”. blog 13 - apology2

The five key attributes of a true apology include:

  1. Be earnest and sincere, and not rushed.
  2. Acknowledge specifically what you did wrong and state that you take responsibility.
  3. Explain what happened, but do not offer excuses. An excuse negates the apology.
  4. Offer to make amends or promise to change.
  5. Ask for forgiveness.

Here’s an example:  Husband Stays Out Late with Co-Workers Without Calling Wife

Husband’s Pseudo apology: Fine. I’ll call home to “mommy” next time. I’m sorry you don’t understand how important it is for me to socialize with my co-workers.

Husband’s True apology: I am so sorry that I stayed out so late without calling to let you know I was ok and what was going on. I know you were worried about me and didn’t want to embarrass me by calling me when I was with my work friends.  I didn’t want leave the group to call home, but I could have easily texted you. And, I should have done that. I promise I won’t let it happen again. Please forgive me.

It isn’t hard to see the difference that a true apology would make in shaping the aftermath of this common couple conflict.  blog 13 apology afterglow

Try it yourself. You’ll be amazed how disarming a true apology can be. But, also remember, there is an art to the true apology. Knowing when to deliver a true apology is almost as important as knowing how to do it.

Be careful not to overdo it. Apologizing too often for insignificant infractions or things you are not responsible for diminishes the impact when you make a true apology. However, a true apology that is given freely and sincerely, when needed, will turn the aftermath of conflict into an afterglow of relational healing.

If your relationship could benefit from the use of true apologies, share this post with your partner, promise to help each other practice apologizing, and you will be surprised how often you can “work it out”.

Let me know if I can help.  You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop, LLC 




Avoid Tragic Ending: Start With a Negotiated Farewell and Divorce Mediation

by Jamie Williamson, PhD

You know how happily married couples love to share the story of how they met, complete with teasing about fun little details?  These are usually well-rehearsed tales, in which both spouses end up being heroes of their own, happily-ever-after love story.

Well, divorcing couples also want to share the story of their divorce, as well.   Of course, divorcing spouses tell these tales separately and quite often provide dramatically different accounts of their path to divorce.  Most of the time they aren’t lying or delusional.  They just punctuate things differently.  Here’s a common example:

Beth:  I made the choice to stay home and raise my kids. My husband was a workaholic who would rather spend time working than with me and the kids.  He’d make it home for family dinners but then left me alone to work in his office nearly every week night and Saturday he had his chores. On Sunday all he wanted to do was relax and watch a movie or the game.  I was bored and felt unappreciated.   So, I, of course found myself a real man who makes time for me and thinks I’m interesting and special.  My husband was so clueless that he was actually surprised when I told him.  

David:  My wife wanted to be a “stay at home mom” and I agreed.  But, to provide the kind of home and college savings we wanted, I had to work hard and continually advance in my career.  I was happy to do it for her and the kids.  It was a point of honor for me that I was able to provide for them.  When I did get time at home, I wanted to tackle the “honey dos” and just hang out with her and the kids.   But, she wanted to be wined and dined every weekend.  I just didn’t want to have to try that hard to be happy.  I love my wife and kids. I am a good dad and I was a faithful husband.  I wanted a family life.  But, that wasn’t enough for her.  I was completely shocked when she announced she was leaving me for another guy. 

As a Divorce & Family Mediator, I hear these stories all too often.  In situations that involve emotional or physical abuse, one spouse often truly is the villain.  But, most divorcing couples are like Beth and David – they lived in two different, parallel marriages and experienced two very different paths to the end of their relationship.  These different perceptions and the vilification of each other typically metastasize into hardline positions that make the divorce process much more tedious and difficult than it has to be.

Imagine the fighting that ensued after Beth’s very one-sided announcement that she was leaving the marriage to be with another man.  Imagine the long expensive court battle.  Imagine the impact on their children and themselves.

So, how can this be avoided?

The most obvious answer is, once Beth and David first realized they were perpetually repeating the same conflict, they should have had the heartfelt conversations needed to promote mutual understanding and find a way to solve their truly solvable problem.  If they weren’t able to do this themselves, they could have done it through a few sessions of Marriage Mediation, which if done well, can truly make your marriage work again.

But, of course, many people contemplating divorce think they’ve past the point of no return on their path to divorce.  They believe that divorce is inevitable, and actually necessary for them to have a happy future.

When divorce seems like the best and only option, spouses can dramatically impact the quality of their divorce process by initiating the divorce using a strategy called the Negotiated Farewell.  This approach is (a) private (does not involve family members, friends, or lovers); (b) direct (e.g. I’m unhappy); and, also (c) mutual because it allows the time required for both spouses to feel that the divorce is a mutual decision.  During their Negotiated Farewell couples actually jointly construct the story of the end of their marriage.

The Negotiated Farewell isn’t for emotionally immature or combative people.  It requires empathy, cooperation, the willingness to listen, and the parties have to care less about “winning” or being “right” and much, much more about building a stable post-divorce life for all involved, especially the children.

In the end, the couple’s publicly disclosed story of their divorce often is as simple as:

Beth and David: There is no bad guy. We’ve tried everything but neither one of us is happy. We decided to part as friends, and focus on being good parents to our kids so they still see us as a family – regardless of how our family might change overtime.

This may not be a fairy tale ending for Beth and David, but it is one where they can both be heroes in their divorce story and they both have a chance at a happily-ever-after divorce.

Divorce Initiation StrategiesIf you are contemplating divorce (and are not afraid for your personal safety), look over the Divorce Initiation Strategies here.  Think carefully before you use a strategy other than the Negotiated Farewell or the second most successful, “We need to talk”.  If your partner won’t negotiate with you, this “We need to talk” approach is the best you can do.  Any other strategy can quickly turn the story of your divorce into a tragedy.

If you truly want to part amicably, have a friendly divorce, avoid a messy, painful process, and focus on building a stable, happy future for all involved, then share this post with your spouse and suggest that the two of you participate in Divorce Mediation in order to work it out.

Done the Amity Mediation Workshop way, Divorce Mediation helps couples to recalibrate their approach to communicating with one another while they also negotiate all of their parenting and financial issues.  That’s why we call it Amity Mediation Workshop.

Let me know if I can help.