Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Love After Divorce

When I walked in, I saw the back of his head: beautiful, blonde hair. Next I noticed his bag, saving the seat next to him, my seat. For a moment I realized that I could have turned around and walked out. I wanted to, but I didn't want to. So I smoothed my hair down with my hands, adjusted my top and made my way towards him. When he turned and looked at me, I felt immense relief. He looked like his picture, and all of the sudden, the man I had been exchanging texts with for weeks was utterly, entirely and very much real.

He didn't know I was divorced. But he did know that I loved to read an entire book in one evening. He didn't know that I had a son. But he did know that one of my most meaningful experiences was helping a student find herself through poetry. He didn't know that I was living alone for the first time in my life. But he knew that I often felt out of place on the East Coast and that I was still defining home.

The last time I dated I was 19. Let's be honest, I never really dated. I had a serious boyfriend in high school and I met my ex-husband my freshmen year of college in an English class. No one was meeting online. When my friends started online dating I was married and pregnant. Their stories weren't romantic, but horrifying. After my divorce I was hesitant to start dating, especially online. The idea of creating and looking at profiles felt like a twisted combination of voyeurism and online shopping. My mother and my friends encouraged me. You are only 31, they said. You have so much to offer. I remember looking at my mother and saying, "who is going to want to date a divorced woman in her early thirties with a child when there are plenty of beautiful, successful and baggage free women ready and available?
Her response, "if only you could see what I see."

Lesson 1: Listen to your mother.
So when I went online and started talking to the man who is now my boyfriend, I told him what book I was reading and he picked up a copy and read it so we could talk about it on our first date, and I knew that this man was worth not walking out on. Usually aggressive, talkative and confident, I had to cast away my fear of rejection and I made a quick decision: I was going to do it differently with him. I decided that I was going to show him who I was, for better or for worse. I wanted to be in a relationship where I could be me. I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing. All I knew was that my story needed more than a first chapter; I still believed in love, even though my divorce made me question everything I knew about it and shook me to the core.

I hadn't heard his voice. I hadn't seen his face. We hadn't met, but I had feelings for him. Lingering by the door, trying to calm my joy juxtaposed with terror, I remembered what my therapist told me. Love will happen again if you are open to it. Divorce isn't the end. Divorce is the beginning.

Lesson 2: Listen to your therapist.
Those few steps I took towards him are some of the most important steps I've ever taken. We started talking and the talking came easy. Then, he mentioned he had a nephew and I blurted out,
"I have a son and I am divorced,"
He paused, smiled and said, "me too."
First dates are supposed to be awkward and full of painful long silences and conversations that fall flat. This first date wasn't. He had the same circumstances, the same fears, the same baggage that I did.

Lesson 3: You are not the only divorced parent dating.
When people ask how we met, I used to be embarrassed to say online, but now I am coming to realize that if it weren't for online dating, I never would have crossed paths with him. In some weird, cosmic, modern day way, we found our way to each other at exactly the right time in exactly the right place. He has shown me what true love and partnership can be and there is nothing more romantic than that.
My experience has made me want to encourage divorced women (when you're ready) to be open to online dating. Even if you worry that you're damaged goods, smooth down your hair, adjust your top, sit down and stay a while.

Lesson 4: Easier said than done.
There is often an identity crisis that occurs after a divorce. You have made a life with someone. Everything is intertwined from your finances to your belongings to your friends. It is even more tangled when you have children together. You stay parents even after you split. The untangling is a slow process and during it you have to become willing to discover who you are on your own. Suddenly you realize that you have no idea how to change a tire and that the problems you blamed on your ex really weren't his fault because they are still there waiting for you to fix them. The routine you became so accustomed to, even if it made you utterly, entirely and very much miserable is gone. Despite this chaos, you still have to go to work, raise your children, pay the bills and deal with the broken washing machine. Sometimes you also have to go to court and deal with lawyers. Life doesn't stop just because your marriage did.

Once the papers are signed and the parenting plan is in place, it feels a little bit like being on a plane that is circulating. The pilot says he can't land yet and so you are in a holding pattern. You know the plane will land at some point, but you don't know when. So you stay in your seat and wait.

When I started online dating, I had to get off the plane. My boyfriend wasn't my first online dating experience. I had a few rough dates and a rebound relationship that could be described as nothing short of a disaster--trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: I was settling and I wasn't ready.
So what was different this time? On our third date, we mapped out our parenting plans to make sure we had a date night every week. Romantic? Maybe not, but for us it was. It was another moment of connection and shared circumstances. I have been shocked by how easy our relationship is, despite our divorces. Was it terrifying to be myself and to let myself be vulnerable? Yes. Was it hard to figure out how to navigate co-parenting and our ex's? Yes. Was it hard to feel myself coming back to life and being me for the first time in years? No.

If you asked my boyfriend what makes for a good relationship, he would say a strong foundation. Our foundation was built from weeks of texting and grew from there. There is immense patience, acceptance and understanding in our relationship, but most importantly, there is laughter, shared interests and a profound appreciation for the other. If you asked me what makes for a good relationship, I would say open communication, even through texts. I am grateful for the technology that brought us together. If it weren't for that, I may not believe in love after divorce.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Couple seeking to undo their divorce get turned down

Lynne Tuohy Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. – Should those irreconcilable differences suddenly become reconcilable, don’t go looking to get un-divorced in New Hampshire.

The state’s Supreme Court this month upheld a lower court ruling refusing to vacate a New Castle couple’s 2014 divorce after 24 years of marriage.

Terrie Harmon and her ex-husband, Thomas McCarron, argued on appeal that their divorce decree was erroneous because they mended fences and are a couple once more. But the justices, in a unanimous ruling issued Dec. 2, said the law allows them to grant divorces – not undo them.

Courts in some states – including Illinois, Nebraska, Mississippi, Arkansas, Maryland and Kentucky – will vacate divorces within a certain time frame or under certain circumstances, at the parties’ request. Others – including New York and South Dakota – maintain they, like New Hampshire, have no statutory authority to undo a divorce.

Attorney Joshua Gordon, appointed to defend the lower court’s ruling, said allowing the couple’s divorce to be undone could jeopardize the finality of all divorces.

“Divorce is a uniquely fraught area of litigation,” Gordon argued. “For divorced couples, it is often important to have the solace of knowing that their former spouse is indeed former.”

Harmon and McCarron were married in 1989 and filed for divorce in January 2014; the divorce decree was finalized in July that same year. In March, they filed a joint motion to vacate the decree.

New Hampshire law does allow for divorces to be set aside for reasons of fraud, accident, mistake or misfortune. Gordon said none of those circumstances happened in the Harmon-McCarron divorce and that any adverse financial consequences the couple claimed were “self-imposed.”

“I think it was partly sentimental, and partly that they had some business interests that a divorce and remarry would be more complicated than undoing the divorce,” Gordon said.

Harmon, a lawyer, argued in court papers that a couple shouldn’t have to show the decree was legally flawed if they reconcile. She said that test is “designed to balance the interests of adverse parties,” not those who want to get back together.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

Protect children in divorces

I REFER to the report “Aussie actress yet to hand over son to ex-partner, says lawyer” (The Star, Dec 29).
In a bitter divorce, the child’s welfare is often given less consideration while the feuding parties bicker over their rights trying to gain an advantage over the other.

The court hears testimonies from both parties but rarely gives much weight to what the child wants as reported in “Muslim conversion issues exclusively Syariah Court’s jurisdiction” (The Star, Dec 30).
Where the children are of a young age, the mother normally gains custody while the father has visitation rights. In view of the mother becoming a single parent after the annulment of the marriage, the father has the responsibility to provide the ex-wife alimony and child maintenance.

The situation becomes tense when the father washes his hands of all responsibilities over caring for the family by failing to adhere to the alimony payment and child maintenance and brainwashing the child on how bad the other parent is in order to exact revenge over the ex-spouse.

On the hand, the mother too can be faulted for child abuse if she adopts an attitude of “the winner takes it all” conduct by having full custody of the child, getting alimony and child maintenance and then denying the father visitation rights by putting obstacles to make it almost impossible for the father to meet the child.

Children who remain neutral are abused by being bombarded by repeated over-exaggerated untrue stories on how the other parent caused the failed marriage and is totally at fault when in reality, it is both parents failing to salvage the marriage.
Children need to have rights in a bitter divorce, including having a legal voice on what is demanded from each parent.

This should also include the right to be treated properly, the right to stop any parent from constantly telling repeated one-sided stories and the right to ensure both parents conduct and behave themselves properly toward the child.

The provisions of the Child Act need to be strengthened to include jail sentences for the delinquent parent who treats the child badly. This should apply to an adult child who still gets treated badly.
Some parents need to spend time in prison in order to realise and reflect upon their conduct over the child, where child abuse may not necessarily mean physical abuse but include mental abuse, where one parent constantly harasses the child to breaking point when the child does not totally agree with the abuser.

Such abuses must not have a statutory time limit, which means that a child wronged by one of the divorcing parents can still take action against the parent later in life for compensation.
Such child abuses can also happen when the child is already in adulthood, where the divorcing parent not getting custody in the earlier years or bitter over the divorce arrangements continue to mentally abuse the child through scolding, blaming and act detrimentally to the child’s well-being.

Some take advantage of the child’s generosity and forgiveness to gain monetary advantage while there are bad parents who implicate the child in the parent’s personal matters for personal gain.
For example, the divorcing father launching a malicious court case and police reports against other family members on unsubstantiated matters unrelated to the child, but then subjects the child to forced sub-judicial matters in bad faith and influencing the child to commit perjury with malicious intent to benefit the abusive parent, failing which dire consequences would fall upon the child.
Here the child is torn between filial piety and doing the right thing of not getting involved or even reporting criminal conduct to the proper authorities.

Another example is the abusive father not having custody of the child but pretending to have changed for the better, treating the child favourably to seek to temporarily stay at the premises of the child, who is now an adult, only to show his or her true colours once access has been granted.
Children need to be protected even when there is a lack of physical scars evident in a bitter divorce as mental abuse is just as devastating, especially when it continues during adulthood.

Protection such as compensation and jail time for the abusive parent is appropriate to ensure the child is protected in a bitter divorce and that the abusive parent behaves properly around the child.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

The Benefits of Couples' Therapy - Even if You Get Divorced

We first sought out a couples' therapist when our daughter, now 18, was an infant. We were unhappy, our marriage lacked intimacy and we were worried about our prospects. Of course, many parents of newborns are unhappy -- they're sleep-deprived, their futures are filled with inherent uncertainty and they have little time to think about anything other than diapers, feedings and more diapers.

But we knew something deeper was amiss. We were both graduate students at the time, so we went to counseling services at our university. Our first therapist was a nice guy, and he was clearly determined to keep us together. That is not so unusual or necessarily a bad thing. We didn't present with the kinds of problems indicating a need to separate right away. There was no physical or verbal abuse, for example. We didn't hate one another, and we were not yet ready to admit that we were not in love. But when we talked about what was bothering us, our therapist had the habit of reframing our problems as less serious than we perceived them. In so doing, he committed perhaps the cardinal sin for a therapist -- trying to talk us out of our feelings. For example, when we talked about not having any sexual attraction for one another, our therapist said, "lots of people become less interested in sex as they get older." We were in our early 30s and had been married for fewer than two years. We had not lost interest in sex. But we spent more time trying to explain ourselves and then questioning his agenda than we did dealing with the real problem, which was that weren't interested in each other.
Our therapist thought we had merely lost something that had once enlivened our relationship. He gave us "exercises" designed to help us connect physically and communicate better about our wants and needs. Of course, many couples who once had a vibrant sex life become less attracted to one another over time. Or, they put physical intimacy on the back burner because of the exhausting details of everyday life, work, and parenthood. But by the time we went to therapy, we knew we didn't click in that way and perhaps never really had.

As we finished our graduate work and prepared to move, we took a break from therapy. In our new home in Maine, our daughter then two, we were more focused on settling in to new jobs and a new community. However, as the adrenaline of starting anew wore off, we were forced again to face the deficits in our relationship.

Our new therapist came highly recommended. She was an exceptional person -- a versatile professional with a direct, unsentimental New England manner. She put us on notice in our first meeting, letting us know that it made no difference to her whether we stayed together.

She also instructed us to write the story of our own individual "love histories," to be typed up and delivered at the next appointment. Our therapist immediately grasped that neither of us could be fully honest with one another in the room - we were just too afraid of hurting each other's feelings. She knew we were comfortable expressing ourselves in writing and that this assignment would save us weeks of time with her. We plunged with gusto into our respective accounts, handed them in, and waited for the verdict. At the following appointment, she shared with us her highlighter-filled observations about the recurring themes in our stories. With what we came to know as her trademark incisiveness, she reduced our histories to simple, ruthless (and spot-on) conclusions about each of us: "Anne, you've never gone for what you truly wanted, and Jonathan, you've never known what you wanted."

Obvious though this seems to us now, the extent to which her observations explained our fundamental dilemma was astonishing. For one thing, our therapist was able to take all the guilt and shame out of the question of our marital struggles. There were reasons for our problems that had nothing to do with whether we were good, decent people. Confused? Yes. Somewhat cowardly or immature with regard to owning our true feelings? Admittedly. But bad people? No.

As our therapist saw it, her job was to help us figure out what was best for each of us, whatever that was. She assured us that we would remain committed parents regardless, and that our daughter would be OK. Initially, she did work under the assumption that we would want to stay together, because that's what she thought she heard from us. As in Chapel Hill, we were tasked with intimacy-building exercises between appointments. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine a more sure-fire way of draining intimacy from a relationship than repurposing it as "homework." Needless to say, these again went nowhere.

One day our therapist asked an important question: "Why would you want to be someone somebody settled for?"

We could have protested that we had not settled, we had truly been in love. But we had no answer or protest to make: we knew it was true. We were not happy and could not remember a time when we gave each other the kind of intimate connection one needs from a lifelong romantic partner. We clung to our marriage primarily out of fear of what divorce would mean for our precious daughter -- we didn't want to ruin her life by getting divorced.

But although our daughter was still young, we feared she would become ever more aware of the disconnect between what we were saying about love and what we were living out on a day-to-day basis.

It would be disingenuous to say that we divorced "for her" -- we didn't. But we knew that staying together would not have guaranteed her happiness either. And we resolved to do everything in our power to keep our marital failure from becoming a parenting failure.

Once we recognized that, ending the marriage was the clear choice for us. And though we have had our ups and downs since, one of the true gifts of the divorce has been the way our relationship has matured.

Our therapist challenged us to develop a new paradigm for dealing with one another. "You're going to be 'related' as long as you're raising your daughter," she said. "You have the chance to have a very good post-divorce relationship. The bomb that is at the center of all relationships -- the relationship's ending -- has been diffused. You don't have to be afraid of that anymore. You can be honest with one another, you can face disagreements without worrying that the other one will leave you. You have the chance to have a much deeper -- in some ways, a more intimate -- relationship now."

We both felt deep guilt about what this would mean for our daughter, but we both knew it was also the right decision. Our therapist didn't direct us to that decision. Instead, she showed us how owning our own feelings and our pasts, rather than blaming the other, would allow us to build stronger relationships with one another, and with others. Our daughter, on the cusp of college, has turned out OK. And we've managed to establish a healthy, supportive parenting partnership.

Couples therapy didn't keep us married. But it certainly "worked."

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Getting Divorced After 60

The number of people divorcing in later life has been increasing at a time when divorce rates overall have been falling. What's behind the phenomenon of the "silver splitters"?

"When I proposed to her, I almost straight away regretted having done that."

But the engagement was announced on the front page of his local paper and Peter felt he couldn't back out. "I was weak-willed at the time," he says.

Peter married in 1967. Thirty-six years later, at the age of 64, he did back out.

"I just bundled what I could into the car and went. I do remember her standing on the doorstep. And I did feel sorry - even guilty - then that I was hurting her, really."

It's the kind of private moment of pain that's part of a national trend.

Divorce among people aged 60 and over in England and Wales has risen since the 1990s, according to the Office of National Statistics - while among the rest of the population, it has fallen (with a slight rise in 2012).

In 2011, nearly 9,500 men in this age group divorced - an increase of almost three-quarters compared with 20 years earlier. The trend for women is similar. And it's not just because there are more older people now.

The catalyst for Peter was a relationship he started with his piano partner, Anne. Practising duets for the church choir, they fell in love.

"We are good friends, and that's something I didn't have with my first husband," says Anne, who ended her first marriage when she was in her 50s. "And we can laugh when things go wrong."

Research suggests a big driver of the increase in "silver splitters" is increasing life expectancy.

And people want more from their retirement, according to solicitor Karin Walker, of law firm KGW Family Law in Woking and the family law association, Resolution.

"People are looking very much at the latter third of their life and what they want to do with it," she says.

"Certainly clients I've had say they want to take up a pastime they've not done before - perhaps cycling or travelling. And very often their spouse isn't keen to participate in that, and that can cause friction and a parting of ways."

Age gaps can put marriages under strain in later life, according to Barbara Bloomfield, a counsellor for Relate in Bristol and the counselling supervisor at Relate Cymru.

"Let's say there's a 10-year age gap. Ten years is nothing, it's flattering, when you're 20 and 30. When you're 70 and 80 it's a totally different thing," she says.

"And I think often where there's an age gap the younger party can think: 'Oh my goodness, the rest of my life is going to be spent looking after him or her.'

Another factor is wealth. The baby boomers tend to have good pensions. Their property's worth a lot. They can more afford to divorce in retirement than people used to be able to.

"From the point of view of wives as well, where hitherto the wife really couldn't find herself in a position to leave home - those first 24 hours where she didn't know where to stay, didn't have any money to pay for a hotel - it all became rather daunting," says Walker, "whereas now women are much more financially independent and are much better able to take control of their lives."

David, not his real name, was 70 when his wife of the same age packed a bag and left.

"You go through phases - anger, you go through regret, you feel discarded as a husband, you feel you perhaps should have done a bit more and talked, but it takes two to talk and that didn't happen."

He believes the suicide of their son, a number of years earlier, and episodes of ill health may have taken their toll on the relationship.

"She'd been unhappy for years and I hadn't noticed, and therefore she wanted to have financial independence - a clean break, and go and live on her own."

Walker says divorcing in your 60s or 70s can create more discord in families than if it had happened earlier in the marriage. She thinks children can take it worse when they're adults.

"I worry about loneliness," says Dame Esther Rantzen, the founder of Silver Line, the helpline for older people.
She suspects this is an issue causing more pain to older divorcees than may be apparent.

"When they're taking this big step, they may be losing more than they realise. They may also be losing contact with their children, because divorce often means people side with one parent or another.

"And in all this, I think there is certain amount of stigma. They feel ashamed that that sacred pledge they made those years ago they haven't fulfilled. They're not staying together 'til death us do part' and this may mean they're ashamed to ask for help. Let's discuss it, and say this is one of the things that happen when you get older."

Peter is happy with his new life with Anne, whom he married in 2011, when he was 72. But his divorce came at a cost. Relations with some of his family are now tricky.

"If somebody came to me now, before they'd left their wife, asking what they should do I think my answer would be see if you can make it work, in other words don't do what I did."


"Because of the hurt."

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bishops crack open door on divorce

But meeting fudges key issues of Catholic Church's approach to sex, love, marriage

VATICAN CITY • Catholic bishops have wrapped up a divisive synod by approving a compromise report reflecting a stalemate in the battle between the Church's conservative and liberal wings over its approach to sex, love and marriage.

The document, which Pope Francis is free to ignore or implement as he sees fit, fudges the key issue of whether divorced and remarried believers should be allowed to play a full role in the Church.

And it confirms the pullback from the more explicit opening to lesbian and gay believers supported by progressives when the review of teaching on the family was launched last year.

But it also leaves Pope Francis with room for manoeuvre should he wish to defy his conservative opponents and push on with his attempt to make the Church more relevant and more welcoming towards believers who find themselves in breach of its rules.

Pope Francis, who recognised in closing remarks that the three-week synod had exposed deep divisions in the Catholic family, now has to decide on which way to go, if and when he updates guidelines on Catholic teaching.

The text, approved last Saturday, advocates a "case-by-case" approach to the most controversial question, the handling of divorced and remarried believers, saying they need to play a greater role in the Church, but stopping short of explicitly ending the current ban on their receiving communion.
People in this situation need to be treated with discernment, allowed to play a greater role in the Church and not made to feel as if they have been excommunicated, the document states.

Underlining how controversial this section of the text was, the paragraphs related to divorced and remarried believers just scraped the required two-thirds of synod votes to gain approval.

The document includes only one brief article on the Church's approach to gay believers, framing the question in terms of how priests can help support families who have "persons with homosexual tendencies" in their midst.

It reiterates that the Church believes every person, regardless of their sexuality, is worthy of respect and a reception which takes care to "avoid every sign of unjust discrimination".

But it strongly reiterates the Church's opposition to gay marriage, saying: "There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and the family."

The emphasis contrasted sharply with first drafts last year which spoke of recognising the value of loving same-sex relationships, to the outrage of those opposed to any dilution of Church teaching that homosexuality amounts to a kind of disorder.

In closing remarks, Pope Francis said the synod had been about confronting "today's realities" without "burying our heads in the sand".

He said the divisions that had emerged reflected important cultural differences which the Church should embrace in the way it applies its teaching - an ambiguous comment that will concern conservatives.

"We have also seen that what seems normal for a bishop on one continent is considered strange and almost scandalous for a bishop from another," he said.

Pope Francis, 78, also appeared to take a new swipe at the conservatives who had accused him of rigging the synod's organisation to try to engineer progressive conclusions.

"The different opinions which were freely expressed - and at times, unfortunately, not in entirely well-meaning ways - certainly led to a rich and lively dialogue," he said.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Creatively Channeling the Pain of Divorce

From The North Shore Weekend newspaperContrary to the stereotype of the strong silent type, Evanston resident John Frank has LOTS to say about divorce. His two-act play, which will be staged two weekends in November, is the tip of the iceberg.

“Men don’t talk about how they feel; they just kind of soldier on and people around them think, ‘oh, he’ll be fine.’ But there is, in fact, a lot of pain that men don’t talk about,” said Frank, who divorced after 16 years of marriage to his first wife. “For example, only seeing your kids every other weekend is a terrible way to live. I have no trouble talking about that.”

And so it was that he wrote Boys in the Basement, described as “a unique look at divorce from the perspective of men who have lost their families and everything they once held dear.” It is inspired by the network Frank developed over the years after his divorce.

“In the suburbs, a divorced man is kind of a non-person. I created a network of divorced men friends, as we were all sort of stuck in limbo,” he said.

Frank explained to me that the script tells the story of the tenants in an apartment building – efficiency apartments, that is, located close to several of the tenant’s children and therefore the tenants’ ex-wives – who meet nightly in the basement of their building to share stories over beers.

Among the tenants Frank described there is a player, who is twice divorced; a younger guy who is working up the courage to talk to women; an attorney (played by Frank) who is having an affair with his second ex-wife, though she has gone back to her first husband; a new tenant, who thinks he still has a chance to reconcile with his ex-wife; and the landlord, a still-married guy who flaunts to his tenants that he knows what it takes to be successful in marriage.

(There are a few women in the building, too, who cross paths with the gentlemen throughout the play.)

“It’s about the fine line between love and hate,” Frank said of his play, “how quickly love turns to hate, and how men deal with loss. In many ways divorce is like death, as it changes your dreams and your life so quickly.”

Frank purposefully recruited a female director, Mary Reynard, to counter the male perspective from which he wrote the script. But he is firm: the play will wake audience members up to the man’s mindset during and after a divorce.

“I want people to think about how the other person feels when they’re fighting and finding ways to separate themselves. I want people to think about how traumatic divorce can be and yet how people can go on, and whether there can still be true love.”

Frank believes in it – heck, he remarried in 2007 – but he admits that it’s hard.

“We’re still people and we still have feelings. Some will change and some will never change, but that’s just how life is.”
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