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COPING STRATEGIES
FOR DIVORCE EMOTIONS

Does your divorce or separation make you sad, angry, vengeful, depressed, confused or hateful? Emotions are the powerful drivers of many divorce decisions. This blog by a lawyer and psychotherapist will help you cope with divorce emotions.

Archive for January, 2011

We Need to Touch

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

In this touch-averse culture, we often don’t experience much physical contact with other people when we are not in an intimate relationship.  Yes, there’s cuddling the children, but sometimes we long just to be touched.

So friends may recommend massage, as a therapeutic, safe, professional way of experiencing touch.  The massage therapist, if well-trained, will avoid sharing his problems with you, will listen, and will ease the tension in your muscles at the same time.  Touch stimulates the production of the hormone oxytocin, known as the “bonding” hormone.  You can feel comfortable, connected, and relaxed.

Yet sometimes you go home and feel worse.  Your muscles ache out of all proportion to the pressure exerted by the massage therapist.  What’s happening?

Contemporary neuroscience says that we store memories not only in our brains but in the cells of our bodies as well.  Although there isn’t, to my knowledge, a map of where certain kinds of memories are stored, it isn’t unusual to have chronic stress stored in the shoulders or in the back.  While the stress is stored, the muscle tissue is more or less solid, more or less numbed.  When the muscles begin to relax, the feeling comes back, and the feeling is sometimes uncomfortable—that is, painful.  In addition, with the softening of the tension, the memories that have been stored away also come back.  In the interest of your long-term emotional health, this can be a very good thing, healing for both body and mind.

But in the interest of your short-term well-being, it might be too much.  Ida Rolf, whose name became synonymous with very deep tissue massage (“Rolfing”) used to say something like, “Don’t Rolf defense lawyers or football players.  They need all the defenses they’ve got.”

If you’re feeling vulnerable and as if you need all the defenses you’ve got, you might want to discuss with a psychotherapist or an experienced massage therapist whether massage is right for you.  You might be better off—just for now–sitting, cuddling the kids or petting your dog, for as long as they let you.

Can You Be Friends with Your Ex?

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

            In a divorce, both people feel not only disappointed but betrayed.  One of them sometimes suggests that, although they won’t be married any more, they can be friends.  This effort almost always is doomed to failure. 

Someone at some workshop long ago (I’m sorry I can’t attribute this concept to the individual who shared it) demonstrated why the attempt to be friends so often fails.

Imagine a circle.  Better yet, draw a circle.  The movement in the circle can go ONLY clockwise, so draw an arrow going clockwise inside the circle.  Then, on the upper right, at one o’clock, write BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP.  A business relationship is the beginning of every relationship, in that you don’t know each other and can make no assumptions about each other.  It would be inappropriate, for example, to expect the bank executive you just met to give you a ride home, or to lend you five dollars for your next stop at Starbucks.  Your dealings are contractual, explicit.  If you want a loan, you sign a promissory note.  If you need a ride home, you call a cab.  You have no right to expectations, other than the ones you and your banker agree upon.

 However, if you see this banker frequently, you might indeed eventually suggest meeting for coffee, and one or the other might treat.  Eventually, it might be appropriate to request a lift home.  When these things happen, a business relationship has evolved into FRIENDSHIP. 

Write FRIENDSHIP at about four o’clock on your diagram.  With a friend, you can have greater expectations—both of you—about what you do for each other.  You can assume that your friend will want to meet you for lunch, or will invite you for dinner.  He might even help you move furniture, or paint your house, or keep your dog when you travel.  With some friends, you can assume they’ll come and get you if your car breaks down twenty miles away on the Interstate.  On the other hand, that assumption, and others of that kind, usually relate to the next stage of relationship, INTIMACY.

INTIMACY, or INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP, would be at, say, eight o’clock on your chart.  In an intimate relationship, you can expect that your partner will be there for you in all kinds of ways that a business acquaintance, or even a friend, would not.  Your partner will nurse you when you’re sick, buy you ice cream when you have a craving, share his or her money with you.  You make these assumptions implicitly and you expect that your partner will follow through.

Now, here’s the point.  When an intimate relationship breaks down, there is no going back to friendship.  You can’t back up in the circle.  The only way to regain the trust and confidence you need for a viable friendship is to go around the circle toward establishing a solid business relationship.  And you establish a solid business relationship by making everything explicit.  You make agreements and keep them.  “I’ll pick up the kids from school today.”  “I’ll pay you xxx dollars.”  Whatever the agreements are, the rebuilding of trust depends upon your making clear commitments and following through.

Then, maybe, you can become friends again.

Why Did It Happen?

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

            How do we know what drove us, or, more gently, brought us, to act the way we do?  For example, I have a client whose wife is blindingly, furiously angry that he wants a separation.  As you might expect, he says he left because she was always angry. 

            We can spend a lot of time arguing about where the cycle started.  She was angry, he couldn’t stand it any longer, he left.  Or he was never fully present, and that made her angry; she was just trying to get his attention.

            Does it help at all to figure out who started it?  It is so easy to see our partner’s part in it, and so difficult to see our own.  We are complicit in our marriages—that is, we are right there, passive or active, angry or withdrawing.  It doesn’t happen without us.  We don’t have to dig to the roots of our childhoods—although that can be healing—to grasp that both people have responsibility for a failed marriage.  Sometimes, we have to think a lot about our partner’s flaws in order to justify our decision to leave, or to soothe ourselves that we haven’t, really, lost so much. 

We keep asking “Why did this happen?”  “What went wrong?”  What could I have done

 differently?”  We can drive ourselves crazy wondering why and trying to find a reason.   But all the time we spend looking backward, life keeps moving forward.  We move on.  We develop new relationships.  Finally, without us quite knowing it or planning it, our new life becomes more important than our old life.  The present and the future crowd out the past.  And we stop looking for a reason why.  Because it no longer matters.

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