Marital Infidelity Affects Children

photo by Arvind Balaraman

The reasons for your divorce or break up are between you and your spouse, but even if you try to keep infidelity under wraps and your divorce is not front page headlines, it still has an impact on your kids. Even if you don’t tell your kids about infidelity, they are likely to find out if they are old enough to understand, simply by overhearing arguments between parents or conversations you have with other people. Kids react in individual ways, but the following reactions are almost universal.

Embarrassment

Kids whose parents are unfaithful often feel deeply shamed by the situation. A parent has done something that deeply hurt the other parent, and which is considered a no-no by society. Kids are afraid people will talk about the situation and that by being part of the family your child will be tainted by association.

Confusion

Kids are expected to follow the rules, so why can parents break them? That is a question kids ask themselves or even you, as they try to work their way through the situation. It’s not uncommon for children to react by testing the rules themselves to see what they can get away with.

Disgust

Anything that has to do with parents and sex is just gross as far as your child is concerned and a situation that calls attention to the fact that a parent is actually having sex is beyond what any kid wants to think about.

Anger

A common reaction is anger – often at both parents. The cheating parent is easy to blame because he or she took action that ended the marriage and hurt everyone involved in the situation. Kids will frequently freeze this parent out or rage at him or her. It’s also not unusual to blame the non-cheating parent, believing that he or she could have done something that would have prevented the cheating, like being more loving, working harder to please the other spouse, etc.

Distrustfulness

When a parent betrays the entire family, children frequently experience doubt that they can trust anyone ever again. If a parent broke trust with the family, who can you rely on? Children will experience insecurity in all of their relationships. Teens may find it hard to trust members of the opposite sex and say that love is not worth the risk.

How to Help

You can’t undo what has happened, but you can get your child into therapy to help work through the issues. Be available to listen to your child. Let him or her talk and just listen. It’s also important that both parents talk about the situation, as hard as that may be. The cheating parent may be met with silence or ignored, but it is important to apologize for the hurt that has been caused and offer to talk about it with the child in therapy. The non-cheating parent is often in a better situation to have a conversation with the child. It’s hard to do, but the best course is to emphasize that this happened between the parents and does not affect the relationship and the love between the cheating parent and the child. As with all divorces, it takes time for your child to accept what has happened and move forward. Being supportive through this process is the best thing you can do.

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Divorce in the Workplace

It’s hard to tell your family and friends you’ve decided to divorce, but when and how do you share this information at work?

Your Boss

Your boss doesn’t need to know you’re getting a divorce, however, sharing this with him or her can have some benefits. You’re going to need time off for mediation, lawyer meetings, and/or court time. Having a boss who is sympathetic to what you’re going through will help with your time off requests. You may also get to the point where you need some kind of permanent schedule change to accommodate your parenting plan. A boss who is aware of what you’ve been going through will be more sympathetic.

What you don’t want to do, however, is let your boss think that the divorce is going to hurt your performance at work. Keeping your job is probably more important to you now than ever, with the financial turmoil you’re facing. You must show your boss you are as competent, timely, and reliable as ever, even if you don’t feel that way! Go the extra mile to prove you’re on your game.

The best way to tell your boss is request a few minutes of his or her time. Be straightforward and explain that you’re getting divorced, may need some time off or flexible hours, but that you are not going to let it interfere with your performance. Although it might be really hard not to, do not cry during this meeting. Keep it business-like and don’t go looking for a shoulder to cry on.

Close Co-Workers

It’s fine to tell your close office friends about your situation, but you want to be careful to do so in a private setting (the company lunchroom or restroom is not going to cut it). You’re going to need support, so you want your friends to understand what you’re going through. Ask these friends to keep the information to themselves until you feel ready to discuss it publicly. You also want to be sure these friends aren’t going to be constant reminders of what you’re going through — you don’t want them to ask you every single day how you’re doing or what’s happening with your divorce. Ask them to let you set the tone.

Everyone Else

It’s really hard to keep a secret in most offices. You’ll be overheard on the phone or in the hallways and people will talk. You may also need to tell your HR rep if there will be changes to health insurance.

Don’t put yourself in the position of trying to make some kind of announcement about your divorce. Instead, let it slip to the person with the biggest mouth, who will get the word out for you. Don’t share ANY details that you don’t want the entire world to know. Keep a stiff upper lip as much as possible. Try to have private calls outside the office and don’t discuss your divorce or any issues stemming from it using company email, even if it is to office friends.

Don’t burden clients with your news, unless they are close friends. Stay focused on work and decide to keep your personal life at home.

What To Do On a Bad Day

My advice has been pretty strict so far – basically say as little as possible. It’s important to be realistic though. You’re going through a really hard time and there are going to be tough days. Some days you may be on the verge of emotional collapse. Other days your ex might call you at work and get under your skin. Your attorney might need to talk to you immediately. You can’t completely keep your divorce out of your office life. Follow these tips to minimize damage:

– Get to a less public space whenever possible. If you need to cry, do it in the restroom. If you need to scream at your ex, take the phone outside. Your attorney wants to discuss financial details? Go to the storeroom or empty space where you can have at least some privacy.

– Apologize to co-workers who overhear your difficult conversations. “I’m so sorry you had to hear that. I’m really trying to keep my personal life out of the office.” This will make them even more sympathetic to you, since you are being clear you don’t want to burden others.

– Take emotional sick days. Your time off may be limited, but if you can swing it, take some time off when you are at your lowest point. Even leaving the office for lunch can give you a little break. If you suddenly feel like you’re going to fall apart, go outside and get some air. If you need support, ask an office friend to come with you.

– Distract yourself. Work is a great distraction from what’s happening at home, so use it to occupy your mind and keep yourself focused on non-emotional topics.

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Teens and Divorce

Photo by Sujin Jetkasettakorn

If you and the other parent divorced while your child was younger, the teen years can present some challenges in terms of your visitation schedule.  A schedule that worked for an elementary school age child is not going to fit a teen.  And, if you and the other parent have split during your child’s teenage years, it can be difficult to devise a plan that will work for everyone involved simply because the teenage years are so difficult to parent during.

Big But Not Big Enough

The first thing to remember is that teens may look and act a lot like adults, but they aren’t yet completely mature.  They still need to have two parents and they still need to have those parents involved in their lives.  Teens are working hard at learning to be independent, and this means that they do need special consideration, but it does not mean that you and the other parent should throw up your hands and say “there’s nothing we can do.”  It can be difficult to continue to parent someone who doesn’t want to be parented, but that’s your job right now.

Flexibility Is Key

Friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs are essential to teens.  If you have a visitation schedule that severely restricts your child’s ability to enjoy those essential activities, all you’ll end up with is resentment.  Instead, you need to try to create a balance in your teen’s life.  He or she should have plenty of time to do the things that matters to him, but he’s also got to make some room for spending time with his parents.

When you all lived in one house you probably did not tell your daughter she had to skip the field hockey game because you wanted to spend time with her.  You didn’t tell your son he couldn’t hang out with friends on Friday night because your spouse wanted to spend time with him.

As the divorced parent of a teen, you’ve got to flex the parenting schedule to incorporate the things that make your kid who he is.  If your spouse has visitation this weekend, but your teen has a dance to go to, the parent whose scheduled time it is should take the teen to and from the dance, and spend the rest of the available time with him.  You need to find a balance between your teen’s need to be a kid and the need for him or her to have time with both parents.

Create a Minimum

Since teens schedules are busy and your and the other parent’s schedules are also probably pretty packed, it’s important to agree to some kind of minimum time per month with the non-custodial parent. For example, decide that you’ll try to arrange things so that the non-custodial parent sees your child for at least four overnights per month and 4 other evenings or afternoons – this is the flexible way to fit in the “every other weekend and one night a week” plan into a busy life.  Fit parenting times in where they go the easiest.  Be creative with your time sharing.  Take turns taking your daughter to basketball practice.  Have one parent commit to teaching him how to drive.  Have the other parent be involved with weekend band or cheerleader activities.  Some parents have a hard time being so flexible because it feels like a loss of control.  In fact it is just the opposite – you set a minimum and then work with your child to make it work for everyone.  It takes a bit more cooperation, but in the end, you will both have a better relationship with your child and he or she will feel more fulfilled and connected.

Stay Connected

Teens are big on technology, so the non-custodial parent can maintain a close relationship with text messaging, cell phone calls, andSkype.  Non-custodial parents can have a difficult time staying connected during the teen years – teens certainly aren’t know for being open with their parents!  And, if a family divorced when the daughter was 7, she’s a very different person at 15 and it can be hard to stay in the loop.  Find out about her interests and activities and make yourself a part of them – either by showing up to cheer, by offering help, or just by asking friendly, non-intrusive questions.

Surviving the teen years requires a mutual understanding – you take your teen’s life seriously and he or she will take both parents seriously as well.

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Want to Save Your Marriage?

Almost everyone who is thinking about or going through a separation or divorce wonders if the marriage can be saved. Today I’m happy to share a conversation with Alisa Bowman, author of Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters. Alisa found herself so unhappy in her marriage that she was fantasizing about her husband’s funeral.  Divorce was on her mind when a friend asked her if she had done everything possible to save her marriage. She realized she hadn’t and embarked on a four-month plan to save her marriage herself by reading self-help books and trying everything from bikini waxes to communication exercises with humor and open-mindedness. As a result, she fell back in love with her husband and they renewed their vows.  Alisa’s path won’t work for everyone, but it is definitely something to consider.

Was divorce a real consideration for you, and if so, what were your thoughts about it?

I did think about it a lot. My thoughts were basically that I was scared. I was scared to stay married because I was miserable, but I was also scared of divorce. I imagined that I might be happier if I got divorced, but I worried that I also might not be. What if I felt guilty? What if it didn’t solve my problems? For instance, what if, after divorce, I ended up having to support my husband financially anyway? I worried about whether my husband would be any sort of a father to our child if the marriage ended. What was worse for our daughter? Us staying married and me being miserable–but her having a shot of a relationship with her father? Or us divorcing and him possibly completely dropping out of my life and hers?

I was scared of what other people would think, especially his side of the family. I was even scared of the men my mother no doubt would try to fix me up with and the inevitable fights that she and I would get into over it. In the end, I worked on my marriage because a divorced friend suggested I do so–mostly as a test to see if my marriage could or count not be saved. As it turned out, it could.

You visualized your husband’s funeral, but did you visualize your divorce? What was it like? Why was this fantasy not as satisfying as the funeral?

I did fantasize about the divorce, but this fantasy felt artificial to me. My divorce fantasy was all about me having a life again. If he had custody on Tuesdays, Thursdays and every other weekend, I’d actually be able to exercise regularly again, go to a yoga class and even read books again. I’d also be able to do a lot of things that were uncomfortable for us to do while unhappily married. For instance, I’d be able to go to family gatherings again without everyone rolling their eyes about whatever hurtful comment my husband had just made. I’d also be able to decorate the house the way I wanted–without having to consult him or talk him into things. My divorce fantasy was really about freedom–the freedom to be the person I wanted to be. Eventually I realized that I could be that person without actually getting divorced.

How different would your life be now if you had gotten a divorce? Would it be all bad or would there be positive aspects?

This is a hard question for me to answer because I’m in love with my husband again. So now when I think of divorce, it hurts and I think, “Oh I would miss him so much.” And now I tend to notice what I WOULDN’T have if we were divorced. For instance, he really does change all the light-bulbs, especially the funny odd kinds that you can’t find in a normal store. He also unclogs the drains and he fixes my car for me. Sure, I am perfectly able to do such things on my own, but I don’t enjoy them. So I’m thankful that I have him around!

Had we divorced when we were unhappy, I’m sure I wouldn’t be thinking any of that, though. I have a feeling that I would have found a way to be happy no matter what. That’s the way I am. I am a problem solver. So if the marriage ended, I would have figured out how to share custody, for instance, in a way that worked. I would have found ways to be a better, more content me. I would have broken down and learned how to use the dang grill. I would have hired someone to deal with the lawn. I would get a plumber to unclog the drain if it came down to it. And I definitely would put some effort into making sure I didn’t make the same mistakes with my next relationship.

I will say that it probably would be nice to be able to decorate the house the way I want without having to consult anyone. That’s the one aspect of divorce that I still find a little intriguing. If I were super rich, I would buy two houses side by side and have him live in one and me in the other and then we would just visit a lot. That way I could decorate my side the way I want it!

Do you believe every marriage can be saved in the way you saved yours? Were you just lucky or do you think the steps you took are applicable for many people facing the breakdown of a marriage?

I think some marriages can be saved and some can’t. It’s hard to sort them into neat categories of “can’t be saved” and “there’s no hope in hell” though. I think whether or not a marriage can be saved depends on a few factors: 1) Did you really fall in love? If you married for some other reason than love (convenience, fear, boredom, money) and you’ve lost that original reason, there might not be anything there to salvage 2) Whether you are willing to see your part 3) Whether your spouse is willing to see his/her part? 4) Whether you are willing to learn and go out of your comfort zone–because saving a marriage requires you to be vulnerable, to learn a new style of communication, and to accept what won’t change.

What lessons can be taken from your journey and used by people who are already divorced and are trying to co-parent and co-exist with their exes? Is there a happily ever after apart?

I think it’s always useful to look back and try to see your part. It’s easy to blame a failed marriage on your spouse, but that sort of blame isn’t going to help you grow and it’s not going to help you in your next relationship. It’s also not going to help you co-parent. Did your communication style cause your spouse to shut down? Rather than blame him for shutting down, go deeper and think about what about your strategy itself led to him shutting down. Similarly if she didn’t support your goals, think about why. Did you not help her to understand them? In a marriage, both people play a role, and these roles become intertwined. Figure out what your role was and think about how it could have been different.

Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage. She’s also the creator of ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com, a safe gathering spot for recovering divorce daydreamers.

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10 Tips to Improve Communication with Your Ex

Although your marriage or relationship is over, you still have to communicate in order to arrange visitation and discuss issues involving your kids. Instead of gritting your teeth and sending mental daggers his way each time you talk, follow these tips to make communication easier, more effective and more comfortable for both of you. The less stressful those conversations are, the easier your own life is going to be.

  1. Smile. I’m not kidding. Studies show that if you force yourself to smile at times when you don’t feel happy, it actually does improve your mood. And if you smile at your ex, you immediately defuse the situation. Warring tribes used to greet each other with a handshake to show they had brought no weapons. A smile does the same thing.
  2. Don’t talk money. Money is often the root of the biggest disagreements among divorced couples. He’s not paying what he should, he doesn’t agree with you when you want more, he disputes what’s actually owed, etc, etc. Therefore, keep money out of the equation when you’re talking about the kids or exchanging the kids.
  3. Don’t take the bait. You’re excellent at pushing each other’s buttons. So be aware of that and be smart enough to keep your buttons covered. Remind yourself this is not a real conversation. It’s a game. You win by not engaging. End of story.
  4. Plan ahead. Mentally rehearse any decisions or issues you need to discuss beforehand and boil it down to a concise, simple statement or request. Have a script and stick to it. This allows you to control the course of the conversation and stay focused.
  5. Pause. No need to count to ten, but instruct yourself to just slow down all of your reactions. In difficult encounters, your first deep, primal reaction might be to slug him. You’re an adult though and suppress that and keep your hands at your side. However, your second reaction, which comes only split seconds later might be to verbally slug him. Take a second and press your lips together or take a breath so you can get past that and allow the thinking, reasoning part of your brain to take over.
  6. Be calculating. You know this guy. You understand how he ticks. Use that to your advantage. Work him to get the situation to work for you. Use whatever he responds to, whatever helps him behave rationally, calmly, and reasonably.
  7. Focus on the future. No one wins when you hash over the past. You each have your own version and that’s that. The future is there to be shaped, so focus on what you can do to make it a good one for your child. This means no fighting about who did what or any rehashing of past problems.
  8. Face the facts. Too many women waste time struggling against the truth – this guy is your kids’ father and you’re stuck with him for the long haul. Stop looking for ways to shut him out and start looking for ways to make it work with him in the picture. If you deal with him in that spirit, everything becomes easier.
  9. Complete the transaction. You and your ex are talking or seeing each other because there is business to accomplish – kids to be exchanged, a schedule to be made, a schedule change to be negotiated. Remember that’s why you’re there and that’s what your goal is. Focus only on achieving that goal. He can throw tons of other junk at you, but you’ve got to keep your eye on the final goal.
  10. Run. Not literally. But when you’ve completed the transaction, get out. This is where you get into trouble if you don’t move on. If you’re not working on a specific goal, you’ve got lots of room to pick at each other. Don’t let it happen.

NOTE: Please be sure to see the previous post for a chance to win the ebook The No-Fight Divorce Book, everything you need to know to use mediation.

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