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Discussions about the Smooth Divorce Transition process

Divorce Recovery Mindset Choice No. 2: Divorce Recovery – A Problem to Solve or a Person to Punish?

By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “Why shouldn’t I exact revenge from my ex for all the pain inflicted on me in our divorce?” Divorce leaves us angry, sad, disappointed, ashamed, and full of justified anger and self-righteous resentment. Friends and relatives stoke the fires by reminding us all the ways we were mistreated. It sure feels good to imagine getting back at my ex.

(This is the 15th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

 

You Hurt Me, So I’ll Hurt You Back.

We all get hurt during divorce. Therefore, it is quite normal for you to want to strike out in anger at your ex for all the pain you suffered. This can be done in a myriad of ways.

You can attack your ex verbally. You can tell your children how horrible your ex is. You can complain to your friends about what your ex did to you and how you were mistreated. You can dis-invite your ex from your kids’ birthdays and holiday celebrations. You can ignore or dismiss your ex when you meet in public. You can tell your friends what a despicable person your ex is dating. You can tell your friends the infidelities that your ex perpetrated. You can reveal the addictive behaviors your ex may have done, as well as other secrets. You can fail to forward your ex’s mail. You can neglect to tell your ex your child was injured in a car crash, leaving her partially impaired for over a year.

The options are limitless.

Pros and Cons of the Retaliation Mindset: I Want Revenge!

There are both reasons for and reasons against adopting a mindset of revenge.

The upside of revenge. It feels good to inflict pain on the person who caused you so much of it. You can reassure yourself you are in the right because your ex deserves it. Choosing to punish your ex provides a simple answer to the question of how you should react to your divorce. You do not have to be bothered by such pesky issues as what were your contributions to the death of your relationship. You get to ignore such difficult issues as how to prevent your next relationship from ending up in divorce court again. You do not have to take responsibility for the quality of your life going forward if your ex is the cause of your constant misery. But most of all, it just feels good!

The downside of revenge.  Being on the lookout for ways to inflict revenge on your ex causes you to live life through a negative filter. Over time, looking for ways to hurt another person is depressing and damaging to your self-concept and self-confidence. You forfeit the right to live a happy and optimistic life, being ever on the offensive and obsessed with maintaining a thick defensive skin. You run the risk of not having a healthy, positive intimate relationship since any long-term relationship partner would have to accept you as someone who values anger and retribution. This only attracts others who treat life with cynicism and negativity. This makes it exceedingly difficult to raise children who have a positive, optimistic view of life. It causes your children to resent you for how you treat their other parent.

In addition, if your ex has healed to the point that he or she doesn’t care about you and what you think, you have no power over your ex.  Then all your efforts to punish your ex are totally futile which will be extremely frustrating to you. You are tilting at windmills and everyone is observing how irrational and mean-spirited you are.

Pros and Cons of a Problem-Solving Mindset: I Want to Remove the Roadblocks to My Happiness!

Likewise, there are both reasons for and against taking a problem-solving approach for divorce recovery.

The downside of problem-solving. If you drop the option of punishing your ex, some past hurts will go unacknowledged and unpunished. Some friends might see you as weak and ineffectual for not attacking your ex for legitimate offenses. You will not have an opportunity to gloat over the pain you  administered to your ex. You won’t be able to entertain the fantasy that you are omnipotent. Your ego will not be stroked by exercising the power to inflict pain on another human being.

The upside of problem-solving. You get to focus on living in the present and looking to the future with hope and optimism. Your life energy is used to build and create, not tear down and destroy. Your children will appreciate your ability to overlook the obvious shortcomings of your ex and appreciate your strength in making life better for yourself and your children. Your friends will admire you for making the choice to live life from a positive point of view. You open the possibility of finding a healthy, long-term relationship with a good chance it will not fail.

So, What’s the Point?

Divorce leaves both sides traumatized and with plenty excuses to retaliate. How we choose to react to our divorce will determine the likelihood of living a happy, contented life after divorce. To see divorce and divorce recovery as permission to punish your ex has some short-term, ego-satisfying outcomes. To treat it as an opportunity to solve the problems that are preventing you from living a life after divorce of contentment and optimism provides you with a lifetime of positive satisfaction.

You are faced with the conflicting choices of acknowledging the long-term value of logical problem-solving versus succumbing to the short-term temptation to retaliate for all the pain you suffered.

My hope is that while you are pondering your choice, you will heed the wisdom of Confucius when he reminds us: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Divorce Recovery & Resistance to Change: How to Sabotage Your Divorce Recovery without Even Trying

This article answers the question, “How can your recovery from divorce be undermined by resistance to change?”

Recovery from divorce requires us to make changes in our lives. Lots of changes. No big surprise here. For example, divorce almost always forces us to make changes in our relationships, our finances, our living arrangements, our health-related activities, our self-development, and our recreational and social activities.

The logical prescription to speed our transition from being unhappily married to happily unmarried is straightforward: make the necessary changes ASAP! No problem. Why, then, don’t we do it? Why are we universally reluctant to do the obvious and make the changes that would improve our life after divorce?

The answer? RESISTANCE TO CHANGE! Resistance to change is our reluctance to make a positive change because of personal reasons.

A Personal Example

What I did when my first marriage ended is an example of how resistance to change prevents us from making a swift and smooth recovery from divorce. After eight years of marriage, my wife and I agreed it was over. We had tried several things to save it – couples counseling, communication training weekends, couples retreats, individual therapy. These efforts only served to reinforce our belief that a divorce was the right thing to do. The harsh reality was the marriage was over.

Three Ways Resistance to Change Can Ruin Your Divorce Recovery

Three things prevented me from moving on and making my recovery from divorce. (1) FEAR – I was afraid of an unknown future. (2) LOSS – I did not want to lose my “perfect life fantasy” of being married “til death do us part” with a loving wife and living with two wonderful daughters. (3) SKILLS – I did not believe I had the ability to live successfully as a single man. These three things illustrate the three causes of resistance to change, which had me firmly in its grasp.

Cause #1 of Resistance to Change – Fear of an Unknown Future

I could not guarantee my future would be happy. I could not guarantee that I would meet someone new. My disaster fantasy was that I would never find true love again and would live alone and lonely the rest of my life. This fear paralyzed me and prevented me from moving into the next chapter of my life.

Cause #2 of Resistance to Change – Distress Over Loss

Moving on meant I would lose daily access to my two daughters. It also meant I would lose the stability of a daily living routine. But most importantly, it meant I would lose the hopes, dreams, and assumptions about our family I had been collecting ever since my wife and I met.

For example, I had hoped my family would last forever. I had assumed I would be involved daily in my daughters’ lives. I had dreamed of growing old with my wife. My parents were married 67 years, so why not me too? Taking the active steps to recover would force me to admit that these hopes, dreams, and assumptions were shattered. The loss seemed more than I could handle. Hence, I put off moving on and thereby delayed my recovery from divorce.

Cause #3 of Resistance to Change – Uncertainty over the Operational Aspects

Logic-based resistance to change reflects our reluctance to make a change because we do not understand or agree with the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and/or How of the change. My logic-based resistance was based partly in my uncertainty about some How’s and Who’s of dating.

I had not dated for over nine years. I was convinced I would not be able to date without thoroughly embarrassing myself. I was stuck on such issues as – “How do you date?” “Who will I date?’ “Where will I find people to date?” As long as I pretended I did not have to take control of my divorce recovery, I did not have to confront my ineptitude with dating.

So How Can You Use This?

One fact exists, resistance to change happens to EVERYONE. It will happen to you. Be aware of its causes and be alert to your fears, your reactions to loss, and your confusion over the operational nuts and bolts of making a recovery. It’s all about taking the next step. Making the next change. You can be paralyzed by resistance to change as I was, or you can confront the resistance and dissolve it, thus enabling you to get on with the next chapter in your life.

Some questions to ask yourself that will help guide you on your recovery might include – What about the future do you fear today? What about “how things used to be” are hard for y

Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 5 – The Marital Relationship

 

By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “Why do over 65% of re-marriages fail?”

Much of the hard work is done over the first 4 steps in building your next long-term relationship. You feel like you are crossing the finish line of a marathon when you get re-married. Guess what? You’re not. Your work has just begun. Will you be able to ferret out and destroy the biggest cause of marital failure? Is your new relationship doomed to fail again?

(This is the 13th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

For a relationship to culminate in a successful long-term, committed union, a five-step relationship-building process must be acknowledged, understood, and completed.

The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship

The path to an ultimate, new long-term committed relationship traverses five separate steps in relationship building: (1) Step 1: The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2: The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4: The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5: The Marital Relationship. (For a discussion of recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008).

This article addresses the fifth and final step in the relationship-building process, Step 5: The Marital Relationship.

The Marital Relationship Is the Time for Change!

What?! Isn’t this the time when things settle down and you can finally relax and enjoy some stability?

Well, yes and no. True, you no longer must struggle with the uncertainty of finding a partner with whom you have chemistry and who also will meet your requirements. However, pick  your favorite bumper sticker: “Nothing stays the same.” “Change is the only constant.” “Men get married hoping their partner won’t change, but they do. Women get married hoping their partner will change, but they don’t.

However you cut it, getting married is not a promise of boring, monotonous predictability. Successful marriages not only endure, but invite and relish, change in each other.

A Marital relationship is one that has matured to the point of making it formal with public vows of commitment. Attention now shifts to both parties allowing and encouraging each other to grow, develop, and change in order to fulfill each person’s life vision and purpose.

Goal and the motivating question. The goal of a marital relationship is to keep the relationship alive by encouraging growth and development.  The driving question that motivates this relationship is: “How can WE help each other fulfill our personal dreams?”

The roles you and your partner play.  You are expected to be a husband/wife and a cheerleader for your partner’s efforts to “be all you can be.”

The nature of a committed relationship. A common misconception is getting married is like crossing the finish line in a marathon, requiring no further action. The “marathon” part is right, however, the “finish line” image couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, you are now standing at the starting line of a life-long “super marathon” and a whole new part of your thinking will be challenged.

The common belief is that when we get married, who we are at that moment in time is frozen, like a marble sculpture. We no longer can, or need to, change our shape, size, beliefs, dreams, or vision.  A more apt picture at the wedding ceremony is not of a marble statue, but of a sculpture made of Silly Putty. While we may look like a marble statue when we say, “I do,” our actual shape, size, beliefs, dreams, or vision can, and inevitably will, be molded and altered again and again to our personal specifications as our life progresses.

The Back Doors to a Marital Relationship

“Back Doors” are ways that allow one to “escape” from the relationship.

Commensurate with the increased commitment marriage brings, the difficulty in ending the relationship is also elevated. In a marriage not only is there an extraordinarily strong social/psychological contract involved, but also a legal contract is created as well. As you well know, not only is the financial cost of divorce significant, but also the emotional pain runs deep and wide. The effect is to force us to try everything we can to prevent a breakup and use divorce only as a last resort.

Potential Problems in a Marital Relationship

The marital relationship requires the two partners to help each other grow and develop. But what happens if they can’t, or won’t, do this? The relationship suffers and failure, read “divorce,” is possible.

Among the  most common ways we fail at the marital step are:

(1) Taking the relationship for granted and expecting the other partner to do all the work,

(2) Trying to do all the work yourself and excluding your partner,

(3) Treating a “want” as a “requirement,”

(4) Being unwilling to compromise,

(5) Refusing to learn and use the problem-solving, conflict management skills necessary for any committed relationship to work,

(6) Refusing to accept change in your spouse as not only acceptable, but desirable, as he/she pursues their life’s purpose,

(7) Believing the person you are when you get married is the “final product” needing no subsequent alterations or adjustments for the rest of your life, and

(8) Believing love means your partner must accept you forever, just as you were back when you got married, no matter what.

(9) Failure to complete the previous four steps in the relationship-building process, especially Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship.

So, What’s the Point?

Don’t be lulled into complacency by the apparent “finality” of “getting married.” Make no doubt, your work is not done.

You are not only are capable of change, but the very essence of a successful marriage demands that you should change. Your challenge is twofold: Can you make the changes you need to make in order to fulfill your life’s vision and purpose? And, can you support, even encourage, your partner to do the same?

What stands in your way? Lurking in the shadows is the ever-present Resistance to Change! So, your ultimate challenge is to slay that resistance so that your marriage has the sustenance needed to grow and flourish.

Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 4–A Committed Relationship

By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “Why is a committed relationship more complicated than it looks?”

The “holy grail” for many divorced people is to find a new long-term, committed relationship. Among the losses suffered in a divorce are the familiarity and comfort of a partner in life.  Finding someone new to commit to a shared life together holds the promise of “paradise re-found.” The high divorce rates of subsequent marriages suggest all too often the reality is “paradise lost – again.” Why might that be the case?

 

(This is the 12th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

 

For a relationship to culminate in a successful long-term, committed union, a five-step relationship-building process must be acknowledged, understood, and traversed.

The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship

The path from initial introduction to a long-term committed relationship goes through five separate stages of relationship: (1) Step 1: The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2: The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4: The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5: The Marital Relationship. (For a discussion of recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008).

This article addresses the fourth step in the relationship-building process, Step 4: The Committed Relationship.

The Committed Relationship Is the Time for Both Partners to Pull Together

The previously completed  recreational and pre-committed stages targeted the individual’s chemistry and logical analysis, respectively. The committed step changes the focus to the couple as a team itself in relationship with each other.  No longer is the focus on “I” and “Me.” Now the focus turns to “Us,” “Our,” and “We.”

A committed relationship is one in which both partners believe their personal individual requirements can be met in the relationship. Their attention now turns to the future, and specifically how they, as a couple working together, pledge to make the relationship between them work.

Goal and the motivating question. The goal of a committed relationship is to develop ways to constructively solve problems and manage differences that arise in any relationship. The driving question that motivates this relationship is: “How can we as a couple make this work?”

The roles you and your partner play. Typically, the partners in a couple refer to each other as “my  fiancé” and are very public about their relationship. Conversation focuses on making plans for their future together.

The nature of a committed relationship. The “feel” in the committed stage is one of  close-knit teamwork. A sense of “we are in this together” around shared values for how each person wants to spend the rest of their lives together.     This is the first time the couple, working together, is given responsibility in the developing the relationship. Up until now, the issue has been up to the individuals to do the work, separate and apart from their partner. Now the couple works together to figure out how WE can make this relationship work.

Both you and your partner are expected to be team players who are willing and able to compromise for the sake of making the relationship work. Note that, at the committed relationship stage, all the individual requirements of both partners have been settled in the previous pre-committed stage. Hence, any compromising for the sake of the team is in the area of wants, not non-negotiable requirements.

The Backdoors to a Committed Relationship

“Backdoors” are ways that allow one to “escape” from the relationship.

The backdoor to a transition, recreational, or pre-committed relationship is relatively simple, even easy. They can be ended with some version of “This is not working out for me,” and then you take your leave à la the Paul Simons song, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” I know this is oversimplifying a complex, highly emotional situation. Still, there is no legal contract to void and only a moderately strong social/psychological contract holding the couple together.

On the other hand, ending a committed relationship is more difficult. Still there are no legal contracts, but the social/psychological contract is extraordinarily strong. Time has been spent creating plans together for a future as a couple. Expectations run deep and wide. Often wedding plans are in process.

One client of mine ended a multi-year relationship two weeks before the wedding causing a rift in her family. Ten years later her siblings are still so angry and resentful that they refuse to have relationship with their sister who was only preventing a major mistake from being made by ending the relationship.

Potential Problems with a Committed Relationship

The Committed relationship requires the two partners to work together using their interpersonal skills to solve problems and manage conflict. Common potential sticky issues include where to live? Who works, doing what? When, if ever, to start a family? How many children? How and how much money to save? How much to involve in-laws in your life? The list goes on.

But what happens if they can’t, or won’t, find answers to questions like these? The relationship suffers and failure is possible.

Among the  most common ways we fail at the committed step are:

(1) Taking the relationship for granted and expecting the other partner to do all the work,

(2) Trying to do all the work yourself and excluding your partner,

(3) Treating a want as a requirement,

(4) Being unwilling to compromise,

(5) Refusing to learn and use the problem-solving, conflict management skills necessary for the committed relationship to work.

So, What’s the Point?

Making a commitment to another person to live life together as an intimate couple is a serious, life-altering decision. It involves more than chemistry and confidence that the requirements of both parties can be met. In the three previous relationship stages, the major part of the relationship development lies with each individual making calculations about “What’s in it for me?”

However, in the committed relationship stage the stakes are greatly increased. Now the issue becomes can the two people, working together, make the relationship successful and last over time? Equally important, do they have the will to put in the effort and learning that is required to make the relationship successful?

Making a commitment to another person to live life with each other requires courage, determination, and the humility to admit you don’t know all the answers and are willing to learn. Your life is changing. Will you have the courage to dissolve your resistance to the changes that a committed relationship brings and make yourself vulnerable to another person so that you can co-create the relationship of your dreams?

Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 3–A Pre-Committed Relationship

Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “What is arguably more important than listening to your heart for determining the success of a long-term, committed relationship?”

Our culture does not teach us the importance of understanding what we expect to receive from a long-term relationship. The pre-committed stage in relationship development is supposed to remedy that oversight. Unfortunately, the pre-committed relationship is the step that we screw up most often. Consequently, our choice of a partner for a long-term, committed relationship is left up to hormones and “what feels right.” No wonder the divorce rates are so high.

 

(This is the 11th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

For a relationship to culminate in a successful long-term, committed union, a five-step relationship-building process must be acknowledged, understood, and traversed.

The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship

The path from initial introduction to a long-term committed relationship goes through five separate stages of relationship: (1) Step 1: The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2: The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4: The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5: The Marital Relationship. (For a discussion of recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008). For the classic description of a pre-committed relationship, see David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008, 301-319).

This article addresses the third step in the relationship-building process, Step 3: The Pre-Committed Relationship

The Pre-Committed Relationship Is the Time for Logical Analysis

While the recreational relationship spotlights the contribution of your heart and intuition, the pre-committed relationship highlights the role logic plays in building a relationship.

A pre-committed relationship focuses on systematically determining if your basic requirements for a long-term relationship will be met.

Goal and motivation. The goal of a pre-committed relationship is to decide if someone is a “good fit.” The source of motivation that drives a pre-committed relationship is the question, “Will a life with this person give me what I require in a long-term relationship?”

The roles you and your partner play. Both you and your partner are expected to be a girlfriend/boyfriend who is willing and able to talk openly about what you each need in a long-term relationship.

The nature of a pre-committed relationship. The “feel” in the pre-committed stage is one of focused thoughtfulness and logical analysis. You get crystal clear about what your non-negotiable requirements are for a long-term relationship and determine whether the relationship with your partner can meet all your requirements.

Requirements for a Relationship

The heart of the pre-committed step is knowing and communicating your requirements to your partner.

A requirement is something that must be provided by your partner if the relationship is to work. Steele uses the analogy for a requirement of air, water, and food as requirements for maintaining life in the human body. The absence of even one of the three would result in death. Likewise, the absence of even one thing you consider a requirement for a relationship will sooner or later kill the relationship. (David Steele, Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008, p 90)).

Potential Problems with a Pre-Committed Relationship

The two most common ways we fail at the pre-committed step are (1) we either do not know what our requirements are or do not realize how important it is to respect their necessity, and (2) we simply skip this step altogether and go straight to the committed relationship step, as if we can intuit each other’s needs. We can’t.

Failure to identify and test out your non-negotiable requirements. After I got divorced the first time, a friend wanted to “fix me up.” She asked me what I wanted in a potential partner. I told her I needed (1) someone who had been divorced before – so she could empathize with what I had been through, and (2) someone who had kids – so she would not be threatened by my parental love. That list of two requirements turned out to be a good place to start, but it left off another 5 or 6 that I was unaware of at the time and which ultimately caused my second marriage to fail.

Skip it altogether. During the recreational relationship everything feels right. It feels like you are in a committed relationship. It also feels like you are so in-tuned with each other that a discussion of your requirements is not needed and, in fact, raising the issue would be downright insulting to your partner. So you never even broach the topic. You just ride the euphoria telling yourself you have found the perfect partner, your soul mate, and skipping the pre-committed step poses no problem.

This is a dangerous roll of the dice. Occasionally it works out. Most of the time it doesn’t. To never discuss requirements or to jump from a recreational relationship straight to a committed relationship, seriously threatens the success of your relationship.

So, What’s the Point?

Make damned sure you make the time to identify your requirements – all of them. Then be doggedly insistent about both of you sharing them with each other.

Then, and this is the hard part, spend an extended period of time together (often 12 to 18 months) to make sure that you and your partner’s requirements can actually be met in a relationship with each other.

This is where most marriages that fail can trace the cause back to. Take the pre-committed step seriously. Your relationship future depends on it.

Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 2–A Recreational Relationship

Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question,  “If it feels so right, how on earth can it be wrong?”

Most survivors of divorce, somewhere around 90%, would like to find a new, committed relationship. This time around we hope it will be one that actually works and survives. Accepted wisdom tells us to just start dating, trust your feelings, and when you find Mr./Ms. Right, “you will know it.” So then you get remarried and live happily ever after. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were all that simple! Spoiler alert! It ain’t.

(This is the 10th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

Five steps are required to build a long-term relationship. Each step in the process builds on the previous step. Done right, it is a marathon, not a sprint.

The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship

The relationship path from initial introduction to old married couple goes through five separate stages of relationship: (1) Step 1: The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2: The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3:  The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4: The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5: The Marital Relationship.  (For a discussion of recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008). The discussion of the pre-committed relationship is particularly good.)

This article addresses the second step in the relationship-building process, Step 2: The Recreational Relationship.

The Recreational Relationship is a Time to Play

A recreational relationship is one you enter into for the sole purpose of  enjoying being single again. An added benefit is the re-establishing of confidence and validation that are almost always bruised in the divorce process.

Goal and motivation.  The goal of a recreational relationship is to have fun. The source of motivation that drives a recreational relationship is the question, “Do I enjoy myself when I am with him/her? Is he/she fun to be with?”

The roles you and your partner play. Your partner is expected to be a friend, buddy, pal, playmate  – whether it is sexual or not. Likewise, your role is to also be a friend, buddy, pal, playmate.

The nature of a recreational relationship. A recreational relationship is meant to be light, exciting, superficial, and fun. You go out and do things together. You simply enjoy spending time with each other. No-attachment sex can be a part of the fun if both of you agree.  Life is good. You enjoy being alive.

Hooked on Hormones

The recreational relationship is the time for hormones and hope to run rampant. Unfortunately,  our culture gives us well-intentioned, but poor advice about how to handle the euphoria.

But It Feels So “Right.” You’ve heard it a thousand times in a thousand ways. Your friends say it, your parents say it, the TV says it, music lyrics say it. It is everywhere. It is non-stop.  “Follow your heart,” “You will know when you’ve met Mr./Ms. Right by the way you feel.” “If loving you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.”

What you are feeling is just chemistry doing what chemistry does. Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and relationship researcher, conducted a series of illuminating studies on the brain chemistry of love. Specifically, she found that the chemicals triggered during the initial phase of “falling in love” (that is, massive amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine )  are the same chemicals that make us feel euphoric when on a cocaine high. (Helen Fisher, “Lust, Attraction, Attachment: Biology and Evolution of the Three Primary Emotion Systems for Mating, Reproduction, and Parenting.” Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 25,2000, 96-104).

Statistics Tell a Different Story. While, no one would advise anyone to make major life-altering decisions when high on cocaine, that is exactly what our culture (in the form of our friends, relatives, music, and TV) does when it tells us, “If it feels good, it must be love!” Of course, disaster ensues in the form of 42% of first marriages,  67% of second and 75% of third marriages failing.

This is not the fault of chemistry. In fact, physical attraction is one necessary requirements of a good relationship. And, during a recreational relationship we determine if chemistry exists between you and your partner. What is misleading is our culture’s obsession with dopamine-infused, romantic love as the only predictor of long-term relationship compatibility and happiness. It isn’t.

Three Rules for Handling the Intoxication of a Recreational Relationship

Your recreational relationship will feel like the real thing. So, why shouldn’t you go ahead and “lock in” the partner of your dreams before someone else does? Why? Because it’s a ticket back to divorce court.

The following three rules are designed to prevent you from acting impulsively, to “hit the brakes” as it were, even though you may think you do not need to.

My Hands Are Broken Rule. The My Hands Are Broken Rule says do not sign any legal documents with your partner for at least twelve months, and preferably eighteen months. Just don’t.

The 6/7 Rule. This rule says for the first 6 months, do not plan to do anything with your partner  over 7 days in advance. This rule also says, for the first 6 months, do not discuss any future you might have with your partner that exceeds 7 calendar days.

The 6/30 Rule. This rule says after the first six months of dating your partner, do not plan to do anything together more than 30 days in advance and do not talk about your life together that is more than 30 days in the future.

The joy of the recreational relationship lies in its focus on the present, not the future. For now, enjoy the freedom that comes with ending a problematic marriage and allow yourself to bask in the pleasures of the present as an uncoupled, single person. As your relationship progresses through the remaining three steps, you will have plenty of time and opportunity to decide if this relationship has a future.

Divorce Recovery & the 5 Steps to Your Next Long-Term Relationship: Step 1–The Transition Relationship

Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “What is the first step to take in finding my next long-term relationship after my divorce?”

This time around we hope it will be one that actually works and survives. The first step on the path to a new relationship future is a “transition relationship.” As the name implies, you are in the midst of change. Being able to accept the need to fix the things your divorce broke is the key to a successful new relationship.

 A Story of a Transition Relationship

A client of mine felt guilty about going outside of his marriage, even though his spouse had broken, and refused to reinstate, an especially important, fundamental agreement they made prior to their getting married.  He talked incessantly to his girlfriend about his displeasure with his ex and his unhappiness with his marriage. His partner reassured him his happiness was the most important thing.  She encouraged him get help from a divorce recovery coach. He did.

He worked with the coach, resolved his feelings of guilt, and formally ended his marriage. Without the support and reassurance from his girlfriend, and  his willingness to make the necessary changes in his feelings about his divorce, he would have stayed in an unhappy marriage and resented his spouse and himself for years to come.

The Five Required Steps to a Long-Term Relationship

To build a new, long-term relationship, you must navigate five separate steps in your  relationship with your potential partner: (1) Step 1 – The Transition Relationship, (2) Step 2 – The Recreational Relationship, (3) Step 3 – The Pre-Committed Relationship, (4) Step 4 – The Committed Relationship, and (5) Step 5 – The Marital Relationship.

(For a discussion on recreational, pre-committed, and committed relationships, see David Steele Conscious Dating, (Campbell, CA, RCN Press, 2008). The discussion of the pre-committed relationship is particularly good.)

Each relationship has a unique goal and a specific underlying question that motivates action at each stage. Done right, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. This article describes the first step, the Transition Relationship.

The Structure of a Transition Relationship

A transition relationship is one in which you enter into either before your committed relationship ends, or shortly thereafter, for the sole purpose of easing the process of getting uncoupled.

Goal and motivation. The goal of the transition relationship is to get released from the baggage of marriage and re-experience validation. The source of motivation that drives a transition relationship is the question, “Can he/she help me release my attachments to my ex and my relationship with my ex?

Roles. The role of your partner is to be a helper, listener, intimate partner, and truth-teller. Your role is to be a willing listener, learner, and to be amenable to changing those beliefs and behaviors that make a new, positive relationship impossible.  Your partner wants to  “Help you feel good/single again.” Your job is to pay attention to your partner’s observations and make the necessary changes that will make it possible to feel good about your life again.

The Nature of a Transition Relationship

Two things distinguish a transition relationship: (1) A euphoric sense of hopefulness for the future based in having found your soul mate, (2) Constant discussions about your ex and your marriage to you ex.

I’ve found my soul mate! A transition relationship is a heady, euphoric experience with seemingly unlimited hopefulness. You have found the “perfect” partner – someone who can give you everything your spouse couldn’t or wouldn’t.

You conclude, “At long last I have found my soul mate! I am in love and we should be together until death do us part.” No you haven’t. Hold on! This is too much too fast. You’ve only found someone who can validate you in ways that your spouse couldn’t or wouldn’t.

My ex still lives in my head! Another common element of a transition relationship is the tendency of the divorced partner to hold on to and talk about memories of the ex, especially memories of the recent drama around the divorce.

Even though there is just you and your new partner in the room, you are never completely alone as a couple. There is always a third person with you. Who? Your ex who still lives an active life in your head! Your ex is there with you all the time when you eat, shop, watch tv, make love.

As result, you talk about, even obsess over, your ex and the drama of your marriage. Your brain’s death grip on your ex is leading you to disaster. No new relationship can thrive as long as you continue to invite your ex into your life.

Your transition partner is there to help you usher your ex out of your head and out of your life. One client likened his transition relationship to a life-preserver; it kept him afloat and alive until he could reach the shore and solid ground and wipe his ex from his brain permanently.

So, What’s the Point?

The point is, if you are in an early relationship, that is, one that began before or shortly after your divorce is final, chances are you are in a transition relationship. First, you must acknowledge that fact, even though your new relationship feels permanent, not “transitional.” You also must acknowledge that your marriage and subsequent divorce has left you with some things that are broken and need fixing. Be open to your new partner’s suggestions that some beliefs and behaviors need to change, even though you may not agree.

Also, the habit of talking about your ex needs to end. Your ex is part of your past. Like someone said, “The past is history, the future’s a mystery, and today is a gift. That why we call it the present.”   Your challenge is to leave your marriage and your ex in the past so you can enjoy and thrive in the present.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The prescription is to dissolve your resistance to your new changed life situation. Only then can you have confidence that your life after divorce will be happy and successful.

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This is the 9th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after a breakup depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that such a traumatic life event imposes on our lives.

Divorce Recovery Failure: Are You Being Seduced by the Status Quo?

By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “What makes recovering from divorce so difficult?” A higher percentage of second and third marriages end in divorce than first marriages. If we actually learn from our divorce experience, the percentage of second and third divorces should decrease, not increase.  If subsequent divorce rates are any indication, the track record of how well we recover from divorce is truly abysmal. Why is that?

(This is the 4th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

A successful recovery from a divorce requires us to make the transition from being coupled with our spouse to being uncoupled and single again. Sounds straightforward. Dare I even say “easy?” Oh, were it only that simple!

How Desperately Will We Cling to the Status Quo?

A few months after my first divorce was final, my ex invited me to come visit our daughters for a week. I leapt at the offer. When I got there, my ex and I fell into the old, familiar daily routines we had lived for ten years, including rekindling intimacy as if we were still married.

In retrospect, I was still holding on to parts of “how life used to be,” the old status quo. This prevented me from taking advantage of all the good  my new life situation offered and kept me locked up in my fantasy of the past.

We Fight to Maintain the Status Quo

Having a successful recovery from divorce demands: “You have to let go of your attachments to how life used to be. You must give up your attachment to the old status quo. You have to change.” However, we almost always reply, “No way! Not even if it would be in my  best interests to do so. I am not going to do it!”

The status quo is the on-going, consistent existing state of affairs. In divorce terms, the status quo refers to the existing state of affairs before the divorce, that we had come to take for granted. The status quo promises predictability and reassures us of (the illusion of) control in our lives. It gives us a stable “foundation” for our life.  Who wouldn’t be attracted to that? Who wouldn’t want to embrace and hold it dear?

We will cling fiercely to the stability promised by the status quo, even in the most dire situations, in order to prevent, or at least delay, the terrifying changes a divorce brings.

Once again, resistance to change wins.

Resistance to Change – The Root of All Divorce Recovery Evil

The Achille’s heel of a successful divorce recovery and the guardian of the status quo is simple, garden-variety resistance to change. And, even though dissolving our resistance to change is the one thing that will set us free to enjoy our life after divorce, we almost always refuse to do it.

What is resistance to change? It is the very human, emotion-based reluctance to accept a change in our lives, even if the change is for our own good. Change means casting the status quo aside and we just do not want to do that.

The emotion-based reluctance to accept a change is driven by two primary emotions, fear and loss: (1) our fear of an unknown future, and (2) our distress over what we have lost from how our life used to be. These emotions, fear and loss, spawn a whole host of related emotions that overwhelm us and paralyze most efforts to release our attachments to the memories of the past, the old status quo.

Resistance to change is present in every major life transition, including divorce. Its elimination is necessary to move on and thrive in your new life after divorce.

So, What Can You Do?

You must become hypervigilant and ruthlessly critical about your attachments to the status quo of your past. You should be willing to release your grip on the status quo and venture open-mindedly into the next chapter of your life, your future.  You need to be courageous enough to figure out what specifically it is about your new set of life circumstances you are having trouble accepting. That is, you should determine what parts of your past life with your ex you are trying to drag along into your present life. In other words, you must make the effort to dissolve your resistance to change!

The stakes are high. If you don’t successfully recover from your divorce, the odds are over 60% that you will end up back in divorce court. And, the single most important thing you can do to successfully recover from your divorce is to release your death grip on the status quo and dissolve your resistance to change. Only then will it be possible for you to access and enjoy all the good that your new life offers.

Divorce Recovery, Early Dating & Transition Relationships: Shift Happens – Or at Least It Should

                                                                                                                    

                                                                             By Jerald Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question, “What is the biggest threat to the success of early dating?”

Divorce leaves us broken. Always. Regardless of who wanted it. A transition relationship acts like an emergency room doctor who helps us heal. Want to know how that works?

You just got (or are getting) divorced. You are ending a relationship that, at the end, had more negatives than positives. That is a good thing. However, divorce also skews our perception of the world and wounds us emotionally. In the vernacular, divorce leaves us screwed up.

Divorce Messes with Our Head and Threatens Our Future

What we believe and why we feel the way we do after a divorce is, at best, less than congruent with reality. Hence, if we are to have any hope of developing a new, healthy long-term relationship, we need to make some changes.

If we don’t do this, we are not fully prepared to start a new committed relationship. In fact, failure to adjust our beliefs, feelings, and behavior after divorce is a big part of why 66% of 2nd marriages and 75%  of 3rd marriages fail. In other words, we gotta change.

A Transition Relationship Can Help Us Make Those Changes

Early dating, that is, dating before or shortly after the divorce is final, typically results in a “transition relationship,” even though the two people usually are not aware that that is what it is. The purpose of a transition relationship is to help you make the conversion from being coupled to being uncoupled with your ex. It will allow you to re-experience validation and realize you are still lovable. It will also help you change the flawed beliefs and feelings caused by divorce that  now hinder your forming successful, new relationships.

We Need to Make Some Changes

Normally, several shifts or changes need to occur. Some shifts involve how we look at our transition relationship itself. Other changes involve what we believe, how we feel, and how we act because of our divorce.

           Shifts in the agenda for the transition relationship itself. The initial elation fanned by the exhilaration of heaven-sent validation feels like this new relationship is a long-term, permanent bond leading to marriage between two willing and independent equals in which there is no need to change. Aren’t we told that love is, “to accept you as you are?”  We are convinced this is it! We have found our soul mate!

This is way too much, way too soon. Right now your transition relationship can only help you let go of your attachments to your past life with your ex, not plan out the next several decades. “Accept me as I am” is a romantic fantasy. Your job is to institute the changes in you that will make a successful long-term relationship possible.  It is too soon to know if it will last. You have plenty of time. Use it to get settled from the divorce and get prepared for the future.

         Shifts in beliefs. Typical defective beliefs that survive divorce include: “I need an apology from my ex.” “I need an explanation from my ex.” “My ex is the villain here.” “I will never find true love again.” “I am unattractive and unlovable.” “I am unworthy of the relationship of my dreams.” “I am too old to have the relationship of my dreams.”

Shift in feelings. Some normal, damaging feelings include guilt, anger, hate, shame,  embarrassment,  invalidation, resentment, revenge, victimization, etc. The transition relationship offers a setting to trade in those hurtful feelings for more useful ones like being grateful for what the marriage and breakup has taught you and excited and hopeful about what the next chapter can bring.

Shift in behavior. Some common behaviors that make early dating difficult include checking out your ex’s Facebook page, asking friends about your ex, talking frequently about your divorce and your ex with your current partner. Other problematic behaviors include talking, texting, and emailing with your ex and treating your new partner the same way you treated your ex. Some discussion of your divorce is normal, but when it becomes a routine topic of conversation with your current partner, it is a problem worthy of change. Do different things with your new partner that distracts you from the situation such as going to cooking classes dc. Take your mind off your old relationship.

However, We Don’t Want to Make Changes

We almost never “feel the need” to make a change. The relationship feels like the real thing. Neither partner thinks it is a temporary “transition” relationship, preferring to believe it is the beginning of the next long-term, committed relationship. So, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

And the Point Is…

It needs fixing, anyway.

You got divorced. And divorce gives all of us some dysfunctional beliefs, feelings and behaviors that threaten our future happiness. Any hope of finding a new healthy relationship requires that you fix what the divorce broke. This means you must change. Then, and only then, are you a safe partner for someone else seeking a long-term, committed relationship. Then, and only then, can you have confidence your next long-term relationship will not fail.

How do you do this? Dissolve your natural resistance to change.

 

Divorce Recovery and Disappointment: Why Don’t Support Groups, Therapy, or Time Work Very Well?

By Jerald W. Young, Ph.D.

This article answers the question: “Why don’t the common methods for helping people recover from a divorce  (support groups, therapy, and passage of time) work very well?” The divorce rate for second marriages is higher than the divorce rate for first marriages. And the divorce rate for third marriages is even higher still. This defies common sense. If the traditional methods for facilitating a full recovery from divorce were effective, wouldn’t the subsequent divorce rates decrease, not increase? Here is why they don’t and what you can do about it.

(This is the 2nd article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)

My first marriage lasted ten years. My second marriage ended in divorce also. During both marriage ceremonies I expected the marriage to last “until death do us part.” They didn’t. I was sad, disappointed, and confused. Safe to say, I didn’t learn much from my first divorce. More importantly, I didn’t realize that the kind of help I got to recover from my 1st  divorce set me up to forge headlong into my 2nd  divorce.

The Statistics Are Ugly

Turns out 42% to 50% of first marriages end in divorce. Around 66%  of second marriages and 75% of third marriages also end in divorce. And if that is not shocking enough, one estimate of divorce in fourth marriages is 93% within the first five years.

These rates paint a bleak picture for the likelihood that a marriage will last. This surprising pattern of numbers begs the question, “What the heck is going on?”

Logically, we would expect the divorce rates to decrease, not increase, across subsequent marriages since presumably we should learn from our experience and make our next marriage less likely, not more likely, to end in divorce.

The fact that the divorce rate increases with each subsequent marriage tells us something is drastically wrong with how we recover from divorce.

What could that be?

The Ruthless, Heavy-Handed Nature of Emotions

Strong negative emotions suck up all the air in the room. When relentless, painful emotions are present, you can’t make good decisions about your life after divorce.

Divorce is like the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park which spews boiling hot water regularly 24/7. Except, the divorce geyser spews strong negative emotions 24/7.  Like the geyser, the emotions of divorce come in waves. A client once described it as like having uncontrollable diarrhea. Just when you think you have your feelings under control, here comes the next  wave of misery.

We’ve all been there: sadness, anger, disappointment, resentment, guilt, hopelessness, helplessness, retribution, failure, embarrassment, shame, loss, fear, inadequacy, etc. The emotions are so strong, overwhelming, and intrusive in our everyday life, it is understandable that we would see our primary problem as, “how can I stop these horrible feelings from happening?”

The Traditional Approach: Divorce Causes Traumatic Feelings that Should be Fixed

The traditional approach to divorce recovery assumes that the feelings you are having are the primary problem. Changing how you feel from bad to happy is the goal. Three solutions designed to “fix” your sad and depressing feelings are: (1) join a support group , (2) undergo psychotherapy, and (3) let time heal the wounds.

          Divorce support groups. Divorce support groups let you vent your feelings to a sympathetic audience. You realize you’re not going crazy.  However, after your emotions stabilize, support groups are not set up to help with the on-going problem of putting your new life after divorce in order.  Being open-ended, support groups tempt members to continue rehashing their feelings week after week without helping them to move on. Using a baseball metaphor, support groups get you to first base, but do not bring you around to score.

          Psychotherapy. Like support groups, psychotherapy provides a way to express feelings and the time frame is also open-ended. In therapy you are asked to look to the past and ask the question, “Why am I having these particular reactions to my divorce?”  What to do about your reactions and your life going forward is normally not the primary focus, if it is addressed at all.

          Time heals everything. This method of recovering from divorce contends that bad emotions will wither away and die if given enough time. However, time by itself heals nothing. My sister-in-law went through a bitter divorce and waited for time to heal her anger at her ex. Twenty-five years later she died alone and lonely, still holding on to her resentment. Time did not heal her.

Only problem is, as the divorce statistics attest, these three traditional solutions do not work very well.

Question: Why Don’t These Solutions Work?

Answer: We are using them to solve the wrong problem!

Why do time, support groups and therapy all fail? They all assume the primary problem is how you feel. And, traditional approaches will make you feel better.

However, they will not enable you to recover fully from divorce. Everyone who gets divorced “wants to feel better.” However, the critical issue is the life transition triggered by divorce, not the actual feelings caused by divorce.  That is, the primary problem is how to navigate the post-divorce life transition, not simply how to “defang,” or render harmless, the feelings that are attached to that transition.

So, What’s a Person to Do?

The secret of a successful divorce recovery is to effectively navigate your transition to life after divorce. Instead of focusing on the feelings you are experiencing, shift your focus to the transition process you are navigating. Specifically, focus on how you can reduce your resistance to accepting the changes in your life your divorce has caused. Only then can you see the positive potential in your future and learn from the past so that your next relationship has a better chance of lasting.