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10 Tips for Navigating Divorce While Strengthening Family Relationships
This blog post is written especially for one of my followers who requested this topic for my podcast episode. Her parents have gone through a divorce recently, and since I know what that feels like, I promised I would touch on this topic for her. Hopefully, this post will help many of you too. Here’s 10 tips for navigating divorce while strengthening family relationships.
I had the amazing opportunity to interview Dr. Matt Townsend on this subject. He is known as one of America’s top presenters in the field of Human Relations and Development. Before starting his own practice, Dr. Townsend worked as a consultant and presenter for Franklin Covey Co.
My conversation with Dr. Townsend brought up a lot of memories and past feelings for when my parents divorced when I was 18. While hearing his thoughts made me feel a little uneasy, his insights are so amazing and everyone needs to hear what he has to say about strengthening family relationships.
10 Tips for Navigating Divorce While Strengthening Family Relationships
Tip #1: Leave your kids out of it.
One of the most common mistakes parents make when going through a divorce is bad mouthing their spouse to one or more of their children. One thing to remember as a parent is that you will never win if the kids are in between. The kids should not know the baggage and they should not play the mediator.
What to do instead is to involve the kids as a united front. Tell your children together, as their parents, that you are getting a divorce. Remind them that the family has not failed, only the couple’s relationship has. Let them know this is a decision both of you are at peace about. It will be a much better experience for the parents and the children revealing the difficult news with this approach.
Tip #2: Communication is everything.
A lot of times, one spouse will want to talk or argue and the other one will shut down and avoid confrontation as much as possible. The one that avoids may think that is better than facing the conflict. However, communication is everything. When the two of you can sit down and talk about experiences and past emotional triggers, this could really clear a lot of things up. You will never know those things unless you clear the air and have a real conversation about it.
Tip #3: Slow down the divorce.
Quite often divorces happen so quickly immediately after something big happened. (e.g. someone had an affair.) While an affair or something similar is heavy to hold in a marriage, Dr. Townsend still recommends slowing down the divorce no matter what the offense or reason is.
Go to couples’ therapy and talk about those emotional triggers, common fights, etc. that could help you understand one another. If, after finding out more about your partner and their past, you still want a divorce, that is totally fine. The good thing about this approach is although your marriage is ending, the two of you can still have a healthy relationship that serves one another, and your children if you have them.
Tip #4: Generate some care and then still choose to let go.
Going to therapy or some type of counseling will help generate that care for your spouse. You can still care for your spouse even though you want a divorce. You should care for them as a person, as the parent of your children, and maybe even as a friend. Generating that care before the divorce is final will help eliminate so much pain once your lives change.
Tip #5: Resist the urge to bad talk your ex to your children and people involved in the divorce.
The more you talk badly about your ex to the people around you, the more they will talk badly about them too. This only brings toxic feelings like pride and hatred that doesn’t deserve a place in your heart or mind. Plus, it’s not fair to spread these negative feelings to the people who may care for your spouse (like your children). If you need to release anger about your ex, go to your therapist and do it there.
Tip #6: The real issue is needing to feel safe, lovable, capable, and belonging.
These four feelings of safety, loved, capable, and belonging is really what it comes down to in all your relationships, and especially in intimate relationships. When you feel tempted to fight over something like whose parent’s house you visit more, think about these four feelings and see why you are bringing up the argument. Do you not feel safe, etc. at your in-law’s home?
These four feelings should be on repeat in your mind whenever little problems come up. Think about yourself and why you feel anxious rather than blaming your spouse for the problem. Once you identify which of the four feelings you are experiencing, you can identify when you felt that feeling for the first time, even before your marriage. This will really help you understand your emotional triggers and how to heal them.
Tip #7: Stop blaming your partner for your attachment issues.
It’s so easy to blame someone for something negative you’re experiencing. That way the responsibility and the weight that comes with it is now off your shoulders and onto someone else’s. Instead of blaming your partner, look within yourself and see why you are having these feelings. (Refer to tip #6.)
Tip #8: Create your own behavior script.
Dr. Townsend coined this term “behavior script” when he explained setting boundaries. He recommends not trusting boundaries that are set based on feelings you had as a child and still haven’t let go of them. For example, if you haven’t let go of the feeling of loneliness due to a past event from your childhood, recognize the boundaries you’ve set connected to that feeling and get rid of it. You are changing and creating your new and improved behavior script when changing your boundaries that do not serve you.
Tip #9: Share your past emotional experiences with your spouse.
This is where therapy will help a lot. The couples’ therapist (or a mediator) can help open up each spouse and share past emotional experiences that are still affecting them and their marital relationship. Being vulnerable will help your spouse see you in a positive light and generate some care for you. This is exactly what you want (even if you both still want a divorce).
Tip #10: You thinking your partner is the problem, is the problem.
One thing to always remember is that a person is never the problem. Even if your spouse did something wrong that led both of you down the road of divorce, that is not the only problem. You must remember that your feelings of safety, loved, capable, and belonging come into play and are what drives you in your reactions to whatever has happened.
These 10 tips are a lot to take in, especially if you are the one going through a divorce right now. We suggest taking what you want and implementing whatever will help you at this time. Every divorce is hard for everyone involved. One thing to remember is that you are worthy of love, capable, safe, and you belong no matter where you are! No one needs to prove that to you, it simply just is.
If you’re interested in more of Dr. Townsend’s thoughts, you can check out his website here. He also has a book called, “Starved Stuff” where he covers the 7 basic needs of healthy relationships. Along with his book, Dr. Townsend recommends Dr. Sue Johnson’s book, “Hold Me Tight.”
You can follow Dr. Matt Townsend on Instagram @drmatttownsend for more tips on building and cultivating healthy relationships. And as always, you can follow me @cakebycourtney for tips on how to bake the best cakes! (Have you seen my Pumpkin Butter Pecan Cake yet?)