Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Dealing with Divorce

About half the marriages in the United States today end in divorce, so children of divorce are certainly not alone. But when it happens to you, you can feel very alone and unsure of what it all means. It may seem hard, but it is possible to cope with divorce — and have a good family life in spite of some changes divorce may bring.

Why Are My Parents Divorcing?

Parents divorce for many reasons. Usually divorce happens when couples feel they can no longer live together due to fighting and anger, or because the love they had when they married has changed. Divorce can also be because one parent falls in love with someone else, and sometimes it is due to a serious problem like drinking, abuse, or gambling.

It's common for teens to think that their parents' divorce is somehow their fault, but nothing could be further from the truth. Some teens may wonder if they could have helped to prevent the split. Others may wish they had prevented arguments by cooperating more within the family, doing better with their behavior, or getting better grades. But separation and divorce are a result of a couple's problems with each other, not with their kids. The decisions adults make about divorce are their own.

If your parents are divorcing, you may experience a lots of feelings. Your emotions may change frequently, too. You may feel angry, frustrated, upset, or sad. You might feel protective of one parent or blame one for the situation. You may feel abandoned, afraid, worried, or guilty. You may also feel relieved, especially if there has been a lot of tension at home. These feelings are normal and talking about them with a friend, family member or trusted adult can really help.

How Will Divorce Change My Life?

Depending on what happens in your family, you may have to adjust to many changes. These could include things like moving, changing schools, spending time with both parents separately, and perhaps dealing with parents' unpleasant feelings toward one another.

Your parents may go to court to determine custody arrangements. You may end up living with one parent most of the time and visiting the other, or your parents may split their time with you evenly.

Some teens have to travel between parents, and that may create challenges both socially and practically. But with time you can create a new routine that works. Often, it takes a while for custody arrangements to be finalized. This can give people time to adapt to these big changes and let families figure out what works best.

Money matters may change for your parents, too. A parent who didn't work during the marriage may need to find a job to pay for rent or a mortgage. This might be something a parent is excited about, but he or she may also feel nervous or pressured about finances. There are also expenses associated with divorce, from lawyers' fees to the cost of moving to a new place to live.

Your family may not be able to afford all the things you were used to before the divorce. This is one of the difficult changes often associated with divorce. There can be good changes too — but how you cope with the stressful changes depends on your situation, your personality, and your support network.

What Parents and Teens Can Do to Make Divorce Easier

Keep the peace.
Dealing with divorce is easiest when parents get along. Teens find it especially hard when their parents fight and argue or act with bitterness toward each other. You can't do much to influence how your parents behave during a divorce, but you can ask them to do their best to call a truce to any bickering or unkind things they might be saying about each other. No matter what problems a couple may face, as parents they need to handle visiting arrangements peacefully to minimize the stress their kids may feel.

Be fair. Most teens say it's important that parents don't try to get them to "take sides." You need to feel free to relate to one parent without the other parent acting jealous, hurt, or mad. It's unfair for anyone to feel that relating to one parent is being disloyal to the other or that the burden of one parent's happiness is on your shoulders.

When parents find it hard to let go of bitterness or anger, or if they are depressed about the changes brought on by divorce, they can find help from a counselor or therapist. This can help parents get past the pain divorce may have created, to find personal happiness, and to lift any burdens from their kids. Kids and teens can also benefit from seeing a family therapist or someone who specializes in helping them get through the stress of a family breakup.

Keep in touch. Going back and forth between two homes can be tough, especially if parents live far apart. It can be a good idea to keep in touch with a parent you see less often because of distance. Even a quick email saying "I'm thinking of you" helps ease the feelings of missing each other. Making an effort to stay in touch when you're apart can keep both of you up to date on everyday activities and ideas.

Work it out. You may want both parents to come to special events, like games, meets, plays, or recitals. But sometimes a parent may find it awkward to attend if the other is present. It helps if parents can figure out a way to make this work, especially because you may need to feel the support and presence of both parents even more during divorce. You might be able to come up with an idea for a compromise or solution to this problem and suggest it to both parents.

Talk about the future.
Lots of teens whose parents divorce worry that their own plans for the future could be affected. Some are concerned that the costs of divorce (like legal fees and expenses of two households) might mean there will be less money for college or other things.

Pick a good time to tell your parents about your concerns
— when there's enough time to sit down with one or both parents to discuss how the divorce will affect you. Don't worry about putting added stress on your parents. It's better to bring your concerns into the open than to keep them to yourself and let worries or resentment build. There are solutions for most problems and counselors who can help teens and their parents find those solutions.

Figure out your strengths.
How do you deal with stress? Do you get angry and take it out on siblings, friends, or yourself? Or are you someone who is a more of a pleaser who puts others first? Do you tend to avoid conflict altogether and just hope that problems will magically disappear? A life-changing event like a divorce can put people through some tough times, but it can also help them learn about their strengths, and put in place some new coping skills. For example, how can you cope if one parent bad-mouths another? Sometimes staying quiet until the anger has subsided and then discussing it calmly with your mom or dad can help. You may want to tell them you have a right to love both your parents, no matter what they are doing to each other.

If you need help figuring out your strengths or how to cope — like from a favorite aunt or from your school counselor — ask for it! And if you find it hard to confront your parents, try writing them a letter. Figure out what works for you.

Live your life.
Sometimes during a divorce, parents may be so caught up in their own changes it can feel like your own life is on hold. In addition to staying focused on your own plans and dreams, make sure you participate in as many of your normal activities as possible. When things are changing at home, it can really help to keep some things, such as school activities and friends, the same. If things get too hard at home, see if you can stay with a friend or relative until things calm down. Take care of yourself by eating right and getting regular exercise — two great stress busters!

Let others support you. Talk about your feelings and reactions to the divorce with someone you trust. If you're feeling down or upset, let your friends and family members support you. These feelings usually pass. If they don't, and if you're feeling depressed or stressed out, or if it's hard to concentrate on your normal activities, let a counselor or therapist help you. Your parents, school counselor, or a doctor or other health professional can help you find one. Many communities and schools have support groups for kids and teens whose parents have divorced. It can really help to talk with other people your age who are going through similar experiences.

Bringing Out the Positive

There will be ups and downs in the process, but teens can cope successfully with their parents' divorce and the changes it brings. You may even discover some unexpected positives. Many teens find their parents are actually happier after the divorce or they may develop new and better ways of relating to both parents when they have separate time with each one.

Some teens learn compassion and caring skills when a younger brother or sister needs their support and care. Siblings who are closer in age may form tighter bonds, learning to count on each other more because they're facing the challenges of their parents' divorce together. Coping well with divorce also can bring out strength and maturity. Some become more responsible, better problem solvers, better listeners, or better friends. Looking back on the experience, lots of people say that they learned coping skills they never knew they had and feel stronger and more resilient as a result of what they went through.

Many movies have been made about divorce and stepfamilies — some with happy endings, some not. That's how it is in real life too. But most teens who go through a divorce learn (sometimes to their surprise) that they can make it through this difficult situation successfully. Giving it time, letting others support you along the way, and keeping an eye on the good things in your life can make all the difference.

Reviewed by: Michelle New, PhD

What Exactly Is Heartbreak?

Lots of things can cause heartbreak. Some people might have had a romantic relationship that ended before they were ready. Others might have strong feelings for someone who doesn't feel the same way. Or maybe a person feels sad or angry when a close friend ends or abandons the friendship. Although the causes may be different, the feeling of loss is the same — whether it's the loss of something real or the loss of something you only hoped for. People describe heartbreak as a feeling of heaviness, emptiness, and sadness.

How Can I Deal With How I Feel?

Most people will tell you you'll get over it or you'll meet someone else, but when it's happening to you, it can feel like no one else in the world has ever felt the same way. If you're experiencing these feelings, there are things you can do to lessen the pain. Here are some tips that might help:

* Share your feelings. Some people find that sharing their feelings with someone they trust — someone who recognizes what they're going through — helps them feel better. That could mean talking over all the things you feel, even having a good cry on the shoulder of a comforting friend or family member. Others find they heal better if they hang out and do the things they normally enjoy, like seeing a movie or going to a concert, to take their minds off the hurt. If you feel like someone can't relate to what you're going through or is dismissive of your feelings, find someone more sympathetic to talk to. (OK, we know that sharing feelings can be tough for guys, but you don't necessarily have to tell the football team or your wrestling coach what you're going through. Talk with a friend or family member, a teacher, or counselor. It might make you more comfortable if you find a female family member or friend, like an older sister or a neighbor, to talk to.)

* Remember what's good about you. This one is really important. Sometimes people with broken hearts start to blame themselves for what's happened. They may be really down on themselves, exaggerating their faults as though they did something to deserve the unhappiness they're experiencing. If you find this happening to you, nip it in the bud! Remind yourself of your good qualities, and if you can't think of them because your broken heart is clouding your view, get your friends to remind you.

* Take good care of yourself. A broken heart can be very stressful so don't let the rest of your body get broken too. Get lots of sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly to minimize stress and depression and give your self-esteem a boost.

* Don't be afraid to cry. Going through a break-up can be really tough, and getting some of those raw emotions out can be a big help. We know this is another tough one for guys, but there's no shame in crying now and then. No one has to see you do it — you don't have to start blubbering in class or at soccer practice or anything. Just a find a place where you can be alone, like crying into your pillow at night or in the shower when you're getting ready for the day.

* Do the things you normally enjoy. Whether it's seeing a movie or going to a concert, do something fun to take your mind off the negative feelings for a while.

* Keep yourself busy. Sometimes this is difficult when you're coping with sadness and grief, but it really helps. This is a great time to redecorate your room or try a new hobby. That doesn't mean you shouldn't think about what happened — working things through in our minds is all part of the healing process — it just means you should focus on other things too.

* Give yourself time. It takes time for sadness to go away. Almost everyone thinks they won't feel normal again, but the human spirit is amazing — and the heartbreak almost always heals after a while. But how long will that take? That depends on what caused your heartbreak, how you deal with loss, and how quickly you tend to bounce back from things. Getting over a break-up can take a couple of days to many weeks — and sometimes even months.

Some people feel that nothing will make them happy again and resort to alcohol or drugs. Others feel angry and want to hurt themselves or someone else. People who drink, do drugs, or cut themselves to escape from the reality of a loss may think they are numbing their pain, but the feeling is only temporary. They're not really dealing with the pain, only masking it, which makes all their feelings build up inside and prolongs the sadness.

Sometimes the sadness is so deep — or lasts so long — that a person may need some extra support. For someone who isn't starting to feel better after a few weeks or who continues to feel depressed, talking to a counselor or therapist can be very helpful.

So be patient with yourself, and let the healing begin.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Shroff Pendley, PhD

The 6 Stages Of A Broken Heart

Fixing a broken heart can be tough

At one point or another almost everyone has experienced a broken heart. Whether it happened in 3rd grade or a week before your 80th birthday, most of us can relate to the Celine Dion song "All by Myself" (even though we won't admit it). What's important is to get through this passing phase of your life. "Passing" is a verb I chose because you do get over it.

You definitely know it's time to stop brooding over your broken heart when you start to notice that your friends are ditching you (for some odd reason, analyzing the "break-up hug" for 3 hours a pop seems boring to them), your parents roll their eyes every time you recall a story about your ex, and the pictures of your ex are getting more dog-eared by the day. However, this grieving process is perfectly natural, and everyone has their own way of getting over a broken heart. My way is by following the 6 stages I mention below.
Stage One

The Realization - Lately you notice that things have been a bit rocky between you and your partner, well ROCKY may be an understatement! TREMULOUS, ROLLER COASTER RIDE FROM HELL is much more like it. Okay, maybe now I'm exaggerating. Anyways, you've come to realize that things aren't going to work out unless you enjoy getting the "silent treatment". Somehow, the sparks that were flying at the beginning of the relationship have now turned into an uncontrollable forest fire. Ultimately, you need to muster up the courage and face the fact that things aren't AREN'T WORKING.
Stage Two

The ACTUAL Realization - Okay, so you had the biggest fight ever and vow never to see him/her again. So, what happens now when you realize you can never call them again for a quick cup of coffee... or, at all? What if you start to miss them? What if they DON'T miss you? You might start to think maybe it wasn't a good idea to break up after all. And then you have an epiphany. OF COURSE it was a good idea -- the relationship wasn't working out. Don't call them, remember you broke up for a reason. Just because you miss them doesn't mean it'll be great when you see them again. Just keep reminding yourself why you broke up in the first place and DON'T CALL THEM!
Stage Three

The Crappy Part - Once you realize that your life will be different, this is what I call the crap-pi-phany (like epiphany). You go through the phase of listening to songs that remind you of them, cry into a pillow that still smells like them, and agonize about what's going to happen next. Your life may seem over, but trust me, time heals all wounds and even a broken heart will mend over time. This stage sucks, but it's vital believe me. DO NOT hold in your hurt, you'll only feel worst later on.
Stage Four

The Rage - That bitch/bastard! I treated them like gold! This is the most critical stage - Bitterness. You list all their annoying traits that you once thought was actually cute. Who actually uses the word "poopy"? At this point instead of wasting your day in bed watching old reruns of Maury Povich you get out of bed and dress to impress. Now that you look good and feel good you can actually say and believe, "if they don't want me, that's their problem, not mine." Over time you'll start missing them less and love yourself more. Keep yourself busy with new hobbies, school, work and friends. There is no point feeling sorry for yourself when there is a whole world out there waiting for you with plenty of new and exciting people to meet.
Stage Five

The Crush - Over time you'll begin to realize that your ex isn't the only one in the world. Wow! There's some damn fine peeps in this city. The point is, once you're able to open yourself up again, other people will want to get to know you. Even if you're not ready to start an intense relationship with somebody else, get out there and start having fun again. You'll get over your ex a lot faster if you stop moping around.
Stage Six

FREEDOM! -You haven't thought about your ex in days, (well it's a start) and BAM, there they are strolling down the street with someone else, AND your stomach doesn't lurch as if there's a gerbil on steroids lodged in your intestines, your face doesn't even turn bright red. When you say hi , your ex looks more uncomfortable than you. Once the encounter is over, you stroll away proud and tall and don't think about the encounter for more then 10 minutes ever again. (PS. Have they put on weight?). You smile, because now you know you are finally free and ready to open up and love again.

This concludes my analysis of the trauma of a broken heart, from my experience. Although some stages may be longer than others, the important thing to remember is, you WILL get over this. If someone doesn't love you anymore or you don't love them, there is no point in staying together even if it hurts to break up. Over time the pain will heal and you'll be ready to let others in and share your wonderful self with them. If they break your heart, learn, feel (because it's important to be human), and live again. I'm a true believer in soul mates, just because one relationship didn't click, doesn't mean that there's not another person waiting close by to snatch you up.
Lena Madrona - One of the love sick fools ~ lovesickfools.com copyright 2005 all rights reserved.