Entering Marriage With Blinders On

Marriage is such an important step in our lives, but many of us enter into it without a plan or any serious preparation. We’re caught up in the romance of it and the notion of happily ever after. We put more diligent effort into other more mundane things, like getting a driver’s license. To earn your driver’s license, you have to study a handbook, take behind-the-wheel lessons from an instructor, and practice on your own. And even after all that preparation, you may still flunk the driving test and have to go back for a second try.

When it comes to marriage, however, there’s no official handbook, no marriage class at school, no dry run. For many of us, “marriage prep” boils down to an emphasis on planning the wedding and dreaming of a perfect life together. But once the big event is over and the newlywed bliss has worn off, we discover we don’t have the tools to talk things out, or we’re stifled by taboos and avoid discussing the important things that aren’t working in our marriage.

When we change the way we look at marriage from things like:

“Everything will work out once we are married, because we love each other” to things like “Before we get married lets talk about our beliefs and preferences and see what we agree on” Or “We need to learn to compromise and work together to meet each other’s needs”. We then will adopt the approach of, working on our relationship together, as the new norm. We have this idea from the past that we shouldn’t have to work on our personal relationships. We say things like “ I work hard enough out in the world slaying the dragon” or “ I work on my career, I don’t want to work on my relationship” we adopt the attitude that says, our relationship should be harmonious and loving without us working on it. It really is a limited way of looking at marriage and commitment. Because of course, most of us could use some work on our relationship and communication skills. We are bringing all of our unique family patterns and behaviors with us into our relationships. We all need to explain ourselves and understand our partners in order for our unions to last, let alone thrive. If we worked half as hard on our personal relationships as we do on our careers we would be living very different lives.  Let’s make conflict resolution and communication skills things that we teach to our children as part of courting. If we do this we will be making a great leap forward in our attempt at happy life long commitments.

Many people have the flawed notion that when we tie the knot all our relationship issues will magically be resolved. We believe that if one of us has irritating habits or we don’t agree on certain things, the act of getting married will make all those problems disappear. Unfortunately, marriage doesn’t stop dysfunctional behavior. It doesn’t prevent harmful family dynamics, compulsiveness, addictions, depression, anger issues, or any other damaging behavior. It doesn’t change the person. In fact, it can often exacerbate bad behavior over time because we may feel relaxed enough to let that part of us show. We can no longer hide the truth of our inner life from our partner. Then we’re lost in a sea of regret, and the distance between us begins to grow.

How divorce affects children

In the United States, there is one divorce approximately every 36 seconds. That’s nearly 2,400 divorces per day. Fifty percent of all North-American children will witness the divorce of their parents and almost half of them will also see the breakup of a parent’s second marriage.

Many unhappy couples are concerned that divorce will have a negative impact on their children. But, research shows divorce may not be as detrimental to a child’s development as we think.

A study by Tamara Afifi, a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Santa Barbara, uncovered some of the most compelling research discoveries of the past four decades regarding children and divorce. According to her findings, the true damage to children is caused by parental conflict more so than by divorce itself. Children who are exposed to a lot of conflict and turbulence within their parents’ marriage, which creates a toxic home environment, show a far higher rate of long-term negative effects than children whose parents are divorced but continue working together in a positive way to create a loving, supportive environment. The bottom line is that parents who fight in an unhealthy way impact the children whether they stay married or not. Whether you decide to get divorced or stay married, a toxic environment rife with conflict will ultimately impact your children negatively. And that is definitely something to consider when it comes to making your decision on whether to stay together “for the sake of the children”.

The Blame Game: Stop Blaming and Start Reflecting.

Why are we so quick to place blame? When things go well, people are quick to take credit. When things go badly, however, people are less willing to take responsibility. Instead, they start pointing fingers at one another. “Whose fault is it?” “Who’s to blame?” “Who’s responsible?”  This kneejerk reaction to place blame on someone or something whenever things don’t go our way can be insidiously damaging.

In the case of the dissolution of a marriage, placing blame creates a war zone where battle lines are drawn.  But, if you want to move forward and create a healthy family environment, and I hope you do, you must forsake the blame game, engage in self-reflection, and own up to your part in the breakup. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you can experience personal growth, which will change your future and bring healthier interactions and relationships into your life.

Avoiding the blame game is not about losing sight of how hurtful breakups can be. Allow yourself to grieve and go through the myriad of emotions that comes with separation. But, don’t make “who’s at fault?” the most important part of your divorce journey. Eliminate the search for someone or something to blame. There’s a saying—“different face, same issues”—that indicates we will repeat the same mistakes over again with our next partner unless we learn the lessons from our previous relationship.

Taking responsibility for your role in your divorce may seem a more painful and difficult path, but it will pay off in the long run. It is so important to hold yourself accountable for your behavior around your children and family who are the innocent bystanders in your divorce. If you come from a place of self-examination and are willing to keep your side of the street clean, you can create a safer, calmer environment for yourself, your children, and others around you.

When you reject blame, you hold on to your power and become a safe harbor for your children. You teach them that you are not a victim, that you are present and accountable, and that you are working to grow and understand yourself and the ones you love. You are modeling this behavior for your children and they in turn will learn from this and apply it to their lives. You can be the spark, the small change in the family dynamics so that a positive ripple effect begins to spread. Let that brave person be you.

Take Time to Heal from the Shadow of Your Past

In order to allow for a healthy relationship with a new partner, you need to take time to heal from your divorce. Even in the best circumstances, however, healing can be limited by variables over which you have limited control, such as mental or physical illness, betrayal, or finances. Be aware that when you enter a new relationship, you may bring with you some of the wounds and patterns of behavior from your previous marriage and family. This can act like an anchor that weighs down your emerging relationship.

To remove that weight and create a foundation that will allow you and your new partner to grow, it is necessary to unravel where one relationship ended and the new one began. Recognize that due to past patterns and behaviors, you may find yourself inadvertently holding your new partner accountable for things they didn’t do. Similarly, your new partner may hold you responsible for certain situations that aren’t your fault. Try to recognize when the past is creeping into the present in ways that sabotage your new relationship. By identifying these patterns and doing the work individually to heal, you can adjust your responses and expectations in relation to these triggers from the past.

It is worth noting that if you are involved with someone who has come out of a very dysfunctional relationship where there was quite a bit of emotional, verbal, or even physical abuse, it will be a greater challenge. Understand and accept that it will require a lot of time and effort to work through the different layers that are being played out. It is not healthy to just accept the dysfunctional behavior as this perpetuates the behavior and prevents either of you from growing or moving on from the painful past encounters. You end up repeating old patterns and the damage compounds over time.

Take heart, there are ways to limit the damage from continuing into the future. A commitment to self-reflection and to doing individual healing work will really pay off. If you engage in self-reflection, which is a form of self-mastery, and then communicate your fears and feelings, it will put you on the road to healing old wounds and creating a higher state of awareness. You’ll be raising the bar for both your lives.

Hearts Get Broken – Part 1


How do we remain loving and conscious in the face of heartbreak?

Let’s start by saying, when it comes to matters of the heart we can only stand in awe of the amazing things love can do – it can heal us and make us strong. It also has the power to bring us to our knees and to challenge us to the very depths of our soul. Controlling oneself in the very beginning of a breakup, especially one that is perhaps leading to a divorce where children are involved, is not going to be easy. It can be extremely difficult. I don’t want to appear insensitive to the immense pain and destruction that may happen when someone is betrayed, lied to, or abandoned. It is true that our emotions may be pushed to their limits and that it takes a lot of self-control to keep your balance but, if we can just do our best to remember that in this fragile time we are in the position of having a big impact on our childrens’ and families’ lives as well as those of our friends and communities.

We are powerless over people and if there is one thing we know about love, you can’t make anyone love you; it’s given not taken.
We are only human. We are not machines that can be programmed to respond the way we would always like each other to respond. The heart has a mind and a will of its own and for many complicated reasons, who we love and how we love are not in our control. Yet, we look to our marriages as a place where we are now safe and secure, which is beautiful. But, the truth is, we are never really safe from one of us having a change of heart. Just because we have voiced a commitment to each other, it does not make us immune to being left, or leaving ourselves. What keeps our marriages or committed relationships strong and connected is not a piece of paper or the idea that we have taken vows and therefore we can count on that to be the glue to keep the relationship together.

So maybe one way we show up in the face of heartbreak is to acknowledge from the start that a piece of paper does not hold back the forces of nature and that it is important to pay attention to this as we enter into a commitment of any kind. The truth is we are always changing and anything can happen. If we come to this understanding then we can make other kinds of agreements around our unions. As we grow our capacity to allow in the possibility that relationships sometimes end, we can develop tools for communication that create a more peaceful outcome to breakups. This is how we create happier, healthier, long-term blended families.

Self-reflection: A Pathway to Healing

One of the most important qualities to develop in a relationship is self-reflection.

If each member in the relationship adopts the behavior of being truly self-reflective they can begin to do the work together. They can learn to grow their capacity for self-awareness and make the changes in themselves when encountering old and outmoded fear-based behaviors. We are often unaware of these behaviors in ourselves and may refer to them as blind spots.

If our partner tells us about certain behaviors they are encountering in the relationship, instead of becoming protective of the behavior, denying or justifying, we could choose to become willing listeners.  By being open to what we are not seeing about ourselves, we will gain greater insight into our inner child and begin to think about it in a new way. This is the act of self-reflection and the road to change; the reclaiming of your true self. Because the fact is, it is often the truth and we are in self-denial about the behavior and have a justification for why we are doing it. Here is where we do the work together. By being willing to let our partner in so they can tell us what they see and what it is like to engage with us, this gives us the power to change. It will take great trust and a lot of emotional energy to let each other into our well-guarded blind spots but that work can heal our wounds.

It is transformative work because by working together towards a common goal, they elevate the playing field their relationship is being lived out on. It takes both people doing the vulnerable work as well as both of them facilitating the work. One of the great benefits of this is that the wounds that we each bring to the relationship scar each other and as one heals by changing a behavior, the other also heals. Because you see, in our intimate relationships often the teeth match the wound. This is one of the dynamics that attracts us to each other.

If you are both committed to self-work, together you can move mountains.

Accepting Your Adult Child

The Games People Play

Parents being manipulated by their adult children:

What to do about your adult child who is pushing your guilt buttons to get their way. It is important to set your own limits about what you are and are not willing to do. You may be happy to speak by phone or spend time together, but have a prepared exit strategy if a pleasant interaction turns abusive or toxic. You may not be willing to stay with them if it is upsetting each time. Shorter visits may be preferable or you may even have to limit your interactions with an adult child, if they are not respecting your boundaries.

Changing the dynamics between the parent and adult child requires changing the way you interact together. Clarity is very important. The very nature of the interaction between the parent and adult child is a crossing of healthy boundaries. So, change the dynamics to help your boundary setting. Interact less often. Meet up at a neutral location, such as a restaurant for a meal. Prepare a broken record response if they begin to verbally attack you, such as, “I understand that you are unhappy right now but this is not ok and I am going to leave ”

You may be willing to help your adult child by talking and spending time with them regularly but if it ends in repeated upsets and hurt feelings that lead to the blame game or harsh words, you may want to rethink your strategy.

 Not tolerating verbally or emotionally abusive behavior from anyone, even your child.

Your boundaries will also include:

Giving less of your, time, attention, financial support.

The adult child must earn time spent together.

 Love is a gift not something that we are demanded upon to give. This can be a new way for both the parent and the adult child. Braking old patterns may take some time. Progress not perfection, patience is often required.  The parent is actually helping the adult child, because the behavior that the adult child is displaying is one that is unacceptable and allowing it or asking others to go along with it is a bad habit that the parent is part of.

Parent, you have certain rights as a person. When you had children, you didn’t give up your need for personal dignity or respect. You have a right to move closer emotionally to people who treat you well and are supportive. Put more distance between yourself and people, including your adult children, who mistreat you. You have a right to peace, and not being anybody’s emotional punching bag. Some adult children have unrealistic expectations. You are not meant to be always at the service of anybody, not even your child.

Remember, you are a part of the problem if, you enable bad behavior.

It’s a healthy response to develop the backbone to not be an enabler. This is reworking your part of the parent-child dance, doing your best to help your adult son or daughter stop blaming, and start addressing the issues in their own life. This takes strength, but it’s really the most loving and helpful thing you can do for your adult child: loving them, but stepping away from the drama, setting firm limits, and not feeding the problem. Maybe you’re still parenting, but shifting to an appropriate stance for your adult child’s situation, and encouraging their strength, health, and emotional growth.

Children in a war-like environment

Consider two people who fight and scream at each other and expose their children to a war-like environment all the time, but who choose to stay together and keep their marriage intact. They may believe divorce is a sin, or that the people in their families simply don’t get divorced. Whatever belief system they have, they may think staying married no matter what is the best outcome even if they raise their children in a war zone or in a house where they live separate lives and show no affection to one another. Is that better than getting a divorce? Whether you stay together or get a divorce, what matters most is that you create a healthy living environment in which to raise your children.

How Divorce Affects Children

Many unhappy couples are concerned that divorce will have a negative impact on their children. But research shows that divorce may not be as detrimental to a child’s development as we think.
A study by Tamara Afifi, a professor in the department of communications at UCSB, uncovered some of the most compelling research discoveries of the past four decades regarding children and divorce. According to the findings, the true damage to children is caused by parental conflict more so than by divorce itself. Children whose parents have a lot of conflict and turbulence within the marriage, creating a toxic home environment, have a far higher rate of long-term negative effects than children whose parents are divorced, and living in a loving supportive environment with parents who are working together in a positive way. . The bottom line is that parents who fight in an unhealthy way impact the children whether you stay married or not.

My Mantra

As part of a blended family myself, I’ve learned that it is best to take a conscious approach to life in a tribe. I’ve encountered all kinds of things that keep me growing and inspire me to turn inward in an effort to be more self-reflective. It is not always easy, and I’m sometimes shocked at how much I didn’t see in the beginning. But over the years, I’ve realized that in our family, I’m but one leg of the table. I’m very important, but the other three legs are just as important for the table to be strong enough to hold all of us. I try to let everyone deal with what they are bringing to the table while I keep my focus on what I can bring. I’ve adopted a mantra that helps keep me focused. It works for me and for my tribe.


If I can remember that I’m not always in control…

If I can give others grace when I feel trespassed upon…

If I can forgive and allow myself to have healthy boundaries…

If I can forgive and allow other family members to have healthy boundaries…

If I can speak up when I need to speak up…

If I can listen to others when I need to listen…

If I can avoid rushing in and pushing my agenda…

Then the family will find its own balance.