There is no word or title to describe me

It occurred to me recently that there is no title for me that my ex-husbands new children can use when referring to me. There is not a single word to describe ‘my-half-siblings-mother’ or ‘my-fathers-ex-wife’ in the English language.  This made me think of how important titles are to me and that each one comes with a built in group of expectations and beliefs — mother, daughter, sister, friend, partner, step-mother, cousin, niece, woman, professional…ex-wife.

Yup…despite trying to fulfill as well as I can on all of the expectations of all of these titles, I still ended up as an ex-wife. Which is a title that I did not want. I am keenly aware of the beliefs and expectations that people have of someone with the title of ‘ex-wife’. Especially my ex-husbands’ beliefs and expectations.

So this thought that I need a title for what my ex-husbands new children can call me seems important to me. These titles tell us and the rest of the world how we relate to one another and what they can expect from us. A title is helpful and makes it simple and straightforward for people to lump us in to their own thinking so they can move on with their day.

I most certainly don’t want to take up anyone’s time by trying to describe the complex-messy-fullness that is my life and the relationships and people in it. It would be so much easier to just say a word and everyone – including me – can immediately understand the relationship.

The fact that I am thoughtful about what my ex-husband’s children will call me is a sign of my growth and progress.

6.5 years ago my thoughts were occupied with my immediate survival of being heartbroken.  With two very young children I was worried about waking up each day and doing the next thing required of me. I had a new title – single mother.

And then, as time went on, my thoughts and energies were devoted to the process of living each day and trying…trying, to fulfill on these new titles that I grappled with wearing. Separated, ex-wife…high-conflict divorcee. I was living each day doing the best I could trying to wear all of the new expectations and

beliefs about these titles that I would never have chosen for myself. This violent shove into a new reality was more than I thought I could handle. I did my best.

We were stuck for years in our roles and titles as ‘ex’s’ in a ‘fight’. Not ‘fight’ in the messy yelling kind of way (although we’ve had our moments); more a ‘fight’ in the legal wrangling kind of fight. We added ‘client’ to our list of titles. Our divorce lawyers happily became our guides through the family court system.

We had a couple of legal issues, but mostly we just didn’t have the skills to

resolve issues with our enemy — a new title we both wore. Enemy. Nemesis. Again, living up to the beliefs and expectations of these titles for one another.

We both believed that we were doing a great job of insulating our children from our battle. We didn’t argue in front of them. We were exceedingly polite when we did speak. We effectively ignored each others’ spouses, but again, we would never be overtly rude! We did not think we spoke badly of the other parent. We both believed we were doing a great job protecting these beautiful children from our inner, legal and financial turmoil. We were both fighting the good fight. Doing what the family law system tells us is the right way to serve our children. This allowed us to add “martyr” to the long list of titles we were accumulating through this process.

We ended up being very angry, bitter, broke, suffering – all titles I wore proudly to show the fight was worth it. Fighting endlessly with the only result being that one of you loses is stressful and painful. It’s frightening. For some reason, we also felt like our children didn’t see or feel our fear. After 6+ years in the family court system we were at an impasse.

Family counselling became a way out of the wet paper bag that was our lives…no judge could solve our issues. No two lawyers would encourage us to just speak to one another! We were ingrained in our titles of warriors and enemies. Then we began family counselling.

The humbling experience of family counselling began in earnest…with bi-weekly appointments and tension that you could cut with a knife. We all met together, the four of us; me and my spouse with my co-parent and his wife. We had to deal with our titles and our beliefs about one another. We had to learn how we would speak to one another and the basics of human interactions. We said our fears out loud. We listened and heard one another for the first time. We got angry. We got resolution. We got to laugh. We cried. We reached…agreement. An agreement about how we wanted to co-parent going forward.

 

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Through this process I have come to accept that we all carry another title…a title that overrides any of us as individuals. We are a SYSTEM. Each part of the system is critical. We all have roles in the system. We each have impact on the others. This was a humbling thing to accept  because you can not stay enemies with someone your system/team depends on! You need them to be happy and healthy so that your children, and ultimately the system can thrive. We are a family system. None of us chose it. None of us know how to do it well. We are all learning. We are all figuring it out as we go.

Through the process of accepting the system  I could still name my roles in the system. Mother. Partner. Co-parent. I was defining how I wanted to look and feel in these roles and with growing confidence we were all wearing our titles with some pride. We were developing new expectations for those titles in our system.

Which brought me to the realization that started this entire thing…there is not a word for me and my role in the lives of my ex-husbands children. What do Luke and Emily call someone who loves them simply because they were born my children’s sibling? What title would apply to someone who values and cares for you as part of a family entity that all works together?

I have heard that the number of words a society has for something indicates how important it is to the society. Is it true that my role in their system is not important? That can’t be because I have seen evidence of the fact that we are a system. And I have empirical evidence that all of our lives are improved with the acknowledgement that we are a system. A living and breathing and evolving system that must work together to the benefit of everyone in it. Does everyone else get a title except me?

Looking back on all of the titles I have worn during this process I have to wonder…do these titles actually help us? Are the beliefs and expectations for each role even true? Do titles alone describe the value of each role in the system? Have these titles and beliefs that society puts on all of us helping us forge ahead in this new world of blended families, problem solving with the enemy, and embracing the fact that we are a system…that no individual is more valued than another?

No!!! Living up to these titles might be the reason we stayed so long as a failing system.

I choose to see this lack of a name and title as liberation…we can all define my role in their little lives in a way that works for us in our system – no expectations or set beliefs. If my role is not immediately clear and understood by others, that’s okay because maybe in describing the role I play to others we can all move the needle on how we understand and name people in a blended family system. How we can move past the titles and become valued parts a system that thrives. It is not perfect, but it thrives. It is not our choice, but it is our reality. I, for one, am ready to break out from the titles and beliefs and expectations everyone has of divorce and blended families and I want to say….”I’m ready to try this in a way that honours everyone in the system. In a way that honours me”

Who needs a title when I have a name. They can call just me Karen  🙂

 

(editors note: this post was submitted by a mother, co-parent, person … who was brave enough to imagine, seek, find and adopt a different outcome after separation and divorce)

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 Are You Getting The Love You Crave?

One of the greatest resources for marriage and family is the book by Harvile Hendrix (Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. – ISBN 10: 0-8050-6895-3) and, in the twentieth anniversary edition, joined by his wife Helen Lakelley Hunt accurately titled “Getting The Love You Want”.  This is a brief summary* aimed to get you interested enough to buy the book and use it, along with the exercises and maybe even a therapist to make your romantic relationship into the best love of your life.

SUMMARY   by H. Holt & Company

One of my main realizations in Getting The Love You Want was that the two individuals in a relationship need to let go of the illusion that they are the centre of the universe and learn to see each other as equal partners. There are indeed two people in the relationship. When two individuals surrender their centrality, something unexpected occurs – the relationship itself  becomes the center. Once that fundamental shift occurs, they can begin to work with the unconscious purpose of their relationship, not against it. They can begin to accept the fact that being in an intimate love relationship calls forth all the unresolved issues of their childhood, and that they can learn how to work together to resolve them.  We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship. Indeed, we cannot be fully healed outside of a relationship.  This is the idea that resonated with so many couples.

  • The first step is become more conscious of our old wounds. We look into the past for evidence of how we were denied adequate nurturing and how we repressed essential parts of our being. We do this through therapy, prayer, and reflection, and by becoming more astute observers of everyday events.  As we gather new insights, we share them with our partners, because we no longer assume they can read our minds.  When our partners share their thoughts and feelings with us, we listen with understanding and compassion, knowing that this sharing is a sacred trust.  Gradually we start to “reimage” our partners, to see them as they really are wounded children seeking salvation.
  • Once we have this more accurate image, we begin to redesign our relationships to heal our wounds.

“To do this, we first build an atmosphere of safety and trust.  By closing our exits, renewing our commitment to each other, and deliberately pleasuring each other, we create a safe and nurturing environment.”  

We add to this feeling of safety and validation by learning to communicate openly and effectively.  As we overcome our resistance to this new way of relating, we begin to see our partners with even more clarity.  We learn that they have fears and weaknesses and desires that they have never shared with us.  We listen to their criticisms of us and realize that these illuminate our own darkness.  We tell ourselves: “My partner has something to say about me. There is probably a measure of truth in this comment.”  Gradually we come to accept the fullness, the dark and the light of our own being.

  • The next step in the healing process is perhaps the most difficult: we make a decision to act on the information we are acquiring about ourselves and our partners and become our partner’s healers. We go against our instinct to focus on our own needs and make a conscious choice to focus on theirs.  To do this, we must conquer our fear of change.  As we respond to our partners’ needs, we are surprised to discover that, in healing our partners, we are slowly reclaiming parts of our own lost selves.  We are integrating parts of our being that were cut off in childhood.  We find ourselves regaining our capacity to think and to feel, to be sexually and spiritually alive, and to express ourselves in creative ways.
  • Dec 16th 2008006_editedAs we reflect on all that we are learning, we see that the painful moments in life are in reality opportunities for growth. Instead of blocking the pain, we ask ourselves: “What  truth is trying to emerge at this moment?  What primal feelings are hiding beneath these feelings of sadness, anxiety, and frustration?” We learn that the underlying feelings are pain and rage and the fear of death, and that these feelings are common to us all.  Finally, we find a safe and growth-producing way to express these powerful emotions and no longer allow them jeopardize our relationships.
  • One by one, the elements of our marriage that were once unconscious-the fears, the anger, the childhood needs, the archaic pain-are brought to the surface, first to find acceptance, then, ultimately, to be resolved. As our wounds heal and as more hidden parts of ourselves come into our awareness, we have a new sense of our inherent unity and wholeness.

For more information on how to get the love you want contact us today!

* This brief summary was originally published by Henry Holt and Company and the entire summary can be found at: http://www.peace.ca/gettingtheloveyouwant.htm

Do You Feel You’re Not Getting Anywhere?

How often do we feel frustrated and alone, like no matter what we try life doesn’t seem to get any better. We might change this or that behaviour, for at least a short while, only to end up back in the same situation. We can gradually or not so gradually get more down, hopeless and tried as we seem to return to the same ‘rut’. I heard once the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth?

The poem below, written by Portia Nelson, conveys these very sentiments and walks the reader through five ‘chapters’ in order to signal a flicker of hope somewhere on the road of life.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk (five chapters)

                     1

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5

I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I think most of us want to believe we can change, that things will improve, and that one day we will reach that illusive better place? While there are certainly no guarantees and we really don’t know anything for sure about the future, what is life without hope? How do we, in the face of severe difficulties, loss, pain and grief, manage to hold onto hope? What can we do to regain a sense of hope we may have one had?

These and other questions strike a nerve in our spiritual being. Who am I? Why be good to myself and others? What does the end of life really mean? Almost all people will contemplate questions like these, pondering issues that do not seem to be answerable by science; at least not yet anyway. This is both a frustrating and exciting element of human life. This is where faith and one’s belief system becomes essential. Our task is to examine our hearts and minds, our emotional selves and seek to discover an improved understanding of ourselves and the amazingly contradictory world we live in.

A journey that doesn’t include the unknown is not really much of a journey at all. Imagine a trip with no surprises, no unexpected discoveries, whether this is an actual holiday or the challenging journey in a close relationship. As we said to our children in preparation for our adventures, “let’s find a way to look forward to and enjoy the journey”.   Rather than being a burden, this attitude seemed to improve our ‘getting along’ and each leg of the trip a more enjoyable and exciting adventure.

Cognitive shifting can help us see situations a bit more positively and in a way that helps us achieve a more balanced emotional state. We can change our thought patterns about almost any event or situation when we are determined to stop falling into the holes in the sidewalk.

 

 

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Oshawa therapist, durham region counseling

Or Hard Road Ahead?

Should you find you are struggling in your marriage, you may land upon this post. Like so many, you have likely grown frustrated and complacent in your marriage to the point where you are considering options. In addition, you may not feel loved, respected nor valued in your marriage.

Negative thoughts may have already begun to creep into your head; thoughts such as: “Maybe I married the wrong person?” or “I just can’t get through to her/him”.  Others like “There’s got to be something better out there for me” and “what’s the point in trying anymore?” pull you further from your spouse and solutions.

Well, if any of these sound familiar beware! There is a strong wave of evidence that confirms our thoughts are not our own and they also are not fact. Our opinions, ideas, notions and beliefs have been gradually loaded into our mind (super hard drive) over the course of our entire lives by others, all experiences and situations, through every one of our senses: every single sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and feeling we have ever been exposed to.

So before you take that giant leap out of your romance, marriage and family, you may want to explore your thoughts and experiences a little further. It may be you are being driven by unconscious thoughts and patterns from your past; patterns of interacting that predate your marriage?

Think about it. Why is it the negative voice only gives two options when we are unhappy in our romantic relationship; “Stay and be miserable” or “Leave and he happy” ?  What about the just as plausible options of ‘leave and be miserable’ and ‘stay and work on being happier’ ?

Maybe that negative voice, I like to call “stinking thinkin”, just wants to trick us into poorer choices and less healthy outcomes? I often say that little negative voice (or virus) doesn’t have to “get” the kids… it only has to get the parents arguing, disagreeing, fighting and then splitting, then it has the kids.

Why not ask yourself, “Have I really done everything I can do?” Then consider how many books you have read on the topic or people you have used to find helpful solutions. How much coaching or counseling have you really been open to? Why not look into Gary Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages” or one great resource by Harville Hendrix; “Getting The Love You Want”

In other words, have you really done all you can or are you just taking what seems to look like an easy escape route from your relationship? Caution! Very, very rarely does something truly magnificent come from an “easy” route.

If you’d like assistance to achieve a more fulfilling marriage contact one of our counsellors today!

 

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Dec 16th 2008006_edited(submitted by a young blog contributor)

Having been in a relationship for four years, the question comes up quite frequently. When are you getting married? Are you ready to take the next step? The problem I am having with marriage is that I am only 22. Fresh out of university, I am about to embark on a career path that could take me anywhere. How can I commit my life to someone this early with so many unknowns.

Although the 50s was a very misogynistic era, at least with my lens,  marriage was simple because it operated by fulfilling the goals of one career path. The man went where the work was and the family moved along with him. In no way am I implying that we should regress back to the social system we maintained in the 50s and 60s. But in recent years, there is a degree of complexity we have added to the pursuit of our “soul mate”.  Marriage is a traditional construct that we are attempting to apply to a modern society. Seeing as nearly half of them fail, something has made maintaining a marriage more complicated. It is the norm for both sexes to pursue demanding careers in order to “make something of themselves”. Even though the individual may feel like the perfect person for you, if their life and goals do not fit with your career projection, it may be destined to fail.

Globalization has made it simpler and sometimes necessary to work/study in different countries to progress in many careers. Many job interviewers have told me that to climb the corporate ladder you need to be “mobile”. In order to become established in a career, you need to be tenacious and willing to put in the hours. But, putting so much time into one area of your life inevitably causes other areas to suffer. Even with Skype, Facetime and other forms of virtual communication, it doesn’t seem to be enough for a long-term and long-distance relationship. Through the screen, so much of the physical and emotional companionship is lost. Is it possible to maintain a marriage with someone effectively without living at least in the same city? They are supposed to be your best friend, that person you share your day with over dinner. Sure, a few months is manageable, but a few years seems a lot less likely to succeed.

This is why I see marriage as such a daunting step in the progression of my relationship. Perhaps career path is just another factor that needs to be clearer in order to find and decide upon that special someone. If your career is very time consuming, maybe you either need to find someone with a more passive focus on their career or sacrifice your own pursuit of professional self-actualization for that special someone. In a society that teaches hard work leads to happiness and success, maybe there is no room for a significant other while in your 20s?

(submitted by a wife and mother)

When Life Throws A Curve Ball???

Why are we always faced with some really tough decisions in life?  Life threw me a curve ball back in April and I had to re-evaluate what is really important for me and my well being.  My husband and I separated and I had to make some pretty fast financial decisions.

I parked the truck, started taking transit and decided to start seriously looking for a job in Oshawa where I live.  I had been travelling to Pickering and back at least 3-4 days per week, often times working into the evenings and not getting home until 9:00 p.m.  My travel took 4 hours in a day, what a waste of time!!!!  I applied for a job with excellent hours in Oshawa and I got the job. I was so very excited.  I would miss my co-workers in Pickering but I am so happy to be working near my home.

When I get stressed, I want to keep my mind occupied but I was getting a little too carried away.  I had five jobs (3 at-home dicta-typing jobs) and I also wanted to sing on the weekends.  I had to put a stop to some of these chaotic behaviours because I knew if I wore myself too thin, I would end up getting sick.  What good would that be?  I now realize how hard it was for my spouse because when would we actually get to see each other and have quality time together?  Most of the time, I was too tired to do anything, I just wanted to sleep on my off hours!!   We hardly communicated because we were like two ships passing in the night.

The past few months have allowed me to reflect on what is really important – my family.  My husband is in an addiction rehab residence and he is doing well.  Oh, it WON’T be easy, trust me, I know this!!!  I also know that we are married and my spouse has an illness – actually two of them –  which both affect his mood negatively.  It takes two to make a marriage work and we both have to work at it. For now, because of our poor decisions months back, we are working at it from a distance.

My goal is to be healthy and happy, that is all I want out of life.

******************************

For more information on “How to Communicate Effectively with your Spouse” and also “How to Manage Stress”, please contact one of our counsellors today

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The ending of a love relationship can be a difficult time in our lives. Regardless of whether the relationship is better off finished, we still can experience pain and hurt at this time. Some of us may experience this pain longer than others. Some may not experience it at all. This is because they have been accustomed to burying it deep or storing it away. Regardless of the length of our pain, most, if not all of us, want the feeling to end as quickly as possible.

Working to overcome pain can also look different to people. Some may ignore it and perform their daily routine as though nothing has changed. These individuals may sound like this: “I’m not going to let this interrupt my life. I’ve got other things to do.”

Some may dwell so deeply in their pain, overcoming it seems impossible. “Why did this happen to me? I will never find someone to love me again.”

Others may want the pain to end so quickly that they jump into a relationship with someone else. They believe that “things will be different this time.”

And then there are others who choose acceptance of their pain. They decide not to rush out of their feeling too quickly, but instead, explore this pain. This decision is brought on by the premise that one can only learn from what one feels; otherwise learning cannot take place.  Some may also find themselves in a cycle leading to increasingly more painful stages when they experience one ending relationship after another.

We will be posting a series of the process of rebuilding oneself when a significant romantic relationship ends. We feel that this process cannot be explained away, ‘put behind’ us or simply resolved in any one post, blog or self-help resource.

You may identify with the different ways people cope with pain mentioned. You may also realize great relationships don’t just happen. If you do know this, you want to get council, coaching or advice to improve your recovery and increase your odds at creating a satisfying and truly magnificent romance. To get help with your specific relationship challenge, call us today.

 

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