Take baby steps

I was one of the lucky ones. After the divorce, I wound up with the house, acquired a good job, and kept my life largely intact. Even so, those first two years after Bob left were horrendous.

Two years. My mind knew it would take that long to regain my balance, perhaps longer; my heart wished it all away.

During the period of greatest stress I tried not to make too many irrevocable decisions. Friends and family urged me to do all sorts of things. Sell the house and find a small condo, and move to another city, were two of the more constant refrains. I was so stressed that I experienced a phenomenon that I can only describe as a noise in my head. So many fears crowded in on me, that I couldn't think straight.

So if you can possibly stave off making major decisions during this time (besides those pertaining to your divorce and family) then try not to act on them. Hold off moving or purchasing major items. You don't need to pile on more stress or worries, or to wake up from your nightmare and feel buyer's remorse.


Be aware of rebound relationships after your divorce

I noticed last week that Tom Arnold filed for divorce from his third wife. Mr. Arnold, if you recall, was married to Roseanne Barr. She, too, has been married three times, as has Quincy Jones. Donald Trump, Jennifer Lopez, and Tom Cruise are on their third marriages. What are the odds of these unions lasting? I'd be reluctant to place a bet.

I have noticed since my own divorce the number of people my age (and younger) who have been married three times. Three men I dated were married thrice. All of them were nice, hard-working, and respectable individuals who tried their best to make their second and third marriages work. My former sister-in-law, also divorce-prone, is married to her third husband. In between these unions, she had two serious relationships with men with whom she bought and shared a house.

Had I married my first serious beau after my divorce, I'd be divorced twice by now. The thought is mindboggling.

From the start I was leery of the rebound relationship I embarked on after my divorce. The big warning signal? This wonderful man had been married three times already. Nevertheless, I went out with him and fell in love because:
  • He was different from Bob
  • He was kind, gentle, and sexy
  • I needed affirmation as a woman
  • He made me laugh at a time when I was still crying
  • I was lonely
After the first flush of excitement receded we both discovered:
  • We loved and cared for each other
  • We had nothing in common, not even politics
  • The relationship was going nowhere
  • We were getting restless
We lasted for four years, and although my break up with this man was hard emotionally, I kept my finances intact and there were no legal issues to resolve. So, as you feel your way through your new life, be careful of a rebound relationship and give yourself some time to adjust to your single state. My best advice to you (and myself) is to marry your next love for all the right reasons, and to love them for who they are, not for who you want them (or need them) to be.


Does Divorce Make You Happier?

Bob left our marriage because he was seeking happiness. His restlessness and yearning for something better, always evident through our many moves and his many jobs, and his habitual need to blame someone or something externally, finally landed on me. I was happy in my marriage. Content. And reveling in my love for him and in the long success of our relationship.

When he left, I asked him two things. One: Was he going through a midlife crisis? No, he said, but we both knew better. And two: Did he think he could find happiness by blaming me for his unhappy state?

His answer was unsatisfactory. I found out years later that he was still a desperately unhappy man in his new marriage, while I was still quite content. Is there a lesson to be learned from my situation? If you've had no history of abuse or drugs in your marriage, or experienced no extraordinary external factors, such as the death of a child, the following information might interest you.

Below are listed just a few of the results of a 2002 study entitled, Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages, By Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo, and Scott M. Stanley,

Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married. Even unhappy spouses who had divorced and remarried were no happier, on average, than unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.

• Divorce did not reduce symptoms of depression for unhappily married adults, or raise their self-esteem, or increase their sense of mastery, on average, compared to unhappy spouses who stayed married. This was true even after controlling for race, age, gender, and income.

• The vast majority of divorces (74 percent) happened to adults who had been happily married five years previously. In this group, divorce was associated with dramatic declines in happiness and psychological well-being compared to those who stayed married.

Unhappy marriages were less common than unhappy spouses. Three out of four unhappily married adults were married to someone who was happy with the marriage.

This report comes from a team of family scholars chaired by Linda J. Waite of the University of Chicago. © 2002.

The point of this post is this: Continuing with one's marriage or ending it has a lot to do with attitude. Those who are willing to fight for their happiness and think that divorce is not an option, have a chance of working through their problems. But some folks, like Bob, just give up. I recall Bob saying to me: "My sister has married three times, and my brother has been divorced twice. Perhaps it's my turn."

With an attitude like that, did I stand a chance? Looking back, I think not.


Relieving the Stress of Divorce

A friend is going through a stressful period just now. She asked me for advice. What to tell her? Those of us going through divorce know that sometimes there's no getting away from the situation. Life's responsibilities press upon us and, as adults, we must meet them. Even as we are feeling at our lowest, we are asked to make major, life-changing decisions. During such a stressful time, anxiety attacks are not uncommon.

To my benefit, I have discovered that getting away from a stressful situation is helpful. When I felt bad, I would call friends in a nearby city and invite myself over. Even a short visit would give me the respite I needed. Often I would return home feeling refreshed, as if I had been gone for a week.

I also recall going to a day spa with two other girlfriends after the breakup of my first serious post-divorce relationship. We went to the Diva Den and spoiled ourselves, getting a pedicure and massage, and dining out and shopping afterwards. For just one day the tight ache in my chest left, and I believe those perfectly manicured nails helped me to get through a very dark time.

Do not be too proud to ask your friends for help, and be creative. Do you have young children but no money? Ask a friend with children to look after yours for an afternoon, and offer a swap time, giving her an opportunity to escape when she needs time alone.

Are you working three jobs and find yourself dismayed because your yard is a mess, as in my instance? Then treat yourself to professional yard service. The cost is well worth the reduction in your stress level. The same goes for your house. I called Merry Maids and gladly paid the $160 to have my house cleaned from top to bottom. At the time I was earning an average of $10/hour. I didn't care. The cost was worth the joy I felt when I stepped inside a clean house.

If you truly do not have the money, then set up a system of barter and trade with friends who are also going through a challenging time.

Mind Tools is a site that will help you understand how important it is to train your brain into thinking good thoughts and relieve it of stress. Click here to find some tools that have worked for me and others. Good luck!


Stress of divorce harmful to middle aged women

A recent study shows that divorced middle-aged women are more prone to heart disease than those who remain married.
Dr. Zhenmei Zhang, co-author of the findings from a Health and Retirement Study, found that emotional distress and a decline in financial status were the main factors linking divorce to heart disease in women.

“We found that divorced women have the lowest household income and wealth, compared to married women, widows and women who remarry,” Hayward says. “Divorce clearly leads to a drop in financial resources. Add that to the emotional distress that can stem from a change in residence, loss of social support or the potential of single parenting, and divorced middle-aged women are facing incredible stress that puts them at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to their cardiovascular health.”

The researchers were surprised the negative consequences of divorce did not go away with time, showing that divorce’s effects on women’s cardiovascular health appear to linger long after the divorce.

To read more about this study, click on this link from the University of Texas, Austin.

Another study entitled "Divorce: Trends and Consequences - Divorcing In Middle And Late Life" indicated that certain kinds of support can alleviate the stress of divorce.

Personal well-being following divorce also depends on social support, with some types of support being more helpful than others. Having a confidant who provides emotional and social support has been linked to reduced depression following divorce, while receiving material support can have a negative psychological effect. In addition, specific sources of support may vary based on age and gender. Middle-aged and older adults who divorce may not consider their parents as useful sources of help, while offspring may be more significant sources of support for this age group. In Carol Wright and Joseph Maxwell's 1991 study of persons divorcing after an average of twenty-eight years of marriage, women were more likely than men to rank grown children as the most helpful source of support. They received more advice, services, and financial, social, and emotional support from offspring than did men. In contrast, friends and parents reportedly provided more support than offspring to men.
To read the full article, click here.

The moral of these studies, I suppose, is that while the stress of divorce can be harmful to one's health, a family's support can counteract many these bad consequences. I do not have children that I can turn to, but I do enjoy a large circle of friends, a close relationship with my brother, and the love and support of my parents.

A friend of mine forwarded this email to me this morning. In light of these two studies, truer words were never spoken:

...A lecturer, when explaining stress management to an audience, raised a glass of water and asked, "How heavy is this glass of water? Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.

The lecturer replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long you try to hold it. "If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance."

"In each case, it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes."

He continued, "And that's the way it is with stress management. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on. "

"As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on with the burden. "

"So, before you return home tonight, put the burden of work/life down. Don't carry it home. You can pick it up tomorrow."

So what can you do to reduce the stress you are feeling during divorce? Find something to do that you truly enjoy. Call a close friend, hug a dog or baby, volunteer with a group that does something you find worthwhile (like rescuing pets), write a letter to an old friend, exercise, take a long bath, or watch a funny movie.

If you regularly seek relief from your pain for even five minutes, you will soon discover that the world will start to look just a little bit brighter than it did before.


The Divorce Channel: Children and Divorce

In light of Alec Baldwin's and David Hasselhof's well publicized custody battles over their children, here are some clips that discuss alternate ways to handle divorce when children are involved.

This is the second show of the Divorce Channel with guest Allison Bell, Child Psychologist. Host Al Frankel, divorce therapist and mediator, interviews her about the topic of divorce and children. These clips are posted on You Tube. In all, they will take around 30 minutes to view.

Number 2, Part A


Number 2, part B

...collaborative divorce, which I have found to be refreshing, and remarkably sane..."

Number 2, Part C

"Children have a lot of resiliency..."

Number 2, Part D

"If parents can stop the warfare, then there are some out of the box ideas..."

Number 2, Part E

"Here are some do's and don'ts about kids when you're getting divorced..."

Number 2, Part F

"Sometimes when parents go through divorce they might be needy and need comfort themselves. That's understandable ..."

Alison Bell's phone number is: 914-232-1211. She lives in New York state.


Podcast on Marriage and Divorce for Men

I listen to the Glen and Helen Show, a series of free podcasts offered through the Itunes library. Dr. Helen Smith is a forensic psychologist who discusses a variety of topics that interest me.

This link will take you to her blog and the podcast about divorce, in which divorce attorney Lauren Strange-Boston discusses the different ways men and women approach divorce negotiations.

You do not need an Ipod to listen.


The kindness of strangers, men specifically

Edited to contain new material: My lawnmower conked out. I bought it in 2000 and spared no expense for a cordless electric, instant start, self propelling mower. This fall, the electrical wiring to the plug loosened, and the mower is no longer fully juicing. It stops after about 10 minutes.

What to do? Who fixes electrical mowers? And if I paid the person, what would he charge?

So, after consulting with my brother, I bought a cheap gas mower. It is taking two men over two hours to put the wheels on. I would never be able to do this by myself. Even with the tools in my girlie bucket, I simply do not have the strength to hold the nut in one hand and tighten the bolt with the other while juggling the mower on my knees.

Most men I encounter have been willing, ready, and able to help out this single woman. Just this weekend an old beau called to say hello and catch up with the news. When he heard about my electric mower he offered to come over to check on it (he is an electrician) or, if he couldn't resolve the problem, take the mower to a home for juvenile delinquents where the electrical teacher would work on it for the cost of the parts.

Another problem resolved, thanks to a helpful male. Things have a way of working themselves out, haven't they? It's time I pay the favor forward.


Redecorating is good for the soul

It took me a full year before I realized I could do anything to my house I wanted. For 12 months I still operated under that double way of thinking: "What would Bob approve of?" One day it occurred to me that I needed no one's sanction, and I began to move forward.

The changes came slowly at first. I painted my bathroom a brilliant Barbados blue and added a tropical motif to the curtains and towels. But then I began to seriously rethink my furniture and rooms. As a single person with fewer social responsibilities, I needed a different configuration.

I moved the dining room furniture to the living room, which was seldom used, and created a seating area/tv area in the diningroom, which was open to the kitchen. Knocking down a few more walls with the help of my brother, I opened up the entire living space. An electrician friend upgraded my light fixtures, and I rolled up my sleeves and painted away.

A year later I designed a bedroom/livingroom suite in the basement with a kitchenette, and rented it out. I had found the perfect way of making the house pay for itself, while writing off major portions of it.

Just recently I added crown molding and chair railing to the living/dining room - kitchen area, and I am making arrangements to paint my livingroom a brighter, bolder color. (Bob liked white.) My redecorating is still not completed, though my place already looks more streamlined and brighter.

And then it occurred to me: As I transformed myself to suit my new situation, I also transformed my house. I feel as if a load has been lifted off me, and it shows.


Those familiar gestures

Six years after my marriage has ended, I still feel I know my ex well. Have you ever reunited with a close friend from high school or college? The years might have intervened and lots of stuff might have happened, but after you caught up with the details of your lives, you probably felt comfortable with one another again. That's because the essential "you," "me," and "we" haven't changed. You note the physical differences, but if you were once close, you turn to the essentials, forgetting the intervening years.

A few years after Bob left the house, he contacted me asking me if I still had some of his stuff. "Yes," I replied, "in the garage." By that time, he'd remarried and was living in another city. I did not keep these items out of sentimentality. I had been busy working three jobs and simply did not have the time to scour the attic and garage to get rid of the boxes of junk we had accumulated over nearly three decades together.

He came at the assigned time. I did not take him through my house (once ours), but asked him to meet me in the garage. He immediately spotted the old cedar chest that held his winter shirts and old jackets, and some other boxes I had put aside for his inspection.

I stood stiffly by a side doorway, watching him. We discussed the Lord of the Rings film trilogy (in our younger years we had been avid science fiction/Tolkien fans) and a few other sundry "safe" topics. In the middle of our conversation, he lifted the hem of his t-shirt, and rubbed his sweating brow, revealing his navel and chest.

Several observations swept through my mind as I saw him go through this familiar ritual, which I had observed for 32 years, especially after playing tennis or during yard work. One, he was wearing a wedding ring. He refused to wear one when married to me. Two, he had gained weight, something he had accused me of doing before abandoning our marriage, and that he said really impacted him. Three, the gesture was so familiar, I felt the years slipping away. It was as if we were still married and I felt exposed.

So, I turned my back, told him to take what he needed, but that I needed to go. I had things to do. Minutes later I heard his rental car leave. That was the last time Bob visited the house.

I have seen him once since, at a friend's funeral. He had gained even more weight, and was almost completely unrecognizable with his puffy cheeks and without his mustache. Except for those familiar gestures of hand, facial expression, and mouth, I would not have stopped to say a polite Howdoyoudo. Giving me a smarmy smile, (one that for years I had observed him giving to people he did not like) he hugged me. I recoiled at his touch.

Even though the after-funeral reception had just started, I left with a friend. There were other, better ways I could honor Leslie's memory, and we went to her favorite restaurant where the waiters and I shared our thoughts of her.

To this day I will remember post-divorce Bob in two ways: That wedding ring and that unwelcome hug. Familiar gestures, similar interests, and years of shared history be damned, unlike the hugs and handshakes that I welcome from friends of a bygone era, that man had unearned the right to touch me. One year later, I still shudder at the memory.