Bitter Divorces Are Destructive

Acrimonious divorces can bring you down to your knees financially, and destroy your health. Worse, they will emotionally injure your children.

The difference between a bitter and a healthy divorce depends on the choices you and your ex-partner make. A divorce involves a couple, not individuals. One or both of you can choose to have a bitter divorce. Conversely, both of you can choose to have an amicable one.

Most separations start with civility. However, one of the many causes or outcomes of divorce involves issues that developed during the marriage, such as resentment or an injury to self that can no longer be healed throught talking and repairs attempts. Divorce allows a partner to express their hurt and anger by opposing their former mate through the legal processs.

The fight might involve manipulation, generally about the children, the finances, or any form of social pressure. As one party throws allegations, the other feels a need to protect themselves and to respond in kind. An inexorable, escalating spiral of tit-for-tat retaliation takes place.

Characteristics of acrimonious divorces. They:

  • Lead to litigated adversarial stances.
  • Make it difficult for you not to counter if the other is warring against you.
  • Create bad feelings and anger that cannot be kept under control, and usually include  attempts to vindicate the past (e.g., he was unfaithful, she was a neglectful mother)
  • Involve mutual self-defeat.
  • Cause the children to suffer emotionally, as negative emotions cripple the parents
  • Mess up your health  during the process, which could last several months if not years. It could ruin any opportunity to rebuild a better life and relationship.
  • Are costly. Your economic resources could be used for your and your children’s’ benefit instead of being squandered.
  • You all lose.

Characteristics of healthy divorces:

  • They are civil, cooperative, and sometimes even amicable. Animosity and battling are kept to a minimum.
  • The reasons making a divorce go bad are fully understood and avoided (see next paragraph).
  • Have legal, economic and emotional objectives: they end the marriage within a reasonable timeframe without massive legal and other fees, distribute assets and income fairly, economic sacrifices are equally shared, both partners are allowed to grieve the end of the marriage and each can move on to new relationships without baggage.
  • They foster a sense of economic justice and basic trust as the other is not demonized. Communication remains effective, with mutual goodwill.
  • They achieve legitimate and positive goals for yourselves and your children.
  • Settlement agreements are negotiated before going to court. Economic issues such as child and spousal support are resolved, the property is equitably divided, and mutual rights and responsibilities as parents are spelled out in a fair custody agreement.
  • They minimize emotional impact on children and help them adjust to a new situation.
  • They transition to a new life for your all.

Reasons divorces go sour:

  • Though separating, you are still married. No matter how much distrust, pain and anger you feel, and the need for vindication or revenge, you are still emotionally connected. Fighting through a divorce is a means to ‘stay together’ for the duration of the proceedings.
  • There is no economic justice, such as an enormous financial disparity between the partners, where one feels victimized by the other.
  • There is no trust: one has demonized the other and has not given the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
  • No communication skills: communications are uneffective and their style is not conducive to future cooperative parenting.
  • There is no goodwill. Each expartner wishes ill upon the other and does not support the children in accepting the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
  • The nature of the legal system is adversarial and based on opposition instead of cooperation.
  • One or both partners’ behavior is abusive, stemming from a need for control or revenge, anger, flaring emotions, and because all that was disliked in the other and messed the relationship up is  now resurfacing during divorce: years of managed dysfunctions will now explode in the space of a few weeks. Tactics will include:
    – Contesting parental fitness (invoking drug abuse or various addictions, irresponsible, neglectful or abusive parenting, mental instability, reckless spending, etc.)
    – Endless spats of grounded or groundless allegations, some designed to drag the divorce and cause financial harm.
    – Intimidation and scare tactics, with threats  such as “I’ll get custody of the kids”, “I won’t pay”, etc.
    – Hiding assets well ahead of requesting for divorce or during the divorce, or failing to account accurately for one’s possessions.
  • The impossibility to reconcile emotions and rationality. On one hand, one must fight against the fear of becoming economically destitute, to protect self against the new ‘enemy’, or worry that the children might be stolen or their mind  poisoned by the other. On the other hand, there is the memory that there  was love once and the knowledge that the expartner is the key to the children’s emotional and psychological health.
  • If settlement agreements are unfair and unworkable or incomplete,  the feelings of bitterness and injustice that emanate from them lead to regrettable actions, such as defaulting on child support obligations or not adequately meeting the children’s economic needs. When flawed, the settlement will need to be reworked in court.
  • Negative feelings interfere with readjustment, growth, and new relationships.
  • Social circles are broken as family, friends and acquaintances take side, and sometimes even interfere with the divorce process.
  • Fears about custody arrangements and alienation from the children.

You can take measures to protect yourself and the children, and to  ensure a reasonable divorce or at least,  contain the effects of a bad one:

  • Minimize stressors in your life. Allegations and fights may be part of your divorce process. Each time you are accused of whatever fault by your partner’s lawyer , you will be emotionally flooded. Flooding impedes rational thinking and you could make a mistake in defending yourself as you create doomsday scenarios in your head and succumb to panic.
  • Whenever an allegation is thrown at you, sleep if off. Do not answer immediately. Allow your feeling of  injustice or rage to wither before you formulate an answer.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate your worst case scenario, such as losing significant parts of your assets, losing visitation or shared custody of the children, not getting enough financial support, etc. Plan accordingly. Follow up with a best case scenario and a realistic scenario will emerge.
  • Answer allegations one at a time. One at a time. Sort and address each issue separately when several are raised all at once. Collect whatever evidence you have, text messages, documents, statements, pictures, videos, any recorded media, and organize them in a folder, one for each allegation. Give that folder to your lawyer. Keep adding to it. Whether you ex partner’s allegation is correct or baseless, you need to collect mitigating evidence or evidence to the contrary. If you make an allegation, be prepared to stack supporting evidence.
    – Was he a big spender who imperiled family finances? Was she a gambler? Back it up. Get the receipts and credit card statements, match them against your documented income by way of bank or other statements.
    – Did he abuse the children? Back it up. Get records from doctors and counselors or ask for psych evaluations of the children. If you have photographs or texts exchanged after such incidents, print them out. If you are the accused, and you are certain that she purports such allegations so to deprive you of your custody rights, then appoint third parties to do the discovery for you. As paid and impartial professionals, they’ll bring their findings to the table.
    – Does he say that you are preventing access to the children? Keep a record of calls and visits. Stop attempting to minimize visits if no visible abuse has taken place.
    – Does he say that you are a drunk….. and you are? Mitigate. Show proof that you are seeking help for your alcoholism.
    – Does she say that you have some mental issues, and you do? Show evidence that you are undergoing therapy, taking medication, and seeking help.
    – What if you are not an alcoholic, you are not suffering from mental issues? Get a report from a GP and a specialist, then get a psych assessment.
    – Does he say that you are unwilling to compromise and you make unreasonable demands? Call a mediator, and show proof that you attempted conciliation on whatever issue he accused you of stalling.
  • Concentrate on the big issues. Petty ‘he says-she says’ fights  get expensive when handled by lawyers. Get third parties to help you, understanding that you, and you alone can keep your agents in check.
  • Do not attack the character of your ex-partner, especially to the children.  This could be construed as an attempt to alienate the children.Concentrate on managing your partner’s behaviors instead.
  • Keep it business-like. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If answering emails or texts is too emotionally taxing and risk a scathing reply, then have someone else handle it, or wait to read them.

Note: I  worked for the State of Colorado district courts as an investigator,  and as advocate in cases involving  custody of children caught in domestic disputes, separations and divorce. I was appointed to act in the best interest of the child. As such I am very familiar with acrimonious domestic and divorce cases, and I am fully trained to assess  impacts on the children caught in such situations.

We broke up: now what?

Leaving a relationship is difficult and may be one of the most emotionally painful experiences you will live. If you decided to be the ‘quitter’, you may think that this is easier because you are prepared and you have already mentally adjusted. The person being left, your partner, is likely to have more difficulties handling the breakup, as s/he is not fully prepared mentally and emotionally. S/he may have missed the cues, and is taken by surprise. However, leaving is not easy for either side. Each role brings its own issues. In any case, the break up will affect many areas of your life as you pick up the pieces and deal with the disappointment of a broken experience.

A break up affects people at many levels: emotional, social, psychological and material. No matter who breaks the relationship, the partner with the most economic power will “win”, i.e., will suffer the least damage at least in the social and economic realms.  The aftermath of the breakup may result in resentment, retaliation, and anger from your partner and your own anger.  Then there will be material demands such as dividing property, finding a new place to live, deciding on child custody, working with lawyers, and setting new boundaries with your ex partner. This whole process may take weeks or months and even years, as you adjust and rebuild your life and create new beginnings.

You may be hurting right now, even if you are the one who decided to break it off. The pain tells you that you need to heal and learn from this experience. Yet, many of us seem to rush into a new committed relationship before we have had time to take stock about what went wrong and why the relationship ended.

Although we are all different people, breakups follow similar patterns. Moreover, all crises, as they end, follow a similar pattern!

The following may help you make sense of the feelings and situations you may experience with the end of a relationship and other various crises. It is a road map to what to expect over time, until we can say that we have recovered and became wiser about the experience. These feelings and attitudes may happen in succession,  a cycle, or concurrently.

Denial comes first, no matter if we are the one who leaves or the one left behind.  Denial is a wonderful mechanism that allows us to only feel as much pain as we can handle in a given moment. Denial prevents us getting overwhelmed. As we adjust we come back to realities and over time accept what is. Denial subsides gently over weeks, months, or sometimes years.

Acceptance that the relationship has ended breaks denial.  It involves asking honest questions about what caused the separation. If you are the one leaving, part of that work is already done, yet if the separation results in a flare up of destructive emotions involving anger and retaliation, there will be denial as you are experiencing the outcome of your partner’s wrath… and the consequences of enacting your own.

Fear.  We don’t know what comes next as the fabric of our life disintegrates and we have now an empty slate, where we are free to recreate, alone, whatever future we want for ourselves, not knowing whether we have the courage to move on and meet the unknown.

We now slowly start adapting to new circumstances. Some of us are now single parents and must become self-supporting. We have an empty slate. This can be paralyzing.  Unless we can identify and face our fears, the main one being fear of an unknown future, we are likely to experience all of them, unprepared.

The next feeling we experience it of loneliness. Some habits must be altered as you are now totally alone and no longer including another person in what you do. You need to transmute loneliness to aloneness, a state where you are comfortable being on your own and with yourself.

Let’s look at friendship. We may need the presence of friends more than ever when we separate, yet separation and divorce may be threatening to friends as they feel they may have to side, or the separation forces them to question their own relationship. You must be aware that some social relationships will end with the breakup. This may be a time to assess who around you understands the emotional pain you feel and your new status, without rejecting you.

Guilt and rejection are natural feelings during a separation and generally the person who breaks it off feels guilt for hurting the other, while the other feels rejected. Those feelings last as long as the “separation honeymoon”. During that stage everyone tries to behave. Then, within generally three months of the separation, anger is expressed, and the outcomes may be devastating. But, anger is necessary in the process of letting go.

Whether you are the one who leaves, or the one left behind, we brought a lot of our past in that relationship, and the past often determines the present course of events.

Anger can be the most explosive step, and still is absolutely necessary.  Many people discover a brand-new side to themselves and experience rage to an extent they never thought possible. The rage is generally directed at the ex-partner and their property. Rage, if handled properly, is an excellent means to distance yourself emotionally from your ex-partner. In some cases, this emotion becomes extreme, as it also always involves vindictiveness and bitterness. Besides physical harm, an extremely destructive form of expressing anger consists in using the children as a vehicle. If you need to hit below the belt, do not use the children. It is they who will suffer most. Also, remember that if anger could not be expressed in the course of the relationship, it will erupt as you separate and divorce because buried feelings are now allowed to surface.

Grief is the most emotionally draining part of a crisis, yet it is critical to the recovery process. It combines sadness and despair, and may come out as a continuous self talk about the situation, feeling drained, emotional numbness, loss of reality, depression, sleeplessness, significant weight loss, rapid mood changes, and developing illness. A particular note: suicide ideations are common in approximately 75% of persons experiencing grief.

Letting go is another step that happens progressively. It is important to stop investing emotionally in a dead relationship, as this is an investment without chance of return. It is best to invest in your personal growth and fully disentangle. Adopting a no-contact policy for a while and removing mementos are good policy while you still feel fragile. It doesn’t have to be forever.

Then come self-worth. Some relationships that end in separation were destructive to one or both partners’ self-esteem and their sense of self-identity. Self-esteem is often at its lowest when the love relationship ends. To improve self-worth, you must come to terms with the various feelings experienced during a breakup. A separation can become an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. But to do this, you must make a decision to change.

After all this,  there is a period of transition. You want to understand why the relationship ended, perform a kind of autopsy.  This allows you to work on yourself and built different relationships in the future. During that stage, if you do the job, you will understand the various influences  of your family of origins, your social circle, how your own habits and patterns contributed to shaping the relationship. Now is an opportunity to work it all out.  This transition, if well handled, will prepare you to become free to be yourself.  Here are some of the qualities you might work at:

Trust. Build a basic level of trust in yourself as you adjust to singlehood. Too often, we think we cannot trust anyone from the opposite sex anymore after a separation. Loving means to risk being vulnerable again and risking being hurt again. It does not mean that you have to withhold your trust.

Openness. Stop pretending to be someone you are not and to be feeling what you’re not.  It is time to take off the mask and drop the shield. Wearing a mask cannot be sustained over time, as it consumes too much emotional energy and prevents intimate connections. Be yourself, at least with your (new) mate and friends.  Keep the veneer for work and social, non-intimate relationships.

Love. A relationship forces us to ask what love means to us. Often we think that a relationship fails because we are not lovable enough, when in fact it was our partner’s definition of love that was, maybe, not appropriate for us. Learn to love yourself first and foremost, so that you can give love and receive love.

As children, we ought have received unconditional love from our parents. When this was denied to us we turn to our partners and we’re bound to be disappointed because the only unconditional love we can get as adults is the love and unconditional regard we give ourselves.

After a relationship end, we may find another relationship very quickly. It seems that this new relationship has everything which lacked in the previous one. It is not necessarily so. What has happened instead is that we are becoming who we want to be and we are taking back our power and taking responsibility for what we feel as we become clearer about what we want.

Too many people believe that rushing to a new committed, long-term, relationship is going to make them feel ok again. This will not work out. The healthy way to look at those new relationships post-separation is as “rebound.” They are transitional and designed to make you feel whole again. They fulfill the  purpose of making us feel better about ourselves and emphasize passion and romantic love. Yet, be aware that they are built during a needy time in our life. Ensure that your new partner is aware of this. Also learn the skill of healthy termination.

Sex. Conventional wisdom has it that being single guarantees lots of free sex. The other side of the coin is that having a partner ensures stable and safe satisfaction of sexual desires.   People may fall into extremes after a separation: that of no sex at all because of the pain, or that of near compulsive sex, – one night stands – by beaming anger, loneliness, self-doubts to their sex drive. What matters is to find how the emotional aspect of your relationships supports your sexual relationship and whether you can respect your partner and share similar moral value systems about what you consider appropriate sexual behavio

About being single.

There are a few more hurdles that you need to overcome before you can say that you have handled your separation successfully and that you have rebuilt a life to your liking, such as learning to live alone and become once again an independent person. It has drawbacks, especially for women. Single women do not fare well economically compared to single men and couples.  It is also a stage in which you may become stuck for fear of being hurt again if you haven’t done your homework. Look at the benefits: now you have the freedom of choice. As you look backward and take stock, you have come out stronger and more emotionally resilient. You know more about yourself. You have worked through many feelings and experiences. You are free to choose to remain single or try another relationship!

A special word about children. Children of divorce go through the same process described in this article and need to rebuild too. As they follow your example, they will adjust more quickly as a result and grow emotionally resilient. Also, research points to single parents becoming more responsive to the needs of their children, because of what they have learned during separation and divorce.

How do I help and support my friend when I see them in a bad relationship?

You know that your friend’s partner is bad influence and that s/he is not the type of person you would want to mingle with if s/he wasn’t your friend’s dearest. You have also noticed that your friend is no longer his or her usual self and has progressively become more despondent, has lost those wonderful qualities that made you like them and want their friendship in the first place. They are getting somewhat depressed and lifeless, and you know that it has nothing to do with the job or with health concerns. You’ve heard him or her make statements about how their bf or gf has odd behaviors, ones that are both puzzling and painful to them. These comments have increased overtime and are becoming more desperate . Does she tell you that she has to tell him hour by hour where she goes? Does he tell you about sudden mood shifts that make him walk on eggshells?

Sometimes you meet for coffee or lunch, and they spend the whole outing dissecting what their partner does, and they seem to be running in a loop, caught in the same thoughts, trying to understand what is going on? You feel they are stuck in some kind of obsessive monologue, which they can’t escape.

Your thought is “it’s time to tell him or her to get the hell out of this relationship”, but you don’t do it.   You know your friend might challenge what you say, they might even get so angry and pained by your words, that you might lose their friendship. They need you to listen to them, not give unrequited advice, and besides, should you get involved, without risking to impose your thoughts upon them, and be perceived as judgmental or controlling?

Here’s a map to navigate a possibly explosive situation: getting involved and sharing your concerns without being too abrupt about it. Give your friend the gift of your (clearer) observations about their current state of well-being, and about their partner, without appearing to tell them what to do.

First, ask yourself what is your motive in ‘helping’. Is the partner a real asshole who is hurting your friend, or are you trying to get rid of competition?

If you conclude that your motive is clear, and you can impeccably articulate that your friend truly is no longer the wholesome self they once were, that their relationship is not enhancing them nor allowing them tap a new potential, but instead is dulling and distressing them to the point that they are at the most miserable and vulnerable you have known them to ever be, then you are probably right in wanting to help them steer away from a destructive path.

Please understand that blurting out the obvious truth is more destructive than helpful. Your friend got in a relationship for various reasons, but mainly for what s/he thought to be love. They had a dream. We all want our dreams to hold true. As the reality was somewhat different, your friend worked hard to keep the dream alive, very hard indeed. The investment was and remains huge and they want to see it through.  In the process of expanding energy in kindling their relationship, they have become accustomed to ‘different’ ways of interacting. Some of these ways arouse various strong feelings, some good, elation and bliss, others bad, sadness and loss. This different way of interacting, for them, has become, over a period of months or years, a new normal situation. Your friend is not only accustomed to it, expecting it, even if hurtful beyond belief, s/he now craves it and is no longer detached from it.   And here you are, wondering how this happened. Time did it, through progressive adaptation.

It happened because your friend’s brain and whole being strove for consistency. So s/he adapted to bizarre circumstances, slowly, step by step, and now they can’t see the forest for the tree, which you do, for the simple fact that you are removed from the situation: you are not bogged in the quicksand. But they are.

How do you now realign your friend’s fogged lenses back to the reality of their situation?

As stated above, your blurting out why the partner is a d**** won’t work.  What you can do, when your friend tells you about their partner’s bad behavior, is to not jump and say “yes I know and this is…..”, but instead suggest to him or her an alternative example of more reasonable and loving behaviors.  You could also say “what??? Tell me more…” then refer them to an online resource about relationships you just happen to have read. Do this, every time your friend narrates a new incident, mention having heard/read about something similar. Cite the story as you perhaps read it or heard it from a media source or from a third party, and suggest the online link you have read.

Nothing more. I repeat, nothing more. Whatever awakening they come to, they must always walk that walk on their own. Only provide sign posts. Give them some information, but never your opinion.

Meanwhile, remain neutral. Show your feeling of sympathy for their angst. However, if their obsessive talk about their partner is spoiling your meeting with them, direct them to talk about some fun things and simply point out to them that this time is about you two, not about the partner.

Here are some resources:

If the discussion centers on those first moments when they met their partner and some uneasy feelings about it, they can check this site:

If you and your friend are discussing current behaviors and patterns, these sites might help:

If you are now discussing the partner’s unsettling personality traits, this site might help:

And if you believe that a threshold of spiraling abuse, possibly leading to violence is about to be crossed, suggest this:

All those sources are in the popular domain. They are conversational and high level, in the dating advice rubrics of any magazine. Some are published by advocacy organizations.

If you strongly believe that your friend is currently in a relationship involving a cycle of abuse and dynamics of violence, it is no longer appropriate to be soft spoken about it. Rather than say “leave”, say,” here’s the contact of… a crisis advocate, organization, etc, perhaps you could call them and have them assess your situation”, or “Do you want me to call them for you?” If you believe that crisis is imminent, then forget about all of  the above, and tell them “get out, leave, run” and be the one to call 911 or if you have to, drive them to safety.

Good luck.

Romantic Relationships and the OCEAN Big 5 Personality Traits

Researchers have found that adult personality traits are fairly stable throughout life, in a process that starts in childhood. The traits are:

Openness: characterized by imagination, curiosity and seeking out new experiences vs. cautiousness

Conscientiousness: being organized, deliberate and conforming  to rules, and social, group or personal  norms vs. carelessness

Extraversion: being outgoing, assertive, easygoing, deriving satisfaction from interaction with others vs. aloofness

Agreeableness: being kind, helpful, easygoing, pleasing others vs. unkindness

Neuroticism: being anxious, nervous and self critical and/or in touch with feelings vs. confident

We all have one core trait and we express other traits to some degree, according to situations, cultural context and the people we are with.  The Big 5 are found in all cultures and vary according to age and nationality.

How does this affect your romantic relationship? If you and your partner have similar degree of conscientiousness, this is likely to lead to relationship success.

Openness is another trait that contributes to a good relationship, as it promotes a feeling of greater connectedness and satisfaction,  because it is linked to  the ability to solve conflict and to better communicate.

Life experiences will alter the prevalence of one trait over time in a dynamic process,  and  you can actually increase your level of openness by practicing with a number of  cognitive training tools.

More information about the Big 5 Personality traits:

Free Big 5 personality test:

We broke up: the worst case scenarios

As I explore the  various steps of  separation and divorce (see my blog “We broke up: now what?)in order to  better understand the dynamics involved in a break-up, here is what I find the most notable as a worst-case scenario for both roles, that of the dumper ( the one who leaves ),and that of the ‘dumpee’ ( the one who’s left behind).

Separation is painful even when both parties behave and stick to  good dumper’ and ‘good dumpee’ roles.

However, when a bad-dumpee is also a bad-dumper (roles alternate in some separations) all hell can break loose.  S/he wants out of the relationship but does not have the strength nor courage to be the dumper. S/he will make life miserable for their partner to force them to become the one who leaves. This is a form of abuse as the one who wants to make the relationship work finds themselves cornered into doing what they wanted to pre-empt.

At that point, the bad-dumpee not only enacts the rejection they provoked in the first place, but they also become a bad-dumper.  A bad-dumper is like a runaway kid.  They see the grass greener on the other side of the fence, and all that is needed for them to be happy is to get out of the relationship. There’s often a new love partner conveniently lined up. The bad-dumper avoids dealing with feelings, actions and attitudes that need to be changed and s/he does not provide closure to the dumpee; this is another form of abuse.

The ‘bad dumpee turned bad dumper’ is the partner most  likely to enact the anger that naturally follows  initial  feelings of guilt (dumper) and rejection (dumpee) as these feelings are strongly felt during the separation.

It is therefore essential, if you find yourself pushed into the role of reluctant dumper, that you take self-protective steps, by first carefully assessing the risk of abuse before doing so, and then ensuring your safety well before walking out. For instance, start describing the situation to relatives, friends and professionals and start collecting documentary and photographic evidence before you leave. You could well need it!

The following stories illustrate worst case scenarios involving a bad-dumpee who is also a bad-dumper.

A client discovered her partner’s series of infidelities and took time out after discussing with him her reasons for doing so; their daughter found him and his assistant in their bed a couple of days later. When she confronted him about it, he threatened to leave her penniless if they were to divorce. She filed a week later after breaking down, and was physically threatened soon after, with a gun no less.

Another person found himself denied access to his children until the courts produced an order. He didn’t see his children for 18 months.  He says, she asked him to leave and then changed her mind a few weeks later, after he’d moved out. He did not agree to a reconciliation. She felt dumped and she retaliated using access to the children as leverage.

Another person had counter-filing against her, when she reported to police that her broken arm was the consequence of him getting into a rage when she told him she wanted to separate. He did not like being the one left. He told her “then get out of my house” in no uncertain terms after shoving her . He had to now become the dumper, regain control, and did so by breaking her arm .  He had the economic power, and could afford to bring the matter to court. She spent much needed money defending herself.

Another person found all his clothes cut to pieces and his CD collection destroyed after telling her he wanted out. He succumbed to anger as a result, and smashed her vintage car in return.

And finally, one client walked out on her partner, and was threatened to be ‘ruined in court’ by him if she refused to sign a potentially reputation ruining blackmail letter – his reputation more than hers!!! – in exchange for monies he owed to her. The letter was squarely putting the responsibility of the breakup on her victimising him. She refused to sign the letter and cried wolf publicly. He retaliated by destroying her property and writing to acquaintances that “she was both mentally unstable and a thief, and he had to break off the relationship to distance himself from such a dangerous person.”

And so it goes. The rule of thumb is: beware of what you thought you knew about your mate. If you believe that you are placed in the role of the dumper, be cautious.  Separation may start well, but, just as there is a “honeymoon period” in any new relationship, there’s something called “a separation honeymoon” in a break up. Don’t trust it, because no matter how well behaved you are or you believe s/he will behave, once your ex-partner’s feelings of dumper guilt and dumpee rejection are exhausted, and the ‘deal is done’, anger will invariably follow, and may be enacted in devastating ways.

Will you or will your partner destroy property, blackmail,  threaten, break arms, produce a  gun, defame, refuse access to children?  Or instead, will you take time out with no contact for as long as it takes to exhaust the post break up rage?

Realise too that when a bad dumpee/dumper aggresses you, you have every right to ‘retaliate’ as you feel necessary to protect yourself, and that sometimes, rather than fight fire with water, it is best to fight fire with greater fire… A good lawyer should do.

And please, if you have lived through scenarios similar to the any of those described, it is possible that you have experienced trauma, even if you are not yet aware of it. In that case, it’s time to get professional help.


Too Good to Leave, yet Too Bad to Stay?

The questions to ask yourself if you think it is time to call it quits….

There are signs that not all is right in your relationship, including early warnings signals that you brushed off and ignored months or years ago.  You may feel that although you are dissatisfied, so much is tied socially, economically, and emotionally with your partner, that it may be worth attempting to patch things up, and renew your commitment.  The decision to leave, however, is difficult and different.

The following will help you clarify your mind about your current situation.

  • Did your initial meeting result in positive impression? (a client* stated that her  feeling when first meeting her now ex-mate was of intense dislike,  yet the person had been described in such glowing terms that she was eager to find the ‘good’ in him and was flattered when he showed interest in her)
  • Did you feel reluctant to commit, yet you agreed to date, were engaged with your mate for, at the time, valid reasons despite hesitations?
  • Did you engage in out of ordinary  behaviors, such as crying, feeling apprehension that was not the excitement of meeting him/her, suffering from ailments or depressed moods, or feeling unease as your relationship progressed?

This will give you a clue, as your intuition or guts feelings spoke, whether you and your partner were a match.  Listen to your body as you interact with a person or think bout them.

Jody* recollects that on her wedding day, her fiancé John was behaving oddly and was in a sullen and quiet, even sad mood.  He had behaved that way in the few days leading to the ceremony.  She barely noticed at the time, and attributed his reactions to the stress of the wedding.  Weeks later, he left her abruptly, after telling her that he had had doubts from the time of their engagement and had not wanted to go through with the wedding, because he had realized, that he “didn’t love her.”  Jody was devastated and, in retrospect, wished she had spoken with John before the wedding.

Some things we do not recognize until the relationship is well established.  Maybe your courtship was flamboyant and a roller coaster of exciting emotions, with dreams and great expectations.  Your mate looked ideal though, as some aspects of their personality shone through, you felt somewhat uneasy but said to yourself “we’ll address that in time” or “I can accept this.”

Mary * recalls how in the first 9 weeks of meeting Brad,  he blew up in two huge temper tantrums as she unwittingly made remarks upsetting to him.  She noticed the anger and the following silent treatment, and decided at the time she could handle it, as she was able to reason him through the blow up.  She was unsettled, but confident that the matter could be solved if she would tell him how upsetting his behavior was to her.  Soon, however,   she started avoiding discussing topics that would ‘set him off’ no matter how important the matter was  to her.  She built up resentment over time as she felt she had to put up with anger out of proportion, while being ‘punished’ by him with his silences, if she, in turn, was to express angry feelings.  Meanwhile Brad’s rages became cyclical and habitual over their 10-year marriage, and grew in intensity.  Mary left Brad after one of his tempers resulted in her being physically injured.

A honeymoon period lasts generally between three months and a year after meeting your mate.  Then reality settles in, as partners get back into their old habits, the ones that were habitual to them prior to your encounter and courtship.  Later on, a point balance is reached, where one learns to live with their partner’s behavior… or does not.

When you reach that stage, it is normal to ask yourself  “should I stay in the relationship?”  As you explore the reasons for asking yourself this question in the first place you may then consider the material and emotional implications of leaving or staying.  It might be a good idea to grab a notepad, and list the benefits and consequences of staying or leaving.  This may cover: reasons for unease, whether recoverable or not, characteristics of your mate, areas of discomfort, upsetting and satisfying personality traits, etc, down to material aspects such as the cost of living alone,  division of assets, burden of rebuilding a new life,  living and coping as single parent, etc.

This sounds rather clinical; yet taking stock may also help you realize how much you value your partner!

These are questions to ask yourself as you contemplate what to do.


1. “Have I ever been happy in this relationship?”

If the answer is a definite “No,” or if the answer turns to “No” right from after a ‘honeymoon period’ of romantic love and chemical highs, then, it cannot be fixed, as it never worked in the first place.  If the answer is “Yes, sometimes,” or “Yes, mostly”, you may want to explore the current source of your disappointment, and decide whether to work on the relationship or not.

2. “It felt right when we met, now it doesn’t.  Is it reason to leave?”

Life is dynamic.  Your partner may experience issues.  Your life situations have evolved or changed.  Explore your answers to the next questions to help you determine whether you are holding on to a sinking ship or are too ready to jump ship when repairs are possible.

3. “Is s/he as willing as I am to initiate some changes in this relationship and work with me at solving some of our issues?” and “I bring the same issue time and time again, but s/he does not appear to take it seriously.”

If your partner is not willing to work at your relationship, it will not work.

4. “Am I invested in making this relationship work?”  “Are we communicating on day to day issues?”, “Are my needs met, as I fulfill his/her needs?”

If answers are “No”, the relationship is already over.  Having a partner who does not communicate their needs, or expects you to guess them, being unable to communicate your need, or not getting what you need,  means the relationship is dead.  Why prolong it?

5. “Am I ready to leave this relationship?”

Sometimes we are, so the outcome is easy.  Sometimes we need to look at things from all angles, and the process can take weeks if not months.  That’s ok.  One day, all things considered, the decision will tilt to be a definite yes or no.  Be gentle.  Talking to trusted others or to professionals might help you develop clarity.

6. “Does my partner want out but fails to communicate this clearly to me?”

This is a blessing: if you consider leaving, the job is half done.  No uncommitted person can become a loving reliable partner.

7. “Should I stay because of the kids?”

The answer is a definite “NO”.  Studies show that children are very distressed in a bad relationship, possibly more so than children of divorced parents.  This depends naturally on how difficult or dysfunctional your relationship is.

8. “My partner behaved badly.”  “Did s/he commit to end the offending behavior and admit to it, or instead justify their actions and criticize and blame me for it?”  “Does s/he make efforts to heal the pain, or is s/he not showing honesty nor empathy, and does not attempt to engage in a mutual recovery process?”

If answers are “No”, and your partner comes up with statements such as “you made me do it,” to justify their behavior, seriously consider leaving.  If s/he does not come clean, or at least attempt to do something about the situation, things will get worse.

9.”My partner behaved so badly, could anyone in my position forgive him/her?”

If the answer is “No”, it is unlikely you would be able to forgive if any one else could not.  You are only human.  Examples of deep betrayal may be:  partner maintains a secret family; engages in sexual activities that put you at risk; engages in illicit activities that may be dangerous to you and family; s/he injures you, threatens you, or blackmails you.

10. “Do I still respect my partner?”  “Does s/he respect me?”

If the answer is “No”, s/he simply cannot be a partner.  If you feel dismissed, rejected or condescended to, this is toxic, as all discussions are either attacking or defending.

11. “Is s/he unfaithful and blames it on me?”

If s/he justifies their philandering for your being “too jealous” (etc.), this is not acceptable.

12.  “Is s/he physically or emotionally or mentally abusive?”

Get out quickly.  If your dependence is so great that you feel you cannot, build yourself up with professional help.  Take time to plan what you need to do.  Patterns of abuse are learned in both family of origin and environment, and they reflect your partner’s set of beliefs and values.  These are difficult to change.  If your partner is committed to change a behavior that is acceptable to them but is unacceptable to you, then you may be able to get back together.  Meanwhile walk out and separate until their own repair work is well under way.

13. “As well as engaging in various forms of abuse, is s/he personality disordered?”

Things may definitely get worse and escalate eventually to become physical abuse.  Things may not get better.  Cut loose as soon as you feel ready to do so, if you feel that your partner is not willing to seek help.

Whether you decide in the end to stay or to leave, expect … many difficult moments!

If you opt to stay, healing a relationship and changing relational patterns are a slow and uncertain process.  It involves trials and errors, and a lot of commitment, from both parties, to change.  It is possible though, and chances are that you and partner will end up fully and strongly committed to each other.  To achieve this, you need confront several issues, such as trust, blame, reliability, depth of commitment, your role in allowing or accepting the evolution of the current situation, and many more.  Though arduous, it can be a journey full of discovery and growth in companionship with mutual respect and trust.

If you opt to leave, things may immediately get better for a while, as you first experience relief from daily vexations.  Then, you will have to deal with the emotional, social, and economic consequences of separation, together with learning to live as a single person again.  There are complications.  Our love may become an adversary; legalities may be involved; you may need to wean yourself from the addiction of drama, the need for a close and comforting, habitual physical presence, the loss of friends who feel they must side against you, the end of a way of life; and facing the unknown, wondering if there will be another relationship, and support along the way, wondering about your ability to make it on your own.

What to do?  Stay or leave?  Both paths are difficult.  The consolation is: time is a great leveler.  Nothing is forever.  As the pain of working out issues in staying or leaving is felt, know that it will pass, and that, in that process, you will learn and grow, and become more aware of what works or does not work for you.  If you do the work, you might go back to your now ex-partner and re-grow the relationship on stronger footings, or simply move on and be more knowledgeable about the characteristics you desire in a future partner.

* Names are fictitious, and stories are a composite of various discussions and reflections with clients and other persons.

Emotional Pornography : Neither visual nor physical, but that of the mind and heart

Stories of romance pervade our culture—in films and television shows, books and magazines, and even in the advertisements and billboards all around us. They are often lovely and exciting. But all too often these pervasive images and concepts are translated into unrealistic emotional and relational expectations in our real lives. Does that kind of romantic love actually exist? Do these romantic fantasies lead us to expect that our marriages and long-term relationships can really be based on and sustain those kinds of momentary emotional highs?

We crave the fantasy of enduring romantic ecstasy. Many of us live for our wedding day––“the most important day of our lives”. We say to our mates: “you complete me”…or at least you ought to!

There is such a thing as love, and there are beautiful moments. But love is about life, and life is not about isolated moments but rather the long haul.

The romantic myth can be traced to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Before that, there was no expectation of division of labour within the family unit. In modern times, however, a family structure and ideal evolved with the man assigned the role of breadwinner, while the woman is responsible for providing emotional and practical support. The female role in this model revolves entirely around managing and delivering family support.

An image of male/female interaction was born. The man fights and works, and in return an appreciative, saintly wife takes care of his needs––a whore in the bedroom, a kitten other times, a dedicated mother and homemaker––and looks oh so good on his arm in public. The fantasy is of boundless, joyful female compliance, where she is so totally in sync with his needs that “the things which give him pleasure, also happen to drive her wild as well”.

As Terrence Real puts it, “The sexual mother image of abundant Goddesses such a Mae West is emotional pornography.”  The man dreams of receiving perfect nurturance and limitless giving from his woman, while she sees him as the perfect lover and husband––her Prince Charming.

Many men are raised to believe that a good woman…a real woman… is happy to take care of her breadwinning guy. This service gives her so much pleasure that she needs and demands nothing in return. Men have been taught to expect that once they’ve fought and worked to get the girl of their dreams, they will be gratified by their trophy ever after.

But of course over time, in real life and real relationships, this fantasy simply doesn’t work.

The media rarely celebrates the image of a woman who puts her job first, criticizes her lover, is assertive with him, and tells him she wants something different from him. Our popular relationship mythology does not include the realities of argument, conflict, vigorous negotiations of differences, and loneliness at times.

Real relationships are not just romantic. Real relationships include the acknowledgment of pain and the ability and willingness to hear out the other’s feelings, including their insecurities and worries. Real relationships do involve expectations of some devotion and attention––but not all flowing in one direction. Real relationships today involve an expectation of MUTUALITY.

As women now redefine gender roles through their work outside the home, their economic freedom and different expectations, newer generations are rejecting the model they inherited from their mothers, where women are barred from confrontation. Women do not want to be their partner’s ‘manager’. They don’t want to use their mothers’ tools for managing the men: being indirect, manipulative, alternatively silent and passive or screaming and resentful. They are unwilling to accept being ignored, punished, and wounded if they dare to speak out within the couple/family unit.

More often that not, although it is the man who needs to acquire skills, it is the woman who does the brunt of the work, since common wisdom says that women are the emotional extroverts. Men are of course just as emotionally capable (and vulnerable) as women, but acknowledging this is very difficult for many of them.

The best first step a woman can take is to learn to express herself assertively and state her needs. In many male/female relationships, this will upset the balance and call for a review of the status quo. There is a 50/50 chance this approach will work. These odds may seem discouraging, but they are far more attractive than the 80/20 chance of separation that results from the frustrated resignation of both men and women to the current status quo.

Note: this post borrows heavily from Terrence Real (1997) and words extracted verbatim from his book are when possible distinguished by quotes.

BOOK reference:
Real, Terrence, 1997: “I don’t want to talk about it: overcoming the secret legacy of male depression”, Scribner Paperback, Simon & Schuster, New York (pp 304-311)