Category Archives: The Reality of Divorce

yoga

A mean yoga teacher taught me a ton about relationships in the midst of my post-divorce confusion

I might have been looking for a little punishment in retrospect. I entered the way too hot room, looking down and intermittently around, to see what I should be doing. You see, I am a rule follower. Give me a rule, and I will stick within the lines. It appeared I should be lying down, preparing for what was about to happen, probably not a good sign. I unfurled my mat gently with nary a noise and laid my weary body down.

50% of us have been through it, but somehow the journey through your divorce is incredibly lonely. I was in the midst of experiencing new loneliness and confusion with all that surrounded me. I was less lonely in this place where I had to follow the rules and could do nothing but focus on the sweat beads dripping down my forearms as I stretched them out ahead and behind me in Warrior One stance. In times of trouble, we all become seekers and I was seeking redemption or clarity or suffering or something when I entered that studio.

The laser focus of the teacher seemed to land on me each time, offering corrections and adjustments, not in the gentle whispering way of some teachers, but in the bark your name with a stern admonishment manner. Apparently, although I was innately, supremely flexible, I couldn’t even do half-pigeon correctly. No matter how close I thought I was getting to getting it, there was always some minute adjustment I could have, should have incorporated.

Her voice was severe as it cut through the thick, heavy air. She actually broke into a screaming rant one day, losing her cool in the steamy room. My friends were electing to leave the studio, appalled by the intensity of our ‘yogic’ sessions. They were dropping like little sweaty flies. But something in her straightforward, no BS manner appealed to me. The angry, redundant thoughts swirling in my divorce-addled head were exhausting. I needed someone to inject some clear messages.

1. ‘Don’t leave the studio!’Translation: Stay in the discomfort.

This was the dictate for us, the new-bies who were unused to the sickly, suffocating heat of the room. The rumors of judgmental teachers following you into the bathroom if you dared leave the room kept us in check. This seemed cruel at first but over time this was one of the most powerful messages for me in my journey. I just had to translate it into “stay in your discomfort.” We run from the discomfort, of relationships, of friendships, of comments, of political issues, all the time.  Staying in the discomfort, learning to breathe through our anxieties, into how we want to be, is a good first step.

2. ‘Lower!’ Translation: Soften to strengthen yourself.

Chair pose, the dreaded chair pose. It strikes me in two ways every time I hear the teacher announce it’s name. I get excited that my thighs are about to be challenged and I cringe at the thought of the pain. My way throughout my first four decades was to throw up layers of steel in response to a challenge. I would make myself impenetrable, impervious to pain. In a challenging pose, with my breath jagged, my initial approach was to steel myself against the pose, muscling my way through it. A couple months in, her words directing me to soften into the pose finally broke through my preconceived notions of the best way forward. I relaxed my leg and arm muscles, unclenched my fingers and tried another way.  Amazingly, the poses became easier as I stopped fighting against them.

3. ‘Eyes open!’ Translation: Be aware

40 minutes into the hour long session, she led us to the ground. The ground rose up to catch us as we unfolded our bodies, vertebrae by vertebrae until our arms and legs flopped to the floor. Bridge pose, our next endeavor. This was the exact point when we were all dying to check out, assuming the ground would be our friend. Breathing heavily, my eyelids shuttered. ‘Eyes open!’ As she rattled off various counts from 6 to 12, never letting us know when the final bridge would fall, reminders to keep our eyes open were thrown at us. Annoying at the time, now I see where she was coming from. It is so easy to check out and ignore our discomfort or dull it with various food and beverages. Keeping our eyes open is one way to stay aware, of what we are feeling and what we are learning about ourselves.

Why did she feel the need to teach through yelling?

What I could see and hear clearly in the end, once I was no longer so enmeshed in my own pain, was the pain she was walking through. Her yelling was meant to pierce through me into herself.

Sometimes our guide to the other side is different than we imagined. Sometimes she is yelling, directly, in our ear, trying to get us to finally hear what she is saying. She didn’t teach me compassion but ironically, she taught me that the path to strength is through softness and vulnerability. She opened me to the skills I would need to enter into a healthy relationship.

Allow the guides in your life to be unexpected and unorthodox. Your guide may not resonate with anyone else but they may be just the perfect person at the perfect time for you.

I still yoga regularly, although at a different studio. I enjoy the quiet and pause it brings to my life. But I can still hear the mean teacher yelling in my head at times and I continue to appreciate the messages from her.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child well-being and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Email her here.

Connect with her on her website or on Facebook.

 

everafter

What I gave up when I destroyed happily ever after

(A cautionary tale for those considering divorce)

If I knew how much I would give up, I might not have done it.  My empowered move to move out of a stifling relationship ironically forces me to give away power on a daily basis.  My ego is decimated, traditions are upended and any possibility of control is a joke.  I decided to give away 50% of my children for the possibility of ‘lightness of being’ in the aftermath.  I didn’t calculate the loss at the time and didn’t fully appreciate what I was stepping into or running away from.  I just wanted out.  I didn’t want ‘out’ of my children’s lives but that is what I inadvertently ‘accomplished’.

At the time of my divorce, the visions dancing in my head were most heavily steeped in freedom and justice and… actual dancing.  I was going to discover the perfect man, have perfect fun, and rediscover perfect joy.  Nine years later, my reality veers close to and away from my ideal, depending on the day.  This is what real looks like today.

Perfection? Not so much.  Yes, I did find a lovely relationship, after far too many painful, confusing ones.  No, he isn’t perfect.  I’m not either.  But, I like so much about him and he brings me heretofore unparalleled joy.  But it isn’t he who changed me.  It is I who changed.   I have discovered that all human beings are wildly imperfect, rather unpredictable but imminently improvable.  We can learn new tricks.    We have to do the work, not to reach perfection, but to realize there is no perfection and that a healthy, fun relationship requires your calm presence and undivided attention each and every day.

Friends with the ex? Not so much.  I had delusions, like many who make the call, that my ex and I would be friends.  I envisioned that I could take what I liked about us and give back the rest.   Extended family vacations, huge Thanksgivings with new partners and progeny in tow, the more the merrier in my rainbow-tinged book.  The reality is that we don’t get to dump someone and expect him to still be a friend.  It isn’t fair; it isn’t nice.  Be careful and fair about what you wish for.

Ease in my life? Eh, sorta.  At 45, I feel grown up for the first time in my life.  I feel calm and grounded, on some days at least.  So that is lovely.  But there is an important part of my life that never reaches ‘ease’; the non-stop requirement to negotiate my children’s lives.  Every decision now runs through two families: the sports they play, the weekend activities they sign up for, and the age at which they can date.  This fall, my son ripped his ACL playing football, the sport I didn’t want him to play, but I was overruled because I control only 50% of my children’s lives.   If you think about it, in a game where everyone controls 50%, no one can ever win.  Compromise is literally the name of the game.

This is what I realize now, nine years post-divorce.  I implore you to read and understand and really think through your separation or divorce.  Is it worth it?

When you blow up your vows, what are you really blowing up?

1. You will put your ego away.   With kids, it is rarely about you anyway, but now there will be even less of you in the equation.  When they cry for their dad in the middle of the night, you will simply call him.  When they tell you how much fun they had with their new step-sister, you will simply smile and say, “That’s great.”  You will feel pangs of jealousy clawing at you, threatening to thwart your promises to never say a bad word about their lives with the others.  You will remember that this isn’t about you; you will smile away the pain in your gut.

2. You will choose your battles.  Now, you control only 50%. This means that when your children are not with you, someone else is in charge, someone who sees him or herself as an extra parent but someone who you do not know.  In the beginning, I used to send over the chore chart to my ex just in case he wanted to implement the same dictates in his house.  I used to tell him what the kids ate in my house just in case he also wanted to reduce gluten, and red meat.  Now, I set rules for my household that go no further than my doorstep.  I ask my children if the different rules in the two households, both alike in dignity, bother them.  As long as they say “no”, I move on and leave the other household alone.

3. You will let it go.  In this new world of split time, you will have no choice but to let it go, lest your anger eat you alive.   On a day like today, a gorgeous autumn day, I have let go of my plans to go apple picking with my children next weekend.  Why would I do this?  My daughter just texted that her other family went today, yet again beating me to the punch, not in malice, but in happenstance.  This happens all the time with bowling, movies, and vacation destinations.  You will let it go and move on.

We seek freedom and we get it, but we lose some as well.  There is measurable good in this alternative configuration of our lives.  My children now know I will fight for what I believe in, and that I will persevere even when the cards are stacked against me.  They see me in a different light, as one who considers and makes choices, many of them hard.  By observing my interactions with their father, my children are learning to negotiate and to acknowledge themselves and others.  They understand that there are times when you speak up and times when it is just as well to remain silent.  They know that many people can love them, from all angles, in their own ways.  So, in the end, my ‘ever after’ is different and a bit more challenging than what I imagined, and, I am sure, from what my children imagined as well.  Divorce leads to compromise, and less control over your children’s lives, but if you can reach a place of peace with this altered ‘ever after’, your children will likely reach that place too.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com