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Repeating your mistakes? I have four questions for you.

Why will it be different this time?

Cautiously, so as to not shut me down, my mom tip toes a question, “So… I know you think he is special but what makes him, this relationship, different from the last two relationships?”  She is referring to marriage #1 and marriage #2 and possibly my ability to justify and rationalize any inane decision I have made over the last 43 years (well, 41 years, bad decisions in those first two years can’t possibly be my fault).  As in any post-divorce relationship, you hope to get far enough into it, under the radar, before the questions begin…  “So, how many kids does he have?  How long has he been divorced?  Where does he live?  What about his ex?  Are you really ready?  Is he really ready?”  And, really, all those questions are skirting around the key question, the one my mom got right: “Why will it be any different this time?”

In the past, my answer would have focused on the man in question, how fantastic he is, how well suited he is to me, and how I admire who he is.  While all these things are true about my current beau, my answer now focuses on me.

I am now at the point where I can communicate my needs.  For as long as I can remember, I have been a caretaker.  I take care of my three kids, my business, my staff, my previous husbands, basically, everyone around me, but me.  Thinking about having needs, much less expressing needs, raised a single, very loud, word in the space between my ears – selfish.  I was so focused on others, thinking it noble, I didn’t realize that unless you take care of yourself, there is no balance, no happiness, no center, no self-love.  I am slowly moving into a place where I can get quiet long enough to realize my needs and then calmly communicate them.  This, for me, is an astounding difference in who I am today compared to who I was when I entered my last two marriages.

I am aware of my patterns.  I am triggered when intentions are not clear, when feelings are nebulous.  I am uncomfortable in places of uncertainty.  While I strongly believe in Pema Chodren’s concept of being comfortable with uncertainty, I am simply not so good at it.  We really don’t change too much over time, but we can become more aware of what triggers us and work to be less reactive.

I know the type of person I work well with.   Calm, reasoned, honest, clear, passionate, consistent, loving, present.  These are things I work well with.  Elusive, mysterious, hedging and cold are things that done jibe with me.  I now pay attention to who and what I work well with.

I listen to my intuition.  Another thing I have traditionally been good at is moving forward, relentlessly, regardless of what was going on around me.  This led me into two marriages.  Now, I sit or stand still, and listen to my body and pay attention to how I feel around another.  Do I feel calm, anxious or warm?  Are there red flags or things that make me feel uncomfortable?

I am continuing to do my work.  And, I think the key to all of us really engaging in healthy relationships is for us to keep the focus on ourselves, on building our awareness and learning more about what we can do to be a good partner.  We can engage in therapy or coaching when we need the perspective of another, can journal or reflect when we need to make sense of our own thoughts, and do yoga and meditation when we need to learn to quiet and listen to ourselves.  Being in a healthy relationship is a practice, a daily practice in which there is always room for refinement.

So no, I do not know where this new relationship will be six months from now, and no, I do not need to.  What I know is that we are communicating honestly, enjoying each other’s presence, and paying attention to how we feel as we take each step forward.

But to answer my mom, this relationship has the potential to be different this time because I am different this time.

 

As you consider your next relationship, I invite you to consider the following…

1. Can you communicate your needs clearly?

2. Are you aware of what moves you, what triggers you and what feeds you?

3. Do you know what type of person you work well with?

4. How do you feel when you are around him or her?

 

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

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Diving in, again.

Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Second marriages are exciting and fraught with danger.  While the chemicals in our brains tell us that we are absolutely going down the right path, the cold hard numbers speak to a different reality.  Two-thirds – that is 2 out of 3, of second marriages end in divorce.  So it is really important to gain some awareness before leaping into that next marriage.  And I have to tell you that being aware of what you are doing is exceptionally hard to do while experiencing good sex for the first time in a decade or two, so try to shift your focus, breath and read. Continue reading

Divorce | Local Flames | Matchmaking | Dating in Maine

It was a good decision, that second divorce was.

It was just a good decision, that second divorce was.  2+2 = 4 and deception + apathy = divorce.  Straight forward, not complicated.  A solid decision.  And one my children got.  Straight away.  They got that I was in this for them, that I was considering them, seeing them, hearing them.  Paying attention to the shake of their shoulders when he grabbed them when he was mad at the world.  My eyes leering to the left, daring him to touch them again, lest I completely lose it. Paying attention to the quiet close of the doors when we started yelling in the kitchen, that brilliant green kitchen that spoke of calm and screamed of trouble.  Hearing my daughter say, “He is mean”.  Mean, a word without ambiguity, spoken clearly and astutely.  But really, he was hurt, like the rest of us. Wounded without awareness of where and how deep his wounds went.  So when we make a decision like divorce, we try not to impart a wound to the young among us.

“Mom!” eyes rolling, secretly proud.  “Why are you the only mom who listens to rap music and dances around!”  Why?  Because I have come back, to myself, to my humor, to my dancing, to my freedom.  To the ability to feel the smile spread on my face, raising my cheeks and my power.  My house is now the place where the neighborhood kids gather on weekends, which surprises, since I am a combination of no holds barred, guidelines galore and forehead kisses in front of friends.  The space is safe, the energy is calm, the antithesis of what used to exist.  In my haste to fill in my wound, I wrapped my arms around a man I barely knew but who seemed nice enough.  Seemed was hardly good enough but I was trying to get in front of my fear of being a mother of three and a Ph.D. and a divorcee and strangely independent.  A fear that caused me to ignore my stupendously amazing qualities and focus on all that would make someone skip to the next profile on match.com.

So because of my wound, I couldn’t see straight and put myself straight in the path of a man who lied and covered and hid.  A good match, really, if we are going for parallel lives.  I was going for the infill, someone to jump inside and fill the gaping wound, I just didn’t realize they would keep falling and nothing was going to fill me up but me.  But we decided to jump together, eyes closed, all for one and one for all.  But without a thought of what it was to give up and abandon yourself, abandon your intuition, your beliefs, your deep knowledge that this was meeting not a single real need, just a Band-Aid, a Band-Aid with nice designs on it so that all who gazed at the wound would smile.

But the kids knew, they always know. They could feel the discomfort and the disquiet. The glares and the whispers, the leaks in the ship.  We were slowly drowning together, shouting at the top of our lungs, “Hear me, Understand me, Fill me!”  But two people who are both empty can get no further than the curb.  We could not support each other or understand each other or empathize with each other.  The initial euphoria at feeling a temporary wholeness leaked out like a balloon losing helium.  Deflated, useless, pathetic we were in each other’s presence.    So when I made the call, sent up the distress signal from our sinking ship, the crew was relieved that we would be spared from catastrophe.

The kids let out a deep breath and realized they were in fact standing on solid ground again.  Once their sea legs were gone, they could look around and see that things had not changed. There was continual love and connection, safety in the constant.  Safety in understanding what had happened, a serious life lesson in jumping off a cliff without a thought for the ground.  “He and I are not a good match.  We moved too fast, got married before we took the time to know each other.  He is not a bad person and neither am I.  We were just not meant to be.”

 

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

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Time is the only answer: Dating as a single parent

I was in the midst of trying out a new relationship.  All new, all fun which means those thoughts are creeping in:  How much of a pain in the ass is the ex going to be?  Do I really want to do this again?  When are we going to see each other when our schedules don’t mesh at all?  I wonder if he will fit in with my family?  Wow, so I just jumped about 6 months into the future within the first week.

Dating as a single parent is a logistical nightmare.  Gone are the days when we just think about age, bodytype, and personality.  Typically, when even just thinking about a relationship, this is where we go:

How old are the kids?  Those of us who have moved into the teen years don’t want to go backwards. We have earned a bit of ease with child rearing.  Long gone are the days of temper tantrums and heading home in the middle of the fun to make sure she takes a nap.  And long gone are the days when we needed a nap every day!

What is their kid schedule?  Are you Monday/Tuesday or Wednesday/Thursday or god forbid, some other schedule?  Do you even have a predictable schedule?  Is your ex flexible at all? (Basically, how are we going to find the time to hook up!!)

How does he describe his ex?  This is the barometer for two key things: (1) How will he talk about me if we fall apart and (2) Is the ex someone I want to be involved with or have conversations about for some time to come?

How does he stand up next to the list?  The longer we experience this life, the more items we seem to add to our list.  Mine includes optimist, engaged in life, dedicated to family and radically aware of his foibles and follies.

I have tried the model of thinking everything through, trying to figure everything out before we even get to first base.  And, really … it sucks.  It takes you away from what is most important.  Do you have a heart connection with this individual?  Do you and he or her have the capacity to truly, deeply love each other.

So this is the new model I am moving towards.  And, what I would encourage others to try out and let me know how it goes.

Pay attention to your heart more than your brain.  Generally, your brain sucks.  It is working against you, operating out of fear.  Don’t listen to it.   Try and drop your list for the moment.  Your heart knows the real deal.  If you can stop the chatter in the brain (just for a couple minutes – try meditation), you can feel how you actually feel about this person.   And if your heart is a little wounded like so many of us, it may take some practice to listen clearly.

Pay attention to your heart more than your loins.  That is right, I am suggesting you don’t have sex.  Some people can’t think of a more ridiculous suggestion.  However, once you dive in that direction, you lose clarity about how you feel.  Once you have crossed that line (and oh, it is so easy to do), your feelings for that person get clouded by the oxytocin rushing around your brain (see the brain is always the problem!).  When you try to gauge your “feelings”, generally what you are “feeling” is that you love sex.  Insert talking for hours instead of fondling for 4 to 30 minutes, and you will be able to keep in touch with how you really feel about the person.  Do you feel your heart pulled to theirs?

Stay in the moment. Drop the planning of future excursions and vacations, not forever, just for the time being.  Really listen to the person.  Try not to put their words through your filter, hear them for what they are.  Stop analyzing!  By being present and staying in the present moment, you can feel if you are really connecting with what the person across from you is saying.  (Are you picking up that feeling, not thinking, is critical.)

Build the foundation.  My belief is that if you build a foundation based on conscious communication, genuine compassion, vulnerability, trust and soul gratifying love, you can accomplish anything together.  You can overcome radically different kid schedules, difficult ex’s (because you won’t be talking about the ex as you focus on the primary relationship) and an uncertain future.

Take your time.  Time is the only answer.  Each time I mention this to the person I was dating, he harrumphed.   I agree.  It is frustrating that there is simply no way we can see six months into the future.  There is no way to know if it is going to work out.   The only thing we can do is spend time together, get to know each other with open, honest communication.

While it is impossible to know if it will all work out, there is a way to know if it is not going to work out.  If you don’t build the foundation, don’t really take the time to get to know each other and jump into the abyss without a net beneath you, I guarantee the relationship will never take flight.

 

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

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It is hard knowing he is not for me.

In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you

It is hard knowing. When knowing comes and it is not what you want or expected but there just the same.  To feel it so clearly in your body, in your soul, to understand it is all a lesson for you to learn, it is still disappointing.  I know he, while lovely and beautiful, is not for me. The clarity takes away from the mystery and the mystery was fun… although frustrating… and actually come to think of it, not so much fun. So three men in a row, all ridiculously lovely and good and illuminating. And all extremely important to me and where I am going. In fact, they feel the same right now, like the same person.  All young and honest with everything except their emotional relationship to me.  All sharing and caring and open about the universe and the energy they feel with me and how “stunning”, “beautiful” and full of magnetic energy I am.  And yet, they choose, in the end, not to engage.  Or the universe chose. And now I am choosing too.  And while I held on to the first one – because I had such a strong sense that he was important to me.  The other two I have engaged with authentically but let be.  And in doing so, developed authentic love for and caring for them and who they are. Accepting that they are on a certain part of their journey and I am on a certain part of my journey and we can help each other along the way.

I have had three mantras over the last month, well actually four.  I want radical change and nothing less; I don’t want to do it alone anymore, I want to give love freely and I want everything, just everything.  Radical change is coming.  I have put my intentions out there – three months off, a new business based on love and it is all coming together.

I was stuck on the alone thing from feeling like I have run my business by myself for 11 years, that I have been raising my children as a single mother for seven years (even though I was married in the middle there which added three additional children – one tall, two small – to my lot), that I have done it all on my lonesome.  During a thirty minute meditation circle a week ago, I got a single, clear message right at the end.  You are not alone. And pop, head up… right! I am so not alone. I have family, friends and the community surrounding me.  I have guidance shedding light from above.  I have my grounding from the trees, from my core, from my soul.  Alone is the last thing I am.  As I spread my smile and my story of how I want to bring LOVE into my community, each person has radiated knowingness and willingness and acceptance of me and my dreams.  I am not alone.

I want to give love freely.  This is such a simple concept and yet it can hurt, radically. So I love. With my feet firmly planted, root in place, heart open, hand, arms and eyes rising directly, reverently to the sky.  Vulnerable, always. I used to stand in that same position looking ahead or down at my feet, pleadingly screaming “love me!” “I love” exposes me to me and to others, raw honest erin, for better or worse, here and open but solid and still.  “love me” was frantic, unmoored, irreverent and seeking desperately for approval.

“I love” Erin doesn’t always translate well, especially to men.  People are so used to the halting, insecure way in which we typically first express our “love”.  The high school-ish, wait just long enough, look into his eyes and say those three words with intense emotion way. And then, breath bated, heart in throat, wait to hear if he or she agrees with your declaration.  I have come to a different way and different understanding.  “I love” is given freely, without constriction, with a simple word, phrase or gesture.  “Much love”, “you are lovely”, “thank you”, “sweet man”.  Meant to empower and lift.  Many times, people still perceive these words as confining or tied to commitment.  So I just continue to model what I believe and give love regardless. Today it is hurting as I have been in a generous loving mood and it hit me, hard, in the midst of yoga, that it is challenging when people don’t understand my intentions or know how to return the love.  And that is not the reason it is given, for it to be returned, at all, but on certain days, it feels lonely to give so much.  However, I am fully committed to giving love freely regardless of the pain in my heart center.

And everything. I want everything.  But what I mean by that is love, love and love. Accepting, allowing, affection, everything.  So in my journal when I meet a new suitor, a new beautiful man with a beautiful soul, I wonder if he is my everything.  My good shoes, and good dresser, and dreamer and lover and reader and dancer and singer.  Just last night, after wondering and writing about my everything and reflecting on scaring the shit out a couple men by looking deep into their eyes and saying, with strong conviction, “I want everything. I deserve everything”, I had an amazingly simple, huge epiphany. I am everything.  Everything is right here with me.  I already have everything.  It travels with me everywhere.  If I continue looking for everything outside of myself, I will continue to miss it, me, everything.

Communing with my good friend Beth last night, she illuminated this point for me.  If we are listening to ourselves, to the universe around us, gifts rain down upon us.   Raising our hands into the air, we can feel the loving energy of people from the past, of our mentors in the abyss. When we allow noise, distractions, addictions, numbing agents, negative thoughts, they cloud and drown out the silence and the clear messages with it.  Then we are standing in one place and the gifts are raining in another, missing us.  We are left looking up wondering “why” and “what for” and “why me”. So bringing in the breath today, allowing the silence, allowing myself to gracefully let go of what I thought might be meant for me.

 

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D. Erin works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  She also works with people to navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching how children and adults form healthy relationships for 25 years. Contact her at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970. She does workshops on these topics as well. Localflamesmaine.com

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I don’t translate well on the page

I don’t translate well. On the page.

My warmth and spark do not transmit.  But meet me in person and I shine.  This I know and this I found disheartening when trying to share my heart online.  I didn’t garner much attention.  I didn’t get much response. And my response was not to craft myself or hack the program.  My response was to crave.  Connection and intimacy and real vulnerability.  So I would go back and forth between “trying again” and stealing my awesomeness to myself.  Maintaining your inner balance while online is challenging.  Thoughts of “I’m great” veer towards “Am I great?”  So in my wish to be seen and heard, there was a frustrating lack of options when people are judging the quality of my photo, not the depth of my soul.

We all wish to be seen and heard and known.  Traipsing through yet another historical house on my parent’s version of a fun across the country vacation, I spied the marking on the wall, “T+N”, “Martha was here 1984”.  So my legacy of that trip was marking each landmark with “Erin + Mike”, feeling a bit of guilt while running my fingernails through the aged wood, again and again.  Those marks left an impression in me, a deep knowledge of the need of people to be seen and known, to feel like we matter in this world and will be remembered.  So feeling invisible online can easily add a layer of despair to our cloak.

Hence my belief that an in-person connection is everything.  That feeling of someone listening to you while your hands enter and slice the air in emphatic expression is the shit.  That feeling of their empathy and understanding of your situation, your moment, your presence in history.  And occasionally it is not this way, when someone’s head turns, their ears close, their eyes wander.  That feeling of the shift away, is discomforting.  And hard to know what to make of it.  But staying in my body and my experience stills and allows me to quiet without judgment, of them or of me.  I wonder, still, whether what I have to say is worth the air and I cautiously and optimistically decide “Yes, just not for them.”

Some are not for me and I am not for some.  That is a hard truth to discover and rediscover.  Someone online who seems so “perfect”, whose words resonate and ring.  But those are only words on the page, words designed to portray and create perception.  An aspect or rotation of the truth, but certainly not the full picture.  Our full picture extends so far and so wide, it cannot be seen on the page or in a single conversation.  We need to be seen and heard over time, repeatedly.   And especially by those that we hold dear.

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Divorce Symptom #1: Banned from Hanging with Friends

I was once banned from hanging out with a girlfriend.  Good call.  This came flashing back when I met a woman in Portland last night who was excitedly describing a tete-a-tete she was having with a man.  I recognized the look in her eyes (you can only recognize it when you’ve been through it) –  the massive justification of ridiculously risky behavior, the movement from joy to sorrow in the momentary crumpling inwards of that divot above the inner eyebrow.  The bragging of exploits that make married people blush with jealousy, wanting what they haven’t seen in 20 years but also making them cling tighter to their partners.  I was in this state when a friend’s husband banned her from hanging out with me.  I was entering my non-kid nights with the college-retro goal of dancing on top of a table by nights end.  No one looks good dancing on top of a table.  Subtle shaking heads and rolling eyes are the only glory met by the underside of a skirt above eye level.

The brain of a human with divorce decree papers in a file somewhere in the house has undergone trauma. This trauma has real impacts on behavior.  The triggering of cortisol, the stress hormone, when the body enters a sympathetic state is the body’s way of helping us deal with traumatic situations, but it also allows emotional memories to resurface again and again, taking up precious space and reducing our ability to make rational decisions.  Because the hurricane of divorce is active for at least 6 months, the irrationality lasts at least that long.

Those of us who have been in that state know that we have no idea we are in it when we are in it (because we have no ability to have perspective on ourselves!). Decisions that would never normally be made run through the minds internal quality control systems coming out with “Sure! That is a great idea!”  Texting naked shots of your right butt cheek or left side boob to the guy you are “dating” gets the “A-ok!” in the addled traumatized brain.  Sleeping with that 30 year old seems like the best idea that ever existed.  Your friends even encourage this one – makes a great story… for everyone!  So be cautious about becoming a story for your friends.  I know you can’t think your way through it right now, so just follow these simple 4 rules…

1. If you are doing things you won’t tell your best friend, stop

2. If you just committed to living with someone after 4 months of dating, stop

3. If you have naked pictures of yourself on your phone, stop

4. If you are a completely different person when your kids are around from when they are not, stop

Stop. and breathe and give yourself some time to heal.  You will be thankful you did and will have an infinitely increased ability to enter into a healthy relationship… in the future.

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. Relationship Coach