Tag Archives: divorce

hand

How neuroscience saved my relationship

I have a shit track record with relationships.  I seemed to have gotten married twice and happened to have divorced both of them, getting rid of them with a snap of my fingers (and a small bribe to banish that second one from my life).  My current beau was reasonably nervous about getting involved with what some people might term a “runner”.   Ruiner is another name.  It is tempting to blame my was-bands for my divorces but I know perfectly well that my power to destroy relationships is equal to my ability to attract men.

I am an interesting mix of low maintenance with high expectations.  Camping and no showers for a week – no problem.  Dress up, dress down – all good.  But I require intense interest in life, ambition, progressive inclinations, a desire to volunteer and contribute to the community combined with a nuanced understanding of acceptable shoes (my definition, not your definition) and a butt that can fill out your jeans (which better not be from LL Bean).   I bring people in easily and can easily throw them away when I am done.  Not pretty, not nice.  But if you dig deeper, you might discover, I don’t do this to be mean, I do this to protect myself.

We all have our ways of protecting ourselves from getting too close and being too vulnerable with another human being.  One of my primary ways was to build up a negative story in my mind so I could cut loose at any time without it seeming like a loss.  But I want to keep this one – my new beau.  I want to make the relationship work this time.  I have been studying what works to change our patterns.  I discovered it all has to do with the brain, our neuronal infrastructure and how we form memories from our experiences.  This is what I discovered that might help me and might help you.

“One of my primary ways was to build up a negative story in my mind so I could cut loose at any time without it seeming like a loss.” 

 

We see what we want to see.

During my second marriage, I thought I was being clever by coming up with different pet names for #2, like “f@#king a&&hole”.   I would repeat this sentiment in my head each time he spoke.  As it turns out, this was not helpful!  It biased me against seeing anything good in him, regardless of what he did.  Our thoughts and past experiences dictate what we pull from our current experiences.   It is like we walk around with mesh made up of our past experiences hanging over our eyes, obscuring our vision.  #2 could bring me flowers but all I could focus on what the fact that he was 15 minutes late.  We see what we want to see.

Focus on the good.

In my current relationship, I focus on the good instead.  I purposely note in my mind when he has done something lovely (like listen to me, smile at me or come with me to my parent’s house).  I say it directly to him (Thank you so much for coming with me to my parents’ house.  It means a lot) and repeat it internally.  This is purposeful.  I am building up an argument to my body and brain to keep him.  Sure, I could pick out things I find annoying but I now know that noting those things, reinforcing them in my body will not do me nor him any good.  Our brain forms channels of thought that we can easily fall into and can easily reinforce if we aren’t careful (“He never comes with me to my parents”).  These negative stories can slowly destroy our relationships by tainting our perception and experiences.  By creating a positive story about him in my mind, when something negative does happen, it no longer has much of an impact.

“I purposely note in my mind when he has done something lovely.” 

 

Appreciate often and out-loud.

Another practice I have adopted is to compliment him on anything I see that I like (and even some behaviors I would like to see).   “I really appreciate how patient you were with me tonight.”  This lets him know patience is important to me (and that it is likely a requirement to adapt to my proclivities).  It also gives me inspiration to be patient with him when needed.  It makes him feel good (presumably) and provides a road map for him in future interactions.  Equally important, it again strengthens the neuronal pathway in my brain between him and good things.

We feel what we want to feel

In my 30’s, I bemoaned my lack of moaning.  I wasn’t consistently attracted to my husband and I was missing out on getting off.  I have thankfully moved past this awkward stage with a key life lesson.  You determine your own experience, not only of life and what you choose to see, but of intimacy, by what you choose to feel.  Much of the orgasmic experience comes from fully immersing oneself inside the sensations.  You can essentially create your own orgasm.  We feel what we choose to feel.

Associate him with good feelings.

I learned I could do much the same thing with my attraction for my beau.  By bringing full focus on how it feels when he touches my hand (or any other body part), I reinforce my brain’s association between the warm vibrations and his being.

There are two key practices I do.  I breathe in when he touches me, my breath marking the sensation he produces in me.  This practice forces me to slow down and appreciate him; it allows me to feel and note the intensity of my feeling for him.  I also intentionally note out-loud (and loudly inside my head) my attraction for him.  These two practices build a clear narrative for my ever-protective brain:  He is a keeper.

“I breathe in when he touches me, my breath marking the sensation he produces in me.”  

 

We can change our patterns, defeating our protectionist tendencies… if we are willing to practice.

This is the deal.  We are really good at repeating our patterns over time.  We are really good at protecting our hearts.  It takes practice, and courage, to open up, be vulnerable and create something different in your life.  This was my way of doing it: day by day, touch by touch, neuron by neuron.  By coupling positive thoughts with the sight, feel, and smell of him, I aim to ensure we remain a couple over the long term.  I hope you find your way too.

 

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.

fight

We fight, a lot. Are we doomed?

I dated my college boyfriend for 10 years and then dove into marriage with him for the next 7.  We rarely fought; we were best friends.  Yet, in the end, we divorced.  What happened?  Reading about the research on what makes marriages work, we probably should have been fighting more.

There was too much unsaid in our relationship. Our not-fighting was a sign of not sharing our feelings rather than of contentedness.  John Gottman, my favorite relationship researcher, points out that not fighting is a predictor of divorce!

Is marriage just about resolving conflicts?  No, most marital arguments can’t be fully resolved (69% of them aren’t resolved according to Gottman).   So it isn’t useful to cross your arms until things change.  He simply won’t always be on time and she simply can’t help but need the bedroom to be spotless.  We are generally so ingrained in our patterns, that while short-term changes may be possible, we are more likely to fall back into our patterns over the long term.

So if we can’t change each other or force the other person to be ‘perfect’ in our eyes, what can we do?  We can “manage” the conflict instead of trying to resolve it.  Here are a couple steps for you:

Fight better.  Research shows it is not whether couples argue but how they argue that makes the difference.  Focus your energy on learning more about what triggers you (what makes you really mad!).  Find ways of staying calm so you can effectively communicate.  You might want to practice breathing deeper or asking for a break when overwhelmed.  Practice effectively communicating your needs.  Two tips: (1) find ways of starting a conversation that doesn’t trigger your partner (e.g., make them defensive, or make them shut-down) and (2) research “non-violent communication” practices.

Accept him/her.  Find a couple things about your partner that you are willing to accept just as they are.  Maybe he is messy and maybe you just leave that alone.  Maybe she isn’t great at making small talk at a party and maybe you just learn to live with that and be the “small-talker” of the couple.  For each characteristic of your partner that you can “accept”, you just got rid of one cause of your fights!

Get curious.  Another way to reduce fighting is to gain a greater understanding of your partner.  Start asking (non-threatening) questions.  “I would really like to understand you better.  I noticed you don’t talk a lot at parties.  Do you enjoy the parties?”  Fights can easily arise when you start making assumptions about why your partner is like they are.  A greater understanding of your partner can lead to greater empathy and less fighting.

Shift yourself.  A huge key to shifting away from fighting with your partner is to understand yourself better.   Each fight is caused by the dynamic between the two people.  You are half of that dynamic and the problem is that you can’t control your partner’s behavior (as much as you would like to!).  But, you can control how you behave.  It is rather amazing but you can see big shifts in your dynamic by simply shifting yourself.  This may look like changing the language you use to communicate, finding better times to communicate when both partners are calm, or even integrating yoga or meditation into your world.  Yoga and meditation enable you to be less reactive to stressful situations.  When I go to yoga regularly, I am a much better partner as I am calmer and kinder.

Make up!  Most couples fight.  What is critical for the long-term health of a relationship is the recovery after a fight.  No recovery can lead to resentment and further anger.  Develop a way of coming down and connecting after a fight.  This can be a ritual of apologizing (“Wow, I am really sorry about how I acted.”) or maybe a ritual of appreciation (“I was really angry.  I am calmer now and I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you coming back together to talk with me.”) or maybe a ritual of affection “I am sorry. <<hug>>”  Of course, offering regular affection, kindnesses, and positive statements about the relationship and each other forms the foundation that allows a couple to come down and connect following a fight.  85% of those who learn to effectively repair fights stay happily married.

So, no, your relationship isn’t doomed if you fight.  But if you fight nasty, it might be.  Learn to fight better, apologize sooner and make up sweetly.

 

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.

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

datewiselywithkids

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… divorce and dating.

How do I date wisely after divorce when I have kids?

The first thing we have to deal with as divorced people is… how to set up the perfect online dating profile.  This is written a bit facetiously.  But honestly, the major thing on the minds of the recently split is how to find someone new, and better.  Drafting your first dating profile usually happens about two weeks to two months before the divorce is finalized.  Not too long after that we are dealing with the question of when to introduce our new dating partner to our kids.  This happens anywhere from one week (not recommended!) to one month to six months after we meet someone.  And way too soon after that, we are deciding how to merge our family with another in, yikes, the same house!

All of this can happen during the time of ‘unreason’, that time when we are post-divorced and pre-sane.  During this period the concept of time is elusive and the hormones from meeting and touching someone new are in serious overdrive.  We believe we can see the future! And it involves lots of sex!  Once you take a breath, you start to realize that the relationship before you is a relationship just like any other, where we make mistakes, missteps, and misfires. Now however, there are lots of other people involved in our mistakes, namely our children.  So take a breath, and think about these three suggestions as you date post-divorce.

1. Have the conversation with your kids.  

Ideally, a newly-dating adult has prepared their children prior to getting online and dating.  (See “What can I say to my children?” for ideas.)  That is what the experts, including myself, recommend.  From much experience, however, I know most of us start dating before having this conversation.  That’s okay.  Just have it as soon as possible.

2. Be prepared to answer hard questions. 

Your kids are concerned about their experience.  They want to know what is going to happen to them.  You may be thinking about what to wear on your hiking date to look cool and casual, yet fit and vivacious, but your 5 year-old is thinking about whether he will have a new dad, new brothers and sisters, and whether he will have to move from his favorite bedroom.  Your 15 year-old is wondering if you are having sex with other people and whether she will have a nasty new step parent.  Children are the ultimate pragmatists and a bit egotistical in their perspective, and they have every right to be.   If there are any questions that you don’t expect, give yourself the time to think through your answer by saying, “Let me think about that”, or “I am going to talk to your mom about that one and get back to you.”

3. Observe yourself as you date.  

Don’t do things you wouldn’t advise for your kids when they start dating.  You are now a serious role model for your children.  You were before too, but now you are going to show them what it is like to meet people, date, build relationships, and sustain those relationships.  And you are doing it during a time when emotions and challenging situations are circling around you.  Be easy on yourself, be honest with yourself, and be honest with your children.

What are my children concerned about?

These are the questions spinning around in your child’s head.

      – Will my dad still be my dad? Do I have to have a new mom?

      – Will I have to move? Will I have to go to a new school?

      – Will I have new brothers and sisters? Will my mom/dad love them better than me?

      – What is going to happen to me? Are things going to change?

What can I say to my children? 

Keep it simple, straightforward and honest.  Keep their developmental level in mind.  What words and concepts will make sense to them?  Don’t bring the hurt and the pain, or your feelings about your ex into it.  Have the talk at a time when you can be calm and measured.  These are some refrains you can use.

- As your dad and I form new lives, we will both be meeting and dating new people. It is nice to go through life with someone and that is why I will be meeting new people.

- You will not be expected to be a part of it unless you want to be.

- It is natural for adults to want to live their lives with other people.

- It takes time to really get to know people, so I may date a couple people before I find a person I want to date over the long term.

- No one will ever replace your dad (or mom). I will always be your mom. Your dad will always be your dad. We will always be your parents.

- You all come first and I will make decisions about my dating life with you in my mind. I will look for someone who is good for me and who is good for you all too.

- There won’t be any big changes in your life that you don’t know about. I will let you know ahead of time about anything that impacts your life.

- Do you have any questions?

Do I have to tell them?? 

Yes, you do.  This is one of those hard moments as a parent where you would love not to have adult responsibilities.  It may seem easier to just keep on keeping on, or to think that you are protecting your children by keeping them in the dark, or that they are too young to be in the know.  Let me clue you in… kids know whether you tell them or not.  They see you texting, they hear your phone pinging with the latest OkCupid notification, they notice you laughing more, and going out more.  If you don’t tell them, they will come up with a story and the story will be much more dramatic, dire, and fanciful than reality.  So suck it up, sit down, breath, and be honest with your children about what life is like for you in this new reality.

The last word…

This is a hard time.  You are finding someone new while finding yourself at the same time.  The best you can do is to be aware of the choices you are making and to give yourself permission to begin each day anew.  We all make mistakes during this time.  Apologize, be honest with yourself and your children, and start again.

 

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

roses

The Secret Truth About Lying

He is such a dick. I can’t believe he lied to me! We have all sputtered or spit this refrain. The akin phrase from the men: What a crazy bitch! How is it that we view as liars those who have scorned or left us because all those sweet nothings whispered in the middle of the night evaporated into words of vitriol?

I have a theory that some of our craziest, most delusional declarations may not be lies per se, but hopes, dreams and wishes instead. I also believe those statements are heavily influenced by the chemicals in our brains.

Now, I am not making an argument that people don’t ever lie. I was married to a chronic liar, which he copped to, in a letter, that he said he wrote to me, that his post-divorce girlfriend told me he said he wrote for her, that he posted on Facebook. (He had an attention deficit disorder of a different sort.) So I understand malicious liars. This isn’t about them. This is about the things we say during relationships and how they may not qualify as lies.

Four Proclamations Said in the Heat of the Moment: Are They Lies?

Try these four on for size.

1. I want to be with you forever.

When we are falling in love, our brains are awash in dopamine and norepinephrine. Those chemicals send us into a land of extremes (picture snorting cocaine and the immediate aftereffects and you may understand why everything in love is so very). Falling in love is like we are in a tunnel with tunnel vision only hearing the reverberations that emanate from the tunnel echoing back at us. She is all you think about. She seems perfect! She is like no one you have ever met. Your brain ruminates on her all the time. You are staying up late talking and touching and looking into each other’s eyes. Your brain is convincing you that she is a unique being on this planet, unlike anyone you have ever experienced, ever! So, of course, you throw out words like “forever”, “best” and “perfect”. You believe it when you say it.

2. Let’s make a baby.

This is an interesting one to me. Having had triplets, I felt completely over-done with babies soon after their birth when I was 30. My plan was for one and done and I ended up with half a hockey team. But during my rebound marriage, delusional ramblings came out of my mouth and his in those first six months. Lets have a baby together. My sex education when growing up was a book called “Where do babies come from?” which suggested it is natural to want to be as close as we can to the one we love, and there is nothing closer than having a baby together. The chemicals flowing through our brains make us think we can take on anything. I also believe there is a strong evolutionary pull towards wanting to procreate together.   Luckily, we were able to step back and see that the existing 5 kids between the two sides was too many and 6 would have been perfectly disastrous. No one was lying when they proclaimed a brief desire for children; we were just in love.

3. That was the best sex ever.

This is one of those statements that is not worth questioning too much. I mean, really, who cares to dissect their entire sexual past to determine whether that last 20-minute session was truly the best ever?  When you get to a certain age, like mine, you will have made the statement to five, ten or twenty different people. In doing research on the brain’s reactions during lust, sex, and love, I realized that it is the intense hit of endorphins in the build-up to and following orgasm that forces “oh my god” over and over out of your mouth, regardless of your religious beliefs.  It is the same force that allows you to clearly and sincerely state your fervent ardor. So, if someone tells you are the best ever, smile and say thank you.

4. I love you.

This is the big one. How could he say he loved me and then walk away from me? He never loved me! My worst divorce #1 moment came when the inept therapist I was going to said, “It seems like you never loved you husband.” This was my love of the last 18 years that he was dissing with a single harmful sentence. I repeated the sentence to my soon-to-be ex and he was completely destroyed. What a ridiculous waste of emotional energy to turn what had been an important and enduring relationship into a waste of time. We can lose that loving feeling, but a moment in time doesn’t erase the past. We can also feel fully in love, yet a month later move on to someone else. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that there are different brain systems at work for lusting after someone, falling in love with someone, and having a long term attachment to another person. Another part is that we all feel love and express love differently from one another. Some of us move on quickly from one love to the next; others need longer to heal. But those are different articles. For now, suffice to say, believe him when he says “I love you” but accept it if he moves on.

The truth

We want people to be perfect, to know themselves perfectly, and to speak their truths all the time. The older I get, the more I realize truth is relative, impermanent, and transitory at best. Sometimes I have to try a statement out loud before I know if it is true or not. I told my last boy that I was totally up for taking care of his 3 year old child, and I felt completely sincere in my proclamation at the time. Trying out that statement now, I can see there is no way I can step back 10 years in time after I have hit the golden years with my own 13 year-old triplets.   So it was my truth at the time, but it is not my truth. Get it?

In the throes of love anything seems possible.   Wrap your last love-lost story in some perspective. Remember that as we say bold and big statements, we are influenced by our past patterns, our recent experiences, and the chemicals flowing in our brains.

 

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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Rebounding? Answer “No!” to these three questions and you get a pass to date again.

Divorce is a wild and wooly time when everything that can go wrong pretty much does. You are knocked off your axis. You understand the word unhinged in a much deeper way. You start thinking of plots to movies where your ex just happens to go away (okay, die) and you traipse elegantly through the fogfilled platform of the train station and into the arms of your dashing and baggage free, (literally and figuratively), imaginary lover.

In these bizarre days, months and years, it is rare that we, the recently and not-so-recently divorced, are able to think clearly. However, it is also during this time that we are making huge steps such as re-entering the world of adult sex (which is oh-so-much-better than in the thankfully long-past twenties sex), adult dating, and even merging families with someone else in the same stage of trauma (wow, that is a bad idea!).

As much as you try to convince me that your current boy is not a rebound, or that she is nothing like your ex-wife, or that his kids bonded with you right away so it was meant to be, I will hesitate to give my approval until you can answer “NO!” to all the questions below.

 

1. Do you still think it is your ex’s fault? Yes! Or No!

This is a big red flag. Because, truly, every divorce has to come out of a relationship with two people just like every baby comes from a union, of sorts, of two people. Each person contributes equally to the “culture” of the relationship. One person may push, but the other person was pulling. One may withdraw, but the other may be attacking. And this is where someone says, “but he was the one who had the affair!” Oh, I get the temptation to blame, but I also know unless you really look at the reality of the situation and your role in it, you will not have a different outcome in your next relationship. Think of this: Someone can create the impetus for someone else to cheat by being jealous. So, the jealously contributed to the cheating and the cheating contributed to the jealously. What is clear is that both parties are contributing, and it is not worth figuring out who is the chicken and who is the egg.

If you want to move on to bigger and better, apologize for your contribution to the negative downwards spiral of your relationship, without any expectation of a returned apology, and move on.

2. Are you still facebook-stalking your ex? Yes! Or No!

Admit it. It’s okay. I did it too. But did I like it. No! Seeing pictures of his new girl-toy that he was conning did not feel redemptive or illuminating. It just made me mad, and I had gotten over the mad, so it really only hurt me. For a different past-beau, I knew the password he used for most everything so I could sneak a peak at his email if I wanted. Thankfully I only looked once (okay, twice). It wasn’t that illuminating but was a violation of myself and him. Again, it left my body with a slow burning arch of anger that I had worked so hard to let go. So don’t do as I did; do as I say.

3. Do you ask your children subtle, oh so subtle questions about your ex? Yes! Or No!

Do you think your kids really don’t know what you’re up to? You can phrase it any way you want or couch it in a legitimate seeming excuse, but the second “What did your mom…” leaves your mouth, they know.   They know they are being put in the middle and they know how shitty that feels. So don’t do it. If you wonder what your ex is doing, facebook stalk him (kidding! I kid! Don’t do it!). Instead, call him up and ask him your question directly, and if you can’t do that, then drop the question altogether.

 

Okay, if you honestly answered, “No!” to all of the questions, you get a pass to begin dating in earnest. I mean, I know you have already been dating, but now you are ready to do it for real. And if there was a “yes” or a “yes!” or a “well, sometimes” in there, then just realize you are still in the healing stage and you will likely rebound and serial date until you are fully healed. It’s your choice.

 

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

heartdoor

Stop. Read this before you fall into the same relationship trap… again.

I have been doing some heavy lifting. Head down, eyes scanning left to right, engrossed in a book on how the brain develops on an airplane to Los Angeles and then again while flying to St. John. The fact that I am reading a book on the fallacies of the neocortex and the simple brilliance and vulnerability of the limbic brain on vacation gives you a sense of how much I love this stuff.

Some of the stunning things I learned…

1. We literally can’t see (healthy) love right in front of us.

In childhood, we store an impression of what love feels like from our parents or whomever we are around to attach to. That impression is ingrained in our neural networks. As children, we do not discern in our attachments. We do not judge the goodness of our parents. As we age, we prefer the emotional patterns of our family, regardless of the merits of them. Let’s say that emotional pattern is one of detached, emotional unavailability. We then tend to look for adults that replicate what we think of as “love” which in this case is someone who is detached from their experiences.   We can get in a relationship with someone who is different, maybe very affectionate and giving, but this won’t feel good to us, it doesn’t feel like “love” to us, so we let them go, leaving our partner wondering what went wrong.

The upside: With really effective therapy and/or deep introspection, we gain insight and awareness of our patterns and how to change them (and pick better partners).

Childhood chisels it’s patterns into pliable neural networks, while later experiences wield weaker influence on the evolving person. Often the only emotional learning one sees after childhood is the reinforcement of existing fundamentals.”

– Lewis, Amini & Lannon (2000)

2. There is no such thing as an accurate memory (Freud was ridiculously wrong)!

Memories are not neatly laid down, available for retrieval at any time or with intensive psychoanalysis (as Freud hypothesized). We “remember” with our neurons and thus we are disposed to see more of what we have already seen, hear more of what we have heard previously and think what we have thought before. As we form neural networks, each new observation, word or sound instantly gets associated with similar, past observations, words and memories. Our past and our general temperament guide us to encode or reinforce our experience in specific ways. So we form memories in our own individual way and then we continually rework those memories as we have new experiences. Optimistic people tend to remember happy times, depressive types more easily recall loss, abandonment and despair and anxious people ruminate on past threats. This told me a lot about why my previous husband (my was-band) and I remembered our fights entirely differently.

The upside: You can train your brain to see things differently. Meditation helps!

3. No type of therapy is better than any other. The only thing that matters is the therapist!

This one makes so much sense. There is limited evidence that one type of therapy works over another type of therapy. What researchers have discovered is that it is the therapist themselves that makes the difference. A therapist who can form a relationship with her client, an actual emotionally balanced relationship emanating from limbic resonance (I’ll explain more on this in the workshop) is the most effective in guiding the client towards what healthy relationships “feel” like. Once the clients have enough of the experience of a healthy relationship, such that they are reforming their neural networks, they can then use that template out in the real world. Basically, someone can describe a “healthy relationship” to you as much as he wants but until you experience it personally (or limbically), there is nothing in you, your brain or your behaviors that will change.

The upside: A good therapist has been shown to actually change your brain.

4. We need love to survive. Literally!

Back in the days when there was no one watching over researchers who had a bit of a God complex, some unbelievably cruel experiments were done. In the 1940’s (not that long ago!), an experiment was conducted on forty newborn infants to determine the importance of affection. Twenty of the infants were in a facility where the caregivers were instructed to provide the basics (food, water, shelter) but to withhold communication, nurturing and affection. The other twenty infants were cared for normally. After four months, half of the infants in the no-interaction group had died. They, then, halted the experiment. Beyond this grotesque example, there is clear evidence in how the brain has developed and functions that love is not a luxury but a necessity.

The upside: Love and attachment heals! That love can come from pets, friends, family members and lovers.

5. When we lose a partner, we literally lose our ability to regulate ourselves emotionally.

Ever behaved unexpectedly badly during a breakup and wondered wtf just happened? Yep, me too. When we lose another person, we lose some of our ability to regulate ourselves emotionally and may act out of “character” in the aftermath. When we form a partnership with another human, we have a real, as in tangible, impact on the way their brain is functioning and they have a similar impact on our brain. Think of the good feeling you get from being around a positive person – that is them having a similar impact on your limbic brain. This impact comes from the limbic resonance between two people (come to the workshop to get the full explanation of this). When we lose a person from our lives, we lose a part of ourselves. A portion of our neural activity depends on the presence of that other living brain. When we are in a healthy relationship, with each person taking perpetual care of the other, we thrive (and actually live longer!). We feel whole, centered, and alive. When we lose a person, even if the relationship had deteriorated, we miss and yearn for that sense of being known, and we lose our ability to behave nicely for a while as well.

The upside: We learn to regulate again as we heal. Therapy, journaling, yoga and meditation help!

There is so much here and so much more I didn’t have space to write about. We are going to get into it at a workshop on March 8th from 3-5pm. Come discuss!

(And to read more about this, I recommend “A General Theory of Love” by Thomas Lewis, MD., Fari Amini, M.D. and Richard Lannon, M.D.)

 

Workshop: Your Brain on Love & Divorce

Sunday, March 8th 2015 from 3:00 – 5:00pm

What is happening to your brain, and thus you, through falling in love, heartbreak, divorce and rebounding.  An exploration into what is happening physiologically through various psychological stages we go through in and out of relationships.  This workshop will help you make sense of why we act and feel like we do.  We will explore topics such the crazy period following divorce, the reasons we feel so compelled by people during the first two months of a relationship before things break down, why we cheat and why we can’t help but rebound after a breakup or divorce.    $45 per person / $75 for two (a couple or friends)

Sign up here

 

 

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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Ridiculously Honest: The Rebound Marriage Series

The ride was rocky, the destination unknown and the companions changed along the way.  The path into me was circuitous, tires screaming around bends at full speed, body slowing in the trees, silence coming at the end.  A marriage here, a marriage there, a heart meandering, directionless until I started listening to myself.  This is the journey into me.

There are 15 parts to The Rebound Marriage Series.  The series is intended to expose the trauma of divorce and a pathway to the other side.  Erin is the founder of Local Flames, a organization focused on supporting healthy relationships for men and women.  Enjoy and please write me your thoughts in the comments section below.

Part 1 – The Moment of Realization

Part 2 – Picture Perfect

Part 3 – The Decision

Part 4 – Honesty Session

Part 5 – Smiling Weakly

Part 6 - You Can’t Go Back

Part 7 - What would it be like to live not being seen?

Part 8 – Forward Motion

Part 9 – I Wanna Shout Out Loud

Part 10 – I Love the Bubble

Part 11 – No One to Save You

Part 12 – I Have Hit My Limit

Part 13 – You Don’t Know Me

Part 14 – The Path I Walk Down

Part 15 – My Children of Light and Dark

-Erin

 

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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The Moment of Realization

This is the first in my writing series, “The Rebound Marriage”.  Read about the series here.   

Sitting heavy, feeling each small rock beneath me. Knees pulled into my chest, tears coming to the surface and then receding as they realize there is no point. Steeliness and harsh awareness settling into my body. This is for real. This really, really is not an okay relationship. He could actually hurt me. Neglect and apathy can be just as dangerous as blows to the body.

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