Our Marriage is More Important Than The Number…

Life in a blended family can sometimes get quite chaotic.  As always, last week we had a revolving door of children.  With two pre-teen girls and two teen boys, everyone had their own agenda for Halloween and it did not include hanging out with us.  After letting everyone do their own thing for a while – stepkids went trick-or-treating at their mom’s house, my daughter went with friends in our neighborhood and my son went to a Halloween party – we reconvened and ended the night as a family.  Our first Halloween as a blended family ended up being a success!  Touch and go at points due to insanity caused by overload of sugar on the brain in the teen boys, but we made it.

And I was exhausted.

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Answer to my prayers…

My amazingly handsome husband always knows me better than I know myself and he knows that my writing has had to be last on my priority list lately, so he surprised me with a weekend in a cabin at Fairy Stone State Park in Virginia.  He claimed it was my “writer’s retreat.”  It was so much more than that.

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My writing corner in the cabin

Marriage in and of itself is challenging.  You must be proactive to keep the marriage healthy.  This can be even more challenging in a second marriage because there are so many divisive elements between mine, his, ours and theirs.  As I have said before, there are plenty of people who are somehow invested in your family and some of them are pulling against you.  Because of this, the divorce rate is even higher than in first marriages.  You have to be committed to your marriage and to making it work… and sometimes a trip away is the perfect catalyst for a happy couple.

It’s the first weekend that I can remember when we had no kids and no kids’ activities – no piano recitals or soccer tournaments or races.  And as always, God’s timing was perfect.  Right here before our six month mark of marriage, we were able to renew our relationship by just focusing on us.

Joe planned everything perfectly... all the way down to bring his own dish detergent!

Joe planned everything perfectly… all the way down to bringing his own dish detergent!

While we love our children more than anything, it was nice to be in a cabin without having to worry about where the kids were.  No arguments over which bedroom is for the boys and which is for the girls.  No one saying, “I’m hungry” or “I’m bored” every twenty minutes throughout the day.

Well, maybe he didn't think of EVERYTHING, but I enjoyed drinking wine from a plastic gravy boat! :)

Well, maybe he didn’t think of EVERYTHING, but I enjoyed drinking wine from a plastic gravy boat! 🙂

There are some times more than others when I am exceptionally aware of how lucky I am to have Joe.  Last weekend was one of those times.  He planned it all out and truly did everything in his power to make sure I was able to relax and write.  God knew what he was doing when he kept me single for eight years before reconnecting me with Joe – I was waiting for him.  And there is one thing last weekend has proven to me with absolute certainty… I can’t wait to grow old with this man.

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Can it get any better?

I am an extrovert who thrives on being surrounded by laughter and excitement, so the fact that I can spend an entire weekend with no television, no cell service, and no other human being and love him even more than I did before we left, says a LOT.  It helps support the fact that I have married the man I am supposed to spend the remainder of my days with.  We can enjoy each other in every moment – dancing in front of the fire, walking in the woods, cooking steaks on the grill, rocking on the front porch, napping in the afternoon – just because we can.

Of course we got home to about 10 tons of laundry that needed to be done (including 20 towels… yes, 20 TOWELS) and today I have gotten the call from school that my daughter has a fever and then I got a text from my son telling me that he has a horrific headache.  So it’s back to reality.

I am thankful for the renewal weekend though and it has proven to me the importance of us taking the time to focus on ourselves every once in a while.  We are committed to not be one of the statistics, no matter who is pulling against us.  Our children will see what a real marriage looks like when they look at us and for that I am proud.  It may be a “second marriage,” but it’s our “forever marriage,” which is much more important than any number.

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Even at the Orthodontist’s Office…

Yes, it’s official… I started writing my first novel last week.  I had no idea just how much fun writing a novel could be!

Ever since I was a child, I felt the calling to write.  It is especially fun to write this blog because I am so passionate about the blending of families.  Because of that passion, I have always just assumed that I would write a non-fiction book about getting divorced “the right way.”  I did not think that I would be writing a seductive thriller… but here I am!

Instead of writing about how NOT to screw up your kids through the divorce process, I am writing a novel of intrigue and temptation and murder.  I would have never believed it…

Writing a novel has given me an escape when things are tough around our sometimes chaotic house.  I have found that rather than worrying about the drama of the day on my way home from work, I am calculating the next chapter in my book.  I’m asking questions of the characters and trying to truly understand their motives and their beliefs.  What is it that my main character is passionate about and to what lengths will she go to achieve her goals?

Interestingly enough, those same questions come up when I am talking to people about divorce and co-parenting.

This morning I took my handsome son to the orthodontist to get his braces put on.  When they were done, Warren went to the car and I texted with his dad regarding the bill.   Since we split the orthodontist bills 50/50, I wanted to make sure we agreed on the downpayment and monthly payment before I committed to anything.  He was on a call, so I sat there chatting with the receptionist.

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All smiles before the pain kicked in…

My phone rang and I answered and we discussed the money specifics and decided which way we wanted to go.  We laughed about Warren’s metal mouth and I promised to send a picture when I got out to the car.  When I hung up the phone, the receptionist was staring at me with a funny look.  She said, “It is really great that you two can work together like that for your kids.  That seemed easy and pleasant.  How do you do it?”

As I always do, I quickly told her that we had nine years of water under our bridge, so THAT made it easy.  I then proceeded to tell her that we are great business partners when it comes to raising our kids and that as long as the kids are always the priority, then everything else seems to fall into place.

She told me that she had seen a lot of people who were just not capable of that.  I agreed and we then spent a few minutes telling our own horror stories.  And interestingly enough, the same kinds of questions I ask of my characters in my novel I found myself asking about an angry ex.  What are her motives in being so difficult?  To what length will he go to get the kids to believe his vindictive agenda?  She and I both agreed (yes, standing in the orthodontist’s office) that too many parents are driven by their own needs, wants and boundary issues, so they fail to see what damage they are doing to their own children.

The receptionist seemed fascinated with the depth of knowledge I had from both sides, so I told her about my blog and how this is such a passion of mine.  She had a look that kind of said, “Boy, I could use some help…”  I wished her luck and headed out with my mind spinning a million miles per hour.

That little happenstance conversation made me realize that I still need to spend the time to write my blended family book as well.  There are people EVERYWHERE who need guidance on how to “divorce well.”  The humorous part of that is I barely have time to even breathe with four kids at home and a husband.  So I have no idea how I could write a non-fiction and a novel at the same time.  One will most likely have to wait, but the fires are burning inside me to write, so who am I to put them out??????

Are You a Conflict Addict?

I find it amusing how people throw around the term “high conflict divorce.”  It seems much like an oxymoron considering you wouldn’t be getting a divorce if there wasn’t high conflict.

The Courts however view high conflict divorces differently than that.  The law in North Carolina defines a high conflict divorce as being more than just a run-of-the-mill divorce.  N.C.G.S § 50-90 defines a high conflict divorce as a custody case involving minor children where the parties demonstrate an ongoing pattern of any of the following: excessive litigation, anger and distrust,  verbal abuse, physical aggression or threats of physical aggression, difficulty communicating about and cooperating in the care of the minor children.

I can understand a divorce being “high-conflict” during the initial separation phase when wounds are fresh and emotions are on edge, but what is it that makes the conflict continue even as time goes by and water goes under the bridge?

Once the divorce is final, the parties should be able to stop focusing on the relationship that they once had and focus all of their attentions on the children.  I understand that is easier said than done. There is often one party who works very hard to keep up the fight.  In that case, the divorce will remain high conflict because one or both parties are addicted to the conflict.  It has been a part of life for so long that they cannot release that control and move on with their lives.

In my opinion, the predictability of it all is very pathetic.  I have quite a few friends who are unfortunate enough to be divorce attorneys and they say that they can tell you exactly how someone will respond and when.  It’s easy because when people are ruled by their emotions, they make bad decisions and are easy to read.  As soon as things start to calm down, these conflict addicts will bring up a new issue to ignite to engage the other parent in more drama.  It’s like they have to keep high conflict and drama going so they don’t have to focus on their own unhappiness and bitterness.  They have an absurd control problem that becomes a vicious cycle.

If you have found yourself in a “high conflict divorce” with an ex-spouse who berates you when given the chance or fights you on everything from finances to extracurricular activities to phone contact, just remember that your ex is most likely one of these conflict addicts who needs conflict with you to avoid having to take a hard look at his/her own life.  The constant control he/she desires is only to keep what they feel is left of the control they had in the marital relationship.  They will claim to be over the relationship, but they are ultimately causing conflict in an effort to cling to what they once had.

The truly sad part of this need for conflict is that the children are the only ones who are affected.  How can a parent truly be involved with their children if he/she is more preoccupied with fighting every move their ex-spouse makes?  For example, if they have an ex-spouse who offers to help with carpool for a child to participate in an after school activity that the child wants to do.  Rather than allow the ex to help with carpool, the high conflict parent chooses to try to do it alone and the child suffers when he/she cannot get to practices or is consistently late.  Does that situation hurt the ex-spouse?  No, it damages the child involved.

Clearly our society is overwhelmingly addicted to conflict.  That addiction is clear when you see how widely successful reality television has become.  We see all of this conflict on television, but how often do these same shows present any good tools for dealing with conflict?

The best way to deal with a conflict addict ex-spouse is to not bite.  When he/she tries to bait you into an argument or tries to punish you by keeping your kids from you or refuses to participate in activities if you are involved, just stay calm and do not give him/her the conflict that they desire.  If you find yourself in this situation, then you must CHOOSE to allow it to pass.  It is indeed a choice and you are nurturing that conflict if you allow yourself to respond.  And by nurturing that conflict you are giving power to someone who is obviously still consumed with the marital relationship.

If you are dealing with a conflict addict ex-spouse then you should do the following:

– Limit your time dwelling on any issues with the ex-spouse.  Set up a separate email address to correspond with your ex and vow to check the email only once a day.  By setting this guideline for yourself, you are choosing to NOT ALLOW your ex to be a constant in your day.  If it is an emergency, then he/she can call you or text you.

– Limit the amount of time you will discuss the “drama” with your current partner.  Some people have said it works best for them to say that you will discuss the drama 30 minutes following the checking of the email for the day.  Once that 30 minute window is over, CLOSE THE WINDOW.  Do NOT allow him/her to take over any more of your day.

– Choose “Sacred Zones” where you will not discuss the ex or the drama that surrounds him/her.  For example, make your bedroom an ex-free zone.

– Focus on your kids.  Your conflict addict ex will do consistent damage to your children as they witness his/her scoffs and hard breaths when your name is discussed.  You must show your children in your daily interaction with them that you are not the person that your ex perceives you to be.  Children are smarter than people think and even if the children have a fear of upsetting your ex-spouse, the kids will know in their heart what kind of person you really are.  By your encouragement in the activities that are of interest to them, they will see that you do not have some control freak agenda that they must adhere to just to receive love from you.  Unconditional love is what they will remember when they too become a parent.

– Do NOT be bullied!!! The dramatic ex is hoping that he/she can beat you down to the point that you decide it’s not worth the fight.  So when the bullying starts (as it does often in emails and voicemails and texts), choose to shut it off.  Do not respond and do not allow it to affect your day.  Take it for what it is – a sad attempt of desperation to keep control over you.

– Most importantly, keep up the good fight.  If there is a Court Order in place, then make sure you do everything you can to follow the Order – even if your ex doesn’t.  Document everything that you may need in the future also.  A conflict addict may drag you back in Court if you are steadily ignoring his/her attempts to fight, so it’s important to have an arsenal of information if that time comes.  If your ex is constantly working on adrenalin and emotions, then he/she will build the case against themselves on their own.

With all that being said, divorce doesn’t HAVE to be high conflict.  If you work on moving on with your own life and focus on giving your children the stability and confidence they need during this difficult time, then you won’t have time or the desire to constantly fight with your ex over piddly little items.  But if you are not blessed to have low conflict, then stay strong and stay calm.

If you are reading this and realizing that YOU are the one who is causing your divorce to be high conflict, then I beg you to focus on the kids.  Put the time you are spending trying to stir up trouble into being there to listen to your kids so that you can support them in the activities and hobbies about which they are passionate.  Let things slide and try to move on.

Embarrassingly enough I know about this topic firsthand because admittedly I am writing this as a former conflict addict.  I struggled when my ex moved on and I had not.  I lashed out.  I made life more difficult.  I can see that now, because hindsight is 20/20.  At the time I just thought I was “protecting my children.”  Thankfully my conflict addiction was never extreme and my children did not suffer.  My conflict was behind the scenes with their father, so they were not a part of it.  I can promise you that your relationship with your ex and his/her current spouse, your relationship with your children and the overall happiness that you feel in your own life will ALL IMPROVE if you just change your focus…. and let go of the drama.

Keep the peace… for your kids.