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7 Lessons I Have Learned from Divorced People

7 Lessons I Have Learned from Divorced People

Let me begin by stating that divorce is not a good thing! It is a traumatic experience for everyone involved; it tears families apart, adversely impacts the lives of children, harms people’s self-esteem, confidence and finances and satisfies no one but the divorce lawyers.

Every effort should always be made to try and save a marriage, and I also truly believe that all marriages – except those involving abuse and repeated infidelity – can be saved, should be saved and are capable of becoming marriages that fulfill each partners’ dreams and wishes. However, this requires the will of both parties and sometimes that will is missing. Which brings me to the 7 lessons I have learned through working with people to help them overcome the pain of their marriages ending. These are especially important lessons over the Holidays when many people often feel the impact of divorce the most.

1. No good marriage ends in divorce

The fact is that despite how much you may have wanted a perfect relationship and fairy tale marriage, it didn’t happen. There may be numerous unforeseen situations that caused the demise of your marriage: job loss, family illnesses or death, personal health issues or whatever, but the sad truth is the marriage just didn’t survive. That means that one, or both of you, were not sufficiently committed to making it work. If it was your ex-spouse who ended the marriage, then this means he or she was not right for you. As upsetting as it is, if you would have done more to make your marriage work but your ex-spouse did not, this means they weren’t right for you because their values did not match yours. One day you will meet someone whose values do

2. You lose yourself to find yourself

Divorce hurts. It hurts like a death. The mourning process can be long and no one should tell you how long you should mourn for. You completely lose yourself after your divorce. You lose your sense of knowing, your self-esteem, your sense of safety, you lose your confidence, maybe even your friends or your home. You totally lose yourself, but eventually you find yourself.

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Eventually, you realize you actually lost yourself in your marriage, not your divorce. You realize that in your marriage you lost who YOU were. You realize you lost your own identity. Divorce allows you to find You again, the individual you were before, and it is a wonderful feeling to be “you” again.

3. You have control over your time

Although initially the loneliness is isolating, eventually it becomes exhilarating. If you have children, maybe you now have every other week to yourself. Even if you have primary custody, you may still find you have the occasional weekend or Holiday to yourself that you have not had in years. You may rediscover the joy of sleeping until noon, or hobbies and pastimes you’d not been able to experience in awhile. You may even find new hobbies you never knew you would enjoy!

The world really now is your oyster, so why not take that salsa class you’d always wanted to, or the painting workshop, or take up rock climbing, or zip lining, or go on that vacation you always dreamed about, or jump out of a plane!  Whatever you want to do, you now have time to do it, so take advantage of this new found free time and enjoy yourself in a way you haven’t been able to in years!

4. Your appearance improves

Admit it, we all kind of fall asleep in marriage when it comes to our appearance.  We all get a little lazy, a little out of shape. Maybe we don’t look after ourselves quite like we did before we were married. During the marriage that felt like one of the plus points, but now that you are divorced there is every need to.

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How many people have you seen who within a year or so after their divorce looked better than they had in years! Now, I don’t say these things for superficial reasons. I am not saying that physical appearance and looking good are the most important things in the world, but what I am saying is that looking good makes you feel good. After divorce your appearance will improve, and you will feel better and more confident for it. People will begin noticing you again, you will begin noticing yourself again, and if you also begin eating better and exercising more, your health will improve also – which is a priceless gift!

5. Everything can be a lesson, even when pain is the teacher

As I wrote above, divorce hurts, but everything that happens to us in Life is a lesson, even when pain is the teacher. Maybe you were too trusting or too focused on your career. Maybe you neglected your own happiness for his or your children’s. Maybe you did nothing wrong at all and this unfortunately just happened.

Whatever the reasons for the divorce, there are still valuable life lessons to be learned. Yes, those lessons can be very painful, but it may just be the very lesson your soul needs. You also learn that just because it’s not the Life you planned, it doesn’t mean it is the wrong Life for you. It may not be what you wanted, but it’s what you have and that can be very liberating because you realize that life doesn’t always go the way you want it to and that’s OK. It’s OK if you don’t get the job you really wanted. Its OK if you don’t get the promotion you expected.That is just part of Life. You don’t always get what you want, but you still – always – have to try and make the most of it, and that can be very freeing and empowering to learn.

6. You value the Present

Divorce rips your world apart. It undermines your very being and robs you of a security that you hoped you would always have. But, of course, that security was an illusion. It never existed. You simply thought it did. Divorce teaches you to enjoy and value the present. When you are with your children, value that time. When you are not with your children, value that time too. When you are out with friends, value that time. When you are sat alone at home watching a TV show alone, value that time.

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Divorce teaches you that you can spend your entire time thinking about the past, and what could have been, or what you or he/she could have or should have done differently, but ultimately you realize that those thoughts are worthless.You realize that as much as you may wish to change the past, you can’t, and that all you have is the present. So begin to try and enjoy that present.

You also learn that anger towards your ex, doesn’t harm your ex, it only harms you. Like Ghandi said, ‘anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to become ill.” Anger only harms you, so eventually you must and will learn to manage your thoughts and live in the present in a way that you never did before the divorce.

7. You become stronger and it makes you who you are

I do not know where you are on your divorce journey. Maybe you are recently divorced; maybe you’re going through the process right now, maybe it was a year ago, or maybe ten years ago. But I do now that eventually you will get through it. Eventually the feeling of betrayal and disappointment will subside. One day you will no longer feel the anger or loss you felt. You may always question why and you may never truly forgive, but one day you will get through it and find Happiness again. It will happen and when it does, you will be stronger for it.

I believe that divorce is a ‘disrupter’ designed to make us question whether we are on the right path. Divorce is a very personal journey, a journey that can only be defined and understood by you. But it is a journey, and a journey that is hard. But it is does come with some expected benefits. Dare I even say Blessings. In life, it is always important to count your blessings and not your problems. Everything happens to us for a reason. Detach from it all and surrender to what is. Everything that happened is simply making room for a new and better experience to come into your Life. The “reason” may not become known for many weeks, months or even several years, but one day, it will all make sense and you may even be grateful that your divorce happened.

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Note: Divorce is a life changing and traumatic situation and one that should only be undertaken once ALL avenues to having a successful marriage have been fully exhausted. I believe all marriages, except those involving abuse or repeated infidelity, can be fixed and would encourage anyone thinking about divorce to reach out to a qualified professional to help save their marriage.

Featured photo credit: Woman alone on the bridge against cloudy sky via shutterstock.com

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

You know how this looks:

  • Parents constantly comparing children.
  • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Adultery…
  • And many others.

For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

How to fix a dysfunctional family

In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

Dysfunctional… Or just average?

Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of interest and time spent together
  • Sexism
  • Utilitarianism
  • Lack of empathy
  • Unequal or unfair treatment
  • Disrespect towards boundaries
  • Control Issues
  • Jealousy
  • Verbal and physical abuse
  • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

How to turn it around

When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

Correction is possible

In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

Verbalize it.

All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

Putting it to work in real life

In real life it would be something like this:

“OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

Or:

“Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

Or:

“Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

This is what you have to remember:

1-Stop.

2-Why it’s wrong?

3-What you need.

And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

It’s a family thing

A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

In other words, you will need cooperation…

So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

It’s not a free-for-all battle

In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

The method

1. Drop the ego

Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

2. Not blame, but responsibility

When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

You will do something like this:

“Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

What happened here?

We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

3. Doing the work

What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

“When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

Love is all you need

You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

And what happens if it simply is not there?

What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

There is only one thing you can do:

To break away.

Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

Putting distance

So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

What do I mean?

Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

I choose my peace of mind.

And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

How to prevent it

There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

  • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
  • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

Priorities and clear thought

You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

Featured photo credit: Xavier Mouton Photographie via unsplash.com

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