Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Seminar for divorcing parents in Oregon: BendBulletin.com

We have a similar procedure in my town, though they call it a class, and it is also mandatory. While the content may seem largely common sense, it does serve as a neutral environment in which the two parents can begin to find ways to work together harmoniously (or at least civilly). Further, if you try to be positive, you can surely learn good habits or habits to avoid from other parents in the class. (Seeing two other people argue about some of the trivialities of the divorce process may help you gain perspective into your own divorce). You might even make a friend...

But make sure you just meet friends, the last place you need to be looking for replacement mates is in your divorce course. Not to mention (if you have children in particular) you should SLOW down a bit. What do they say about fish in the sea? Or if it's meant to be ... it will still be meant to be six months from now. Make a statement like this your mantra, say it over and over again when you meet someone attractive. You and your children deserve better. You deserve to actualize yourself on your own, without outside influence. You have been part of a couple with children, you need to find your own parenting style as a divorcee with children. Take time for yourself, come to terms with your divorce, objectively look at why it broke down and try to apply all of these realizations to what you would want in a potential mate. Be honest with yourself as to what you can offer to someone else and what you will not tolerate in a mate. IMPORTANT: Stick to these convictions even after you meet "the one."

Remember, you have thought that you met "the one" before. Hopefully, you felt that way about your ex-spouse. You may say things like, "Now I know what it is like to be in love" or "I have never felt this way about anyone else." Yes you have. It is wonderful to be in a new relationship, you never want to be away from that person, all their jokes are funny, all their quirks are endearing, you like the same movies, food, pets... and on and on and on. Slowly, the gloss wears off any relationship. You look for independent activities, their jokes are repetitive, quirks are annoying to obnoxious, everybody likes the Shawshank Redemption but their fetish for kung-fu movies makes you want to drive a chop-stick through your eyeballs, and both choosing steak as your favorite food and dog as your favorite pet is no relationship coup. It is only once the gloss (or novelty) wears off that I believe you can truly tell if you have found "the one." If you can witness the personality quirks that drive you crazy and still love that person, still care about their day, their dreams, their fears and be able to communicate all of yours to a partner who is not only willing, but wants to listen, even knowing all of your annoying tendencies (read carefully) THEN YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED!

Ask yourself what you date for? Unless you want to spend your life unattached and just date for fun (and after a divorce I can very much understand why you might go that route) dating is a path to marriage. Dating is effectively trying out potential mates until you find "the one." Take this process seriously, there is no rush to get married. Your married life will never be as exciting as your dating life. Think about this: not only do 50% of marriages fail, 65% of remarriages with children from previous relationships fail. Take your time (particularly if you have kids). Your kids have been through enough already. Dating someone for a few years to be sure will be far easier on both you and your children than a second (or third, fourth, seventh of you are Larry King) divorce.

Dating is fun and exciting, the person is new, they introduce novel ideas and activities into your life. Very likely they initially worship the ground you walk on and vice versa. You want these type of feelings when you are dating someone. If you don't have them, it is time to move on. You have already "bought the cow," don't settle your next time around.

Marriage is a commitment in every sense, you need a mate who is caring and dependable. The novelty of dating is thrown out, you don't want to be married to someone who surprises you with a trip to Bermuda paid for on your already maxed marital credit card. Keeping your marriage fresh and interesting is important, but by far the most important is being able to depend on your spouse to... come home, pay the bills, pick up the kids on time, be consistently employed, be truthful, tolerate your family and above all to LOVE YOU when you are cranky, tired, irritable, irrational, sick, sad, stressed... You will show your spouse sides of you that you would never reveal to someone you were dating, so don't be surprised when your spouse does the same.

It is so important to remember that when you meet someone new it is ALWAYS exciting. I hear so many stories of divorce... "It just wasn't the same," "I wasn't excited by them anymore" "I felt like I was stuck in such a routine"... So do something about it. This person meant the world to you at one point, figure out what you need to do to get to that place (or close) again. Seek counseling, whatever it takes. TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE!

However you handle your situation realize this: While you new boyfriend/girlfriend may be the cat's meow today, if you are serious about this relationship and it progresses to marriage, eventually you will face the same day to day monotony you find in any marriage and then you will again be faced with the choice between working on your marriage or finding the next exciting alternative. There will always be single people you find enticing... you just need to be adult enough to realize the thrill fades. Is it more important to get your heart racing every couple years or to have a strong, committed, dependable, financially stable relationship with someone who loves you and has loved you?

Divorce is emotionally and financially devastating (as I have talked about before). I don't want to get to preachy, but just be careful. Salvage your marriage if you can, if you can't don't rush into your next one. Trust me, your kids don't even want to think about you dating, much less pledging your life to someone else. If you are dating, keep that person away from your kids until you are absolutely sure the relationship is solid and heading somewhere permanent, and then ease that person into your children's lives. Listen to your kids, if they seem uncomfortable, back off. Your kids cannot ask you not to date but they can ask that they not be forced to personally endure your dating activities. Date while kids are with their other parent, do not skip out on the time you have with them. Try to wait until your kids leave the house before you cohabitate with someone new. It is infinitesimally difficult for children to adapt to living with your new spouse, and worse, your new spouse's children.

I say all of this from experience. Both of my parents remarried people with children and I had to live amongst them. (Interestingly, both of my parents have since divorced their second spouses) In my adult experience, I dated my fiancee for over a year before I began to spend any time with his child, and then very infrequently. Very, very slowly did I become a regular person in his child's life and though this put some restraints on our relationship early on, I am so glad I did it. I could never face myself if I felt like I had made that transitional period any more difficult than it already was. More importantly, I was able to be sure that my fiancee and I were the real thing and I was not overtaken by fleeting infatuation. Only then could I feel comfortable involving myself with his child.

I am going to try and find a couple news posts about step-families. If you are in, have been, or are thinking about being in this type of situation, please share your story. We can all benefit from the experience of others.

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