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I got this letter recently: “My son is already divorced but my daughter-in-law tells me she made a terrible mistake. She went to my son and told him she’d like a chance to reconcile but he told her he didn’t know what to think and was already dating. She was, too, but broke up with her boyfriend to show my son how serious she was. Meanwhile one of their children is having behavior problems at school and is going to a child psychologist. My son is living with his girlfriend who is in a custody battle for her children. It is such a mess.”
Boy, is it ever a mess! No only are innocent children involved but lots of people are hurting, troubled, and confused by the turn of events since the divorce.
One out of three questions sent me deals with divorce and its consequences. I have never been divorced but as a stepmother I saw first hand what divorce does to children. It also can make grown-ups crazy so that they don’t think straight. My husband’s ex-wife told him after she found out we were married that she made a mistake and wanted to get back together. When that didn’t happen she started the mother of all custody/child support court battles that affected our lives for several years until she lost. Who were the biggest losers? Her sons. Who were the winners? Nobody, really. True, my husband did not lose visitation rights but he was distraught by what this was doing to his sons and a lot of our energy went into fighting for my husband’s visitation rights.
I became interested in the “I changed my mind, I want to be with you again.” phenomenon. This is more likely to occur in women who become frightened about making it alone in today’s tough world. There are financial pressures, adjusting to being a single mother is no picnic, and they are terribly lonely. But men, upset at what is happening to their kids, also exhibit this.
Obviously lots of people divorce without thinking about the downstream consequences. For what it’s worth, I think people today need a lesson in critical thinking, that aspect of critical thinking that deals with visualizing yourself in possible future scenarios and deciding which is the future for you BEFORE you take a largely irrevocable step like getting a divorce. Yes, people do remarry but in most instances a broken home stays broken.
It may not be all your fault if you are not an expert in critical thinking. Schools stress facts rather than reasoning abilities and we are all the victims of a sound-bite culture in which your thoughts (and dollars) are grabbed by a commercial focusing on only one thing. So when it comes to holding more than one consequence in our heads we may fail from lack of practice.
No marriage is perfect. Actually a better way of saying this is that even a perfect marriage has imperfect moments. This means there will be times when you are angry, frustrated, weary of your tasks, and absolutely convinced that it’s all your partner’s fault. It’s pretty obvious that moments like this can make you think about getting a divorce. And have you noticed that the worse you feel the more likely you are to blame someone else? A witty psychiatrist once told me that projection (putting the blame for your unhappy feelings on someone or something else) is more satisfying than sex!
And it is easy to get a divorce. Figuring out how two people can better communicate and nurture each other is tough.
Here are Dr. Heins’ suggestions for critical thinking about the future when you start to think about divorce or the easy way out of your dissatisfaction.
o Put your thoughts into PERSPECTIVE. Every spouse on earth has felt the way you feel right now.
o Make a list of all the FAILINGS your spouse has and how these affect you.
o Then make a list of all YOUR FAILINGS and how they affect your spouse.
o Think about and write down all the possible CONSEQUENCES of a divorce to you, your spouse and your children.
o VISUALIZE yourself (and each child) in each one of these possible future consequences.
o GET HELP! The fact that you started thinking about divorce means that counseling is in order. Don’t try to deal with such a momentous decision alone. Even if your spouse won’t participate go to a counselor yourself. By the way unilateral counseling can save a marriage. The insight you gain can change your behavior which can change your spouse’s behavior and your interaction.
This kind of thinking is hard, probably the hardest task of your life so far. But if can you save a marriage, especially when children are involved, you are a hero.
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