Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Couples and Secrets

Recently, I received a reporter’s query asking for my thoughts about Couples and Secrets. Ironically, I had just finished taping a segment for "Relationships 101" on the impact of family secrets on individuals who remain in the dark about very important parts of a family member’s – and therefore, their own – history. I thought I’d share the reporter’s questions and my answers. Perhaps they will provide some guidelines for managing secrets in your intimate relationships.

Is it okay for couples to keep secrets?
It depends on the nature of the secret. The only instance I can think of where keeping a secret is acceptable is when disclosure of it would only hurt a partner. For example, sharing how many lovers you’ve had previously and how good the sex was is in this category. Divulging such information could unnecessarily bruise your new partner. This is especially so if the partner has self-esteem issues.

What secrets should be shared?
It is essential to disclose family secrets or salient information about your past. To not share such information, only to have it discovered later, will feel like a bait and switch. This could cause your partner to question your veracity about everything. For example, a parent or grandparent’s mental illness, having terminated a pregnancy, and having filed for bankruptcy are pieces of information that must carefully be shared.

When do you open up and share? Before or after marriage?
Of course, it is always a risk to divulge any highly vulnerable material. And it should be shared before a couple marry. This allows both partners to decide whether or not they still want to be in the relationship in light of this disclosure. Just as the partner on the receiving end of the information gets to decide, the person sharing also has decisions to make based on the partner’s reaction. If, for example, an individual shares her decision to terminate a pregnancy and her partner flies into a rage and begins preaching hellfire and brimstone, that person won’t feel very safe for disclosing other sensitive information. Then this could severely compromise the relationship.

Do you wait to share a secret until you know you’re in a committed relationship?
Disclosing delicate information like a personal or family secret can become an avenue to strengthen the bond of already committed partners or facilitate their making a commitment.

If you are uncertain about how to manage a personal or family secret, feel free to call my office (888-546-1580) for a free consultation. I can help you decide how to proceed in everyone’s best interests.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Are You Emotionally Divorced?

It is a common misconception that people are divorced the moment the judge signs the legal documents. Not so. While they may be legally divorced, now comes the hard part. Being legally divorced is only relevant from a logistical standpoint. Yes, there is important paperwork that needs to be done. The Social Security Administration and credit card companies need to be notified. One or both spouses need to move out. Time sharing guidelines for any children of the marriage need to be negotiated. Extended family members need to be told. There are myriad ways that each of you needs to begin to create a life apart from the other. But all of this doesn’t necessarily mean you will be divorced in the most important way: emotionally. Being emotionally divorced is a process that occurs over time.

How can you tell if you are emotionally divorced?
• You no longer cry at the drop of a hat about your lost spouse, marriage, in-laws, or time with your children.
• You are no longer angry about what happened – or didn’t.
• You feel neutral about your spouse. The attachment to him/her as a spouse has dissipated, even if you still are friendly and cordial.
• If you have children, you are committed to and able to cooperatively co-parent with your ex-spouse.
• If you have residual anger, hurt, or sadness, you are able to set that aside in favor of cooperatively co-parenting with your spouse.
• You can talk with or about your spouse without blaming him/her or yourself for the end of the marriage.
• You have accepted responsibility for your part in the marital dysfunction and divorce.
• You have developed a live-and-let-live attitude toward your former spouse.
• You have released any residual resentment or longing to be reunited.

In short, when you have accepted and grieved the end of the marriage. Only then are you genuinely ready to move on.

Do these sound too hard to attain? Do these markets seem Pollyanna or pie in the sky? Then keep working on it. They are worthy goals toward which to strive.

Those who share children with a former spouse and who are forced to interact with him/her can expect to have a more difficult time with post-divorce recovery than childless couples. In the later case, you can walk away and never have to interact with him/her again. People in either situation who remain angry, vengeful, and blaming are stuck emotionally. Resentments that burn like red hot coals pose a grave risk to your psychological life going forward. You will gain nothing but loneliness and bitterness.

It is a common misconception that love and hate are opposites. On the contrary. They are merely heads and tails of the same coin. Love and indifference are opposites. Lack of any particular feeling one way or the other about a former spouse, except respect for him/her as a human being, is the goal toward which to strive. Then you will be emotionally and legally divorced.