Q: I didn't want a divorce. I tried to save my marriage, but ... anyway, it's done now. Friends and family are telling me to get on with life for me and my kids and start fresh. What's your take?
Jim: Counselors suggest the stress and heartache of a broken marriage can be as severe as losing someone to death, especially for children involved. So it's best if conflicted couples resolve their problems and heal their relationship (and we have many resources to help). But for those already struggling through a divorce, it's important not to complicate difficult circumstances even further.
One of the most common mistakes after a failed marriage is the tendency for people to jump into a new relationship too quickly. It's understandable; the pain of a broken marriage can be crushing. That's why many people choose to mask their grief behind the excitement of a new relationship rather than face it head on. But hiding our emotional baggage doesn't resolve it. It simply drags it into future relationships, where it's guaranteed to resurface. That's a key reason why the divorce rate for second marriages is significantly higher than for first marriages.
You need time to recover from the breakdown of your marriage. Take it slow. Meet with a counselor. Work through your emotional wounds and figure out what went wrong with your first marriage before you open yourself up to another relationship.
Children also need time to grieve the life they once knew before being expected to adjust to a new one. The most important need your kids have at this time in their life is stability. And that's likely going to require sacrifice on your part. They (and you) will be able to move forward eventually, but it's going to take plenty of time and understanding.
If you'd like to speak with our counselors about your situation, I invite you to call them at 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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Q: What's your advice regarding arguing with teenagers? I know it's almost inevitable; I argued with my parents when I was a teen, and we made it through to enjoy each other today. But being on the parent side of the equation is tough!
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: My advice is to try to never argue with teenagers. Arguing is different than healthy conflict. Done correctly, conflict helps to define and clarify both parties' points of view; whereas arguing is just expressing your own perspective. Conflict should work toward connection, understanding and resolution.
Healthy conflict requires a healthy relationship. How do you and your kids get along during periods of non-conflict? Is there mutual respect and willingness to listen? (Try to "out-listen" each other.) Ask questions to try to understand what is really driving your teens' frustration and focus. For instance, something upsetting may have happened at school or with their friends. Your kids might react negatively to being asked to do a chore, or verbally snap back during a disagreement -- but the real issue that's bothering them may be something else entirely. You've just become the "safe" target of stirred emotions.
In the heat of the moment, your teens may not be thinking rationally -- and they can quickly take you there with them. That skewed perspective can lead to using phrases like "you never," "you always," "it's so unfair," etc. And raw emotions may stir up past unresolved disagreements, like peeling a scab off a wound.
Parenting is about influencing our children toward desired outcomes. And as parents, we're always in training ourselves. You can learn about the Seven Traits of Effective Parenting on our website (FocusOnTheFamily.com/parenting); you can also contact our counselors if you're stuck and need help.