Archive for the ‘Sex’ Category

Normally when I reference another post, I’ve got something to add.  In this case there is nothing more to say other than READ THIS.  I have followed Leigh’s blog (incaseimgone) for quite some time and she is always insightful and very thought provoking.  I hope sharing this will allow you to think about how you in your life can help improve the world we live in by making changes to stop the situations she refers to.  Especially if you are a man and reading my blog, take the time to understand what Leigh has to say on this topic and make sure you and the people you influence in your lives, children and other men, get it.

Sometimes I feel like being in a blended family makes you feel like you are living a bipolar existence.  This is more so when some of the other parties, namely Bert, try to turn things into something they are not.  It is this I believe that is the source of our most recent saga.

First, sorry I’ve been away for a while.  As we approached the holidays life was just crazy busy and no topics hit me with that “you can share something useful”  kick in the pants that makes me feel like what I have to say might be worthy to inspire, educate or get someone else to think differently about their situation.

So now on to what kicked me out of my writer’s block.  It relates back to the ongoing counseling of some of the kids from challenges we had this summer (“Expected Chaos” and “Dangers of Ineptness“).  In the interest of open disclosure I will say I am like a lot of men in that I feel that counseling is a tool not an ongoing service.  Like a man, I approach things in the world with “identify the problem, find some solutions, implement the solutions, move on”.  As I’ve talked with my friends it seems this is a universal guy view of counselors and over the last few months the overriding question I get from them is “when are they going to give you guys something to use so you guys can move forward normally?”

Sadly we are still trying to get there and a step in that process is what pushed me to get out what I feel and understand in this post.  Peter was initially working with a counselor for about three to four months who ultimately did very little if anything for him.  God has blessed us with a solution that makes the counseling of Peter and his sisters free of charge due mainly to the fact that Bert is on assistance and so fees are picked up.  If we were paying per session, my “man view” of counseling would have been pushing for a resolution much sooner.  In any event this woman eventually decided she was not equipped to help Peter (glad she wasted three months to get there, but herein lies a pet peeve of mine with counseling in that when they can have no goal, than means the counseling can go on forever providing said counselor with a steady stream of income) and she referred him to a place we wanted to go initially but had instead deferred to Bert’s desire to try this other counseling center.  It worked out because Bert went along without grumbling because it was not his ex who had suggested it but a third party.  Peter has basically had a handful of sessions with his new counselor but he seems to be opening up to this one where he would not really talk to the other one.  I get it, it happens.  Just wish the other bozo had not taken so long to understand that if your client is not talking and you’ve got no plan to get them to talk that’s not really a recipe for good counseling.

So feedback to my dear wife this week is what took what was pretty good holiday season with a good cheer and such as you can have with a house full of teenagers and in the course of 24 hours took her to state of frustration and worry.  At this point Greg and Peter’s counselors have not spoken to each other even after we asked them to.  This is the source of my wife’s frustration.  Completely warranted and it frustrates me to, because perhaps if they had talked a month ago like we asked she would not have gotten the comment she did that seems to have sent her into a tailspin.  There are two issues here, but let me stick with the one here which was actually the second issue.  Hope to not confuse you.

Since they had not talked and Peter’s counselor has no information on Greg and the assessment of the other counselor when asked what she recommended what we do to monitor the boys she made the ludicrous statement that we should never have the two of them together unless they are in “eyeshot”.  My friend said it best when he said that along with all the door monitors etc. is really a Fascist state and that this counselor should use her head and realize how unrealistic and stupid that recommendation is.  I understand she is just taking the ultra conservative route and not wanting to have something occur because she said we could use a more relaxed approach since she has no input on Greg.  My frustration on this is I feel what the counselor did was very unprofessional and borders on misconduct.  It is along the line of asking a movie reviewer, “Did you like Movie A or Movie B more?”

“I liked Movie A.”


“Because I didn’t see Movie B.”

What?  If you do not have enough information to make a recommendation then the responsible thing to do is to say that, not make some asinine statement that has no professional basis.  A more appropriate response would have been to say “I can answer that after I speak with Greg’s counselor which I will make every effort to do as quickly as possible.”  Instead what she did was launch a domino effect that sent my wife into a tailspin that was not necessary at all.  Pisses me off to no end.  I have to go in and meet with this counselor in a couple weeks in another one of her ill advised brainstorms, and I just hope I am past her incompetence enough to handle the circus appropriately.

My assessment, and I can’t read anyone’s mind last I checked, so it’s just what I have put together in my head, is that because of my wife’s fear or worry about Bert turning everything into a made up fallacy she has placed more power on this counselor that is really there.  We are not in some court mandated assessment.  This is personal counseling entered into voluntarily and therefore protected by all that is HIPAA.  At this point the counselor has Peter working through understanding that the first steps to inappropriate action by someone is usually talking about it.  This does not mean that if someone talks about it they will do it.  It’s the old version of I saw a bird.  I saw the bird fly.  Therefore all birds fly.  Yet we all know an ostrich does not fly but is a bird.  His action does not automatically cause the event.  The counselor explained that Peter is having a hard time making that distinction and that is making him hypersensitive to comments by others.  First thing this counselor has said that I agree with.  However I believe because of this worry about Bert taking the fact that natural youngster and teenage banter about sexuality and such occurs in a household somehow makes the household a problem.  Think back to when you were a kid.  Did you talk about inappropriate things?  How often?  As often as possible, right?  That’s the nature of childhood.  When I discuss with dispassionate folks they all agree.  It is when adults create meaning that is not there that it creates the crazy train.  Greg’s counselor has pointed this out to us, and for some reason it seems my wife feels that this counselor has jumped the fence and is somehow calling something what it is not.  I’m only seeing a overprotective counselor who spoke out of turn ad should have waited to say ANYTHING until she had enough info to speak with a grain of intelligence.  Instead she created propaganda that has taken on a life of its own in my wife’s head.

You see one of the other issues that has now expanded beyond reason is that because this counselor might be worried about Greg, what would in most cases be passed off as normal behavior is viewed with a lens of adult added angst.  From time to time when Greg and Bobbi watch TV they will share a seat and hang over each other.  They will toss legs over each other or Greg will lean on Bobbi’s arm.  When I discuss this with my friend he says his son and daughter so this stuff all the time.  My brother did it with me.  I think Greg likes the fact that he has a sister, even a stepsister, who’s first reaction to him sitting within five feet of her is not “get away from me, I hate you” which is what Greg has gotten from his two sisters his whole life.  Bobbi does not get upset when Greg leans on her in fact they are usually giggling and talking.  It’s just normal human interaction.  Yet because this counselor has raised the specter of not knowing Greg because she spoke out of turn this has turned a knob in my wife’s head that what if Greg is overly affectionate?  As long as he’s not groping people etc. what parent would not be happy to have their pre-teens not be happy in each other’s presence rather than loathsome?   Yet this is what our over-sensitized counselor-fueled existence has become, and all I can think is “STOP THE MADNESS!!!!”

I certainly do not want to stick my head in the sand, so I have sought other opinions.  As I said, friends are saying their kids do this all the time and we are being ridiculous and are being driven to this stupid view by all these counselors.  Again, I have a lot of guy friends so their solution is simple.  Tell the counselor we need to get to a point where we can go forward as normal because we have crossed the line into the territory of counseling doing more harm than good.  Given the tailspin this is moving us into I find it hard to argue.  Do we want to be dumb and unobservant no, but do we want to react to everything with the result that we eventually have every child in the house walking around in an inflated bubble and my wife and I never sleep or go anywhere because we have to watch everyone?  Hell no!  Peter is already expressing his frustration with the fact that his life is not as he would like because he is basically under house arrest and constant surveillance, yet if we listen to crazy counselor we are not being Gestapo enough!   How is that going to raise a healthy child?  You see Peter and Greg were upset because on New Year’s Eve while all their siblings got to party all night they had to go to their rooms behind their door alarms because the adult’s were going to bed and they could not be watched.  Think about that statement for a bit.  In hindsight it was perhaps ill advised for me to voice it out loud as the reason for their having to go to bed while the other’s did not, but it was the reality of our existence.  It was at this moment that I realized this has gone on long enough and something needed to change and then all hell broke loose with mouthy counselor not using her supposedly educated head.

You see we are in a never ending stream of counseling on this event.  Why? Because the counselors have no set goal.  Is that our fault?  Perhaps, but because of my regular lack of relying on others to handle my problems for me I have not had to deal with counselors a lot until I started marriage counseling before my divorce.  I went to a marriage counselor, who I felt was very good.  What was the result?  I got divorced.  Now I have this situation.  Excuse me for not being too upbeat on the success of counseling.  I think we need to get the counselors to set a goal for the two remaining kids in counseling and that goal is simple.  We want them both to understand how to interact with others appropriately and to live a normal life.  The counselors should then be able to articulate a plan on how we will get there.  Peter’s counselor at least has a semblance of that, but Bobbi’s counselor is continuing her clueless trek down “let me talk with Bobbi and bill the state” land.  I have been content to just leave it be because it was not costing anything but now there is a cost.   Our family’s sanity.  Am I going to demand a change?  No not right away.  I realize I’m really upset and venting, but I do think we are being stupid ad doing our whole family a disservice by not demanding some professional responsibility from the counselors.  After all if I went to anyone else for a service would I just tell them, “Hey I’ll just pay you every week without any end in sight and you just take my money and do whatever you want, OK?” you’d call me an idiot.  And you’d be right.  I want to have a discussion with my wife on what our family’s goal with this is and get off the incorrect assumption that we must just let it go on forever because of the source.  Sure the events of the summer need to be dealt with and they have been, are and will be.  If your kids used drugs would we send them to rehab forever?  No.  Would they perhaps do something again that made the go back?  Perhaps, but all we can do is give the tools to make a good decision and the guidance to know what that is and then let them get back to life.  Yet in this case we are not.  My wife and I have discussed the imposition of the door alarms and so have the rest of the kids so we acknowledge the problem, yet we have taken no action to solve it.  Who’s fault is that?  We need two big fingers pointing right back at us.  Will the door alarms ever be off, honestly because of Bert’s meddling, probably not, but we did tone them back from shrieking sirens to simply loud obnoxious ear splitting beeps a while back.  This is making all of us edgy and so is it a wonder that when we get a little shove from a stupid counselor who speaks out of turn that one of us falls off the edge?  No!

This leads me to the counselor’s first recommendation and what started the discussion that led to her dumb second recommendation that I have just beat like a dead horse.  They have been pushing for about a month to get the adults from the households with the three boys involved with this summer’s activities into a room together.  When I told my friend about this his first response was “I hope you said no way in hell!”  His reasoning?  Bert is totally incapable and unwilling to be anything but productive in that meeting.  He will monopolize that meeting.  My reaction.  He is 100% accurate.  With what just happened with my wife because of the other comment this week I am frankly terrified about how she will handle this session.  I understand the counselors are doing what people in that field try to do.  They think they are being helpful, yet this is the same counselor who when my wife said she did not want to be interviewed with Bert in the same room insisted that “this was the process” and then my wife went through it, Bert used his manipulation over her to make her feel hideous and she had to talk it over with her counselor over multiple sessions and was not her wonderful self for weeks.  Yet here we go into this again.  Are we stupid?  I’m beginning to think so.  Yet I do not know another option, because I am also willing to give it a shot but the only way we succeed in there is if Bert talks we all shut up and let him go.  He will lie, say things that are untrue, but we cannot react.  If we do he wins.  My concern is I will blow up in there and call the counselor the bumbling fool she is for calling this meeting in the first place.  She witnessed what happened with Bert and my wife, and she knows the other mom has similar issues with Bert.  The only one who can deal with Bert’s shit is me.  But what I can’t deal with and I am having a real time sucking up is some “professional” placing my wife into a situation that she is not at all comfortable with and demanding she do it with a smile.  God made it clear that a man is supposed to protect his wife.  I am prepared to do that to the death someday if needed.  My wife is the most important person in the world to me and the fact that she deals with this shit on a regular basis tears me up.  Even though I know it is un-Christian I pray for God to remove Bert from this world often and vehemently.  I then pray for forgiveness that I did that.  I do not understand God’s point in these trials and testing, but I worry that I am not doing what I should.  Should I be saying “hell no!” to this meeting?  If you were to ask me today, the answer I would shout from the mountain tops would be a resounding yes.  I need to pray on it and see.  I have almost no confidence; no I do have zero confidence, that this meeting will do anything of value.  My wife had basically said the same thing.  It would seem that then we are not very smart for proceeding.  Maybe we talk with the other mom and decide that way.

Because Bert takes wicked advantage of everything with his sociopathy I believe my wife has added a lot of weight to this that is not there.  We recently read some excerpts from a book where the author said stop worrying about the worst that can happen because the worst rarely does, yet that is basically what is happening here.  I feel that we are letting some fear of what Bert could spin things into drive us into not demanding more from the counselors and instead taking a very passive attitude and into walking into situations that are set up for bad outcomes.

At this point however we sit at a point that my wife feels “there is a counselor with power for the county” which I feel is utterly false but she is so worried from this woman’s inappropriate statement without any of the facts she needed to make it that she will not move from that.  If we continue this way for the next few days I know my resolve will grow much stronger to say we are not participating in that joint waste of time.  The counselors have this hope that the changes they want Bert to make will be made through these types of meetings.  That is what is driving my wife and this other mom to agree though every ounce of their being does not want to do this.  They are being driven for their kids just as I am being driven for my wife.  Should I be the voice of reason?   The most dispassionate one in the bunch?  Should I stand up and say this has no chance of success?  The counselors will be disappointed but the carnage that I anticipate Bert wreaking in that room will not have a chance to take place.  If I felt one iota of possibility that he could be reasoned with and the counselors could get him to listen I would feel some hope.  As my friend said, “This better be the best fucking counselor the world has ever seen, or you are just headed into a nightmare.”  I think I’ve already established on a much smaller point that we are not dealing with that type of counselor here.  I’d really like some thoughtful comments on this one.  We’ve got a couple weeks before this meeting is to take place.  I understand that everything I’ve written says stop the madness.  Sadly that’s not always so easy.

One of the biggest challenges facing parents is how to deal with all the inputs into our kid’s lives.  I understand on a general scale that this is just a new version of the same old statement that our parents and their parents and their parents and so on made back into time immemorial.  Sometimes I wonder if the only parents that did not have to worry about this were Adam and Eve because it was just them and their kids and no other outside people to influence them, yet one brother still killed the other so not sure that proves my point.

I certainly know my parents echoed the familiar mantra, “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  Usually as I mulled it about in my head for the nanosecond before my mouth responded, it usually depended on what it was.  If it was something that I felt was stupid, I’m sure I would have said, “No” but either because I really like to do many things or because my parents had the dumb luck to only bring this up with things I thought were pretty appealing I of course responded with some form of the affirmative.  As I got older it was accompanied with additional comments about how out of touch they were or some form of how everyone was OK with it except these two annoying people who happened to be my parents.

It sucks when the tables are turned.  Now I’m the parent and I find myself pulling what little hair I have left out when I think about all the challenges with raising kids to be morally and ethically good in a culture that more and more I find to be providing crazy examples of how the opposite is true.  Take the episode of the day, Miley Cyrus and her VMA “performance”.  I guess I take a little solace in the fact that asides from the Iraq War nothing seems to compare to the shock and awe that was voiced pretty heatedly on Monday.  Today, we have parents like me trying to figure out what to do.  This article on CNN is just one of the samplings of responses, to which I’m adding my own right now.

In my generation we’ve all heard the common responses.  Send your kid to a convent.  Lock them in their room.  Monitor what they do and see.  These were all hard enough for my parents to do.  I grew up in the age when Nixon’s aides tape recording a conversation was so scandalous it set the country on its ear.  I think if Miley had performed back then, we’d have lost 300 million people in an instant as the country would have died from a collective coronary, but now it’s just another head shaking example of those stupid celebrities and the stuff they pull.  This week we discussed in church how our guides should not be what is culturally acceptable but what is biblically acceptable because that is the best standard we have.  Acting like a ho was not acceptable back then and it has not become OK now.  As a parent sending this message does not necessarily fall on deaf ears but must compete against the growing cacophony of friends, other parents, media and  everything else that simply labels those of us who feel it’s OK not to walk around naked as weird.  As much as man wants to think the rules have changed, they haven’t.  They have and will always be the same.  Break them at your own risk.  There are a few cities God wiped off the face of the Earth and have still not been found because their inhabitants through they could make their own rules.

Just a couple weeks ago we had this message from Ashton Kutcher to the teens of the world.  It was very well delivered and one can say a lot of things to denigrate the messenger, but in the end, as a parent, I’d rather have my kids see Ashton’s message, even though many believe it was contrived and fake, versus seeing Miley’s “message”, which some are now trying to paint as some feminist manifesto showing how strong women can show they can be just like men.   Maybe when those arguments are being made we should bring out the “If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  So it’s OK for men to be sexual, disgusting pigs, so good for you Miley for showing women can do it too?  Yes, let’s stand up and give a huge round of applause to that logic.

My wife appreciates that I do not treat her like a sex toy.  Sadly more and more young boys will have seen Miley gyrating around on the stage in front from Robin Thicke and grow up thinking something very different.  Do you want your daughter or granddaughter to be that boys girlfriend?  I have heard the logic that “Miley looked like she was in charge” yet was she in charge of something you would be proud to have an important female in your life in charge of?  The sad truth is that even having this discussion shows how much our country and our world has slid from common human decency.  You can argue all you want about the constraints and other limitations placed on women back in the Victorian age when it was scandalous to even see a woman’s ankle in public, but can you really argue against all that with a straight face that we should be able to see all of her now in public and think that’s forward progress?  I’ll be the first to admit that women were mistreated in terrible ways back in that time when their husbands rules over the house with an iron fist and many would make poor choices and physically assault their wives into submission, but we can eliminate one evil without opening ourselves to a dozen others.  Women’s progress does not require disgusting behavior and lewd acts.

Many argued that Miley had to shed her Disney image.  In today’s hyper media age, I guess that means you can’t just dress up like an adult and stop singing about boys.  Jodie Foster shed her kid actor image without twerking or whatever we were calling it back then.  Just because you show me you can act like a stripper doesn’t tell me you’re an adult now.  It tells me more than ever that you’re still an immature kid and need to grow up and understand that how you act says a lot about who you are.  This is the message I need to get my kids to understand every day as a parent.  Ashton did a lot of things I’d not be proud of my kids doing too, but if I had to choose between the two prominent examples provided this month by celebrities about someone who wants me to understand that he has become an adult, Ashton’s message made that a lot more clear than Miley’s did.

I talk with a lot of friends about our kids and how we raise them today.  Like it or not, my parents and ones before them had it easy when trying to limit exposure to inappropriate messages and images.  I had to go get something, be it magazine, TV screen or later in life a video tape to be exposed to something.  I had to go meet someone in person.  Sure I could talk on the phone and talk dirty, but I could not simply sit in my room and FaceTime and add visuals in a way that is harder to monitor.  At times it feels like the only way to parent is to train to be a Gestapo agent so that we can monitor and control every aspect of life, which any parent knows just creates further resistance and encourages that behavior we are trying to limit.  When your parents refused to let you do something, how well did you listen?  The harder they pushed the more defiant you became even though many times you knew it was wrong, but you just wanted CONTROL, darn it!

I’d love to hear what you’ve run into and what you’re doing about it and if it’s working.  It’s impossible to pre-screen everything the kids want to see as I can’t watch every YouTube video they might see here or at their friend’s or at school.  I was just going to go get my daily news yesterday morning and I was greeted by Miley’s bra and panty, half bent over body.  I was not looking for it, I was just wanting to see what was happening with Syria.  I understand that even if my kids wanted to avoid the same things (which I understand they don’t) they show up in your face like it or not with the media coverage.  The stakes are so much higher these days with the ability to post something stupid.  A character in the recent movie “ The Social Network” states the internet is not written in pencil, it’s written in ink.  What you say and do is out there forever.  That’s true for Miley and her VMA performance is it is for all my kids and whatever “performances” they choose to share with the world or scarier what someone chooses to share for them.  Their rant in a restaurant can be posted off a stranger’s cell phone in an instant.  All we do as parent’s is get a little bit of their life to influence them and hope they make choices less like Miley and more like Ashton.

X and I dated for six years before we finally married.  A big part of this was that I wanted to get through college before being married.  I knew I needed to have a solid foundation to build my life on and be successful in a marriage.  I also wanted to save up some money so that we did not enter into our new life in financial straits.  I also felt it would give X time to do the same.

I can sum up the dating years like deep sea fishing.  Anyone who has gone through that process understands it can take you all day to land a fish once you have it hooked.  You pull it in a little big at a time and then it runs off again, and you need to repeat a lot.

It was evident very early on that this relationship would be a challenge.  Sure X would enjoy our time together, but any time things did not go according to her wishes, there would be problems.  If I had a family commitment or something at work even, come up, it was a problem of varying magnitude.  At the time I wrote these things off to various levels of female whims.  It’s that time of the month.  You can never make a woman happy.  You know the list.  Society had provided them to me, and I happily used them and believed them.

Add into this the fact that we moved through various levels of intimacy during this time and you get to the point I have discussed earlier that you learn in DivorceCare that introducing sex into the picture starts to make it fuzzy.  You overlook things.  You talk yourself out of things.  You tell lies.   You manipulate to get some more.  It really is scary how much like drug use this situation can become, especially when you are young and driven by those instincts.

Every three, six or twelve months or so we would cycle.  She’d get upset, want to break up, and I would convince her not to.  I’ve been told I would make a good lawyer because I can argue intelligently about anything.  Any reason she could bring up, I could counter with a more compelling reason.  Like any relationship that runs hot and cold, when we were good it was great, and when we were bad, the great was good enough to make me want to fight for it.  Looking back now, this cycle never stopped for the two plus decades we were together.  It began in dating and continued through engagement and marriage.  It only ended when I realized it was time to stop the cycle as she never really showed herself to be truly committed.  Once again, in the time, I kept convincing myself this was normal.  People feel this way, heck I felt like I wanted to end it from time to time, but the relationship on the whole was good during these times.  As I look back I’m not entirely sure that was true, or if I just wanted it to be true.  Family and friends kept telling me they saw issues, but I would argue through the death that they were not seeing the whole picture.  I was too proud and unwise to know I needed to pull up before the crash and burn happened.

We were engaged for two years or so during this time, so again, an older man might have walked away, but I kept up the charade within myself that this was just how good relationships work.  You always fight.  It’s natural for your girlfriend to throw things at your car.  It’s natural for her to get so mad at times that she scratched your arms until they bled.  Doesn’t that happen in all relationships?  Oh, if I only knew then what I know now. 

We ended up purchasing a townhouse together before we were married, but while engaged.  We initially were just going to have one of us live there and then both move in when we got married, but again the “me, me” attitude of society permeated our weak thinking and we said we were both paying the mortgage so we should both live there.  As the day approached that was where we were at.  On the day we were to close on the townhouse, X decided to quit her job.  With no thought to the effect it would have on our ability to get a mortgage.  In a panic next day at work, my boss pulled a lot of strings and got X hired as a contractor and our lawyer made it all work with the bank.  I still think it’s a miracle we got the house.

Planning for the wedding was not pleasant.  Even though we were paying for our own wedding, we caved in on decisions that I would hear about for our entire marriage.  Since I at least attended Catholic church we decided X would convert since she did not really care which religion she was.  The wedding happened and life went on.

About a year into the marriage, X confessed she was having an affair.  Nothing had changed when we got married.  We had already been living together before we were married and she felt something huge should have changed.  When it didn’t, when someone at work was talking her up, she got romanced in.  When she started to discuss if the relationship was serious with him and he informed her he was just using her for sex and wanted no relationship she was devastated and then felt guilty enough that she had cheated on me to tell me.  That’s the story I was told and I never had a reason to doubt it.

During this time I began to get separated from the church.  Having been forced to go as a child, the moment I was on my own the fact that my wife did not really want to attend provided every excuse I needed to just fall away.  Also at the same time my college education had provided me with the religious education I had never received from the church.  It had caused me to question my beliefs and specifically the Catholic denomination.  I was unwavering in my faith in God, I just was struggling with my practice.  This was in the mid 90s.  I would not come back to the church until about ten years later.

The issues with X continued of things being rosy when things went as she planned, but if I had the desire to attend a family function, or do something with friends, or had a work commitment, the third degree was almost always applied.  Over time it withered my resolve to the point where I just operated from the point of not bothering to even try.  This was the period when connections with family started to erode.  They had not been exceptionally strong in some cases before, but neglected they vanished. 

My focus was entirely on my immediate family.   After the affair the solution we both came to was that we should begin expanding our family.  Having reconciled, I felt this would work.  I believe X was continuing on her search for something to make her happy.  She had struggled with her relationship with her mother all her life, and she first felt that my mother might fill that void.  When friction began there early on, that dream was shattered and created all kinds of ugly conflict.  Again, I wrote it off to no one gets along with their in-laws.  Being disconnected from church or any real support system I had no place to go to validate if this was normal or not.  Since it was my existence, I felt it must be.

I do not recall when, but the issues of separating were always there.  It was always a pull away, pull back scenario.  The reasons for pulling away were always what I labeled as the grass is always greener scenario.  Having been involved since such a young age, we certainly did not have a free and clear single life during and after college.  While not married during that time, we were still dating exclusively, so the situation was similar.  X argued she missed out on things.  I argued I missed out on those same things.  The difference was I understood that and accepted it in the choices I made to be with her.  She struggled with that always.  I spent a lot of effort trying to convince her it was water under the bridge.

So in this period what lessons were learned?  People will feel what they feel no matter what you want them to feel.  I felt loving X and providing for her and caring for her would eliminate those feelings of having missed out on something.  After all I thought at some point the present good would be enough to counter the fantasized about other.  I learned that as much as I wanted that to be true that did not make it so. 

I spent years while dating continuing to see the behavior of ineffective communication, inappropriate dealing with stress, and just not knowing enough to understand it was a problem.  By the time I realized it might be, I was married.  Due to my experience I have had thoughts about if there might be some validity to the argument if marrying later might not be best.  The problem is how do you make it happen?  My family argued against us time and again because they saw things, but I refused to listen.  I was an adult and there was not much they could do. 

During this time, through having our second child, I would say I was in a mindset where the good days were still outnumbering the bad.  It was about the time our oldest turned 4 or so that things began to shift.

Raising children today in the US and trying to show them the right path seems much like screaming into a hurricane.  So many forces are against a good solid rightness in the world that it can seem like an impossible task.  I focus on my faith to guide me in the right direction.  I push my children to believe as well, but in a world were less than 14% of people are regular church goers, I wonder what will happen after they leave my home and make their own choices in the world.  I know all I can do is set the example and hope they see value in it.  At the same time it is hard not to just wish we could be in simpler times when community, education, media and other social influences were on a more concerted path.

In my circle of friends I hear a lot of the same frustration.  It’s an uphill climb.  Today I heard about a holiday study for example.  Not surprisingly 90% of respondents said they have at least one thing that causes them extreme stress during the holidays.  The surprise?  35% of people listed their top stressor during the holidays as “Having to be nice to people”.  These are the types of things that just amaze me.  I know there are self centered people out there, but 35%? 

I wrote a few posts ago about Rachel’s Challenge, and I think the core of the message works well against findings such as those I just mentioned.  “People will never know how far a little kindness will go”, said Rachel.  What a wonderful and simple message.  I think it is these types of things that it is critical we expose our children to and more importantly find ways to have someone other than ourselves share that message.  I think we all understand kids take anything their parents say with a little bias.

In the last two weeks, basically since right around the Thanksgiving prep time, my two oldest have been asking a lot of questions that really center on right and wrong as we go through our days.  I can sense their struggle and fumbling around and do what I can to give them my views on whatever it is they are asking about.  The catalyst for this has been what we are watching on TV.  Yet, inside I feel a sadness that the societal support system no longer exists to help them as well and I understand that is in large part why they struggle.  One daughter has a friend whose mom is blaming her for porn found on their home computer when both the grandmother and girl understand that it is the mom’s boyfriend who is responsible.  When confronted by the grandmother the mom still insists it can’t be the boyfriend.  Questions emerge about why a mom would do that to her daughter.  Questions also emerge about why the school counselor will not help her.  I can only answer these questions as they come at me with details that I feel my daughter is capable of processing at her age.  In the background, the buzz of chances lost by both the mother and the hamstrung school system to make a positive impact in a child’s life.

“Why are people so mean?” I get from my children.  Why do they judge?  Why do they ridicule?  Sarcastically I think now I have a new answer, “Because 35% of people find the hardest thing to do during the holidays to be nice to people”.  Some areas try to act responsibly, yet I struggle with the how.  Glee for example was one of the shows that raised some questions this week.  On the one hand they are rightfully getting a lot of accolades for taking on a hard subject of gay and lesbian acceptance in high school and families and combating the escalating bullying that is occurring all across this country.  They are showing a positive example.  Programs like the “It Gets Better” campaign are trying as well.  Yet in Glee’s attempt to address this situation with a positive message they embroil it in what I feel is excessive use of sex in the plot line because they feel that’s what they need to capture the attention of the youth enough.  It raises the right questions in my daughter’s mind and we have had great conversations about them in the last few weeks, but it has also caused me to not allow a younger child who also has the same questions from watching the show right now because of the sexual subplots and the level the writers have chosen to take them.  So one of the few shows intelligently dealing with issues these days still makes a parent have to make a choice about whether or not its style of delivery is appropriate.  Another show, Parenthood, is treading into that same boat. 

As a parent right now, I do look back on the support systems my parent’s had when I was being raised in the world and am saddened to see how many of them are gone.  A solid, social neighborhood has all but dried up in America replaced by empty street and porches.  How many of you even know your neighbor’s names?  I talked to a friend the other day and he was moving after nine years and said he finally met his next door neighbor for the first time as he was packing the moving van.    Schools have been stripped of any moral authority.  And 35% of adults find it hard to be nice to people.  That just really bugs me today.

I will continue to do my best to answer my children’s questions and point them in the right direction.  At the same time I am frustrated that their only source of support for these things is within the four walls of my house when it does not have to be that way.  Hillary Clinton wrote “It Takes A Village” in 1996.  Today, just 15 years later, that village is gone and it does not need to be, but yet somehow we let it.  Family and friends can only do so much and I believe we fool ourselves into thinking it is enough.  Our schools and streets are filled with children who show us it is not.  If I had a great idea I would share, but I’m struggling like everyone else.  I will do what I can in my sphere of control and hope it is enough to tip the scales.  At the same time I need to teach my kids to live in the world around them and not shelter them from everything as then they will be ill prepared to deal with society at large.  So I will continue to answer the questions and provide my guidance to create as responsible and functional an adult as I can of each of them.  That’s what I view as the responsibility of a parent.

I had mentioned that I work with several divorce groups or web sites. I also talk to friends and family who are in various stages in the process and they all ask me some variation of the question I posed for this topic. Sure I rarely get the question directly, but in between the anguish of their lament, in the depths of their anger, in the drawn breaths of their crying, it’s there. It comes out in various colors, such as “Will I ever feel normal?” “How do I stop thinking about them?” “What do I do now?”

As time marches on I admit more and more than I was a lucky man. My divorce process was quick, just about nine weeks from start to finish. My ex and I kept relatively civil and still do. The kids seem to be working through the process well.

For many, many couples, they look on my situation and almost lust after it. I hear about contentious divorces that bankrupted both parties because it was more important to fight in the courts than to work things out outside them. I hear about kids placed in the middle as spies, messengers, snitches, couriers, and a myriad of other roles that they should never be subjected to. I hear about fighting over who gets the dog, the gerbil, the sofa. I hear about the ex coming over in the middle of the night in a drunken rage on the front lawn and demanding to be taken back. I hear about people who are in such depression that they can see no good in life and trying to talk with them is excruciating, but I refuse to withdraw as so many others have from the blackness of spirit that has become their soul. For these people, out situation would have been a Godsend.

I hope explaining my thought process can help those of you still struggling to find a way towards the light. For me I know I’m great because in almost every moment I am back to focusing on the future or the here and now. I spend very, very little energy thinking about my past. I love history so saying I don’t think about the past often would be a lie, but the critical differentiator is that I am not wallowing in the might have been, the revisionist history that many go through about their failed marriage. I have made my peace and understand what I could learn and simply use that as a teaching tool for others where appropriate. I have no idea if my ex functions the same way, and I do not think about it because it’s not my concern. My ex has become for me just another person I need to deal with in certain occasions, specifically with events related to my children. You can see a previous post for more on that.

I will digress for a second, because getting through IS so hard. In a divorce recovery class one of the professionals on the video said something that at first I thought was ludicrous. She said “It is in almost all cases best to stay and work on a marriage if there is any chance of change, even in an abusive situation, than to get divorced. Divorce is that hard and life changing.” As I work with others who still struggle to make it through, I begin to see the truth in that statement. They wrestle with the possibility that it was not that bad. The drinking, yelling and the hitting were better than the loneliness and the poverty and the struggles. I had to think about her statement in these cases and understand that key was “any chance of change”. In many cases there is sadly not that and then it is important to get out, but for those who say “I still love them I just want them to get better” and they rationalize their divorce in that light, I stand confused. They talk of wanting to go back after they are better. I have never seen that work. If you think the person can change then use God’s grace and power to help them in your marriage, not from without. Too much other baggage will be created by choosing not to support and then trying to return.

Many people feel you only really get through a divorce by cutting the other person out of your life. I disagree. Especially if it was a long marriage and/or kids are involved. You have too much of your life intertwined to fully pull away. Are you really going to never talk to your mutual friends again? Are you going to make them choose? Are you going to avoid going to events with your kids as they grow and have families of their own? Are you going to set the example that avoiding and being exclusive are the ways to live a Christian life? I think if you are going down this path you are not getting through your divorce, you are perpetually in it. Just as a liar needs to cover their tracks, every decision in your life going forward is tainted with the burden of deciding if you will do something because of what your ex decides. Do you decide if you are going to a movie because of your neighbor being there? Do you decide to not have a conversation because of who might hear about it third hand? Yet many people make decisions like this every day because they are worried about if getting back to their ex, or seeing their ex. That’s not being through a divorce. Learn to be civil with them just as you do with other people in your life.

If your ex is difficult, I suggest working through the process from an impartial business focused perspective. Negotiate and come to agreements without emotion. This is very, very hard for nearly everyone unless you area narcissist and only care about yourself anyway. I know I am talking about doing this with someone who probably knows you better than anyone on the planet. They know how to make you mad, happy, sad and any other feeling as quickly as anyone can. The buttons are fully labeled and they may enjoy pressing them. If they maintain that control over you, I contend you will not get through. I think it’s foolish to think you will not occasionally regress, but as with anything in this process you are looking for less and less of a reaction, and more and more ability to just deal with the facts, have a discussion, make the necessary decision and move on. You are not connected the same way anymore and it takes conscious effort and at times saying it out loud to yourself in a mirror may help. When your ex loses the power to control your thoughts, choices and feelings, you are getting through.

Remember what it was like before you were married and maybe even seriously dating? All the hopes and dreams you had FOR YOURSELF. One of those was probably getting married, yes, but there were many others. More importantly, what were most of your thoughts about during the day and night? Were you looking forward with excitement, or looking back with regret? For most I would think the future was so bright you had to wear shades. To me this is the biggest indicator that you are getting through. When you begin to look at life that way again and not regularly think about your failed marriage, you are in a great place. It is crucial, oh so very, very crucial, to be very clear here. I am NOT talking about dating around and being so busy that you do not think about the past. You are then medicating with relationship and busyness. I do think it is possible to allow God and religion to take this same role. It is crucial to have God help you through this, but I know people who get so involved in church activities and ministering to others yet when you talk with them about their divorce they are still fixated on it. They are dating God in this case, and using Him in an inappropriate way. This can be tough to see in yourself, but if you are honest, you can see it.

The best test so see if you have changed your life perspective back to hopes and dreams is what do you think about when you are alone. Do you look forward to your life and see yourself successful in whatever you choose, and perhaps see the possibility of love again? This is all a fine line and a key reason why not getting in a relationship before you truly feel you can think in the above manner is critical. If you are dating, your “alone” thoughts may be happy ones about being with your significant other and building a life, but again, this is pacification not healing. You are distracting yourself with sex or the promise of it. When you have no prospect of not being alone, are you at peace? This is a good sign you are getting through.

Did you spend time taking what you could from your failed marriage? I think this is very important as well. If you believe that you had no part in your marriage failing, or maybe just a teeny bit, but hey you were justified because she was so mean, then you are not through. In addition if you start getting involved with someone else the likelihood that you will do the same things are very high. A big reason for multiple divorces? I think this is it. To me a huge red flag with someone would be if they had been divorced multiple times. It shows they are not learning and changing. Take the time and ask God to help you truly see what you did wrong in your marriage. What is clearer now with hindsight? Do not go down the path of self righteousness here. Remain humble and know that along the way you made bad choices that were a cause of your current situation. Take responsibility and ownership for your life.

So thinking about the future and not the past, being comfortable with the here and now, having taken time to reflect and looking at life in a hopeful way are great ways to know you are through your divorce. Are they the only ways? I think not, but for me they were the guideposts I looked for. I feel I am proof that you can go through this process and come out a better person. God has a purpose for each of us, and being divorced does not remove us from that purpose. If we do not take what we can from it we squander an opportunity to fulfill that role as fully as we can. I pray each and every person can find the way through their divorce and continue forward in a glorious way. I also hope we all remember the pain and agony involved and use that to motivate us to make any future relationships strong and never go through this process again. Divorce is a terrible thing and reverberates through our society in so many ways. If we all commit to stopping the cycle and removing it as an option and looking at relationships in that light, what a wonderful place this world would be.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately and felt I should summarize my thoughts in my blog at this time. It’s a topic I will come back to often I’m sure in various forms. The reason for this is I do think it is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest issue that comes up for divorced parents. For divorced men, I think it is even more of an issue because there is more pressure to “get back on the horse” applied from friends and family. Women are vulnerable, more publicly accepted to show hurt, pain, loneliness and all the other feelings that strong men are not so open to showing. As such, men tend to shut down, avoid or ignore those feelings and jump back in the saddle way too early.

So my spin on this topic today is to focus on what I see as a topic of many, many posts on divorce forums and blogs no matter what I look at and of course offer my own version.

My view on this is highly colored by my Christian worldview. I believe we are made to crave relationship, and I do not use that term lightly. It is not a tugging at the back of our mind, it is not a still small voice that we hear once in a while. It is a deep seated desire to see and be seen, to know and be known, to love and be loved. I firmly believe God created us to be single but not alone. But my version on single is not the traditional one, it is one based on the teachings of Dr. Myles Munroe. To be single in this regard is to be unique, complete and fulfilled in oneself. This does not mean you cannot be married, but it does bring you to marriage in a different package than the typical Jerry McGuire tainted worldview many have of “You complete me!” If you plug into this view and say, “Yeah, that’s what I need!” then I humbly beseech you to stay as far away from the lure of dating as is humanly possible. The sharks are there and they will eat you alive in the dating pool if you wade in with this outlook.

The question asked countless times on forums around the internet frequented by divorced people is some variation of “When am I ready to date/for love/for marriage?” To me the answer is simple: When you are fully embraced of your singleness (as defined above) and your desire for romantic relationship can be met in a healthy and uplifting way.

The first step that many neglect on this road is to really heal from your past marriage. I have been involved, both as a participant and now a leader, in the DivorceCare program. I cannot recommend enough for anyone in a divorce to go through this program as many times as you need to fully go through the process in yourself. I have attended with people who are on their third visit from the same divorce, and I have attended with some who are on their third go round from three divorces. In the latter case, one can ask, “How can you say it works then?” My personal experience is when I met those types of individuals they were the first to admit that they went to the program but did not work the program in their own lives. Just as with anything like counseling, advice from friends, inspiration from God; if we only pay lip service to the message but do not work to make it a part of our character, the value is only skin deep.

As you heal I think it is important for you to understand yourself. Do you really want a marriage in the future, or has the process helped you find that you want to stay unmarried and just minister to others and help them? How does your soul find fulfillment and allow you to live out God’s purpose in your life? For some having a like-thinking partner in the form of a marriage is that tool, but for others it is having relationships to enrich others lives but not pursuing anything romantically with another person. Neither answer is better than another. Listen to God’s guidance and He will point you in the way you need to go.

Moving back to the single discussion, if you are needing a romantic relationship to provide you with happiness, stability, direction, or any other supporting benefit, I will argue you need to wait. Dating someone when you have a need becomes a search, a hunt, a quest for who can meet my need. Dating someone when adding someone to your already complete life would be a welcome addition or a glorious blessing is a completely different experience. It is freeing and wonderful and truly removes a lot of the drama associated with relationships pushed on us by society today.

A big part of this equation of entering into the dating world is setting boundaries on your sexuality. This is a very, very uncomfortable topic for many people because the pressures are immense in the American mindset. Media bombards us with the “need”, the expectation even, that sex is just part of the equation in dating today. Going through a solid program like DivorceCare can give you tools to think differently and understand some of the inner emotions that can send you false signals if you get involved sexually at the wrong time. Many of us in a divorce can look back and see that we were deceived by the feelings we felt and looked past problem areas with our significant others in the past that may have led to long and ultimately painful relationships because of the connection that was so much more difficult to sever. Dating is hard enough with all the other things going on. Don’t make it even harder on yourself by not establishing a sexual code you will follow in your new relationships. I know this can be challenging or even seem foolish and old-school to many, but I firmly believe it is a key to finding success in dating and remarriage.

When you are truly prepared and ready, dating again can be a wonderful, exciting experience. It is no longer fraught with all the superficial trappings of our teenage years when we truly did lack the maturity to understand the depths of human love. I urge you to not turn your back on a tougher recovery to do it right and not use dating as a part of your recovery. Dating should only be embarked on AFTER you are recovered, not during. You will find you need to back away from many people who you can tell are not ready. This is to avoid getting hurt and to avoid ultimately hurting them. This is hard. But it is easier than going through another messy break-up of a marriage or a long-term relationship because you entered in without a healed heart, spirit and mind. Then you start the process all over again, and it gets harder the more times you do it.

So promise yourself that you will do what is right for you and your children. It will be so much more fulfilling.