Sunday, November 24, 2013

Applying the Laws of Physics to Love

In physics, one of the main principles is that matter does not cease to exist, it simply transforms depending on its surrounding conditions.  For example, if you take water and boil it, it turns from liquid into a gas, but it doesn't cease to exist. If you freeze it, it will become a solid, but then if you transport it to a warmer environment, it can melt and become a liquid once again.  No need to be a mensa to follow this basic example of how things can and will change depending on what they are exposed to-- so why is it so hard to believe that this same rule of logic can apply to love???

Each person is a mass of energy, with vastly differing potentials.  There is in my opinion a direct correlation between a person's energy level and his/her capacity to love, which I view as a byproduct of our own energy.  Again, applying another basic physics principle, we all accept that energy cannot be destroyed, it only transforms between the two forms of energy- potential energy (which has yet to be used) and kinetic (which is in motion.)  In human partnerships then, when two energy sources meet and are able to feed off of each other in a healthy way, their kinetic energy creates a love that is simply magical.   But can this realistically be maintained?  It is a question I am often asked, and I believe it depends on both energy sources, and the environments they are exposed to over time.

If we can accept that nothing in life stays in a permanent state, then we have to recognize that it is the same with love.  For example, the love I felt for my unborn son 10 years ago is nothing compared to the love I now feel towards this growing human being with his own distinct personality, thoughts and creative ideas.  However, it is equally apparent that just as our feelings can become more intense over time in a positive way, energy can be re-directed down a dark path.   

The key to survival, as Darwin pointed out, is adaptabilty.  In life, as our environments constantly change, we see all living creatures modifying their behaviors to stay alive.  We need to apply this same concept in our relationships- if you want to stay together, you need to make sure that you are both absorbing positive energy from one another.  Negativity needs to be addressed right away-- find a solution to issues before they turn into crisis situations.  If you allow your relationship to suffer too many hits at once, it will either implode or explode.  (An imploding relationship sinks quietly like the Titanic, whereas the explosive ends go off like a nuclear bomb leaving massive damage everywhere.)  Neither one is a pretty end.

But as I stated earlier, there really are no endings.  It is all just redirected energy and the transformation of matter into a new reality.  Embrace change, not just in science but as part of your every day life.  The whole point of science was to help us make sense of the world, and it does make sense-- if you just keep applying the law of physics.  And in the meantime, enjoy making that "kinetic energy" with the one you love. :)


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Joys of Being Married

There are a lot of lists out there espousing the virtues of being single, and some idiot even got me a book listing all the reasons it is great to be single-- but if being single is so great, let me ask you this: why is it that over 80% of Americans still believe in the importance of tying the knot???

Let's be real, while I realize that over the last 8 years many of my married friends have often lived vicariously through me and my hilarious dating stories, they also know that I hate coming home to an empty apartment after a huge win, or receiving some great news.  The silence that follows a day full of great highs just plain sucks-- and yet it is in those moments that I remember all the reasons it was so great to be married to my best friend.

For those that maybe have not yet experienced being in a great partnership, or sadly may have forgotten the positives about married life, here is a glimpse into what makes that walk down the aisle so worth while-- when you do find the right one:

1. Meals Together- It really isn't fun to eat a bowl of cereal by myself, even as entertaining as I may be in my own mind.  Seriously, being able to share a meal with a loved one is just so awesome, and something we take for granted-- until it is gone.

2. Date Nights- It is so nice to just avoid the whole "scene" and be able to cook together, open a bottle of wine, and watch a movie at home any night of the week.  Knowing the x-rated activity is also guaranteed on a weekly basis with someone you love and trust is also very cool.

3. Facing Challenges- When you are part of a team, problems just seem less daunting.  It is so amazing to know that someone has your back, that you are not alone in dealing with whatever life throws your way.

4. Family Time- Being able to share special moments on holidays or vacations with someone you love-- those are the memories that last a lifetime, especially once you have kids.   

Sadly, you can have all of this and still have it fall apart because as the years go by, it is very easy to take each other for granted or grow apart.  Also, temptation is everywhere these days, and it's never been harder to stay together, especially with the demands of our duel careers while juggling mulitple kids.  So, for those in need of a little reminder that the investment of our time and energy is worth it, here it is-- I am telling you that it is totally worth every effort if you have found that person that totally gets you, loves you, respects you and wants you by his/her side each and every day.

Marriage is a very special union, don't let all the stories about the singles scene mislead you.  Chasing tail, or having your tail chased, while you do your own thing each and every day, it gets old.  I actually miss married life, and despite everything I have seen and experienced, I still believe in the institution of marriage--as long as there is a long courtship and an ironclad prenup the second time around. :)

For all those out there making it last, just know this: you are my heroes!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

5 Tips for Surviving the Holidays

As we all gear up for the holidays, I find a lot of people are excited to have a few days off, but dreading the commute and perhaps intense amounts of time with loved ones, who can drive us crazy with their probbing questions or inappropriate comments.  Fact is, only those dear to us can take such liberties with us that the rest of the world wouldn't dare try.  But rather than just grin and bear it, here are 5 tips to make for a more enjoyable holiday with your family:

1. Set Your Own Boundaries-If there is something you don't want to discuss, think about how you will decline to engage in the conversation before it even comes up.  Practice whatever line you want to say a few times, so this way, if the moment arises, you have it down like a champ.  I suggest something short and sweet like "I really don't want to talk about that right now."

2. Take a Time Out- If you feel yourself getting upset or on edge, don't reach for the booze.  Instead, go for a walk, bike ride, or run.  If that's not your style, then say you need to take a nap or bring a good book and go to a quiet room for some alone time.  Just as we encourage our children to take a time out to calm down, grown ups should be entitled to the same courtesy.

3. Remember the Good- No one has the perfect family-- we are all flawed human beings, but the holidays is about celebrating those ties that bind us, and rather than remember the bad, try to focus on the good.

4. Find an Activity- A lot of families have the boys playing football while the turkey is in the oven.  Some of us nerdy types like board games or cards.  Pick something fun that will bring people together and keep things light.

5. Silence is Golden- We all have an instigator in our family-- there is always one that likes to stir up trouble.  Funny thing is this-- you actually have a choice as to how much power you give him/her.  If you engage, it's not likely to end well, but if you just stay quiet, you are not giving them any ammunition and they'll eventually stop firing.  Take the high road, and I promise that not only will you feel better, but everyone around you will appreciate that you maintained the peace.

All these tips seem simple, but trust me implementing them has taken years of practice!  Now, I still can't control the commute situation, but if you try and keep some of these points in mind during your time with family and friends, I am confident your holidays will be far more enjoyable and less stressful.  Here's hoping you build some great memories this holiday season!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

6 Things Most Lawyers Wish They Could Say to Clients

Tonight I have the privilege of presenting at GW University, where I get to share my thoughts on what it is like to practice law in the 21st century.  I have put a lot of thought into the message I want to convey-- because I know it is a grim market out there, and yet I like to be the messenger of hope. 

Remaining an optimist after 15 years as a divorce attorney may seem odd, but honestly, it is all in how you view things.  I don't see myself as someone that tears families apart.  In reality, the damage has already been done way before anyone comes to see me, so it is all about damage control as I work to restructure the family's ties.  All that being said, there are 5 things I think clients should be cognizant of in order to preserve a healthy attorney-client relationship:

1. Babysitting is expensive.  I liked babysitting when I was a teenager, but that is not the best use of someone's resources at my current rates these days.  I get paid to put out fires-- major ones every day.  So, when you get assignments and deadlines from me or the court, do your best to stick to them without requiring a lot of hand-holding.

2.  Listen carefully.  You are in crisis mode, which means you are not thinking clearly.  I'm doing my best to help you out of this legal mess.  But, if you are not going to follow my advice, why are you paying me?  If you are not going to heed my warnings, then what is the point of asking me my opinion? 

3. No pro bono requests please.  Everyone has a sad story, but resources are limited. Meanwhile, we all have our designated charities, where we want to commit our time and money.  Giving away thousands of dollars to a complete stranger is not going to happen.  As a result, if government and non-profit lawyers cannot handle the case, then you either need to represent yourself or pay someone a reasonalbe rate to help you.  I don't know anyone that works for free, and I'm not sure why people think it is ok to ask for an attorney to take their case pro bono.

4.  Discipline Your Emotions.  Emotions have no place in the practice of law.  We are trained to be objective, and create clean contracts-- we want as little emotion as possible to cloud your judgment when making major decisions.  We are not meant to be used as emotional punching bags, and outbursts are just not appropriate.  Therapists process emotions; we process legal settlements.

5. Respect boundaries.  Just because I have a cellphone, doesn't mean you should feel free to use it all the time, 24/7.  We have families and need down time, just like all other normal human beings.  When we go off the clock, the only true emergencies require calling 911.

6. Collections isn't fun.  Lawyers are not bankers, we can't lend clients money. Most of us go to law school to help people, not to be in the position of acting as bill collectors.  Put in this position will be an unpleasant experience for everyone.  Think about it- I don't know anyone that shows up for work without getting paid.  Everywhere else, if someone wants a product or project completed or they need a service done, they know they have to pay for the service requested.  Without payment you won't get service- it really is that simple.

I promise that tonight's presentation is quite positive-- but I would not be doing my job if I did not warn students about some of the challenges they will face as lawyers.  Meanwhile, I think it might be helpful for some lay people out there to hear things from the lawyer's perspective.  A long time ago I was taught that understanding is the enemy of conflict, and I have come a long way in the last 15 years to do my very best to understand the challenges my clients are facing when they come to me.  That said, it might be equally as beneficial for clients to see things from our perspective as stated above.

In the end, we are on the same team--  but to get to the final goal, lawyers and clients have to work together to prevent their respective emotional and financial pressures from derailing the legal process that binds them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

7 Signs That S/he Just Isn't That Into You

Sometimes, we only see what we want to see, and we are incapable of seeing what everyone else around us can see.  My dad told me that a few years ago, and it has stuck with me ever since--  especially when I'm asked to weigh in on the dating scene. 

I'm not quite sure why this happens, but somehow it is incredibly common for someone to miss the signs that the person they are with is just not that into them.  Here are some examples of what you need to watch out for:

1. My work/travel schedule is just so hectic, that's why I can't see you more than once a month.

2. I'm at a place in my life where I really can't commit to anything- don't take it personally.

3. Well, maybe I could see us moving forward, but you really need to move closer, this distance/commute is a real pain.

4. Can we change your wardrobe around a bit?

5. Have you thought about getting a personal trainer or getting a makeover?

6. Will you let me help you redecorate?

7. Since I don't have anything in common with your close friends, can you just hang with them on your own time?

What do these things tell you???  This person clearly isn't interested in making you a priority and/or doesn't accept the package being presented, and so you have two choices: 1) try to change because you really want that guy or gal, or 2) you can gracefully exit with your self-esteem intact before things get too far.  I highly recommend the latter tactic, although it might sting short-term, in the long run you will be happy you preserved your reputation and dignity.

For reasons I cannot fully explain, I've never let anyone try to change me, and luckily my past loves that remain in my life taught me well as to what to expect in a healthy relationship.  Sadly, I understand that not everyone has had a positive experience of what love should look like, so here is my humble attempt at shedding some light on this subject: Love is when someone accepts you for who you are-- faults and all.  There is no need to be together, in fact it may not even make any sense at all, but there is a deep and mutual want-- a desire that just conquers all doubts.  Overtime, as you build mutual trust and respect, you also develop a deep understanding for one another, and there may even come a point where you realize one very painful fact-- that you cannot meet that person's need for how s/he wants to be loved.  And if/when that moment comes, true love is about letting go-- you need to let that person go so that they can find the love they deserve.

The truth is that love is complicated, but dating should not be a hassle-- if it is, most likely the problem is simply that s/he is just not that into you. :)


Sunday, November 10, 2013

What is Your Bandwidth?

There are some lessons that you can truly only learn over time with experience, and one that really only became apparent to me over the years is this: we all have vastly different capacities for love.   There is definitely a direct correlation between your bonding experiences growing up and the attachment style you display as an adult.  A lot also depends on your mental health and ability to process emotions.  The more insight you have into yourself then, the better you will be at identifying what you need in a partner, and whether you can accept the love they are capable of demonstrating.

The only way to come to terms with your own bandwidth of course is to test its limits-- so here are some key questions you may want to ask yourself:

1. Can you tolerate long distance relationships? 
2. Are you okay dating someone that is only available twice a month? 
3. Can you stomach being intimate with someone that is seeing other people?
4. Do you have an issue with people that have to remain in constant contact with you and need to know your every move?
5.  Is PDA (public displays of affection) acceptable to you?
6. Do you need big, elaborate gestures to feel loved, or are you more comfortable with low key, small acts of kindness?
7.  Do you require daily compliments?
8.  Is frequent intimacy important to you? 
9. Are you more of a plain vanilla person, or do you like to live on the wild side?
10. Do you need to feel in control, or are you okay playing a more submissive role?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions-- you just need to be at ease with who you are, and then be capable of sharing these answers with your potential partner.  They may not be able to meet your needs or wants for reasons that have nothing to do with you.  As I said before, the way we are wired has a lot to do with our own nature and how we are nutured.  So, you can't take it personally if someone says I just can't stomach a long distance relationship, or I'm not ready to commit to any one person.  If someone isn't capable of meeting your needs, all it is speaking to is their own capacity, not your worthiness of being loved.

Figure out your bandwidth, and then be honest with others about what you really want from them.  Not everyone will be capable of meeting your standards, and you need to be prepared to walk away if that is the case.  There is no point in forcing outcomes or trying to convince yourself to settle for less.  Patience is a virtue-- especially when it comes to love.  Just wait for the one who will give you the love you need and deserve!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Stop the Blame Games

It seems that on a weekly basis I have to explain to people that divorce court is NOT criminal court.  We are not going to lock someone up for life or deprive them of all their income and assets just because someone had an affair or has a severe personality disorder or addiction problem.  These fact patterns exist in over 75% of my cases-- and as a result of all the chaos most of the people I interact with are suffering from either situational depression or anxiety, and here I went to law school vs. medical school to stay away from sick people.  God clearly has a sense of humor, but let me not digress-- my ooint is this-- although it is natural when you are in pain to want to lash out and have the other person suffer along side you, don't do it.  It will not do anyone any good-- if you let yourself erupt like a volcano, everyone is going to wind up covered in ashes, including you.

In the last 8 years, I have delved into a lot of psychology research, and I've come to understand a lot more about the human mind, including this phenomenon that some people cannot accept the slighest blame for anything because if they admit any fault, it means they are bad.  These are black and white thinkers, so either you are all good or all bad-- they can't see the gray in the world.  So what do they do?  They blame others for everything, and there is no point in arguing with these people-- you can't be rational with an irrational human being.  Do you see my point?  Let me give you some examples:

1. I drink because of you. It's the only way I can cope with everything.
2. I work like a dog because of you-- to maintain the lifestyle you've become accustomed to.
3. I avoid coming home because of you-- I can't find any peace at home so I'm staying away. 
4. I punched that wall because you made me so angry.  Now my hand hurts and it is all your fault.

I wish I was joking, but these are all true statements that I've heard from various sources, and it is really hard not to laugh, but as calmly as I can I just try to point out that it does take 2 to tango.  If I truly wanted to refute these claims it would go something like this:

1. Maybe we need to help you find some better coping skills.
2. We both created this lifestyle, and if we've over-extended ourselves, then we are both at fault and need to find ways to cut back.
3. Rather than avoiding the problem, maybe we can both work on fixing our relationship?
4. Anger management classes might be a better alternative to destroying the house, or your fist.

There are less severe examples, and a common one is the game that it played between someone who is unabashedly assertive versus someone who is passive aggressive.  These two are a BAD combination and this is why: as a member of the former group I can tell you that there is nothing more infuriating than interacting with someone that won't just speak their mind or stand up for what they believe-- rather than say it to my face, they prefer to do things behind my back.  Instead of having a conversation upfront and trying to reach a resolution, they promise to do one thing, and then they turn around and do something else, which is what they intended to do all along, they just didn't have the guts to say it to me straight.  I have zero tolerance for wimps, which is how I view these types-- actually I can't tell you in a blog the word I'd actually use, but suffice it to say that what I really want to tell these idiots is to grow a set-- guys and girls.  I have a brass set, and you should too, otherwise step aside and go play in the sandbox with all the other 2 year olds.

In the end, I find the blame games are totally stupid and a waste of energy-- especially once you have made the correct decision in getting out.  When you finally do agree that it is over, I fail to understand why the blame games continue, haven't you had enough?  I certainly have, both professionally and personally, and I hope the rest will see the light some day soon.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

I usually avoid absolutes like "never'" and "always," but generally speaking I think none of us want to fail, and we all enjoy the sweet taste of victory.  The problem is that sometimes we overestimate our abilities or perhaps we underestimate the complexity of a situation-- especially in personal relationships.

Long ago I realized that I am wired to want to exceed all expectations, and this is not a shocker to anyone that knows me.  However, what I've also learned overtime-- especially at work-- is that if I don't want to disappoint my clients or colleagues, sometimes I am just going to have to say no upfront.  If the case isn't going to be a good fit or the project is just more than what I can take on because of other commitments, then I am far better off declining the assignment upfront, and this way I'm spared the stress and aggravation that comes along with being over-extended and we all avoid the huge sting that comes with half-ass results, or a total fail.

The more I witnessed the success of saying "no" in my professional life, the more I carried this over into my personal life, and although it is a lot harder to say "no" to someone you care about, we all need to learn this skill if we want to remain sane, which brings me to my main point...

Throughout the years, I have seen a lot of crazy break-ups as a divorce attorney.  Thankfully, I have not personally experienced many myself, but I have had a few, and the problem was always the same-- people tried to bite off more than they could chew.  Either they over-extended themselves financially or personally, and eventually the stress or resentment grew to be too much.  When you personally compromise too much of yourself and your own values to try and sustain a relationship, this is going to blow up in your face-- it always does, it is just a question of how long will you let things drag out.

Sometimes I think the problem stems from a lack of either self-awareness or self-confidence.  Maybe people think they can make certain compromises to get the guy or gal and that these minor concessions are not a big deal?  Perhaps it is the fear of being rejected?  Whatever the reason, if you find yourself taking on too much or giving in too much to others, you need to find a way to stop-- it's just not healthy.

Recently, I was with a friend, who had just endured a bad break up, and I was strugging to understand how he could let things go for so long, and then he candidly admitted this: it's like slices of salami.  Each little slice you give someone seems so minor because it is just a slice, until one day you just suddenly realize you've given away the whole salami.  As soon as he said this, I completely understood, not just what happened to him, but what happens in all these explosive episodes that seem to come out of nowhere.

Every bad breakup I have lived through or witnessed has one individual that finally realizes s/he has let things go for far too long, given in too much, and they really feel like they did not get an equal amount in return.  While originally someone might have felt "lucky" to have that other person in his/her life, eventually the harsh reality that their love would never be reciprocated becomes unbearable.  Inequalities in a relationship are quite obvious to outside observers, and true good friends will clue you into this before it is too late.  I am eternally grateful to all of mine that helped me take off the blinders when needed.

So, if you want to avoid a disaster of epic proportions, date someone that is your equal.  That is of course no guarantee that things will work out, but let's face it there are no guarantees in life.  All I can say is that in all the amicable break ups that I've witnessed or lived through, there was always a tremendous amount of mutual respect, understanding and admiration.  Sometimes despite all that, personalities may just clash or your goals may just not be properly aligned-- if you can be honest with each other and accept that fact, then it's very easy to walk away with no hard feelings, it was simply fun while it lasted.

To all those that have shared a past with me and remain in my life, you know exactly how much I appreciate our time together and the friendships we've maintained over the years.  Perhaps I took this evolution of our relationship for granted in the past, but I assure you I do not anymore.  The honesty, integrity and self-restraint that you have all consistently demontrated throughout the years is truly amazing, and it's why I still love you and am grateful for the role you played in making me the woman I am today.  So glad none of us ever tried to bite off more than we could chew!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Work-Life Balance, It's Not Just a Female Issue

Last week we had a great discussion about Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In," and how the struggle for work-life balance is not just a female issue, but actually a major issue that impacts everyone.  GenXers and those that have followed increasingly do not want to just make work their entire life, and as companies come to terms with the immense brain drain that occurs at the upper levels of management, we all need to take a hard look at what's a realistic expectation with respect to billable hours, the importance of face-time in the office, and time management all while taking into account commitments outside of work. 

I'm sure there is no doubt these days that I have enjoyed my legal career the past 15 years, but equally as important to me are the roles I play in society as a mother, sister, daughter, friend or partner.  Both my male and female peers all feel the same way-- we want to do our best at work, but not at the expense of being a total failure in other equally important areas of our lives.  We all struggle with balance-- finding time for ourselves, our families, and our greater community are not aspirational luxuries, they are a necessity to promoting a healthy life and stable society.

Later this month, I'm going to feature Working Mamas, which is a local DC group that helps women excel in their careers while still feeling fulfilled in their family lives.  Dealing with issues of guilt or resentment are quite common, and sadly we don't talk about this enough.  So, here I go trying to change that, and I hope more will follow.  In the meantime, here is the clip to last week's show:

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Importance of F-You Money

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have your own resources to sustain yourself.  You never know what will happen-- you or your partner might get sick, either one of you might suddenly die, or you may just split up.  Of the three, the last option is actually the least scary of all to me, but you have to self insure for that possibility.  How do you that?  Well, let's see...

1. Savings- Do you have at least a 3 month reserve for your necessary expenses in an account in just your name? If not, you have to start putting aside a little bit each month to do this-- and yes, this might mean not eating lunch out so much, drinking coffee at home instead of at a cafe, and cutting back on other non-essentials.  During the recession, I had to teach a lot of my clients about budgets, and the new mantra many of us had to embrace is "do I really need this?"  Every little bit counts, and the more you can set aside for a rainy day, the less anxious you will be about that possibility.

2. Earnings- Do you have your own sources of revenue, and if you had to could you live on what you yourself generate?  If not, then what can you do to maximize your own income potential?  You need to be self-supporting.  This is key to not only achieving total independance, but to being able to protect your integrity and not having to suffer any fools-- at work or at home. 

3. Credit- Do you have your own credit resources?  If your cards are maxed out, you are living beyond your means, and you need to make debt repayment a top priority.  If you credit sucks, you need to figure out a way to fix that, fast.  Credit is key not just for loans and job opportunities, but to lower your cost of living.  The better your credit, the cheaper the insurance rates, the lower you pay in security deposits, etc.   There's also another benefit that is less obvious-- the more responsible you appear, the more likely you will be to get a loan from family and friends in the event of a real emergency.  If you are a financial basket case, people will be far less likely to want to lend you money.

My friends and clients that have decent savings, earnings and credit have managed to avoid financial disaster when hit with a crisis, such as death, disability or divorce.  As emotionally upset as they might be, they have at least managed to avoid being economically devastated.  Recovering from emotional setbacks is relatively easy, but a financial implosion is incredibly hard to weather, and it will take years to dig out from under that kind of mess.

It is funny that 15 years ago when I graduated from law school I naively thought I wouldn't have to do math anymore, and yet what I do more than anything is deal with numbers every day.  For those of us in the divorce world, when your partnership is dissolving, aside from custody issues, all we are really doing is re-distributing assets and income, and you would be shocked at how many people have not paid attention to their budgets, have very little in savings, and have not protected their credit scores.  Sadly, there is no quick fix to any of these things, and watching the harsh reality hit people like a ton of bricks is very painful to watch.

So, if there is one lesson I can pass on to you after all these years, it is this:  Save as much as you can, earn as much as you can, and be responsible about spending and managing your money.  You never know when a crisis will hit, so make sure you have your own F-you money!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Will You Make It Through the Holidays?

It is a very tough decision that a lot of couples will have to face in the next few weeks-- are you going to be able to keep it together through the holidays, or do you need to bail now?  If you find that you cannot hold it together, then the answer should be clear-- bail now.

There is nothing worse than trying to keep up a facade and make it appear to everyone like everything is fine, when inside you feel like you are dying.  The holidays are supposed to be a festive time, but if you feel like you have nothing to celebrate and the last thing on Earth you want to do is buy presents for your partner, then the time has come to be honest with yourself and find a way to gracefully exit.

I'm not suggesting this is an easy process to go through, nor one that you should try to tackle by yourself.  You need to find an ally and develop a plan, but time is of the essence if you are feeling like a ticking time bomb because the last thing you want to do is explode, especially during the holidays and definitely not in front of little ones.

I've always been a big fan of lists, and if ever there is a time to carry a journal and have lists to keep you focused, it is when you are going through a separation.  If I had to develop a list for a friend about to separate, it would look something like this:

1. Get a consult with an attorney to learn about your rights and obligations;
2. Do a budget for yourself-- this is how you can determine what you can afford in rent, etc.;
3. Find an apartment or suitable short-term living arrangement;
4. Notify the post office and get mail forwarded elsewhere;
5. Go through your home and list the things you want to take;
6. Set up your own bank account and stop making charges on a joint account;
7. Change your passwords and lay low with social media;
8. Rely on friends or find a counselor for emotional support;
9. Try to talk with your partner about the logistics of moving out; and
10. Resist the urge to find comfort in the arms of another-- at least for 3 months.

Throughout the years, I've always been amazed to see the dramatic change I've witnessed in my clients-- even in our first session.  They tend to come in scared, often at a total loss and with some very mistaken notions of the law.  By the time we are done addressing the major issues, they leave so much more relieved and feeling like this process will not be so daunting after all.  Those that listen to me and get their to-do lists done in a diligent manner make progress at record speed.  Then as the months go by, and we have everything in writing and things are much less chaotic, I see them all calm down and get to a much better place in life.  By the time I see most of my clients for their final divorce, usually a year after our first meeting, some of these individuals are almost unrecognziable-- they are so much happier, heatlhier and at peace.  This is how it should be, and this is how I know that I may have seen them at their worst, but that the best is yet to come.

The holidays should be a time for joy, but it can be a very painful time for those who don't feel they are getting the love they deserve, for those that have lost that connection they once felt with their partner, or for those that can no longer consider home a safe haven.  Seriously, it is not easy to leave, but if you hate the person you've become in the relationship, and you can't stand the sight of the other person, you need to stop pretending that this is a sustainable situation.  It isn't fun for anyone to make believe that it's all okay when it's not, and the joke is on you if you think those around you haven't picked up on the fact that there is a rotten smell in Denmark.

So, will you make it through the holidays?  I'm betting no if you feel like you are a volcano that is about to erupt.  Only you know how bad it is at this moment, but I promise that if you ask for help, you will be amazed at how supportive others will be in your time of need, and if 2013 ends on a low note, well here's the silver lining to that cloud: it can only get better in 2014!