Wednesday, June 22, 2016

4 Major Pitfalls Stepfamilies Should Avoid

No one likes to makes mistakes, especially publicly.  This is why a divorce is such a humbling experience, and yet eventually with time most will come to accept that they made the best choice for a spouse at the time with the information available then.  Moving forward (since none of us can go back in time) all we can do is hope to be more cautious while remaining optimistic about the future.  And this is how over 60% of those individuals that divorce will eventually remarry, hoping to get it right the second time around.

Unfortunately, second marriages have a fail rate of 70% or more, and sadly not enough is done to really prepare these couples for the major challenges they will face early on, unlike first marriages.  Here are 4 major pitfalls I would encourage step-families to avoid:

1. Don't expect to act like an intact family.  You guys are not coming in with a clean slate- probably one or both of you will have a pre-existing obligation to a former spouse, such as child support or alimony, and there will be different custody schedules that have to be worked around for vacations and holidays with your new spouse.  Coordinating priorities about time and money is bound to be tough.

2. Don't think the kids will share in your joy.  While they may be happy to see their parents are content with their new found love, that doesn't mean they accept the situation or want to participate in the formation of a new family structure.  Indeed, according to "Stepmonster" by Dr. Wednesday Martin, only about 20% of adult children actually feel close to their stepmother.  People will tell you not to take it personally, and they will all feel sorry for the children, but that is of very little comfort to the partner that is being shunned or slighted on a regular basis-- especially when that child's parent fails to be supportive or understanding because s/he is too busy defending his/her offspring.

3. Don't blur the lines between marital and pre-marital assets.  Those assets that existed prior to the marriage are going to be treated differently, not just in divorce court but even in your marriage.  Most people will feel territorial about wealth accumulated prior to saying "I do," and they may set aside the  property and funds that are non-marital for purposes that you don't agree with, and you will have to learn to deal with your emotions and politely voice an objection when it really matters.

4.  Don't expect someone else will love your child like their own.  While this may happen over time, it's simply not possible to have this occur within a short timeframe-- especially the older and more resistant a child is to new members of the family.  It is simply human nature that we would do for our own children we would never do for anyone else, that is the beauty of a parent's unconditional love.

If you want to make sure that the odds are in your favor, then accept that blended families will require  an extraordinary amount of work, especially in terms of emotionally processing these 4 major pitfalls.  Navigating the complexities of a re-structured family is a complex process that will necessitate a lot of patience and compassion.  Rarely do families just "blend" despite the fact that we use that term quite often, and when things don't go smoothly fewer and fewer individuals seem to have the skill set required to sail the high seas, which is why the majority simply choose to abandon ship.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

3 Great Lessons Divorce Teaches Us

Imagine that one day someone tells you that you have to find a new place to live relying on only half your household income, while at the same time your assets are reduced by 50%.  Be honest, no matter who you are that's going to hurt.  To make matters worse, in addition to the huge financial losses involved in a divorce, there are a multitude of feelings that a person must process at his/her own pace, including anger, shame, guilt, sorrow and fear.  Fear is by far the worse-- it's the fear of the unknown that often spirals out of control and wreaks havoc as your mind wanders and starts to ponder: will I ever recover from this setback?  will I be alone for the rest of my life?  will I be okay?

You need to mourn the end of one life before you can fully engage in another.  But as time goes on, you discover an inner strength and courage you probably never knew you had, and as friends and family shower you with kindness you realize that you are not alone in this world, and that pain and suffering is part of the human experience that connects us all to one another.

Having gone through my own divorce, as well as helping others with theirs on a professional level for over 17 years, here are 3 great life lessons most of us glean from the experience:

1. Learn to Live Alone- It is better to be alone than in poor company.  Enjoy time at home, by yourself.  If you find the silence unsettling, that means you have some work to do.  You need to appreciate the peace and quiet around you, and let the stillness calm you.  Once you find that inner peace, you will guard it at all cost, which means you won't allow anyone to come in and disrupt your equilibrium.  In other words, you develop the ability to establish great boundaries with others, and this is a key life skill.

2. Manage Your Own Finances- If you can't rely on anyone else, you are forced to solve your own problems, including managing your own budget.   If you have champagne taste on a beer budget, this may hurt a little at first, but learning to maximize your income, minimize your expenses, and control your own money is essential to survival and feeling secure.

3. Find Your Own Fun- You need to be able to entertain yourself-- and I don't just mean by binge watching Netflix at home.  Get out to a concert, go to the theater, visit a museum, join a gym, take a class, borrow a book from the library, write in a journal, check out new restaurants, travel, and try some new activities.  Engage in life!

There is no sugar-coating the fact that divorce sucks.  But this humbling experience does teach you to be a better person, no doubt about it.  Truly, that which doesn't kill you does make you stronger. So go be strong, and live life to its fullest.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Has Your Love Become Toxic?

There is a reason people say there is a thin line between love and hate.   Believe it or not, the opposite of love in not hate, but rather apathy.

Only someone you really love is capable of truly hurting you because they are the ones we trust the most, and we expect so much from them, including that they will love us back, be kind and caring, keep our secrets and never ever betray us.  We can all agree that these are high expectations that we don't impose on many, and when these expectations aren't meant, the disappointment is quite profound.

Suffering repeated disappointment in a relationship is like experiencing death by a thousand paper cuts.  If you have experienced this, you know exactly what I am describing is a prolonged and painful death where with each day and passing week you slowly see the trust and respect you once felt for the other person diminish to a point of no return.

Some people become sad when faced with disappointment, others become angry.  These are just different ways of expressing the same underlying sentiment.  Some will withdraw, others will act out- neither way is healthy or productive.  Sometimes, it is the things we don't do that hurt more than the things we do-- like failing to recognize a special event or make an effort at little acts of kindness, no longer greeting someone with a smile, kind words or a kiss, ceasing to be intimate or even just check-in because instead that person is really checking out.

Your partner should know your love language, and make an effort to speak it on a regular basis.  You would not have fallen in love with that person if s/he did not know how to make you feel loved, so you have every right to feel betrayed when the one you loved has changed his/her pattern of behavior.  And if despite your request to address any concerns, the patterns of behavior don't improve, it is normal for frustration and resentment to simply worsen over time, making the situation toxic and intolerable.

When your love story has become a nightmare and the person you once loved has turned into someone f-d up beyond all recognition (aka a "FUBAR") you have to learn to cut your losses. Do not try to apply the sunken cost mentality-- it doesn't matter how much time or money you put into the relationship before, if it is now broken and cannot be fixed, you have to accept that it is time to walk away.

Love is not meant to hurt.  It is something beautiful and sweet.  Hold out for that, and leave all the negativity behind.