Divorce & Separation

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Break Through the Breakup

Break Through the Breakup

A Modern Woman's Guide to Mending A Broken Heart and Bouncing Back Stronger
edition:Paperback
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Reconcilable Differences

Reconcilable Differences

Marriages end. Families don't.
read by Cate Cochran
edition:Audiobook
also available: eBook Paperback
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Breakup to Breakthrough

Breakup to Breakthrough

10 Steps to a Spiritually Enlightened Life after Divorce
edition:Paperback
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Before You Split

Before You Split

Find What You Really Want for the Future of Your Marriage
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

Chapter 1
Is there really no way out of stuck?

One day, fifteen years into our marriage, we reached the tipping point. My husband, Carey, and I had endured years of conflict, now layered with ever-­growing bitterness and contempt.

I was working a challenging job in legal affairs and governance for a hospital, and Carey was pastoring a growing church that demanded his full-­time attention. Our schedules were packed with managing our careers and caring for our two children, ages nine and thirteen. Along with all the responsibilities of leading, serving, and volunteering at our church, we were involved with our kids and their school and all their extracurriculars, such as music lessons and team sports. Though our lives were full, we still tried to connect as a couple.

On this particular day in early summer, I breezed out of the hospital and into the front seat of Carey’s Mazda. I looked forward to catching a lunch with him, just the two of us. The last of the cold bite in the air had been replaced with tropical warmth. It felt good as I breathed it in.

The lightness of my mood didn’t last.

As soon as I closed the car door, Carey muttered something about how I had kept him waiting. My attempt to explain my tardiness didn’t help. He criticized again. And in rushed the flood of frustration and resentment I had held back since our most recent unresolved argument.

Keeping our lunch date suddenly seemed futile. And I wasn’t hungry anymore. Thick and suffocating silence hung between us. My hope for a better connection this time disappeared.

What was the hidden issue behind this argument? It went deeper than my being late. Because we had so many resentments, neither of us really knew for sure. On the surface, we had an endless supply of fuel for our disputes: who would be responsible for driving to the game the next day, who was cooking what for dinner, how the last discipline incident went down, whose family’s event we would attend, who was working late that night, and on and on.

This day’s argument followed the same old pattern: I would get upset over something Carey said and I’d shut down. Carey would respond by trying, progressively more insistently, to provoke a response from me. The more he tried, the more upset I’d become. The angrier I felt, the more I’d withdraw into my silent and zoned-­out world. And then at some point, I would break the silence and explode into either anger or tears. It was as though this pattern had worn a rut so deep that neither of us could steer us out of it. We were stuck.

This day, it was impossible to hold my emotions back. I dissolved into tears. Head tilted toward the passenger window, I watched as drops patterned the sleeve of my navy suit. I looked at my hands clenched in my lap. Gripped with despair, I pulled at my wedding ring and forced it off my finger.

“There,” I said, throwing the ring on the floor at Carey’s feet. “You have it. I don’t want it anymore.”

Inside, I was a tangled mess of conflicting thoughts and emotions, desperate for our marriage to be anything other than what it was. I didn’t want to be divorced, but I couldn’t endure another hour of what our relationship had become. Unwanted anger, bitterness, and resentment filled me, but I didn’t know how to get rid of those feelings. I hated being hateful. And I melted into one more self-­pitying episode of “I just can’t do this anymore.”

Even with my thoughts clouded by anger, I knew the significance of my ring. When Carey was a cash-­poor student in law school, he’d sold his prized Ford, the one that was a gift from his grandparents, for the money to purchase that ring. It was everything he had to offer at the time—­a symbol of his steadfast love, devotion, and sacrifice. And now there it lay, discarded on the floor. That day, I was dead to compassion.

It became clear to both of us that something needed to change, and though the time for change had been many yesterdays ago, today would do.

How did I end up here?

How had my wedding-­day dream of living “happily ever after” turned out so bad? And how did I end up here, writing a book about it? Not only did I go through a desperate season in my own marriage, but I’ve also learned from the struggles other married couples have gone through that I’ve seen from various vantage points.

I’m a lawyer trained in divorce law. Even before I threw the ring off my finger, I had a clear picture of the consequences of divorce. Perhaps I felt then as you do now—­I didn’t want to go there. Since the time our marriage was that bad, I helped hundreds of people through the often painful journey of separation, and I still do as a family law mediator. Being a divorce attorney is like practicing palliative care—­only not caring for people through life’s end but caring for people through the death and aftermath of their marriages. I wasn’t motivated by any desire to help people end their marriages. On the contrary, out of compassion, my aim was to help people by ensuring their legal affairs were taken care of during a very difficult time of grief and transition.

I’m also a pastor’s wife. Carey and I have spent several decades serving and leading our local church. Maybe you think being a church leader stacks the marriage odds in our favor. After all, we should know a thing or two about love, right? But I wonder whether it sometimes does the opposite. I believe authentically following Christ from a healthy emotional place does benefit a marriage. But if you’re not emotionally healthy—­as Carey and I weren’t—­you still get tripped up. Being in church leadership adds a pressured and complicated layer. We were passionate about serving Jesus but naive about love, and we lacked mentors.1

Much of what I have to share relates to what Carey and I went through. I was desperately unhappy in my marriage, and I didn’t have a clue what to do about it. Since then, I’ve learned that the story I was seeing and believing at the time was not the full story. During our tough season, when I wondered if I should leave, I was unaware of how the emotional state I brought into our marriage was integrally wrapped up in the struggles and conflict we were experiencing. I had developed strong feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment toward Carey, which had risen from our unending conflict. All I knew was I would look at our young sons and all we had built together, and I’d ache with the knowledge that I had to make a choice about what to do with all this negativity. And I thought, It feels like it’s over. So now what?

Looking back, I know if I’d listened to my negative emotions, I would have taken my escape.

I’m grateful that I didn’t.

What about you?

Perhaps you and I have something in common. Maybe you fell madly in love with your spouse and, for at least a while, you couldn’t think of anyone else. You could have been surrounded with people, but your spouse was the only person in the room. Fast-­forward to now, when at times you can’t stand being in the same room.

You may have found, as many couples do, that the spark that carried you through the first few years vanished far more quickly than you expected. Maybe you still have sex sometimes, but you’re not fully engaged or interested in it. You aren’t that attracted to your spouse anymore. Bad blood has followed you into the bedroom.

Maybe your marriage has you feeling overwhelmed. It’s been tougher than you thought it would be. Your dreams on your wedding day now seem like someone else’s. You feel trapped when you look at your old wedding photos and wonder, How did we end up here?

You look around, and your other friends seem happier than you are. You may have even spotted better prospects. The one guy on your work team seems to have his life together, and he’s a lot kinder to you than your husband is. You’re trying to dismiss the nagging thought that you’re wasting your life by staying.

Maybe you’re in that season of a long drawn-­out argument. Or perhaps you and your spouse just drifted apart over time and the feelings are gone. Maybe your partner has changed so much since your wedding day that you hardly recognize the person you married. Or maybe you’re dealing with the fallout from a betrayal.

How did you go from “I can’t wait to see my spouse” to “I can’t stand my spouse anymore”? Something has shifted so massively in your relationship that you find yourself thinking:

I didn’t sign up for this!

I just can’t do this anymore!

How can marriage be this hard?

This is not the same person I married!

My heart is breaking for you because I too have been to that awful place where I thought the only viable solution was to give up and escape. Even in the quiet moments when your brain comes up with reasons to stay, your feelings ambush you in the next storm, shouting, That’s it. I’m done. It’s over. I know the unhappiness that escapes words. And as real and as forceful as those emotions are, they may be trying to tell you something—­something deeper than “I’m done.” There’s probably more of a story underneath your marriage angst than you realize.

Maybe you can identify with how I felt when I flung my wedding ring on the floor. Throwing off the ring was my way of saying, I’m done with this version of our marriage. We needed to get honest and seek help or we weren’t going to make it.

Is it time for you to do the same?

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I Left My Toxic Relationship –Now What?

I Left My Toxic Relationship –Now What?

The Step-By-Step Guide to Starting Over and Living on Your Own
edition:Paperback
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Small Town Divorce

Small Town Divorce

A Road Map Through Devastation, Despair, and Drama
edition:Paperback
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Alone
Excerpt

Chapter One: Falling
LOSS

So, here I am on the edge of thirty-nine. Petulant, drunk, and obsessed with a charming but frustrating man in a white shirt and perfect jeans. I‘m taking my one-millionth fancy cocktail, and stumbling down a hallway to go see a tarot card reader. My friends all rolled their eyes, but I like the idea of someone telling me who I am and what my path is based on randomly turned up cards. Because seriously? Fucked if I know these days.

The Man with the White Shirt is mingling so excellently and effortlessly with my friends. His smile and those dark eyes and that body in those jeans —God, it hurts to look at him too long. He‘s so handsome I can hardly stand it sometimes, and whenever he‘s around everything softens in me. Usually. Tonight I‘m all edges. I‘m being a bit rude to him even. I‘ll tell you why later, stick with me.

Right now, I‘m stumbling down the hallway to see the tarot card reader. She‘s, like, twenty-five, max, and drinking a gigantic glass of red wine. She locks the door and it‘s quiet and all fortune teller-y in this closet we‘re in. I‘m drinking my strong fancy French cocktail as she shuffles the cards and thinking about how this is going to be such bullshit, but it‘s my birthday so fun! fun! And then she turns over the first card.

LOSS. It says loss.

More cards come and it‘s like they are shouting at me. FEAR. FUTILITY. What. The. Fuck.

They may as well say Your husband cheated on you and Now you think no one can love you.

“You used to know exactly who you were,” she says. “You were stable, confident. But now you have a veil of uncertainty over you. That‘s because you‘re being tested. To help you figure out how you say yes to things, and how you say no.”

Whoa. How I say yes to things, how I say no. Not if. How. It‘s as if she‘s telling me I have choices. Some control over my life. I know that probably seems obvious to you, but right now? In this year? In this bar? This is news. This bullshit card reading has suddenly become really fucking real.

I return to my friends and try to be cheerful. White Shirt is there to greet me, all gorgeous and sweet. He‘s searching my eyes for a sign, but I just say, “It was fun! She said freaky things!” Inside I think, Fuck, why can‘t this real thing he says he feels for me be real enough?

I wake up the next morning in his bed, my head bashed in by booze I don‘t even know the name of. My veins filled with lead instead of blood. Hungover. Massively. It‘s my thirty-ninth birthday. I look at White Shirt as he lies sleeping, and I already feel far away. How did I get here? I used to be married, for God‘s sake! What happened to my life, to love?

I wonder this all the time now.

Y2K

It‘s 1999. I‘m twenty-four years old and living an artsy city-girl‘s life. I work all day in public radio and spend my free time in used bookstores and going to see bands. Every Wednesday night you‘ll find me and my friends here in this bar, before we head out to a well-known dive for dancing. They all drink and party and stay in school forever, but not me. I rarely drink, and certainly don‘t drink to get drunk. I‘m not being pious, I just love to experience life, and I feel like I‘d be missing out if I put a filter on it.

I also, with every part of me, love love. I mean, I love it! Being in love and falling in love and writing about love and singing about it and living it. I‘ve had one boyfriend after another since I was fifteen years old. All long, committed relationships. I haven‘t slept in a bed alone in years. Relationships are everything to me; I know no other way. I just love to get lost in another person, to learn everything about what interests them, to see what they see and feel what they feel.

And that‘s how it is with my boyfriend right now. We‘ve been together since I was nineteen. He‘s a musician, and four years older than me, and so intelligent and mystical that, probably out of youth or just abject insecurity, I defer to him on just about everything. I think he‘s so much better than me —he‘s read every book, he knows every song, he‘s knowledgeable on all subjects, every topic imaginable. He‘s an atheist, and a passionate altruist. He‘s a vegetarian, so of course now I am too. He‘s a devoted boyfriend, a real partner; we are honest and expressive and artistically inspired by one another. We have matching tattoos, because it‘s the nineties. It‘s been a perfect, symbiotic relationship. We say we‘ll be together forever.

But lately, things are different. The Musician has been talking about us having an open relationship. Like, open open. He thinks we‘re mature enough and secure enough to handle sleeping with other people while still maintaining our committed bond. I‘m less sure —a big part of me feels like true love doesn‘t want to be shared. But that seems old fashioned so I start to entertain the thought. Could I really do something like that?

The only guy I find even remotely interesting is this weird, brooding graduate student. A friend of a friend, who always seems to be around but doesn‘t exactly fit in. He‘s completely different than all the downtown artsy guys I know. A small-town boy, a scientist, here in the big city doing his master‘s degree. We‘ve never really talked, but I find him kind of cute. He‘s tall, with awful glasses and the worst long hair. But there‘s something about him. I kinda like that he gives zero fucks about what anyone thinks of him.

The Scientist drinks three pints of beer to every regular guy‘s one. He whistles to get the waitress‘s attention, which we all find mortifying. He sits with us, but doesn‘t really talk to anybody. He hasn‘t seen the latest Thomas Vinterberg film. I don‘t even think he reads books! You can tell he thinks we‘re all a bunch of big-city snobs, which of course we totally are. But he likes Top-40 music. And watches football. The Musician can‘t stand him, but I have been completely awakened from my elitist stupor by his very presence.

On this Wednesday in the bar, The Musician is holding court as he always does, orating on some political issue or another with everyone‘s rapt attention. Bored, I look across the table and find The Scientist just staring at me, his arched eyebrow indicating he thinks my boyfriend is a blowhard and also that he knows that deep down I agree. And so I smirk at him, and he smirks back, and this is all it takes for us to fall in love.

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