Befriending Your Ex After Divorce with Dr. Judy Rabinor
Disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice or a consultation with a lawyer.
1. Family Law Tip of the Week (:58)
As you know, the way family law attorneys make money is by billing time. This means the more time spent on your case, the bigger your bill will be. One way to reduce the amount of time spent on your case is to group your questions into a single e-mail once a week so your attorney can address everything at once. If you send your attorney a single e-mail for each individual concern/issue as it comes up, in most cases, you are going to be billed for each separate e-mail. At my current rate, this could amount to $50+ per e-mail. Similarly, if you want to talk with your divorce attorney about issues that are happening in your case on a regular basis, pick a time once a week to schedule a phone call. Doing this rather than calling every single day will save you a ton!
Obviously, if there is an emergency situation that comes up, call your attorney right away.
2. Judy Rabinor – Befriending Your Ex (1:55)
Today, Dr. Judy Rabinor joins us to talk about people (with children) who have gone through separation becoming friends again.
(2:40) Judy is a clinical psychologist, author, consultant and psychotherapist. She has been practicing in the NYC area for over 30 years. Judy’s initial specialty was in eating disorders, and she is still quite active in this area. She is the Director of the American Eating Disorder Center.
(3:02) Judy has broadened her practice to include an area that she was lead to during her own divorce. This divorce happened quite some time ago. When Judy and her ex-husband got divorced, they shared two children, aged 8 and 12 at the time. They were able make their way back from being ex-spouses to being friends and allies.
(3:40) This past year, Judy released her book, Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex.
(4:08) In terms of her background, Judy always wanted to be a writer. After college, she went and got a Master’s in English. She thought she would be a writer, but she ended up being an English teacher. She had her students read a popular book called “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.”
(4:46) This book was about a woman who had serious psychological problems, but then she got better. In the middle of that, Judy had a big “A-HA” moment and realized what she really wanted to do was be a psychologist. Eventually, Judy got her Ph.D. in psychology.
(5:09) What Judy then started doing was writing up all her cases. Ten years ago, she wrote a book on eating disorders called “A Starving Madness.” Judy tells us that underneath an eating disorder, there are always other problems.
(5:42) One day an eating disorder client came in to see Judy, decided her problem was that she couldn’t stand her husband and that she was going to get divorced after the youngest kid went off to college. Judy told her “Wow…you have a year before you make the biggest mistake of your life,” when she really meant to tell her that “We have a year before you make the biggest decision of your life.”
(6:17) As the woman kept talking, Judy was thinking about her situation and why Judy had said it would be a mistake. Judy told the woman to take a moment to think about when all 4 kids came back from college, what it is going to be like during holidays for them. The woman had not yet thought about those details, and Judy communicated those were really important things to consider.
(6:56) The next week, the woman came back and said she was going on a trip with girlfriends and that she wasn’t so sure she wanted a divorce. Judy realized she had asked some of the right questions. Those questions had come from her own life and divorce.
(7:16) At that point, Judy had been divorced for 25 years and had been remarried for 10 years. What Judy realized in thinking about this was that when she got divorced in the 80s, it was the height of the divorce craze. Everyone thought the “new” husband would solve all your problems. She loves her husband, but he didn’t solve all her problems.
(7:55) Knowing then what she knows now, Judy still would have gotten divorced. She only wishes she had known more and thought deeper. Judy wishes she had known how complicated divorce was. Judy then started writing a book about that. When she took the book to publishers, they told her that that book already had been written.
(8:30) They wanted her to write a book about how Judy and her ex had become friends after divorce. There was really a need for this book in the minds of the publishers.
How Judy Became Friends With Her Ex After Divorce
(8:47) After her divorce, it didn’t start out with Judy and her ex being friends. They became friends over years.
(8:59) Becoming friends with her ex was not a natural thing for Judy. It was a conscious decision. She knew from her research that it is not divorce that damages children, its conflict between the parents that damages children. This is the one message that Judy wants everyone to take away.
(9:39) Judy knew for herself that the only way the kids would be OK was if she came to terms with creating a new relationship with her ex and honoring him as a parent. In fact, her ex was a very good parent. There are lots of people who are married to someone who is a good parent, but the sunlight has gone out of the marriage.
The First Step: Managing Emotions
(10:43) The first step in repairing the relationship with an ex is to learn to manage the emotions you are experiencing. Judy gives ideas on how to do this in her book. If you follow the guidelines, you will improve your whole life.
(11:04) You are entitled to feel as angry as you are. You are not entitled to act it out. Many people think that once they are divorced, they can say whatever they want. From Judy’s perspective, this is a giant mistake.
(11:34) Judy believes people can get divorced and still be a family. They are just a different kind of family. The parents can be a team, and they can collaborate about the children together. If the parents can do that, they develop a new relationship – that of being co-parents.
(12:42) Wendy asks Judy how a person manages a situation where the ex is not interested in having a better relationship after divorce because they are angry, don’t want the divorce, etc. In response, Judy says that sometimes people just have to accept that the other isn’t ready yet. The only thing that can be done is to listen, speak rationally, apologize (if there are things to be apologized for) and try to talk to the ex.
(13:20) Divorce is very sad for both people. In many cases, even the initiator is very sad. People get married wanting things to really work out. When there is a divorce, the initiator can talk to the other person and say “We couldn’t make it work, but we still have a responsibility to the kids. I want to back you. I want you to back me.”
(13:54) When she got divorced, Judy thought the hardest thing was going to be being a good parent. The hardest thing, however, is to make room for your ex spouse to also be a good parent. Your children will do better if they have 2 parents. If there is another person there to love your child, both parents have to be grown ups, even if one of them feels like they got ripped off.
(14:43) In many cases, both people feel cheated because you are taking one pie and dividing it into two. It doesn’t matter if people have a lot of money or a little money. They are still angry.
(15:07) People have to work with their anger and not displace it onto the child-rearing environment.
(15:34) Sometimes people can forgive the worst “sins” like infidelity. At the time it happens, it is usually terribly devastating and humiliating. Judy would say there is a timeline. In the first year, people are usually not befriending one another. They are stepping back and separating their lives.
(16:42) However, the truth is, the week you are getting served with divorce papers, children are still going to school, having soccer, having piano lessons, having sleepovers and having science projects. The parents need to manage this. They have to figure out how to communicate about the kids.
The Two Mindsets You MUST Keep In Mind
(17:28) Judy says there are 2 mindsets. The first is to “Keep the Big Picture in Mind.” The big picture is that you want healthy children. The kids who always feel like they are in the middle are in a terrible situation.
(18:09) Judy has talked with children who feel torn. In some cases, the kids don’t want ANY parents to come to functions because of the stress involved.
(18:48) Parents should keep the big picture in mind when it comes to functions for the children and make an effort to sit together, talk together, etc.
(19:14) The other mindset Judy talks about is “Taking the High Road.” This means that you should never do anything you would not want broadcast to the whole world. Speak kindly.
(19:49) For some reason, sometimes when people get divorced, they feel like they have the right to say all those things they have held in for years. They don’t have that right. Judy thinks people can air all the things that have been bugging them with their friends, siblings, therapists, etc.
(20:24) Oftentimes people learn when they start airing things is that they are really angry at themselves and their own decisions. It is easier to blame the other guy than it is to look at yourself.
(20:58) Wendy expresses her confusion in those situations when clients come in to see her and talk about how horrendous the other parent is. She is confused about how at some point that person was good enough to marry and/or have kids with, but now is the worst human on Earth.
(20:07) Judy relays a story about a client of hers who married a man who smoked a lot of pot. Once they got married, the wife wanted children, but was worried the husband would continue with the pot. Eventually, she realized that he wasn’t that ambitious and that’s all he wanted to do. Honestly though, this wasn’t that surprising. That person is exactly who she married. Sometimes we walk into a situation and avoid looking at something we should have looked at.
(22:20) Judy deals with people refusing to be accountable all the time. People have to think that they need to get along with the person in some way. They don’t have to be best friends.
An Exercise to Help You Calm Down Those Emotions
(23:23) As far as getting emotions in check, Judy talks us through an exercise to help with that:
Think about someone who made you very angry. Allow yourself to be with the anger and embrace it. Take a deep breath and let yourself know that you can be with your anger. You can feel it. You are entitled to it. This is your anger. Then imagine sitting by a stream with leaves falling into it. See if you can put your anger into a box or bag, slip it onto one of those leaves and let the leaf take it down the stream. Pay attention to your breath and notice what it feels like to allow your anger float down the stream.
(25:20) Wendy observes that she did this exercise as Judy was talking and that she feels a little calmer. Judy says if we can allow ourselves to calm down, things feel differently. We need to take stock of the fact that the person who is ultimately hurt the most is the person who is angry. People need to realize when they are getting divorced, they aren’t expected to be nice and civil the next day.
The Role of the Five Stages of Grief
(26:33) The sooner the better that someone can face the fact that something didn’t work out. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross created the 5 Stages of Grief. These things don’t go away. They are appropriate responses. It takes a grown up to say that the other person did something wrong, but the kids need to be put first.
(28:02) Wendy asks Judy whether forgiveness is necessarily part of the acceptance phase of grief. (Wendy sometimes has a hard time with forgiveness.) Judy responds by asking whether a person can forgive themselves for not being able to forgive the other person. That is a first step – forgiving yourself.
(29:20) In every relationship, it takes two to tango. Each person had a role in the breakup. Even for conflict avoiders, they are contributing to the relationship problem by not participating.
(30:08) Conflict avoiders need self-assertion coaching. Eventually that person can get overrun by the person making all the decisions.
(31:07) Being able to let go of things is important to everyone.
Major League vs. Minor League Problems
(31:24) With respect to “major league” vs. “minor league” problems: Major league problems are things like lies, deceptions, and past betrayals. They are things people can’t forget. Minor league problems are differences in parenting styles or messiness, etc.
(32:33) With major league problems, you feel socked in the stomach. They are enormous hurdles. Married couples have minor league problems all the time.
(33:09) Parents need to try to either talk about major league problems or let go of them to better parent the children. If your ex can’t talk about it, can you let go of it? You still have children that you have to parent together. You have to create an environment where they don’t feel tugged.
(34:31) With the big emotional glitches (major league problems), people have to do a lot of emotional work in order to grieve, let go of the past and raise healthy children who have the love of two parents.
(35:07) In Judy’s situation, after she had been divorced about 15 years, her mom got really sick. Her ex, a lawyer, was very smart about money. Her ex went with Judy to an elder care lawyer to protect Judy’s mother’s assets. Her friendship with her ex deepened through this. This was a long time after the divorce, and Judy doesn’t think this could have happened 1 year after the divorce.
Judy’s Final Goodbye to Her Ex at His Funeral
(35:48) At this point, Wendy references a blog she read on the Huffington Post website in which Judy wrote about giving the eulogy at her ex-husband’s funeral. The post was very moving to Wendy because it was so heartfelt. Giving the eulogy provided Judy a chance to think about their lives together. They shared a critical, crucial part of life together, then they managed to share big events together. They had good times together.
(36:51) Judy believes her book is important to give people a new model. Their divorces don’t have to be like the “War of the Roses.”
(37:18) You can find Judy by logging onto judithruskayrabinorphd.com or if you Google Befriending Your Ex After Divorce.
3. Thoughts from the Life Coach (38:08)
Have you ever felt like a CD player in a world of MP3s? Are you having trouble keeping up with change? If so, you won’t want to miss James’ thoughts for this week!