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Sharing Advice: Practical Lessons From the Far Side of a Divorce (Part 2 of 2)

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So this is the attitude I was talking about yesterday:

Yeah, it's a parody. And yeah, it actually is pretty damn funny... as a joke. Not as real life. In real life, this would be a toxic festering pile of emotional destruction that would take every bit of pain each of them had, make it worse, and make sure it stayed burning for years.

random.pngSo here's some resources and tips that have helped me (mostly) avoid that kind of toxicity. Maybe they'll help you. And thank you to all the people who have brought these thoughts and books into my life - whether I was appreciative at the time or not.

The Books

GETTING DIVORCED WITHOUT RUINING YOUR LIFE: A Reasoned, Practical Guide to the Legal, Emotional and Financial Ins and Outs of Negotiating a Divorce Settlement by Sam Margulies. While somewhat dated as far as legal details, the broad strokes are still very relevant. The attitude it espouses is extremely relevant.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. This book really dives into how our language shapes our thinking. While you may start out with simply a framework of phrases, the real value comes when you develop some degree of mastery. (Hint: I'm very much still working at this.)

The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures and Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines For Responsible Open Relationships. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED FOR MONOGAMOUS PEOPLE. Seriously. Even if the idea of an open relationship squicks you out, I still recommend these books for relationship advice, including what happens after. The rationale is simple: Dealing with one relationship is hard enough. These folks manage to run more than one simultaneously. They have their stuff together.

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. I managed the trick of being in a mutually codependent relationship (e.g. everyone involved was, to some degree, codependent). Important thing to note: Codependency does not require substance abuse, though it's frequently seen there.

A Queer and Pleasant Danger: A Memoir by Kate Bornstein. Auntie Kate is awesome and amazing, and if you ever get the chance to see her speak, do so. In the meantime, her fascinating memoir was a wonderful reminder that the standard fairytale sitcom life track is a joke.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Want to change your life? Start here.

The Tips

  • There is a difference between "Don't be a dick" and "sparing feelings".
  • Do not spare someone else's feelings. You will do far more damage to anyone involved in any way.
  • If you're leaving a relationship, leave that relationship. If you're starting a relationship, start a relationship. Avoid leaving a relationship to start a relationship.
  • The universe doesn't co-operate with this. Do your best to keep the two relationships separate, and recognize that it won't always feel that way for people involved. Be extra slow and clear with your feelings.
  • People in codependent relationships are not aware how deeply fucked up they are.
  • Part of the process of getting better is them really recognizing what is so blindingly obvious to you. You have been warned.
  • Everyone has perfectly reasonable reasons for their actions, from their point of view.
  • Everyone tells it so they look like the good guy - even to themselves.1
  • Everyone is trying to meet their needs for safety, security, and love.
  • You don't have to agree to provide someone else's needs
  • Not being able to meet another's needs does not mean either of you are bad.
  • Everyone has some unhealthy behaviors to meet those needs.
  • Your needs will change. Relationships may change as needs change. This is okay.
  • A healthy behavior in one situation may be unhealthy in another. 2
  • If you're constantly arguing about the same thing or behavior, you're arguing about symptoms when really, someone's needs are not being met.
  • Develop a strategy of moving conflict away from text when understandings start. "Can we move this to voice or P2P?" works far better than you think it would.
  • Most conflict - nearly all - is based on misunderstanding. The key is finding how far back that misunderstanding lies.3
  • Blaming is a waste of time.
  • Focus on what you're doing from now on, not what was done before. 4
  • Try to always mean what you say.
  • The thing you fear in your head is scarier than reality.
  • Reality can change and be worked on; the fear in your head stays as scary forever.
  • Confronting fears with reality are the best way to exorcise them.
  • Boundaries are usually unpopular, but are absolutely neccessary.
  • Forcing feelings into binaries makes everything harder.
  • This also goes for things based on feelings, like relationships.
  • You will have conflicting feelings about people you are in relationships with - or whose relationship with you is changing. That is normal.5
  • So as long as it doesn't violate your own boundaries, be compassionate.
  • You can, and should, renegotiate.
  • Be as clear and honest as you can right now.
  • When your ability to be clear and honest improves, be more clear and honest.
  • Be true to yourself, not to what other people think about you.
  • Know what the cognitive distortions are, and avoid them.
  • However long it takes you to unfuckup yourself is how long it is supposed to take. Sometimes the people around you can’t deal. That’s okay too.6

1 I'm doing it now. I'm sure that to someone, I look like a guru, when really, each of these comes from a time when I screwed up and hurt someone else because of a failure on my own part.
2 Take a recent argument between my girlfriend and myself. The emotional distance and calm presentation I had learned to keep anger issues in check came across to her as a lack of caring. We argued off and on for weeks. It wasn't until I got mad that I successfully communicated how serious I had been all along, and she felt that I had really heard her and cared about her statements.
3Another example: A phrase she said once reminded me of a sitcom situation. I laughed at the situation, not at what she was saying... but that's not what she heard. Luckily, that one was caught quickly, and I developed a phrase ("sitcom funny") to let her know something about the scenario struck me as amusing, but I was still listening and cared about whatever serious thing she had to say.
4 Good example: "You didn't recognize me in this past situation. I feel unappreciated and think you take me for granted when you don't actively tell people you're involved with me. I need you to go out of your way to tell people that we're together now, even if that makes you uncomfortable."
5 Even if you can't stand living with that person for one more second, that doesn't mean you hate everything about them. And vice versa - just because there's stuff you like about the other person doesn't mean you have to (or should) jump back into the same relationship you just left.
6 Both apologizing AND forgiving myself here! Woo!

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