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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

Posted on January 12, 2018 at 11:45 AM Comments comments (0)

As the air is getting colder and the autumn leaves are falling, a different kind of energy is growing around us. The holidays are approaching. Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations are becoming evident all around. In the malls, in the grocery stores, in office buildings and on homes. Soon, Christmas music will begin to fill the air, and Santa will be ready for pictures. Families will come together to celebrate, and joy will abound. Or, will it?

With all of the grandeur, beauty and significance of the holidays, there may also be pressure to get into the holiday spirit. Under the best of circumstances, the gift lists, the family and friends whom you’ll visit, travelling and finances are all parts of the holidays that can add to another kind of stress that many of us may feel. Relationship stress. 

What happens at this time of year when your relationships are not going well? Specifically, your marriage? Do you try to keep a smile on your face and just make it through until the holidays are over? Do you and your spouse come to an agreement about how you will deal with the tension between the two of you? Do you say to yourself, “I don’t know how I am going to get through this. I don’t want to disappoint the children, but I’m at my limit, already.”? Do you wonder if help is really available that can make a real difference in your marriage? Is it possible to change the state of your marriage into something so much better? 

We all know that about 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. In fact, after this “most wonderful time of the year”, the month of January is when most divorce cases are filed. The holidays are over. The kids are back at school. The attorneys are back in their offices. And, the pressure to maintain the status quo in your marriage may not be as strong. For some, the time has come.

Yet, for others, there may still be a chance. A chance to get help with your marriage. A chance to identify where the struggles are and what you and your partner may be able to do about them. Most of the time, this is not about reconciliation, however. It is about reconstruction of your relationship. 

We all have the need to feel loved and that we matter, especially in our most important relationships. This season is one that represents a time of coming together, of experiencing the joy of being with family and friends. When that joy is not real, and there is more pain than pleasure, taking the time for self-care is crucial. Being able to reflect on things that are most important to us in our lives will help to guide us in our decisions about the future. Is it worth trying to heal your marriage so that the smile on your face next year at this time is real? Or, is it time to let go?

If you feel that you have done all that you could have done to save and heal your marriage, then it may be time to let it go. If not, isn’t it worth the chance to try to build something so much better?

May you have happiness this holiday season and beyond.

Valentine's the Corner of Love and Money

Posted on February 25, 2017 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)

Valentine’s Day…at the Corner of Love and Money


Legend tells that, during the third century in Rome, Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men. He believed that single men made better soldiers than men with wives and children. Others, however, disagreed. One man, in particular, Saint Valentine, realized the injustice of this decree and secretly continued to perform marriages. Unfortunately, upon discovery, Claudius ordered Valentine to be put to death.

There are other stories that suggest that Valentine may have been killed because he was helping Christians escape the harsh realities of Roman prisons. Valentine, himself, was imprisoned before his death, and it may have been that he had actually fallen in love with his jailor’s daughter, to whom he wrote a letter and signed it “From your Valentine.”

Regardless of the truth of these legendary stories, Valentine was seen as a sympathetic hero and a romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, his popularity continued to rise. In 1537, King Henry VII officially declared that St. Valentine’s Day should be celebrated on February 14.

Fast forward to today, the holiday created in his honor has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. Chocolates, roses, cards, teddy bears, jewelry, love and romance are all a part of what seem to symbolize this holiday. Some believe that this holiday has become too commercialized and has lost its meaning, while others say that this holiday continues to be a special time for us to acknowledge in a meaningful way those who are special to us.

Others, yet, may feel that Valentine’s Day is fraught with expectations and pressure for those in relationships. You may be in a new relationship and be unsure of what to do at this time. You may be vulnerable to possible rejection because you’re not sure about how your new partner actually feels about you. You have to decide whether or not to take a relationship risk here.

On the other hand, you may have been in a long term relationship in which you no longer want to continue. Celebrating Valentine’s Day is not your intention. Interestingly, the pressure in this situation has lead to the phenomenon that some call “Red Tuesday”. This is the Tuesday before Valentine’s Day, which seems to be the most popular day of the year to break up with somebody.

Whatever your situation may be, however, Valentine’s Day offers opportunities to make decisions about giving and what giving means. It is very easy to get caught up in a spending frenzy when we want to impress someone or make someone feel special. However, diamond jewelry and Chocolate Inn BT12 truffles are neither necessary nor reasonable in order to find meaning in the holiday. Just because someone may have the means to be a big spender doesn’t mean that personal expressions of love and caring don’t matter. Some people equate love with consumption…the higher the price tag, the greater the value in the relationship. Some others spend to impress with little regard to what the recipient may actually find meaningful.

And then, there are those gifts that are truly priceless, gifts that have nothing to do with money. Giving of our time and our effort and our spirit are gifts that keep on giving. As the saying goes, we may not remember what someone said or what he or she was wearing or even that person’s name. What we will remember, however, is how that person made us feel. While money is absolutely associated with security in life, it doesn’t have to be as significantly associated with love and caring. We can always get more money, but we can never get more time. We can’t buy it. We can’t negotiate to have it back. We can’t have more than what already exists.

We can affect time, though. We can make it special, wonderful, joyous and lovely. We can also make it dark and heavy and painful. Time does not discriminate. We all have 60 seconds in a minute. And most of us know that our worlds can change in a split second…for better or for worse.

The message here is that love and money don’t always have to intersect. We can reach into our giving pockets and pull out something other than dollar bills. We can embrace the holiday of LOVE on a budget and give and get so much more than the monetary value associated with a gift. Saint Valentine believed in love so much that he put himself in harm’s way so that it could flourish. Regardless of our relationship status, our financial status does not need to determine the value of our ability to give. So, for all of us who have been touched by love, may we all be able to make our marks on others so that simply having known us adds something priceless to their lives.


Deborah S. Wilder, Ph.D.

Helping Children Through Divorce

Posted on February 10, 2017 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Helping the Children through a Divorce



Going through a divorce may be the hardest thing that you and your children experience. It is very easy to get caught up in the anxiety, anger, fear and negativity at any point along the way and feel overwhelmed. You may lay awake at night trying to make sense of the fact that your whole world is turning upside down, and you have no control. You may have no idea how you will make it financially, and how you will be able to protect your children and keep them safe, emotionally and physically.

On the other hand, you may feel relieved that this is the path that you chose, and you are confident in your ability to co-parent well and provide peace and financial security to yourself and to your children. Regardless of your particular circumstances, however, the bottom line for those going through a divorce is to create a plan that will see you and your children through this time as well as into the future in a way that provides a foundation of hope and security.

One significant challenge of divorce is learning to live and parent apart; that is, learning how to renegotiate family relationships. There are lost roles as well as new ones. Either way, parents must renegotiate their relationship in a divorce, and what we have learned is that HOW parents divorce has a major impact on how the children adjust to it

So, how does divorce affect our children? As a psychologist and divorce mediator, I have worked with many people whose parents divorced when they were young. Some reported that their parents hated each other to the point where the kids were dragged into court and forced to choose with which parent they wanted to live. The children grow up knowing that their parents hate each other, and they feel like they have to constantly choose between the two. Clearly, the manner of divorce makes a difference in how the children are affected.

There are a number of ways that a divorce can occur:

1. Both partners mutually agree to the divorce and are able to co-parent with great ease and friendliness. Their lives overlap, and the time that the parents spend together is pleasant and often.

2. Both partners mutually agree to the divorce and are able to co-parent with a business-like and emotionally distant manner. There is no negativity in front of the children, and the parents get along.

3. Both partners agree to the divorce, yet there is little trust, and the ability to get along is minimal.

4. One partner does not want the divorce, yet has to get one because the other partner wants to, and there is no other way.

5. There is a perceived need to fight to the end.

Regardless of the type of divorce, adjusting to the role of co-parent is challenging. Learning how to renegotiate our roles as parents takes time, patience, energy and stamina. Again, this is not always easy, especially when one parent mistrusts the other and may not trust the other parent to properly care for the children. That being said, there seem to be two main parenting options given the different levels of conflict: co-parenting and parallel-parenting.

Good co-parenting involves little conflict, and communication and behaviors revolve around the interests of the children rather than the relationship with your ex. With a solid plan in place, parents are often able to navigate the many trails of co-parenting with relative ease and minimal discomfort.

Sometimes, however, this can be difficult to do, even with a solid parenting plan. When it comes to the children and the parents taking turns caring for them, residual issues often rear their ugly heads, and problems arise and result in high conflict, even after the divorce. You may want nothing to do with your ex, at all. If one parent questions the effectiveness of the other parent’s ability to take of the children, this can create a great deal of stress.

When these negative and high conflict relationships continue after divorce, the parallel-parenting model may need to be adopted. The goal of parallel-parenting is to protect the children’s relationship with both parents, while shielding them from conflict between the parents. The higher the level of conflict, the more necessary it is to have as detailed and structured and specific a parenting plan as possible. This type of parenting plan involves disengaging from the other parent and developing a “demilitarized zone” around your children, where there may be little to no direct contact with the other parent. Whatever contact there is occurs via e-mail, texting, faxing, or regular mail. In some cases, another person may serve as a liaison between the parents.

When extreme situations arise and co-parenting does not seem to be a viable option, and if the situation appears toxic for you and for your children, co-parenting should not be used as a way for this toxicity to continue. There may be times when a relationship with both parents just isn’t feasible or healthy. If you find that you end up being the only parent who is involved in your children’s lives, you and your children may need extra support in dealing with all of the issues that come up with a parent abandoning his or her children.

So, how else can we help our children? The first and most important thing that parents can do is to let the children know that they are in no way responsible for the divorce. There is nothing that they did to cause the divorce, and there is nothing that they can do to stop it. Children will usually ask why you’re getting a divorce. In the beginning, you may choose to answer that you and their other parent had problems that you just could not fix, but it had nothing to do with them. At some point, however, you may realize that what your children need most is not actual information as much as your acknowledgment that you know that it hurts and they feel sad.

To reassure your children that they will be taken care of and loved is essential. It is also important to not bad mouth the other parent, no matter how upset and hurt you may be. This, over time, can lead to Parent Alienation Syndrome, and this may actually backfire on the parent who is encouraging this issue. Under these circumstances, one parent undermines the relationship that a child has with the other parent. Here, provocation may replace reason, and the aftermath for the child is often heartbreaking, as he or she loses what might have been a wonderful relationship with the other parent.

Giving your children verbal reassurance and love is always a necessary and positive thing; however, physical affection is also important. Children usually know that their parents love them, but they may not always feel the love. That doesn’t mean that you must smother your children with hugs and kisses and squeezes all of the time, but physical closeness has a way of reassuring your children of your love and availability.

At any point along the way, parents need to be aware of how their children are doing. Most of the time, children can work through many feelings on their own or with your help. However, there may be situations in which your child is struggling too much, and it is beyond your scope of ability to help him or her. If your child is experiencing any of the following behaviors or feelings, it may be time to get professional help:

Infants and Toddlers: Problems with sleeping, eating, or digestion; regression (i.e. bedwetting or accidents); unusual temper tantrums; crying excessively; lethargy; delayed development in areas such as walking and speech.

Preschool Children: Aggression; unusual irritability; increased temper tantrums; separation anxiety or clinging that seems unusual; regressive behaviors; eating problems.

Elementary School Children: Psychosomatic expressions of stress, such as headaches, stomachaches, excessive tiredness; school refusal or decline in academic performance; eating problems; depression and sadness; increased anxiety; problems with peers; suicidal talk or attempt.

Adolescents: Depression; acting-out behavior including substance abuse, precocious sexual activity; suicidal thoughts or self-injurious behavior; uncontrollable anger; academic decline; eating problems.

The bottom line here is that divorce is hard on everyone involved. Parents need to care for themselves as well as for their children. The children suffer because of the parents’ decision to divorce. Our responsibility as parents is to put the needs of the children in the forefront as we go through the divorce and afterward, and one of the best things that we can do is keep conflict between the parents away from the children. If either you or your child needs help, don’t hesitate to ask for it. Psychologists, psychiatrists, pediatricians, therapists, and school counselors are all good resources to utilize for your children, as well as for yourself.


Divorce: Till Death Do Us Part

Posted on August 18, 2016 at 10:00 AM Comments comments (0)


Divorce – “Till Death Do Us Part”


It has been said that, other than the death of a spouse, divorce creates the most amount of changes to one’s life in the shortest amount of time. This can certainly be overwhelming, even if you’re just thinking about getting a divorce. There is so much at stake. What about the children? What about the finances? What about the house? What about the pets? What about everything that we have and everything else that has been a part of our lives together?

When we walk down the aisle on our wedding day, and make the vow of “Till death do us part”, we are usually full of hopes and dreams of living a happy life filled with love and support and security and family. We believe in ourselves as a couple. We believe that our individual lives combined will be greater and better than our lives when we were not connected to each other in marriage. We actually plan on staying together until we are parted by death. What happens to that vow, however, when we are now thinking about divorce? How can we reconcile promising to love, honor and cherish each other until death with getting a divorce?

Divorce, in actuality, is a death. It is the death of those dreams that we had as we were walking down the aisle. It is the death of the relationship that used to be. It is the death of the love that was once shared. It is the death of the life that was built on promises of being together forever. And with that death, we need to grieve.

We need to understand and come to terms with what is happening in our lives. We need to address and deal with the very strong emotions that have now entered out lives. We need to learn how to restructure our lives, individually and in the context of our lives as a whole. We need to have compassion for ourselves and others as we navigate this new and (usually) scary territory.

Most of the time, depending on the circumstances of the divorce and the issues involved in making this decision, there is a grieving process that we go through that is the same as in a physical death. There may be shock, denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and depression and acceptance. Most of the time, we do not go through these stages in order and only once. It is very normal to jump around from one feeling to another in the span of minutes, days, weeks, and even months and years. Eventually, though, we settle into our own experience of resolution.

In the midst of all of this, however, there is good news. Once we begin dealing with our feelings and the changes that we need to make in our lives, we usually find that we now have room for dreaming again. We remember what once was, and we begin to feel hope for what could be. We need to nurture that part of us that believes in the possibility of good, even while we are in the trenches of what is often really bad. When we are well on our way in our healing process, we may open ourselves up to the possibility of having a happy relationship again. Hopefully, this relationship will be healthier than what was before we got divorced.

Divorce can be a long and arduous journey. We need to care for ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In good times and in bad. In sickness and in health. To love, honor and cherish ourselves and our lives. We can certainly make these vows to ourselves, until we have truly parted from this world.


Deborah S. Wilder, Ph.D.

Psychologist, Divorce Mediator, Parenting Coordinator

Center for Therapy and Mediation