Collaboration over debate: the real way to win

60745163 - presidential candidates donald trump vs hillary clinton cartoon

Amid this particularly adversarial election season, it occurs to me that fighting, though great for TV ratings, rarely accomplishes anything. I’m thinking about the presidential debates, where the more the candidates assert their positions, the more defensive and polarized they become. Fighting to outdo your opponent makes sense in debate because the idea is to prove the validity of one viewpoint over another.  But when you bring that kind of aggressive, self-serving stance to personal human disagreements, you usually lose.

The secret to winning in the arena of human conflict is to appreciate that the best fixes come from synthesizing rather than isolating different perspectives.   Obama, speaking of politics, is known for solving complex problems by gathering several experts – scientist, economist, historian, etc. – around a table, hearing their varying ideas, and channeling the best of what they offer into a well-rounded solution more potent than what any one of those experts could have created on their own.  When you get beyond a “my way or the highway” mentality to embrace rather than reject other opinions, you release yourself from limitation and enter into an enormous playground of possibility.

This process of synthesizing differing approaches into a more powerful outlook is the heart of collaborative divorce. Instead of wasting time and money by bickering endlessly from their own hard-lined mindsets, husband and wife gather with a team of divorce specialists to craft a divorce agreement that is greater than the sum of its parts.  At best the couple comes up with creative solutions they never thought possible; at the very least they each end up with solutions they both – not just one of them – can live with.

It’s not exactly easy to put ego aside and consider the perspective of someone you may be angry with or feel betrayed by. The process is less challenging, though, when you throw out questions that work well for debating but get in the way of resolution, such as:

  • How can I beat my opponent?
  • How can I prove that I’m right?
  • How can I show everyone that I am smarter/more deserving/morally superior than my opponent?
  • How can I make this go my way?

Even if you regard your spouse as a complete idiot with whom you have nothing in common, you can reach a mutually palatable divorce settlement by unlocking yourself from a single-minded position.   These questions will help you to move beyond guardedness and into the sort of productive, flexible discourse that attracts enlightened answers:

  • What solution is truly best for our children/our mental health?
  • How do I want to feel at the end of my marriage? (Victorious, unencumbered, confident?) Other than getting my own way today, how can I get to those feelings?
  • How would I want to describe my behavior during my divorce to my children/my boss/my students/my favorite mentor?
  • How do I want to remember this process five years from now?
  • How can I behave today to help this process go as smoothly as possible?
  • What might happen today if I let empathy for my spouse, rather than a desire to win/get revenge, guide my actions?
  • How might letting go of the outcome make this process easier/more productive?

The beauty of expansive inquiries like these is that they open up potential for equally expansive solutions.   And if you’re still not convinced that yielding is more likely to bring success than digging your heels in, you need ask just one final question:

What remedies might arise were Hillary and Donald to take their gloves off, highlight the strengths they both bring to the ring, and integrate – rather than argue – their brightest ideas into a plan for our country?

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at




5 reasons counseling fails to help children in high conflict, separated families


37454648 - sad little boy and family fight in living room

Contentious separation is one of the most difficult things a person can experience. When children are involved in a highly conflicted separation, they can become collateral damage – unless parents put children’s interests ahead of their own.  Parents need a lot of support and guidance to get through this process and achieve a “new normal.”  Every separation is unique, but there are many commonalities that occur, and there has been a great deal of research on how to effectively support families through this process.

It goes without saying that parents need to take care of themselves as they go through a separation, or else they can’t be fully present for their children.  Along with the dedication of both parents, children may also need the support of an experienced clinician if they are struggling.

Choosing a therapist who can avoid these five obstacles will give your child (and family) a greater chance to benefit from counseling:

  • One parent feels alienated by the counseling process.

A therapist who does not work with both parents has the potential to make things worse; aligning with one parent over the other can perpetuate the problems that exist for the child. Without involvement from both parents, the therapist cannot possibly have a complete picture of what is happening with the child.  Children will often communicate very different perspectives of their situation, depending on which parent is with them in a therapy session.  If a child is unhappy in one home, it is important that they have a safe place to discuss any issues.

Mistrust is typical between separated couples, and so when one parent initiates contact with a particular therapist, the other parent may immediately perceive that the therapist has been biased by hearing perspective from only one ex-partner. It is very challenging for the second parent not to question whether there has been an alliance created by the therapist with one parent.  A therapist who openly addresses this issue up front has the best chance of building the trust of the whole family, which is necessary for effective therapy.

  • There is a lack of accountability for what the child says to each parent (with the child often intending to please both parents), resulting in one parent overreacting to the child’s statements.

A child of divorce typically does not give both parents the same message. Often a child wants to please both parents.  A child often figures out that one of the most endearing things they can say to a separated parent is “I love staying with you, and I don’t have as much fun with dad/mom.”   Words like that are powerful and seductive to a separated parent.  In this scenario, the child will often tell each parent that they prefer to be with them; the child unwittingly contributes to the conflict.  It is essential that parents resist the lure of such compliments, and respond that they want to help fix what’s going on at the other house so that the child can feel safe and happy at both households.

A skilled therapist will empower the child to find their voice, help parents see how they may be contributing to their child’s anxiety and stress, and show parents what they can do to provide comfort and stability.

  • Parents are not expected to equally participate in the therapeutic process.

To give the therapeutic process the best chance for success, both parents should participate in alternating sessions. A child attending a session with one parent will often express a very different view of reality when participating in a session with the other.  For this reason, it is very helpful for the therapist to get a fuller view by checking in with both parents on alternate weeks.

A technique that is employed in some therapy models includes a “semi-confidential” check-in with each parent, where the information the child shares with one parent is also shared with the other. This provides a level of accountability for the child to be consistent in what they are sharing with each parent.  The purpose is to help the child express their true feelings with their parents, in a manner intended to make things better.  The therapist is then in a position to help the child and parents understand why it is difficult to say certain things; for example, a child may feel that they are hurting one parent’s feelings when they talk about having fun with the other.  It is also an opportunity for the therapist to guide each parent in clarifying that they want the child to enjoy time with both parents.

After a check-in with the parent, the therapist spends some individual time with the child to process what happened during the check in, and to strategize how to address any concerns that arose. It is also time for traditional therapy, where a child addresses issues in their life affecting their well-being.

  • Parents are not always consciously aware of the psychological forces at work that interfere with successful co-parenting.

When a couple separates, each parent goes through a major trauma that interferes with their ability to function well. While going through this major life-changing event, there are forces in play that make successful co-parenting difficult.  Among these forces are a parent’s bruised ego that wants to be the favorite parent; as I’ve mentioned, some children want to please both parents and so tell them conflicting information. Then there are children who may try to take advantage of the two households, and play each parent off of the other.  There is often, at least initially, poor communication, which often puts children in the role of message deliverer and makes children feel responsible for perpetuating parental arguments.

Often friends join in the conflict, as well as extended family members. Money issues arise, and cause visceral angry reactions.  There are often different values between households that emerge and contribute to parental conflict.  New significant relationships emerge and confound an already dysfunctional system.  Occasionally, there are issues around mental illness and/or substance abuse, which complicates matters exponentially.  Finally, when parents are involved in the traditional, contested divorce process, this system seems to encourage each parent to root for the failure of the other to improve their own position…meanwhile, the children are emotionally harmed.

A therapist experienced in the impact of separation and divorce on children can guide parents through this overwhelming process, refer parents to appropriate resources to address the many minefields of divorce, and focus attention on the needs of their children.

  • Parents do not fully understand the psychological harm, and lasting damage, to children growing up in highly conflicted families.

Going through a separation or divorce is a serious loss for all involved; the grief is akin to a death in the family. Children are particularly vulnerable in a separated household; there are many dynamics that are happening to them, and parents often need guidance to navigate their children through this trauma.  Sadly, some families remain in conflict for long periods of time, and the children often become pawns in the conflict.  Children who remain in conflicted families suffer tremendously; the consequences range from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and could ultimately impact their ability to forge healthy relationships throughout their life.  The effort made to minimize the conflict, conversely, benefit the children, and gives them the best chance for a fulfilling life.  A therapist working with a conflicted family cannot lose sight of the importance of this work, and will help the family focus on creating a safe space in which their children can flourish.

Choosing a therapist skilled in working with separated families is essential. Without proper understanding of the psychological forces at work in conflicted, separated families, professionals will have a difficult time helping families find an appropriate path, and can potentially make the situation worse.

Agencies, such as Kid’s First in Portland and For Kid’s Sake in Bangor, provide first-rate programming for families going through a separation, and can also be an excellent referral source for clinicians who are knowledgeable and proficient in working with conflicted families.

About the blogger:

about-jeff-photoJeffrey S. Levy, LCSW, GAL, received his MSW from University of New England and BS from the University of Maine. Jeff has been operating his private therapy practice since 2001, and he has been serving the Maine courts as a Guardian ad Litem since 2006. Jeff is an adoption social worker, serving as the Director of the Maine branch for China Adoption With Love.  He is also an instructor for the Kid’s First Program, providing separating parents guidance in working collaboratively for their children’s best interest.  Additionally, he has developed a workshop instructing therapists on how to work with Highly Conflicted Separated Families and has taught it throughout Maine. Jeff received training as a Collaborative Divorce Coach in 2014 and is a founding member and Board Member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance.



The advantages and pitfalls of a free consultation

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28102063 – free consultation

When contemplating or going through the divorce process, you understandably look for a professional or professionals to provide you with advice, direction and advocacy. If your situation is amicable and relatively simple, you may just want confirmation that you have completed all necessary forms correctly and have not forgotten anything important. Often people come to meet with me to discuss the “what ifs” and learn what they might expect in the way of property and debt distribution or child contact if they decide to proceed with a divorce, whether it is now or in the future. When there are significant trust issues or more complicated property/debt circumstances, you are most likely looking for someone who will not only give you direction but will also protect your interests.

Whatever your unique divorce situation, you definitely want to make sure that any money spent on experts is well spent.

Some of the advantages of a free consultation are that it is your chance to interview a professional, get a feel for how they operate, and determine whether or not they’d be a good fit for you. Depending on the length of the free consultation offered, it may also be an opportunity to get your questions answered.  And if your divorce is not complex and you get enough sound advice from that first free meeting, you may be able to move forward on your own.

As the old adage goes, however, “buyer beware, you often get what you pay for.” You should go into any free consultation understanding there may be limits on how much legal advice you will actually receive.  That said, I know many very competent attorneys who offer beneficial free consultations.

Before booking your free consultation, consider these questions about potential pitfalls:

  • Will the time allotted for the free consultation be enough to answer all your questions?
  • Will the professional you are meeting with be fully engaged in your consultation if they are not getting paid?
  • If you go over the time for the free consultation, what will the cost be to you?
  • Is the free consultation a “bait and switch” or other kind of hook?
  • And lastly, will you feel comfortable retaining/hiring this professional after just one free albeit brief meeting?

As we frequently discuss on this blog, going through a divorce is a very stressful time — even in the best of circumstances. One way you can reduce stress for yourself is by getting good information over the phone or via email before you schedule a consultation. Because if you know what to expect going in, you are more likely to be satisfied.

These vetting tips will help:

  • If it’s a “free consultation” – Ask how much time is allotted for the free portion of the consultation and clarify how much you will be charged if you go over the time limit.
  • Ask what specifically will be covered during your free consultation.
  • For a paid consultation ask how much time is allotted and what you can expect during this time.
  • If the professional asks for documentation prior to your meeting, that’s a good sign he or she will invest time in getting to know you and your situation before you even walk in the door.
  • If it sounds like you won’t get much from a free consultation, ask what you can expect from a paid consultation. It may turn out that spending a little money at the start will save you a lot of headache and heartache in the end.

For the sake of full disclosure, I do not provide free consultations. My consultation fee is $250.  However, I am always happy to take a few minutes, without charge, to discuss the Collaborative Divorce process with anyone who is interested. For those who are interested in learning more about the Collaborative Divorce process, my office provides free copies of the book The Collaborative Way to Divorce: The Revolutionary Method That Results in Less Stress, Lower Costs, and Happier Kids-Without Going to Court.

About the blogger:

unspecifiedMatthew Govan, Esq. a Portland resident since 1999, obtained his law degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 2003 and later obtained his master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Southern Maine at Portland in 2012. He has been a Family Law attorney and a Guardian Ad Litem since 2005 and became active with the Collaborative Divorce process in 2013. He is a founding member and board chair of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, as well as a member of the Maine State Bar Association and the Maine Guardian Ad Litem Institute.

Considering divorce? Here’s how to make sure you’re sure

Susan came home one night and told her husband Tom she wanted a separation. He was shocked. 50408867_sSure, there had been some ‘issues’ in their marriage, but wasn’t that normal in a long-term relationship?

Tom approached Susan the next morning and suggested couples therapy, saying“don’t you think you owe it to me to at least try to fix the marriage?”

Tom’s request to dig a little deeper before calling it quits may seem perfectly reasonable — but couples therapy won’t be successful unless both partners are willing to do the work it requires. In fact, further frustration and stress can result if one partner feels pressured into therapy without genuinely believing it can help.

So what’s the solution here? What happens when one spouse is pretty sure they want out and the other wants to see if their marriage can be saved?

Fortunately there is a new option for not-on-the-same-page spouses like Susan and Tom: Discernment Counseling.

Discernment Counseling is a short-term (1 – 5 session) process intended to help a mixed-agenda couple where one person is ‘leaning out’ of the relationship thinking separation/divorce is their only option and the other is ‘leaning in’ and wants to rebuild the marriage. The beauty of this process is that it provides a much needed opportunity to slow down, take a deep breath, explore options, and arrive at a deliberated decision that works for both partners.

Who can benefit from Discernment Counseling?

Discernment Counseling is for couples in a situation where separation and divorce are being considered by one or both partners and there is uncertainty about whether divorce is the best choice for them and their family. It is not appropriate when one person has already made a final decision to leave.

How is Discernment Counseling structured?

The first session is two hours with subsequent sessions lasting ninety minutes. At the end of each session, the couple decides if they’d like to have another session, with a maximum of five sessions. Each in-person session starts and ends with both partners in the room with the counselor, and includes significant one-on-one time for each person alone with the counselor.

What is the difference between Discernment Counseling and couples therapy?

Unlike couples therapy, the goal of Discernment Counseling is not to solve your marital problems but rather to agree on one of three paths that would be best for you and your family.

The three paths are:

  1. Status quo – the marriage as it has been.
  2. Separation/divorce
  3. Couples therapy for six months with an all-out effort to repair the relationship, with divorce temporarily off the table, followed by a decision about the-long term direction of the marriage.Through the Discernment Counseling sessions, clarity is achieved in a non-adversarial, respectful manner. The process removes the stress and momentum people sometimes find themselves swept up in when there is confusion about marital issues and whether or not they are solvable. The goal is for you to gain clarity, based on a deeper understanding of your relationship and its possibilities for the future. Discernment Counseling also allows you to learn more about yourself and your partner and how each of you may contribute to the problems and possible solutions surrounding the marriage.To learn more about Discernment Counseling, please go to or contact me at (207) 797-6540, email:, website:

About the blogger:

Sara's Professional Photo JPEGSara F. Levite, MS, LCPC has been in private practice for over 25 years working with individuals, couples and groups. When working with couples her goal is to help them each feel heard and understood without judgment in an effort to assist each member to communicate with confidence and clarity. In addition to her private practice work, she has been a social worker and Guardian Ad Litem in Massachusetts, has worked as a counselor for the Department of Corrections in Maine,  and has extensive experience leading workshops and trainings in Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

What to look for in a financial neutral

11193761_sThe Financial Neutral works as part of a collaborative team to support the divorcing couple in all areas regarding finances.   Investments, debts, budgets, retirement concerns, insurance, spousal support, present value calculations of pensions, and other more esoteric areas may all be addressed.

As part of the collaborative team, the financial neutral is charged with assisting the divorcing partners in the framing, discussion, and decisions around money issues.  The financial neutral does not make decisions for the couple but rather provides education and counsel to help the parties understand the key issues facing them and possible solutions to those issues.   As the issues and solutions become clear to both sides, the financial neutral candidly and objectively discusses the pros and cons of the various solutions with each party, the collaborative team, and both parties together.

The ability to keep the goals and concerns of each spouse foremost in the discussions with that spouse, while at the same time recognizing and honoring the goals and concerns of the other party, is central to the skill set of a good financial neutral.  Being able to empathetically connect with parties on opposite sides of a discussion allows an experienced financial neutral to counsel, educate,  and support both parties as they move toward a collaborative divorce agreement. When guided by a competent financial neutral, both parties can leave their marriage with the understanding that they have been fair and honest with themselves and each other around the often tricky and emotionally scary areas of post-divorce money issues.

Beyond having the professional training needed to function as a financial neutral, it is very important that the financial neutral know when to bring in outside experts in areas that are outside of her or his skill set.  The goal is always to provide the divorcing couple with accurate, unbiased, and thorough advice to allow them to make the best financial decisions possible as they end their marriage.

About the Blogger:

JAL photo 2 05292012John, principal and cofounder of Anton LeMieux Financial Group, has been guiding clients through the complex world of financial planning and investing since 1993. He left Merrill Lynch in 2009 with his partner Eric Anton to start the group with the specific vision that their clients would be better served in a more holistic practice focused directly on client needs and advocacy. John’s experiences as an entrepreneur, a financial planner, and investment advisor, as well as a college basketball coach, have combined to give him insight into the needs of the individuals, families, family-owned businesses, and nonprofit organizations that he serves.

He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional, a Certified Investment Management AnalystTM and a Certified Divorce Financial AnalystTM; but it is his willingness to address the emotional side of his clients’ financial lives that distinguishes him. John believes that to assist clients with complex financial decision making he must address the multifaceted realities of life that underscores the financial facts. In the process of working to address these realities, alongside the specific goals of each client, he endeavors to add value and build a vision for their personal financial needs. It is his view that each client has their own needs and wants in life and that a unique financial plan is needed to adequately address each client’s situation.

John is a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance and as a financial neutral has played a lead role in the development of collaborative divorce in Maine.


Lies we tell ourselves to stay in a bad marriage

The human mind is amazingly enabling. We can use it to justify our behavior, to49191110_s avoid the pain of facing that we’re not doing what we know we should be doing to improve our lives. We’re not perfect and so we don’t have sufficient courage to always act on what we know deep down is good for us.  When we don’t want to face inconvenient truths, we camouflage the nagging pain of not listening to our inner wisdom by overpowering it with superficially convincing rationalizations.

Such as:

I can’t exercise because I’m too busy.

I can’t eat healthfully because it’s too expensive.

I can’t go back to school because I’m too old.

Nobody likes their job; that’s why they call it work.

And so on.

The more a prospective change requires of us, the more likely we are to make excuses to keep that change at bay. And so it makes perfect sense that people in bad marriages find all sorts of reasons to avoid the daunting work of divorce.

Here are some of the most common excuses people give for staying in a bad marriage, along with reasons why it’s easier in the long run to stop making them:

I can’t leave my marriage because it’s not the right time.   Being sensitive to your spouse when you’re planning to divorce is the decent thing to do.  Only an insensitive jerk demands a divorce on their spouse’s birthday, on a momentous holiday or anniversary, or just before their spouse takes a major exam.  The mature thing to do is make your announcement when nothing big is happening.  Because divorce is never fun, there is never a perfect time to bring it up, and you can spend the rest of your life finding reasons why you need to wait.    Eventually, if you want your anxiety to go away, you have to settle on a relatively neutral D-day, take a deep breath, and bite the bullet.

I can’t leave my spouse because they need me.   Ending a marriage is particularly challenging when you perceive your spouse as overly dependent on you – because, after all, what nice person wants to reject someone vulnerable? Two important things to remember here:  1.  You’re actually not being nice by staying with someone out of pity or obligation.  To the contrary, you’re preventing your spouse from moving on, growing, and hopefully meeting the right partner someday.  2.  Staying with someone because they supposedly need you is a handy way of making yourself look strong and thoughtful when you may actually be the needier partner; presenting this façade takes a tremendous amount of energy that could be better spent on facing that your marriage is over and learning to find your own way.

This is just what marriage is like.    When you’re unfulfilled in your marriage and reluctant to go through the pain of divorce, it’s tempting to believe that all marriages are miserable and so there’s no point in going to the trouble of ending it.  You can tell yourself that all couples have terrible problems and act disrespectfully toward each other behind closed doors, and only those too weak to accept that reality get divorced.    You can keep on presenting yourself as tough and devoted by broadcasting your capacity to stay committed to your spouse no matter how awful your marriage gets.  Again, though, it takes lots of  energy to cast yourself as a high and mighty martyr.   Accepting that your unhappy marriage is not the norm and ending it will free you up to find marital harmony in your future.

I’m staying married for my kids.   If you’re a parent, keeping your kids at the forefront when making major life changes is the right thing to do.   But make sure you’re not using supposed parental responsibility as a way to dodge decisions you are afraid to make.   Yes it’s certainly true that children are better off growing up with their biological parents in the same house, but only when those parents are in a thriving partnership.   Kids see right through parents pretending to be happy, and that experience can cause them long-term emotional damage.  If you and your spouse move through divorce in a way that protects your children from antagonism, they are very likely to be stable and secure being co-parented by the two of you in separate homes.

When you get down to it, pretty much every excuse in the book to not get divorced (when you’ve tried everything to save your marriage and you know divorce is the answer) just creates greater turmoil for everyone involved. The longer you sidestep what you know needs to happen, the more you are preventing you and your spouse and kids from having the life opportunities you all deserve.

So be honest with yourself:  are you putting off divorce because you’re not psychologically prepared to handle it?  If so, summon the courage to take action – and you’ll soon find that the anticipation of divorce causes way more dread than getting on with it.

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at






Should you stay or should you go? How to know if divorce is the answer

20504781_sI’m sure you’re familiar with that routine Hollywood movie scene where a married couple is fighting and one spouse – usually the woman – marches into their bedroom and heaves a suitcase from the closet, flings clothes into the suitcase hangers and all, slams it shut, then storms out of the house with it, all the while yelling accusations and threats.

That sort of impulsive exit makes for great drama, but what it usually does in the real world is bring on regret and further complication.   Divorce is a decision best arrived at as a last resort solution – only after ample consideration and soul-searching, and not as a reactive, unexamined escape.

If you’re thinking that maybe your marriage is over and you’re just not sure, that’s a good thing because you’re taking the time to determine whether divorce is worth the trouble. Here are some indicators that divorce is an option that will ultimately make your life better, not worse:

  • Your spouse is a habitual cheater, liar, and/or substance abuser  If your spouse is any of these things, there is no way your marriage can be healthy or happy. Everyone has issues and makes mistakes, and infidelity, dishonesty and addiction can be overcome, but only with a firm and unwavering plan for growth and change. If your partner has promised more than a couple of times to become faithful, stop lying, and/or stop drugging or drinking to excess and not followed through, they most likely will continue on a self-destructive path that will eventually take you down too – no matter what you do to try and stop it.
  • Your spouse is abusing you and/or your kids.   People who physically or mentally hurt other people to get their way are dangerous. It’s that simple. If you are married to someone who even subtly intimidates, manipulates, shames, or attacks to undermine your (or your kids’) confidence and power, you are being abused and you and your children are at serious risk.   Don’t be swayed by the blinding charm that typically follows an abusive incident; that ability to seduce you is all part of keeping you in an insidious controlling cycle that will play over and over, steadily eroding your self-esteem, until you get out.
  • You don’t respect your spouse.   The central ingredient holding a fulfilling marriage together is positive regard between partners. When you are proud of your spouse for their solid character, you feel honored to be with them and you delight in their company. When that respect goes away, maybe because your spouse has taken you for granted for too long, broken too many promises, acted immaturely too much, or adopted ideas or interests you don’t admire, you can no longer believe in or have faith in them as a teammate.
  • You feel relieved when you’re away from your spouse and you dread reuniting. When your marriage is thriving, the home you share with your spouse is a harmonious refuge where you can be comfortable and at peace. Engaging in pastimes away from your spouse is integral to keeping your marriage stimulating, but if you’re finding that you’d rather be at work, with your friends, or even running errands just to avoid being at home, there’s a chance you’ve outgrown your partner. Especially when, even after you’ve taken a long break, you feel queasy as you anticipate being together again.
  • You don’t have enough in common with your spouse. Having everything in common with your spouse is a sure way to bring on marital boredom. When spouses support each other in pursuing their individual interests – the classic example is the husband who watches sports while the wife goes shopping — the marriage becomes richer. What spouses must have in common to make a marriage work, though, is core values and long-term goals. It’s not a big deal if one of you enjoys sports and the other doesn’t, but if you disagree on morality and ethics, parenting, money management and other pivotal issues, it’s not likely that you have a foundation to build on.
  • You are chronically unhappy in your marriage and you’ve tried everything.  The key word here is chronically. Even the best marriages are sometimes really challenging, and so it’s smart to delay your decision to divorce until you’re certain that marital strife has become an unalterable norm. It’s also wise to pull out all the stops to save your marriage so that you don’t worry later that you left too soon.   Have you looked at yourself squarely and taken full responsibility for your part in your marital woes and then done your very best to be adaptable, cooperative, humble, and patient as you work to improve your relationship? If so and you see no improvement, then it’s probably time to call it quits.
  • You just plain want a divorce. Personal reinvention is a major trend in our culture, and so divorce is now considered an acceptable way to make your life more you – even if there aren’t any glaring problems in your marriage.  Your spouse might be a perfectly nice and normal person, and your friends and family might be telling you you’re crazy to want to split up, but at the end of the day the choice is yours.   You don’t have to justify ending your marriage to anyone except yourself.  So after you’ve looked at the facts, examined your choices and weighed the consequences, give your intuition final say over expert opinions.

About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at

Six ways divorce can turn your life around

Six ways divorce can turn your life aroundBack in the 1970s when I was growing up, the emotional pain of divorce was made worse by society’s general judgment of divorce as a character failing.  If you got divorced, it meant that you weren’t committed enough to your marriage, you weren’t trying hard enough, you didn’t take the institution of marriage seriously .

Thankfully, the contemporary view is that divorce is an empowering alternative to remaining stuck and demoralized in a stale union.  No longer stigmatized as a shameful defeat, divorce is now encouraged as a route to personal liberation, reinvention, and a brand new chapter when a legal romantic partnership has run its course.

When you get on board with the idea that divorce can open you up to better things, the stress of getting through it is lessened.   Focus on these six rewarding outcomes of ending your expired marriage and you will be able to see light at the end of the tunnel:

  • You don’t have to limit yourself anymore.   What ultimately drives couples to divorce is the sense that their marriage has become too small.   It’s impossible to be happy when you’re constantly contorting yourself to fit into a relationship you have outgrown, especially if you’re walking on egg shells to avoid setting off that other person.  When you divorce someone who cramps your style, you are able to get out of that confined space, exhale, stretch, move freely, and start growing again.
  • You become clear about what you don’t want. Because divorce forces you to face the cold reality of what’s not working, it sets you on a determined course of sweeping your life of everything else that no longer suits you.   You become highly discerning about what you don’t need or desire anymore — not just excess books and clothes and other unnecessary stuff but obligations, responsibilities, goals, beliefs that aren’t serving a purpose.  If it doesn’t add to your life in some truly useful and/or meaningful way, it must go.
  • You become clear about what you do want. The advantage of ridding your life of what you no longer want is that you become much more certain about what you desire.  The drudgery of dismantling your tired marriage and discarding all else that’s not doing it for you anymore leaves you with available space and time to fill as you please.  And only what brings you joy and is genuinely worth your time and effort is allowed in.
  • You set a positive example for your kids. When you bravely decide to go through the turmoil of divorce because you know the value of listening to yourself no matter how scary, you are demonstrating to your kids, and everyone else for that matter, the critical importance of personal integrity.  By refusing to tolerate a marriage that won’t allow you to be your best self, you are demonstrating the absolute importance of self-care.   And when your kids see you thriving in a new life that is so much more you, they really appreciate the value of not settling…and seriously, is there a life lesson more important than that?
  • You get to call the shots. Divorce is essentially an assertiveness training boot camp that teaches you once and for all how to speak, stand up, and act for yourself.  You learn through the experience how to stop looking to someone else to steer your life, how to enjoy true independence, and how to make the best choices for you.  You don’t have to argue anymore about money or chores or parenting, and you don’t have to fight to be heard or respected or get your way.  You get to decide what to do and when and how to do it, and resistance falls away.
  • You get to do it right this time. Once you’re out of the wrong marriage and into a new life situation that actually fits you, you are in the best position possible to be happy.  Wiser, stronger, and oh so much surer of yourself than you were the last time you said “I do,” you are completely poised to attract a great partner – if and when you are ready.   The biggest reward of divorce is that you realize not only that you can make it on your own, but that being alone is a whole lot better than being with the wrong person.  Once you know how to be by yourself and like it, you’re not at risk of marrying for any reason less than putting icing on the cake of an already fulfilling life.


About the Blogger:

Amy Wood, Psy.D. MCLA Founding MemberPsychologist Amy Wood, Psy.D. helps adults to articulate and accomplish their own unique versions of success through psychotherapy, executive coaching, speaking, mediation, and collaborative law coaching.   A pragmatic optimist, she is known for her capacity to simplify complexity and see manageable solutions amid the overwhelm of modern life and work. Dr. Wood is the author of the award-winning book Life Your Way: Refresh Your Approach to Success and Breathe Easier in a Fast-paced World, a founding member of the Maine Collaborative Law Alliance, and a member of the Maine Association of Mediators Board of Directors.   She earned her doctorate from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, graduated from the College of Executive Coaching, and is a certified mediator.   Visit her website at