Divorce should always be an option

“Divorce should always be an option,” she said emphatically after several months. She came to counseling deeply anxious and depressed, and concerned that her mental health was affecting her kids. She thought her depression was the problem, but we eventually realized that her depression was rooted in her marriage. 

It wasn’t until she realized that divorce was an option that she began to experience freedom to seek fulfillment on her own terms. She started exploring the dormant parts of her talents and personality. Her depression improved significantly. 

Not only did she feel significantly better, but it also wasn’t until she told him that divorce was an option that he began to take her feelings seriously. None of this was easy or fast, but she finally chose the right kind of hard. She chose the kind of hard that didn’t mean sacrificing her personhood, her soul. She did not have to ignore what she needed and how she felt any longer. She expressed herself honestly and set the boundaries that she couldn’t before. In doing so, she and her husband were able to re-establish a friendship.

So many of us, especially women, have been taught not to trust our feelings. We tell ourselves we are too much, or not enough. We tell ourselves we should be grateful for what we have. A nuclear family is better than a blended family. We believe in this idea so deeply that we grow complacent, sometimes drinking too much, or having affairs to get our needs met. We are doing it for the kids, we say. 

In 70% of divorce cases, women are the ones who file. I have some educated guesses about why that may be. I’ve met with so many husbands whose wives told them for years they were unhappy. Disconnected. Lonely. She doesn’t feel seen or heard. In some cases, these husbands made more effort after the conversations, but things quickly went back to status quo. In many cases, husbands dismissed and ignored their wives feelings. Since they were satisfied with the way things were, her unhappiness was not his problem. When they finally show up in my office, it’s because she asked for a divorce. He is blindsided because he wasn’t really listening until then. Now he says he’ll do anything, but it’s often too late.

Sometimes it’s the husbands. They stay in a relationship where they are verbally and emotionally abused. Where they feel controlled and disrespected, because the idea of not seeing their kids every day is understandably too scary. They numb and distract from their unhappiness with work, booze, porn, or affairs because “divorce isn’t an option,” and the problems only worsen. We’re doing it for the kids, they say.

When divorce isn’t an option, one or both partners can be lulled into a false sense of security or complacency. The idea that divorce isn’t an option keeps people from taking the time to examine how they are feeling about the relationship. This complacency keeps people from growing and being intentional to keep their relationship strong and connected. Instead, they distract and numb themselves while resentment grows. 

I have dedicated much of my life to saving marriages. I believe in the value and sanctity of marriage. I have seen the destruction that divorce causes families. I am not advocating for divorce. What I am advocating for is choosing the right kind of hard. Sometimes the right kind of hard is being honest about your needs and getting intentional about making your marriage become more than just functional. And sometimes the right kind of hard is divorce. Why? Because I don’t believe we should stay in marriages that require us to lose our souls. Mental health and physical health are undeniably linked. And if you have children, they need to see you save yourself. They need you alive. I mean this both literally and figuratively. They are not meant to witness a marriage in which one, or both, have to lose themselves and slowly die inside because divorce wasn’t an option, or because they “didn’t believe in divorce.”

But what if (we admitted that) divorce was an option the whole time?

What if both partners realized the need to romance and date our spouses?

What if the other person took it seriously when one says they are unhappy? 

What if we went to counseling when the problems arose instead of waiting years?

What if we took an active role in our own emotional growth instead of becoming further entrenched in our unhealthy habits? 

What if we stopped believing that a lack of intimacy (both emotional and physical) is just a part of life, of marriage? 

What if we listened to our emotions and instead of numbing them, allowed those feelings to give us important information about what we need?

Maybe then we could prevent the inevitable divorce that “wasn’t an option.”  

Portrait of a happy senior couple wrapped in plaid sitting at home

needs based parenting


I was the best parent before I had kids. I just knew that I was going to do things differently. I was pretty prideful about it, let’s be real. It would not be my kids watching a video on a phone in the restaurant. It wouldn’t be my kids having a tantrum in public. My kids would eat all their vegetables and be polite, contributing members of the family and society as whole.

I’m still holding onto hope that these things will happen for us.

All that to say, it feels a little ridiculous that I would write a blog about parenting. I mean, what do I know? I’ve spent the last 4 years figuring it out as I go. Reading books, articles, and even a class or two: I desperately want to be the best parent possible and I keep falling short. The problem is that reality is a heck of a lot different than theory. Reality is chaotic, loud, and messy. Reality is really, really hard.

Reality is a 1.5 year old whom considers the day wasted if he hasn’t climbed, tackled, and eaten everything in sight. A rambunctious, ridiculously adorable, needing-a-scenery-change- every-20-minutes, thinks-the-word-“no”-is-hilarious, very heavy, very particular, toddler.

Reality is a 4 year old with sensory processing problems. A sweet, handsome, affectionate, picky, particular child who gets really overwhelmed, really easily and can’t communicate why. It sucks not being understood, and then not having the words to communicate what’s going on inside you. So he has a tantrum, he cries, yells, spits, or hits to get our attention. So we know he needs something from us. The problem is that I’m angry. I’m confused. I don’t understand, because it doesn’t make sense. It hit me recently that I’m feeling the exact same way he’s feeling: angry, confused, overwhelmed.

Logic doesn’t always have a place when it comes to emotions, right? We need emotion to understand emotion. The emotion I’m going back to is love. How do I communicate love to my child through this tantrum?

I took a class recently and learned about relational needs (From the Center for Relational Care- check them out!). The simple principles are life changing. It has transformed my counseling practice, transformed my parenting, and is transforming my marriage.

In the class, I suddenly realized that I’d been using fear (threats, anger), or manipulation to get my kids to behave. That I’d sometimes withdrawn my love and attention when my child rejected me, or embarrassed me, or disobeyed me. That I was (unconsciously) wanting my kids to meet my needs. My need to be loved, accepted, and respected. All important needs. However, my kids were given to me so I could meet their needs, and not the other way around. If they meet some of my needs (and they do!) that is a blessing and a gift and should never be an expectation.

One of my bigger take aways from the class was learning about the 10 relational needs. I made something for you to keep; it’s a gift that I really hope you’ll use. It’s here: 10 Relational Needs. Study them. Place them somewhere where you’ll see them often. When your child (or husband, or client, or family member, or self) is doing something you don’t understand or you don’t know how to respond, ask yourself this question:

“What is he/she needing right now?”

Here are a few examples:

Comfort? Say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting right now” and ask if he would like a hug.

Appreciation? “I noticed that you just helped your brother. Great job!”

Acceptance? “There isn’t anything you can do that will make me love you less.”

Approval? “I’m so glad you’re my son.”

Respect? “I will give you some privacy.”

Security? “I will be here when you’re ready to talk.”

Encouragement? “I believe in you; don’t give up!”

Attention? Get down on their level, enter their worlds.

Support? “I see that you are struggling. I’m here to help, if you’d like.”

Affection? “I love you to the moon and back!”

If you are unsure of the need, default to comfort.

I’ve been doing this more and more for my sons. Particularly with my 4 year old, I’m trying to meet the need first, and discipline (when necessary) after he calms down. Only emotion can understand emotion.

Guess what? It’s working!

Asking if he’d like a hug in the middle of a tantrum has helped him calm down much faster. Telling him that I will always love him, even when he says he doesn’t want me, or pushes me away has made him feel safer and more secure. Pointing out the good, encouraging him to keep trying, letting him speak for himself, etc. is shaping my son’s character and heart.

While threats can often get your kids to obey, what will they do when the threat is removed? Will they make the right choices when you’re gone? My hope is that by meeting my kid’s needs first; I can better influence their hearts. Will I take away privileges? Oh yes, without a doubt I want them to understand that our choices have consequences. Do I want my kids to obey and respect authority? Lord, yes. Will my kids continue to test me and disobey? I believe they will. I’ll continue to try my best to be consistent with boundaries, rules, and expectations. I just want all of those things to be soaked in unconditional love.

Heart transformation can only occur within the context of a healthy, secure, and loving relationship. Love first. Your teaching with have more of an impact if you do.

I’m still learning all this, but I’m getting closer every day.

Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions

Not only did this post perfectly put into words a day at home with the kids, but she also so eloquently gives concrete ways to connect better with your spouse/friend/kids, etc. SO GOOD. You must check out http://www.momastery.com, but first…read this!

Save your Relationships: Ask the Right Questions.

logical consequences

I’ve made a few blogular promises that I need to make good on.  I’ll start with the follow up from this parenting post about sending an I-message. I promised to post on discipline in the form of logical consequences when the “I-message” fails to change behavior. So, here it is:

Logical consequences* are great because they help your child to learn responsibility and independence. Using logical consequences with your child instead of punishment helps your child to understand that their choices and actions can have consequences. For instance, the logical consequence of not putting dirty clothes in the hamper is that he must do his own laundry…or wear dirty clothes. Sounds good, huh?

Tips & tricks for using logical consequences:

1. Ask the child to help set the consequences. Ex. “I still have a problem with you leaving your belongings in the kitchen. What do you think we can do to solve it?”

2. Give the child a choice:

There are 2 types of choices in using logical consequences:

  • Either-or choices: “Either you may…or you may…you decide.”
  • When-then choices: “When you have…then you may…”

3. Make sure the consequence is really logical. One key to this whole business is that the consequence is logically connected to the misbehavior. Children can more easily see the justice in this and accept their consequence with less resentment.

Not logical:

“Either come to dinner when I call or no TV for a week!” This consequence is arbitrary and will feel unjust. They may also know that you won’t reinforce it for more than a night or morning. Never threaten a consequence you aren’t willing to act on. More on that later…

Try something like this:

“Either come in to dinner when I call or it will get cold—and you may miss it altogether.”

4. Only give choices you can live with.

5. Keep your tone firm and calm.

6. Give the choice one time, then act to enforce the consequence.

7. Expect testing. Your child will test to see if you will do what you say you’re going to do. Be consistent!

8. Allow the child to try again after experiencing the consequences. Example: “It seems you have decided not to play outside this morning. Take care of your room and we can try again this afternoon.”

I’ll be trying these skills on my guy in a few short years…

Information taken from “Active Parenting Now” by Michael H. Popkin, Ph.D.

* this information is ideally used for kids aged 5-12

parenting: using an “I” message

Before having Caleb, I had a list of things I would “never do” when I became a mother. I would never let him sleep in our bed, give him dessert before dinner, let him cry for 45 minutes… And well, I had no idea. Before having a kid, I was the perfect mother! And now…now, I do my best. And that is faaaarrrr from perfect. But there are a few things I hope I don’t go back on (granted, I know I will make mistakes sometimes). I want him to feel loved, respected, and valued. I will do my darnedest to never shame him or make him feel small.

I really enjoy this by Dr. Michael Popkin called “Active Parenting Now.” I highly recommend this book for many reasons. One big reason is that it advocates for the parent’s authority, but teaches how to do that while still respecting your child. Plus, it works!

I’ll do a few posts with concepts from this book. This one is on using “I” messages. {By the way, this works in other relationships, too!}

It’s appropriate to use an “I” message when a polite request has failed to change behavior in your child (or spouse).

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Name the behavior or situation you want changed. It’s important to avoid shaming your child. Make sure you separate the “deed from the doer” (or the “sin from the sinner”). Example: “I have a problem with your leaving dirty dishes on the coffee table.”
  2. Say how you feel about the situation. Without raising your voice this lets your child know that the problem is serious to you. Usually anger is a secondary emotion and underneath it is fear, hurt or helplessness. Try to identify the primary emotion underneath anger…it is less threating. Example: “I feel taken advantage of…”
  3. State your reason. A simple explanation can go a long way. Example: “…because I have to spend time and energy cleaning up after you.”
  4. Say what you want done. You’ve already made a polite request. Since that failed you must let your child know exactly what you want done. Example: “I would like you to bring your dirty dishes to the kitchen and put them in the dishwasher when you leave the living room.”

Making “I” messages stronger:

  1. Get agreement. Example: “I have problem with…Will you do that?”
  2. Establish a time frame. Example: “…when you are finished.”

If this doesn’t work, logical consequences and disciplining are necessary. Stay tuned for tips on my next post!