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Dating a Friend’s Ex: Is it Ever Okay?

It started our innocently enough. Brian had been divorced for three years when he filled out the cumbersome eHarmony profile. Looking through all the profiles on other dating sites was daunting, so he decided to let a computer do the mate selection for him. He had a good feeling about this, and as luck would have it, his instincts were on target. Among the matches eHarmony's algorithms presented him with, he discovered Angie, a beautiful and intelligent woman who shared many of his passions. However, the match had an unexpected complication: Angie had been married to a long-ago friend of Brian's. Nevertheless, Brian thought about it and decided to contact Angie anyway. After some initial hesitation for the same reason, Angie agreed to go out with him, and their first date led to a delightful courtship that culminated in marriage. Although the couple couldn't be happier today, they pissed off a few folks along the way. Apparently Angie's divorce was not an amicable one, and her ex was infuriated with both of them.

After hearing this story (and numerous others like it), I thought about Brian and Angie's situation,

and my deliberation led me to flesh out the question "Is it ever okay after a divorce to date a friend's ex?" It's a complicated issue, and every situation is different, but I do have some insights and thoughts I'd like to share.

There is a good chance that when you start dating, no matter where you live, you will come across some potential candidates that you are already acquainted with. People you know might pleasantly surprise you by asking you out. And some of those folks may have previously been wed to a person you are familiar or even friendly with.

In a small town, there is a strong possibility that you know many of the divorced singles living there already. That being the case, there is a high probability that you may be asked out by someone who was once married to a friend, acquaintance, colleague, or even a relative. Or, on the other hand, you might be the one doing the asking out. While this might make for some awkward conversation in the beginning, it doesn't have to be a deal-breaker.

The same thing can happen even if you live in a large city. Several of my divorced friends in New York City, where I live, described to me that over the years they have been matched up (through introductions, internet dating sites, and serendipity) with potential partners who were once married to someone they knew. A woman I'm acquainted with is happily married to the ex husband of a former friend of hers. She told me that she met him and his wife because their children once attended the same school. She ran into him at a political event years later when they were both divorced. They started dating shortly thereafter.

None of this sounds awful or insurmountable, right? I believe that life does not have to end with a divorce, and if you want to fall in love again, you can. So what happens if the person you are interested in dating, or are falling in love with, was formerly married to a friend? How do you negotiate these potentially rocky waters?

Hypothetically these couplings could work out very well if you proceed with extreme caution and follow some guidelines.

First, I suggest assessing the quality of the friendship you currently have with the person's ex. In my opinion, the exes of best friends or really good friends are completely off limits. Use your moral compass to guide you. Why cause pain to someone you care about and who cares about you in return? Good friendships are sacrosanct. No one needs this level of drama; life is complex enough.

I also suggest honestly asking yourself, "How would I feel if a friend of mine was dating my ex?" In other words, where would you feel comfortable having the line drawn? I asked quite a few people this question, and most said they would be okay if their ex was dating an acquaintance. Everyone said they'd be terribly upset if it was a good friend. One person figuratively commented, "It's okay if someone near my home dated my ex, but not too close to home." I think this sentiment makes a lot of sense.

Now that we've established that it is not okay to date the ex of a best or even good friend, let's discuss acquaintances. If you've decided after careful deliberation that it is okay to date the ex of an acquaintance, move forward with care. Please remember that feelings can easily be hurt on all sides. Consider taking the high road by addressing the situation directly with the acquaintance prior to getting involved with their ex. (As well as, obviously, addressing the situation directly with the person you want to be dating.)

In the case of Brian and Angie, Brian did call his old friend to communicate his intentions. In their particular circumstances, Angie had been divorced for five years and Brian had not spoken to his old friend in over a decade. The men had been colleagues once, but that was many years back. Still, after weighing the costs versus the benefits, Brian decided calling was the "right thing to do." The conversation didn't go particularly well, but Brian had prepared himself and decided that he was willing to risk the possible social backlash by getting involved with Angie. I think if you give someone the respect of contacting them, no matter what their reaction is, you could feel that you did the appropriate thing, and that may ease your journey.

Probably the cleanest and least complex scenario is that you date someone where there is no crossover of social circles. But in today's E-world, there is a good chance that you may run into someone that you'd like to date and you happen to know their ex. At least now you'll be prepared.

Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





Consider Some Forgiveness With Your New Year Cleanse

Many people I'm acquainted with were doing a fabulous job cleaning up and putting their house in order in anticipation of the New Year. In the homes I visited, both literally and through tales that were told, grand-scale transformation was commencing. Gifts were put away, luggage was unpacked, trees and menorahs were taken down, and diets and juice cleanses were underway. But that's not the clean up I'm speaking of. What I observed was people mindfully reflecting on their relationships with their exes and considering how to improve them in 2012.

Over the holidays I witnessed couples who were previously acrimonious (some for numerous years) starting to converse and interact in a friendlier manner. I attended a holiday dinner where my host introduced me to her brother, Jonathan, and then, without batting an eye, to both of his wives -- the current, and the ex (who was there along with her new husband). Jonathan and his first wife were very pleasant toward each other. Evidently they were overjoyed to be spending Christmas together along with their two daughters and young grandchildren. I was told that it hadn't always been this way.

Several days later across town at a New Year's gathering, I was surprised to see my friend Allie's ex husband arrive at her home for a glass of champagne. She explained to me that she felt it would be gracious to invite him to stop by for a toast, and apparently he felt comfortable enough to drop in. I couldn't help but notice how happy her kids were to see mom and dad together, smiling and being civil toward each other.

A time zone away, my client David telephoned his ex wife and suggested they meet as a family for lunch to celebrate their son's admittance to college. He commented to me, "This is such a happy occasion, plus it's the New Year. Why shouldn't we be able to put our differences behind us and occasionally break bread together?" She agreed, and for the first time in years, they sat at the same table and celebrated their son.

I was pleased to hear these stories and others that were similar in nature. Tales of people who had deliberately decided to let go of the past, forgive their exes, and work toward a respectful coexistence. Several I spoke with on this topic explained to me that the choice to forgive was not only beneficial to their children; it was valuable to them as well. One woman without children remarked, "The day I let go of my rancor and considered the concept of forgiveness was the day I really started to heal and experience peace in my life." Another moving comment I heard was from a man who was currently en route to forgiving himself, which can be as important as forgiving another. He said, "I'm just coming to grips with the pain I caused my ex and others I care about during my divorce. Maybe if I can forgive myself I can work toward making amends."

Believe me, I understand how difficult it is to let go of complex feelings to forgive an ex. There is a good possibility that no matter how your relationship ended, you endured plenty of distress in the process. Most divorces are messy affairs that cause significant pain and suffering along the way. And I fully recognize that forgiveness may be extremely difficult to consider if your marriage ended with deception or with any degree of mental or physical cruelty.

In my opinion, forgiveness is a conscience decision to let go of unpleasant or disturbing feelings about your ex. It's about releasing the fury and the resentment. It's about reaching deep into your soul and discovering some degree of empathy, or even better, understanding for the person who caused you pain. This doesn't mean you have to exonerate what he or she did to you -- but it's about being able to look past those transgressions and say, "Yes I can forgive this person for being imperfect." Believe me, uttering these words can release you and help you get on with your life in a more positive way.

So please consider reflecting on the topic of forgiveness while writing your 2012 resolutions. There is an excellent chance that by doing so you'll be able to enjoy a healthier state of mind in the New Year.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





Please Delay The Dating Until You Are Fully Healed

Rachel's Post  in the Divorce Section of the Huffington Post, 12/20/2011

My client Mark* proudly announced to me the other day that he was actively dating on Match.com. When my facial expression changed from a grin to a grimace, he clearly was perplexed. "I thought you'd be happy for me, Rachel. I'm tired of feeling lousy. Dating puts me in 'active' mode and gives me something to do. Isn't that a good thing?"

Several times zones away from Mark, Tara* was animated when she phoned me last week. She had just completed three dates and had several new ones lined up. "It's hard to keep track of all of them, so I'm keeping notes to make sure I won't mess up their names. This sure beats sitting home and sobbing."

I am generally thrilled when my divorced clients make the decision to date again. I firmly believe that life does not have to end when a marriage falls apart, and with dedicated psychological work plus the passage of time, anyone can fully recover and love again.

Mark and Tara are wonderful people, both kind and intelligent, yet I find their philosophy typical of a large percentage of folks in their predicament. Nevertheless, it is a flawed philosophy, and they have no business dating at this phase in their recovery. You see, both of their marriages ended only a few months ago. They are both still in significant pain, they don't understand why their ex partners exited their marriages, or what part they played in its demise. They have not committed to my three phase building-block progression for recovery (Healing, Understanding and Transformation). They are lonely and scared about their future, perfectly normal feelings to have during a separation, yet they surmise that dating is exactly the tonic they need to move past their distress.

Although counterintuitive to most, I encourage my clients and especially the men in my practice, to witness their emotions and embrace their feelings. There are many good reasons to do this. Getting in touch with your feelings will help you process your loss. If you don't take the time to experience your grief, there is a good chance you will never fully understand why you picked your mate and why the relationship ended as it did. And if you can't comprehend those factors, you may be setting yourself up to choose similar partners and regrettably, have similar outcomes in the future. Once you commit to doing this valuable psychological work, as opposed to running from your feelings, your recovery will actually accelerate.

I fully get it that most of us are uncomfortable sitting with unsettling feelings or reaching out for support. Even today in 2011, men are not acculturated to admit weakness or to be passive. They are wired to be solution-focused and competitive. Women, on the other hand, have a need to have intimate connections, and can feel very disjointed when not coupled. For these and other reasons such as a desire to boost self-esteem, a need to get back at an ex, attempting to overcome loneliness, and the yearning to have sex, it is tempting to attempt to date as soon as possible to fill a void. In my estimation, these are never the right reasons to date.

I'm here to beg you if you're in this situation, not to jump the proverbial gun. Dating before you are mentally ready is simply a Band-Aid, plus it's risky. If you're not putting your best self out there, there is a good chance you will attract the wrong type of partner, and the last thing you need right now is a fresh set of problems or a brand new breakup. Also, many people, and particularly women, especially on legitimate dating sites, are looking for a relationship, and it drives them nuts when they discover their date is newly separated and not ready for a real connection let alone a commitment. This can become a complicated stew resulting in deception, confusion, and hurt feelings all around. If you take the time to heal and work on yourself, you'll be in a much better position to date in the future. You'll be over your ex, more confident, more self-aware, and you'll know exactly what type of partner and relationship you're looking for. Aren't these worthwhile reasons to delay the dating?

Until then, there are so many positive things you can do to keep yourself busy and engaged in the world. The best way to build or renew confidence is to engage in activities that are interesting, noble, and worthwhile. You can create new or strengthen old friendships. Pleased don't be afraid to speak to your friends or a therapist about your breakup. The more you talk, the quicker you will heal. You can tackle mental and/or physical hobbies such as taking a class or joining a sports team. You can travel on your own to someplace you've never been before. Challenging yourself to go beyond your comfort zone will make you feel terrific.

If you take time to breathe, process the end of your relationship, and strive towards your mental repair, you're going to be an amazing dater when you get back out there. So consider temporarily taking down your dating profile and giving yourself the gift of a healthy recovery. I promise you the rewards are worth the work.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





I’ll See You in My Dreams

I met my friend for coffee the other day. Samantha’s* 25 year marriage ended in divorce several years ago, and after a prolonged recovery period, she is making great strides in her newly rebuilt life.

We simultaneously arrived at our destination and after a brief greeting she turned to me with a worried look and announced, “I had the most realistic dream about Brian last night. It really freaked me out. It’s been five years already – why am I still dreaming about him?”

This is a question that is regularly posed to me by friends and clients during and after a breakup or divorce.

It’s been over a century since Sigmund Freud introduced his theory on dreams. According to Freud and his contemporaries, dreams represented buried traumas or “neurosis” in our subconscious, which required prolonged therapy in order to analyze and ultimately resolve them.

Today it is speculated that dreams may represent many things, but they can also be fantasy, fiction, and fun; ergo the saying about that cigar.

It is completely normal to dream about an ex – and most people do. It is unrealistic to think that someone we once cared deeply about, and who took up a great deal of space in our lives, hearts and minds will be erased once the divorce papers are signed. Yet dreaming about an ex can undoubtedly be disturbing – especially if there are unresolved issues and feelings, or if there was minimal closure during the ending. I’ve had numerous clients express to me their acute feelings of anguish, shock, fear, guilt and rage after awakening from a realistic dream. This unsettling experience can make you question your reality, your choices, and even worse, agonize that your recovery is in jeopardy.

On occasion these dreams will represent something substantial regarding your ex and your split. If that is the case, it is prudent to spend some time contemplating the meaning of your dream, or what you think the dream represents. The reason being is that it is nearly impossible to reach a meaningful, healthy and full recovery from your divorce without a thorough and honest understanding of your personal circumstances and narrative. And at times, a dream may help you fill in some missing gaps, and that is actually a very good thing.

If your breakup is a recent occurrence, there is a good possibility that your ex will make nocturnal visits a bit more than you will like. Try not to get too rattled and try to make peace with that fact. And if you’ve been divorced for several years and find that you are having a spell of frequent dreams, perhaps there is something happening in your current life that is triggering these dreams.

After discussing my friend Samantha’s dream, we were able to make some astute conclusions. It was her ex’s weekend to have their children in his home. Plus, it was Halloween, and she was worried that her teenage sons wouldn’t receive proper supervision. After she realized this, she decided to call her former husband (calmly and rationally) to discuss her concerns, and the conversation assuaged her fears. Since then, there have been no dreams about Brian.

Here are some suggestions to help you turn your dreams (and occasional nightmares) into interesting insights:

• Take a moment to gather your bearings and tell yourself that you have just had a dream, and although realistic, it is a fantasy in your mind, and you are safe.

• Remind yourself that dreaming about your ex, although unsettling, is completely normal, and remember that you are not alone.

• If you are keeping a journal (something I highly recommend to anyone grappling with the ending of a marriage) try to recall the details of the dream. Write down what you remember. Even a few bullet points will be helpful. If don’t recall much, write down what you were feeling when you awoke.

• Review your notes at a later date. Perhaps there is material there worth examining? If so, please do.

Alternatively, not all dreams have significance. If you’ve reviewed your dream and determined it was simply an old memory, or not particularly representative of anything at all, let sleeping dogs lie.

As much as we may wish to erase memories of our ex from our brains (both good and bad), it’s simply not possible. Our exes were once a vital part of our lives, and our recollections and feelings, even when we think they have been processed and released, will surface periodically. So try to accept and even expect an unforeseen nocturnal visit from time to time. Once you make peace with that concept, chances are you will have sweet dreams.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





Creating New Traditions for Thanksgiving and the Holidays

If there is one holiday that is universally celebrated in our country, it is Thanksgiving. Its meaning is simple yet profound. It kicks off our holiday season, and any religion, race or ethnicity is invited to attend. It is representative of the family unit, and it recalls memories from our childhoods. Yet, even with all its positive symbolism, enduring it during and after a breakup or divorce can be extremely challenging.

As a therapist in private practice, I work double time during November and December as my divorced clients grapple with complex feelings and logistics surrounding the holidays. For instance, Steven* spent every Thanksgiving with his ex wife’s family. His parents live across the country and due to his busy job, he only has Thanksgiving Day off. He’s terrified of being alone and is ashamed to ask any friends for an invite. My client Julie’s children will be with her ex this year, and she is not close to her nuclear family. She fears that her recovery will be jeopardized if she visits them without the protection or distraction of her kids.

These are completely valid issues that thousands of divorced people struggle with at this time of year. Holidays can be difficult and stressful to begin with, but if you are trying to adjust to the end of a marriage, you will have some additional adapting to do. And because holidays are supposed to be joyful, one can really feel out of sorts or scrooge- like as they count the hours until New Year’s Day when the festivities are over and normal life resumes.

If you have children try to remember that although your family and your holiday routines are different than they were when you were married, you are still a family and that will never change. Please try to take comfort in that fact. Still, modifications will need to be made. If your children are old enough to understand your divorce and the new complexities your family faces surrounding holidays, perhaps they can be part of the solution. Consider sitting with them and discussing what the holidays mean to all of you. Then make a commitment to create some new traditions that are representative of your new life together. My friend Jenna immediately set about making friends with other divorced women after her divorce, and she amassed a terrific group. One Thanksgiving she rented a house in Florida with three other divorced friends and their children. According to her it was loads of fun. In fact, she said it was the best Thanksgiving she ever had.

If you don’t have children, try to remember that you are completely freed up to spend your Thanksgiving and other holidays in any way that you’d like. You have so many choices. If you are close to your family and feel they are supportive of your circumstances, perhaps you’d consider visiting them. If not, think friends and colleagues. Don’t be shy to ask for an invitation. Try to remember that the spirit of the holidays is about humanity and compassion, and most people are overjoyed to include some new blood at their table. You also have the option to take a personal vacation or do a good deed such as taking a shift or two in a soup kitchen and helping those who are truly in need.

No matter what your circumstances, please consider thinking of this year’s holiday season as an opportunity to create new traditions yourself and your family. Try to be creative and remember that there are many interesting and exciting things you can do. Don’t be afraid to ask for support if you need it. Remember that people really do want to help. And if you feel up to it, consider branching out on your own and trying something different this year. Think of the confidence it will build when you bust through your sadness, fear, or even “set ways”, and turn your holiday into an occasion that is adventurous and joyful.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





It’s a Trick Not a Treat

It’s the week before Halloween and my office is abuzz with ghosts and goblins. Skeletons sleeping in closets have suddenly woken with fervor. My clients grant me prescient powers and command me to explain what they deem the inexplicable.

Melanie, newly separated, just returned from a business trip and she’s rattled. “Please work your magic Rachel. It’s happening again.” I know what Melanie is referring to because we’ve had this conversation time and again. “Intellectually I understand that my marriage is over, but I thought about Kenny a lot while I was away. It’s crazy, but I’m afraid I’m slipping back. I keep thinking about the good times and wondering if I made a mistake. Maybe he can still change?” Melanie is referring to her ex – a manipulative and adulterous man who has caused her ample grief. She worked hard in counseling to process her raw feelings and form significant realizations, which finally gave her the courage to exit the marriage. Yet on occasion her worries get hold of her and she imagines a different outcome should they reunite.

Bob’s mind is also playing tricks on him following a string of bad dates. After an amicable divorce, that was initiated by him, he questions his choice after a dinner with his ex. “We had such a nice evening. We really connected and I even felt a slight attraction to her. I’m a mess today. Maybe I made a mistake and we should give it another shot?” I know Bob’s wife, and she is wonderful woman. Yet they are ill suited and make much better friends than lovers.

The road towards ending a marriage and cutting emotional ties with your ex is a long and winding one. Saying goodbye to someone you once loved and imagined a future with is extraordinarily complicated and painful. I do believe that the majority of us take our vows seriously, and it’s practically inconceivable to imagine on our wedding day that we may be one of the 50 percent (and in some instances, higher) of Americans whose marriages end in divorce.

Couples and individuals regularly seek my guidance when their marriage is in jeopardy of terminating. And even as the unapparent develops into the inevitable, it is human nature to cling to what is perceived as “comfortable”, even when it’s not. This is the back and forth tango that most of us dance when faced with the prospect of divorce.

Fear causes our minds to play tricks on us

Whether you initiated your divorce, or if you were the one who was left, the prospect of ending a marriage and starting afresh is terrifying. My clients and friends regularly confess their “fear list” to me – and it is lengthy. It includes fear of the unknown, fear of the divorce process, fear of living alone, fear of dating, fear of being single forever, fear of financially supporting oneself, and fear of damaging children. Fear also keeps many people stuck in loveless, “likeless”, and abusive marriages for too long. Unfortunately, when we are leading with our fears, we temporarily stop thinking with our brains. This setup inevitable causes us to question our choices or fantasize about different outcomes.

Facing your Fears

Facing your fears is paramount to disconnecting from your ex, getting healthy and moving forward. The first step towards change is to identify when you are thinking frightening, negative or anxious thoughts. Once you learn how to do this, and you can, you can then begin to break the fear cycle. Try these useful tips; Train yourself to acknowledge scary thoughts, and then, release them. Talk back to them with a calm and optimistic internal voice. A great exercise that I suggest is to write down all of your fears and sort through each one with a level head. When you clear your “fear list” from your head and actually see it in front of you, it looks much less intimidating. Then you can physically see fact vs. fiction and begin creating strategies to conquer the valid ones.

Practice doing these exercises daily and you’ll be surprised how your fears will be replaced with faith. Then I promise you there will be no ghosts at your door on Halloween or evermore.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.





Encouragement from the Tabloids

I received numerous emails from my blog on Ashton and Demi commenting on infidelity, the state of marriages, and the emotional influence of tabloid journalism.

I’m not much of a tabloid reader. But even though I don’t read them, avoiding them is hard – every checkout line and waiting room seems to be wallpapered with them! I don’t see any upside to sensationalized journalism, and I believe it can actually be psychologically harmful. I generally avoid gossip sheets (except when I’m at the nail salon) for the same reason. You see, part of my job as a therapist is to help my clients stay calm and hopeful through extremely difficult times in their lives. When you are in flux, or going through the calamity of a breakup or divorce, seeing headlines like, “AMANDA STILL HEARTBROKEN ONE YEAR AFTER HER MARRIAGE ENDED BECAUSE HE CHEATED” can definitely add to the anxiety that you are already experiencing. They can also trigger angst and fears of being cheated on even in healthy relationships, or reinforce the “all men are cheaters” stereotype. All of this can cause a lot of damage that isn’t immediately apparent. It can also create fissures in relationships or makes an already painful situation harder to handle.

At least, that’s what I thought until last week. I was having a drink with a good friend whose husband had left her several years ago for a former girlfriend whom he became reacquainted with on Facebook. I watched my friend, a brilliant and beautiful woman, endure agony as she struggled to make sense out of the demise of her long marriage. Yes, she and her husband had some issues – but what long term marriage doesn’t? Today, her ex lives with the woman he left her for – in a neighborhood less than 5 miles away from where she lives.

“Now I understand what it was like for Jennifer,” my friend said.

Jennifer? Jennifer who? We don’t have a mutual friend named Jennifer.

“Who is Jennifer?” I asked.

“Aniston. Jennifer Aniston. Imagine how she felt, or even still feels, when she sees photos of Brad and Angelina plastered all over the place, or how about when they all go to the same award shows? That must have impacted her healing in the same way it has affected mine. She must be such a brave person and I really admire her!”

Really? One of my smartest friends is telling me that being aware of Jennifer Aniston’s story helped her recovery. Hmmm.

The next day a client walks into my office and produces a “People” magazine out of her enormous bag. Similarly to my good friend (and thousands of others), she too caught her boyfriend of several years cheating.

“Look how great Sandra looks,” she said to me. Sure enough, a gorgeous smiling Sandra Bullock is adorning the cover with a headline proclaiming, Her new Life; How Sandra Got her Groove Back!

 “You’ve got to read this article Rachel. I know what you’re thinking, but Sandra’s doing great. In fact, she’s better than ever. She’s putting a lot of positive things into her life, just like you have suggested that I do. Apparently it’s working, and she is recovering!”

So I did an experiment. I went out and bought that issue of “People” and I put it on the couch in my office where my clients sit. Not on my coffee table. Right smack in the middle of the couch. My clinical specialty is relationships and breakups in particular; I wanted to see what effect “Smiling Sandra” would have on this specific population. And guess what? The majority of my clients picked up the magazine, saw the photo and the headline, and made a positive comment. The common thread was, “If she can do it, I can do it too!”

We all can benefit from a healthy dose of inspiration from people we admire. When you are feeling down, and you see others have been through difficulties and healed right in front of you, well, that is inspirational. This is why I interviewed over one hundred admirable recovered women for my book, The Breakup Bible. I strived to create a healing community for women to both learn from and be inspired by. But the operative word is inspiration. Whether it’s from my book, or this blog, or someone in your stratosphere, or even from a tabloid hero, please find someone to inspire you.

So apparently, some good can come from sensationalized headlines – when the messages are positive. I’d love to see all those publications use admirable folks and positive messages on their covers. Judging from the reactions my clients had to “Smiling Sandra,” I can only imagine the good it could do for all of us!





Can Love be Discovered in Cyberspace?

Did you know that 20% of people today marry someone they met on an internet dating site? That's a huge stat. I'm generally a big proponent of using these sites and I know lots of people who have met their partners in cyperspace. Yet, I read this great quote from a man who wrote an article about his on-line dating experiences. "Dating sites are like virtual zoos. You can learn about the various creatures by reading their panels and observe them without any real danger, buy you should think carefully before squeezing through the bars to meet what is lurking on the other side." I love giving advice on how to use these web sites efficiently and effectively, and I’ll blog about that this week. But before then, please share with me and my community your personal tips. I’d love to read them.

 

 

 

 

 





Demi and Ashton – Art Imitating Life – or Not?

When I woke up earlier this week to several messages from reporters, I knew before most of the world that Demi Moore’s and Ashton Kutcher’s marriage was in hot water. Allegedly, Ashton has been cheating, and purportedly, it isn’t the first time his infidelity has been an issue in their relationship. But there is no reason for the public to get their news from the press (or from me) about this celebrity breakup, because the actors, who are avid social media users, took to Twitter to comment on how they're handling the situation!

Since the beginning of their relationship and subsequent marriage in 2005, Demi and Ashton’s relationship has fascinated the public. We love our Hollywood couples, and this romance has lots of sizzle. They are both extremely attractive and accomplished actors. Demi, the ex-wife of Bruce Willis, has three children with Willis. By all reports they are a modern, blended family, and Ashton is a devoted stepparent. All three parents and children even vacation together! And, of course, there is the famous age difference. Demi is 47, 15 years older than the 32-year-old Kutcher.

Am I surprised by the news of their breakup and their Tweets? No, not really. Relationships bring enough challenges without the constant public scrutiny celebrities attract. Social networking is such a big part of our everyday lives now, it’s understandable that people might take to the internet (if not wisely) to blow off steam. Do I care about their split? Well, actually, yes, I do, and that’s why I’m blogging about them today.

We Americans adore our celebrities, and many of us emulate them intentionally and unconsciously. I love a good People read at my nail salon, and if I see a great outfit on a celebrity (age appropriate, of course!), I’ll try to replicate it. But, more importantly, we tend to take the relationships of our “role model” celebrities very seriously. Marriage is hard work, and the divorce rate remains high. When we see a famous couple appearing happy and healthy in their marriage, we think, “If they can do it, so can I!”

On paper, Demi is a woman that many of us can relate to. She is divorced, but not acrimoniously. For some time she was a single, working mom. And, when she started dating Ashton, she showed us that love can transcend a large age difference. These factors, especially when splashed across the tabloids, give single and divorced women hope. I love the fact that women over the last decade feel more comfortable dating men who are younger than they are. In fact, I have a close friend who is married to a man ten years her junior. He is a wonderful husband who is extremely devoted to her – and he even stays home to raise their twin boys.

News stories about celebrity breakups, which become so overblown and viral, can really take their toll on the way the public views relationships. When I was interviewed the other day, the top question I was asked was, “Did their age difference kill the marriage?” Obviously I don’t have the answer to this particular question. If their relationship truly is in trouble, I suspect there are many contributing factors. But what I do know is that the more a couple has in common, the better the chance of their union surviving. An age difference of several years really shouldn’t matter, but a fifteen-year age difference is a large one, and for some, perhaps it is too much.

What really bothers me is that we are being fed news that yet another celebrity couple ended their relationship over the man’s infidelity. Unfortunately, there were too many of those stories in the news this past year. If you compare these celebrity splits to the millions of people in relationships – the percentage of men who cheat may in fact be quite low, and relationships can end for many other reasons. There are tons of fabulous men out there who are devoted boyfriends and husbands. There are also many single men who want to be in exclusive relationships leading to marriage. The nasty buzz that all men are cheaters is extremely anti-male, and it is simply not true.

It does seem to be true that a lot of men in Hollywood get caught being unfaithful, and many celebrity marriages and relationships end for that reason. But don’t forget that the tabloids and magazines are in the business of selling themselves, not necessarily (or at all) “reporting.” We aren’t getting a clear picture of Demi and Ashton’s marriage, interaction, or emotional states. We’re getting what will make us grab a copy of US Weekly at the supermarket checkout. Breakups sell because they prey on our anxieties about relationships in general. The information we get about celebrities is skewed (and in a lot of cases made up entirely) to make us interested in their lives. It’s a vicious cycle, designed to make money. Unfortunately, it can also sap our faith in the possibility of creating and sustaining healthy relationships.

So please don’t buy into this or any other tabloid tale claiming that marriages or blended families don’t work, age differences are doomed to fail, and all men are cheaters. That kind of negative and unsubstantiated thinking will cause you anxiety, which may bleed into the way you view romance. Instead, try to think about all the relationships that you admire out there in the real world, and try to emulate those.





Divorce Japanese Style

I nearly fell of my chair yesterday when I read that divorce ceremonies are all the rage in Japan these days. Yes, it’s really true. This ancient and traditional culture has surpassed its Western neighbors by creating a sophisticated ritual to help couples and their families honor the end of a marriage in a mature and civilized way.

According to The New York Times Magazine, the ceremony happens like this: The person hired to lead the proceedings (which could be a religious figure or a revered friend) briefly describes why the couple decided to end their marriage, and then invites each of them to speak. In their statements, each offers their ex an apology and wishes them happiness in their new life. Some couples display photos from their years together and others perform more formal rituals such as prayer, lighting of candles, or smashing an object which symbolizes both the end of their union and the beginning of their new journey. One couple even invited their guests to go bowling after the ceremony was concluded.

I just love this concept, and I think rituals such as these can be very useful not only to the separating couple, but to everyone’s healing (children, parent, and even friends) when a marriage ends. Unfortunately, here in the United States, this is not the norm. Most divorces are extremely expensive, unpleasant and messy. Emotions flare, and some couples and families completely devolve and unravel. Innocent children suffer over their parents’ inability to end the relationship in a mature fashion. And very few people receive the apology, validation or closure that they crave from their exes.

These days more and more couples come to me for premarital counseling. I really enjoy this work and think it should be a prerequisite to a marriage. While counseling these couples I get to observe their communication styles (one of the most important ingredients in a successful relationship) and discuss their particular life philosophies and goals. Any troubles that they are currently experiencing can be discussed, and together we create a collaborative style of problem solving that they can use for the duration of their marriage. This model can be viewed as a ritual that symbolizes the inception of a relationship and I’d like to see it embedded in our culture. Sadly, there are still stigmas associated with couples counseling, and I often hear folks say, “If we need counseling we shouldn’t be getting married.”

Occasionally couples come to see me to help them end their marriage. When this occurs I sincerely congratulate them for taking this significant step, and explain how healing the journey will be for them both. With these couples I explore the relationship in its entirety – from when they met and fell in love, leading up to the problems, and most important, how they dealt with their particular issues. I teach them how to communicate during highly charged emotional discussions without blaming, fuming, or getting defensive. After exploring their problems we begin the process of discussing how to end their marriage in the most respectful way. Couples emerge from this process with clarity and closure. And, if children are involved, their relationship is in a better place to begin the process of co-parenting while living in separate homes. One couple even said to me at the conclusion of our sessions, “It’s ironic. We’re getting along better now than we did while we were married!”This is my version of the divorce ceremony – and I think it should be required for all couples who decided to terminate their marriage.

It pains me to see the devastation and heartache that inevitable occurs in the process of ending a romantic relationship. So consider creating a meaningful ritual or ceremony to help move you from pain into closure. If the Japanese are successfully doing it – so can you.