FULL TRANSCRIPT Season 3, Ep. 1
Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS’ Divorce etc… podcast, where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it. We’re Jessica and T.H. And keep in mind you can get exEXPERTS in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter. Get the latest news and find out all about our events before anyone else, plus, access to special discounts and prices. Head to exEXPERTS.com to subscribe.
Jessica: Have you struggled with whether or not it’s time to end or mend the relationship? What are the telltale signs that it’s time to move on? How do you even know? These are some of the things we’re talking about on the Divorce etc… podcast. We’re the exEXPERTS, Jessica and T.H. We focus on helping you navigate your divorce and successfully moving on with your life. So please follow us on all social media at exEXPERTS, and check out www.exexperts.com for tons of free divorce-related resources. Let’s bring in today’s guest.
T.H.: Hey, everybody, today we have a returning guest, Karen McMahon. She is a divorce and relationship coach and founder of Journey Beyond Divorce. She is a real-life expert too, which we particularly enjoy having because she has lived it, and so she gets it too. Welcome back to our show today, Karen.
Karen: Hi T.H. and Jessica, so glad to be here.
Jessica: We’re so happy to have you back because this is such an important question for so many people going through divorce. We’ve had a lot of conversations, and recently I think we were just talking about it last week, if there isn’t a specific impetus on one of the partners cheating, and certainly, people in their own way are sometimes able to work through that, but if there isn’t that, if you’re just like, what is all of this? Whether or not you mend it or end it seems it could be a really difficult struggle.
Karen: Yeah, I think it’s one of the most difficult and excruciating decisions that we make. If you’re married with children, there’s that element of I’m holding all of these people’s lives in my hand in terms of deciding. And for me, I think I sat on the fence for three years, and I just didn’t know which way to land. And so it’s a very complex decision to make.
Jessica: So where does someone go? Where do they start to try to figure it out? I mean, are there specific, whether it’s red flags or green flags, to know about, that gives you an indication that it is something that can be mended versus ending?
Karen: Well, I think with my experience, let’s say we narrowed it down into two categories. One, something happens, there is financial infidelity, there’s an affair, something where you’re just slammed and you have this visceral reaction. And so there’s that situation. Then there’s you haven’t been happy for a long time. You’ve been struggling. In many cases, you’ve spoken to your spouse about it, you have gone to marriage counseling, or you guys have gone to separate counseling. So those are the two categories, is this ongoing the problems have been swept under the rug, nothing’s really changing, I’m finding myself less connected to my spouse, more disappointed, more isolating, life is not so vibrant and bright anymore. Or I’m devastated by this thing that happened. In either case, the question of do I mend or do I end is usually where we start because ending is like, do I climb Mount Everest, or do I walk around the block? When we slow it down and look at it, if you’re not crystal clear that you want to end, my advice is always begin the process of making the decision by staying where you are. Of course, the caveat is if you’re in an abusive relationship, especially in domestic violence, then you want to get out. But let’s say you’re just in one of those two situations I mentioned, when you slow it down, what we typically try and do when we want to mend is we tell our spouse what they need to do differently. That generally doesn’t work. Typically, for those who have tried, they’ve been there numerous times, and it’s like, okay, been there done that. It doesn’t work. What we advise at Journey Beyond Divorce is turn the focus on yourself. This is challenging and incredibly valuable. Because when I say I don’t know if I should end or mend so I’m going to work on mending, but the way I’m going to work on mending is to really take an inventory of my part in our relationship. Do I come from a family that yells and screams, and I’m loud and I present as aggressive? Or do I shut down and crawl into my cave and give the silent treatment? So what is my communication style? That’s one set of questions to look at.
Jessica: I just want to jump in for one second, because I feel I think that T.H. and I would both agree that having been divorced and really trying to do a lot of work on ourselves, and how did we behave in our prior marriages, and how can we be better partners today, like, what have we learned, but I think one of the struggles, and this was actually one of the struggles that I had getting out of my second marriage was like, I am the person who’s from the loud family where we all yell and are loud. I was not afraid of confrontation because it would easily end. It’s like we could have this quick argument, and then it was resolved. Then we could all move on and be like, okay, so what are we having for dinner? I felt where I came from and my personality and those traits were okay and accepted when we first got together and when we were married for a while. Then over time, it was like, well, then that wasn’t okay anymore. I would imagine that anyone in a relationship is like, “This is how I’ve always been. Now all of a sudden, you want me to change after all of these years? I don’t know if I’m going to change. I’m 50. This is who I am now.”
Karen: Well, so I think that the key here, I completely hear you. So here’s what happens. We go into intimate relationships with everything that we licked off the grass from our family of origin, right? We go in with all of those behaviors. Some of them serve us really well, and others don’t serve us so well. And so you get to decide. Jessica, you may feel like, you know what? I’m good with myself. This is not one of my problems. The challenge is if it’s a problem with your partner, it’s a problem in the relationship. And so the should I end or should I mend gives you an opportunity to say, okay, let me just put a list of everything down. Let’s say my communication style, I’m comfortable with it, but my spouse has reaction to it. Now, the bottom line is it doesn’t matter what he did 10 years ago. Now he’s having a reaction to it, so I’m just going to put it down. It doesn’t make me bad or good, it just is. You look at how am I triggered? What happens when I’m triggered? Do I start throwing emotional bombs across the room? Do I start fawning and just trying to take care of the other person and not even consider my needs and a thousand other things? If you decide to mend, and the mending is the first thing I’m going to do is do an inventory of myself to decide what’s been working and what hasn’t been working and what the priority is, now you have something to work on that you have full agency over, which is you. You can share with your spouse that you’re doing this. We tend to “should” on the other person, and “you should do this and you should do that”. If we keep it to ourselves and we work on ourselves, what’s going to happen is that person’s either going to move further away, or they’re going to go, oh, something’s different, I feel something different, and they’ll start engaging. And so that’s really the best first baby step is to examine your own behavior within the relationship.
Jessica: And the hardest step to take.
T.H.: It is really hard. I mean, for me, it came from a childhood of needing to be fixed. Then I went into a marriage of continuing to need to be fixed. It was never right. It was never good enough. It was my hair wasn’t whatever. I wasn’t thin enough. Whatever it was, I was never going to please this person in my family or my husband. It really was very hard I think when I hear everything you’re saying, and I wish that I could have untangled this better. But I was very aware of my misery for at least four years. I wasn’t really aware of it prior to then. It was so blatantly obvious. Like, he wasn’t coming to their birthday parties. Where was he on vacations? I don’t have pictures for the placemat for preschool. But I kept thinking well, but if I would just fix this about myself, then he would show up and he would be there. What do you do in a situation where, forget about communication patterns, there’s zero communication, and it’s just implied, and this is wrong, everybody, you don’t need to be fixed. So that was the great aha moment for me. But going through that process and having three kids under eight, now, if I just did this, then my family wouldn’t fall apart, and feeling all the onus is on me to get my shit together, and not even thinking about he’s not showing up, and when he does, he’s a jerk, I’m happier without him home, I’m better being a single parent in a marriage, that’s all really fucked up, you know?
Karen: So what’s interesting is that when we’re the one twisting ourselves into pretzels and bending over and putting in 200%, we’re like, well, what could my part be? Twisting yourself into a pretzel, doing 200%, that is the work. And so for you, it wasn’t like, well, do I do my hair better? Can I make his dinner better? No, it’s like, if I was coaching you, my first question would be, “Okay, I’m hearing that you’re putting in 200, 250%. Tell me what you’re getting? How is that acceptable to you?”
Karen: And in that conversation is your part.
T.H.: Everybody has to really hear that again. Rewind 30 seconds and replay that. Because I know a lot of people feel this way.
Karen: Yeah, like, what can I be doing wrong? I give and I give and I give. Ding, ding, ding, that’s not balanced. That’s not equal. So if you’re listening, and you’ve been giving and giving and trying harder and trying harder and doing more and doing more, you need to stop and say–this what I say to my adult children, “There is a Thanksgiving feast on the table for you. That’s what your intimate relationship should be like. And you’re on your hands and knees, picking up crumbs, and trying to figure out how to give more to the other person.” Part of mending, in a situation like that, would be what would happen if I found my voice if I started taking care of myself? Well, we know what would happen, the criticism would go up. But the other thing that would go up is your self-esteem and your self-confidence and your clarity about as I do these things, I feel better about myself. I’m still taking care of the kids really well. So I’m feeling like I’m heading in a healthy place, but my spouse is now doubling up on the criticism. Like I said earlier, they’re either going to move closer, or they’re going to move further away. If you continue to work on yourself and your spouse continues to criticize, the question of ending or mending is going to become really clear. Like, I like myself, I like the direction I’m going in, and things are only getting worse. Maybe this is the direction I need to be going.
T.H.: Right. Yeah, that totally makes sense. God, like I said before, I wish you were coaching me. We’re going to pause for a quick moment here. Because we know it’s hard to get honest and reliable information about your divorce, so we’ve done the work for you guys. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to get exEXPERTS in your inbox. Join our virtual Open House events where you can ask questions live to our top experts. And sign up for our private sessions with us so you can move forward and thrive. You can get all of this information at www.exexperts.com. That’s exexperts.com. We’ve lived it, so we get it. Let’s continue our conversation with Karen now because this is, everybody, I hope you’re taking notes.
Jessica: Well, I’m curious, I mean, you’re already giving some great advice in terms of taking a look at yourself and being able to figure out if you’re not getting anything back. What are some of the other telltale signs? We always want to make it clear to people we are not advocating divorce. We are not telling people that divorce is the answer and divorce is always the better answer. But I think that when people are in that in-between ground, what are some other telltale signs that you would say to someone this is time to end it because that’s the struggle?
Karen: I think one of the things I see so often in people who go down the divorce path is that there is an imbalance of power in the relationship. I think that’s really important because when we stand before whatever altar, I mean, this is our partner. That’s actually the term, this is our partner. And so a telltale sign is that you’ve lost agency over your own life, or you’re trying to severely control the other spouse, like do it my way or you’re wrong, right, because there are those people too. And so I would say take a look at the balance in your relationship. Are you equal partners in decision-making? Are you equal partners in whatever division of labor you and your spouse have agreed to in the beginning? Are you equal partners in understanding your finances, deciding what’s going on around your finances? When you are struggling, when something’s bothering you, and this is so important, if you have a problem, the relationship has a problem. If he has a problem, the relationship has a problem. So are you feeling heard, seen, and received? Or are you feeling shut down and shut up and pushed back into a corner? And so there’s so many different dynamics I could talk about, but I think it does come down to a balance thing. Do you feel equal partners? And if not, if you feel an imbalance, can you pinpoint where that imbalance is? Again, look at yourself first. Am I not asking for what I need? Am I just handing over the responsibility of the finances to my spouse because he or she is the primary earner, or because I’m afraid of money?
T.H.: Afraid and you think you can’t do it because you’ve been listening to that voice.
Karen: And I don’t know, and I’m not smart enough. You start looking at those things, and those are very good telltale signs for where are we out of sync. And again, you come back to, what do I have to do? Maybe it is sit down and say, “I would really like to sit down and understand the finances. I would love to go over all of our holdings and what’s in the different accounts and what the values are. I’d actually like passwords and stuff so that I could look and see.” You’re either going to get someone who’s like, “Yeah, babe, let’s sit down and do it. I’m glad. Finally! Terrific, you can take on the bills too,” or someone who tries to cloak everything and “No, no, no, don’t worry about it. I’ve got that. Don’t worry your little mind about it.”
T.H.: Yeah, that was my situation. It was easier to say, “Okay, you do it.”
T.H.: Yeah. It’s all very scary and overwhelming. When I look back, I can’t believe that it was four years of my life that I just allowed myself to be robotic. It’s mind-boggling to me. Because when I think about who I am today, and certainly, even who I was before then, I’ve always been a strong independent out there kind of girl. Then all of a sudden, I’m like, I’m a person who wakes up with children and sends them to school, and receives them, and feeds them and goes to sleep and does it again because if I felt anything, it became real. How do you even broker this conversation? So we speak to people all the time like you do, and there are a lot of people who say, “I’m not asking about passwords. That’s going to be a huge blow-up, and he’s going to go hire an attorney. I’m not going to be able to get my shit together in time. I’m going to be out on the street,” like, freaking out. And so in general, having these hard conversations like, “Are you happy? Because I’m not sure I’m happy?” or what are some conversation starters, some ideas of a way to broker a conversation that could be civilized and not getting right into the finances or right into the parenting?
Karen: Right. No, that’s a great question. I do want to add one thing that I think is very important to the how do you know? Because I think everyone will resonate with this, when we’re in fear, we ignore our inner wisdom.
Karen: And so if something’s been niggling at you, and it’s like, hey, nothing’s obvious, but something seems amiss, don’t ignore that voice. And especially, it tends to be a very quiet voice where the fear is like no, no, don’t go there, everything’s fine. So if you have that intuitive hint that something’s wrong, you can start by speaking to safe people – your girlfriend, your therapist, your coach – but don’t ignore it. That’s the other one on how do you know. Then to your point, it’s actually part of the mending process, is if I can’t sit down with my spouse of X number of years and say, “I’ve been feeling…” Right, so you don’t want to blame or accuse, you want to keep it in the “I”. You know, “Sweetheart, I’ve been feeling really disconnected. I remember the days when…,” and “We so seldom…” and “Could we talk about…” And so think about it that way. “I’ve been feeling __,” “I recall when __,” “I would love ___,” “Could we have a conversation?” It’s very important those early conversations because now you’re changing the dynamic. If you haven’t been talking about the relationship, and then he goes, “I’m watching the baseball game,” well, don’t go getting triggered. Part of it is, and this is so important, we train our spouse. So T.H., for you, it’s like you trained him that you were going to just take care of the kids and you weren’t going to ruffle any feathers, and so there’s this expectation. We do this dance. So all of a sudden, you jump on the dance floor, and it’s like, “The hell with the waltz, we’re doing the tango.” They’re not going to be there. And so you can acknowledge and validate that, “I know we haven’t been doing a lot of talking about the relationship, but we talked about spending the rest of our lives together, and so could we sit down and talk about it?” Now, I know what my ex would have said to me, which would not have been pretty. And so that was part of what helped me make my decision. And so keep your expectations realistic. But if you’re unsure and confused, all of these things we’re talking about are either going to land in a positive way or a negative way. Everything is good information. If you could step back and say I’m in this exploratory phase and I’m looking for good information, it’s all good information. It’s going to help me pick the path that I like.
Jessica: Right, it’s literally all the data points, if you’re trying to have this conversation. I was just having a conversation, I’ve had it before, but I was having a conversation recently with my therapist about people’s, for lack of a better word, people’s fighting styles, how people approach confrontation, and how to resolve it, especially when you have different styles of how you approach tough conversations. It just resonates so much with me because I feel I didn’t have a problem with him not giving me access to our financial accounts and things like that, but I had a lot of problems with if I expressed any dissatisfaction with anything. Nothing was ever resolved. It always ended up being this kind of semi-passive-aggressive conversation, which I think was a data point that I was kind of letting go. Then ultimately over time, I just shut down and I was like, well, it’s not even worth bringing anything up. Because every time I bring something up, it totally takes this hard left turn into a completely different area. Nothing ends up getting resolved, and then I’m just stewing about it later. Then we act like nothing really happen and never get back to it, never have that conversation again. So I just agree, I think that those data points are crucial, because their reaction to the way that you bring up a conversation is a lot of insight into where this relationship is going and what your future really holds.
Karen: I was so far from a healthy relationship, like a lot of people were worried about me, like worried about my safety. I’d be like, “Oh, he’s just angry.” But if you think about it, this is your person. This is the person who you’re supposed to be the safest with, who’s supposed to have your back. And so if you’re listening in right now, and you’re like, “I don’t know whether or not to end or mend,” on a scale of one to 10, how safe do you feel? On a scale of one to 10, how comfortable are you going to your partner and sharing vulnerably about how you feel? On a scale of one to 10, how comfortable are you asking to sit down and talk about the finances? If you find that you’re walking on eggshells on all of these topics, then the question becomes, what do you need? What else do you need? If you’re not safe, you’re not comfortable talking about your feelings, you don’t have access to things, you’re afraid on some levels, what else do you need? It may be I need to go to marriage counseling because maybe I’ve lost my voice so much I haven’t been given him or her an opportunity to know what’s going on with me. That’s great. If you haven’t given them an opportunity, if you’ve lost your voice, and here’s one, and you’re expecting them to mind read? Okay, that’s an issue on your side.
Jessica: Well, why can’t they?
T.H.: I know.
Karen: I’ve had spouses say to me because I do couples coaching, “He should know.” I was like, “At what point in the marriage did he tell you he could read your mind?” “We’ve been married for 20 years.” “It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t know. And you don’t know what he’s thinking.” “Yes, I do.” And I guarantee you if your answer is, “Yes, I do,” you’re wrong.
T.H.: And is it different between men and women with the way they approach to mend or to end? I mean everything you’re saying sounds like it would work for a man or a woman, but I just want to be clear to everybody, there are different styles, different approaches. We know in very general terms, that men are less likely to go and talk to a therapist and speak to friends and have community around to do healing to really uncover all of the things that you’re talking about. So is there really any difference in your experience between men and women with this?
Karen: I know we’ve had this conversation before. About 30, 35% of our practice is working with men. We work with men who are tapped into their emotions and have some level of emotional intelligence. Everything I just talked about, they struggle with. I’ve got men who have lost themselves, men who are walking on eggshells, men who handed over control of the finances and were the top earner. It’s not a male or female thing. I mean, I think that if we were talking about high conflict, the statistic is that there are a lot more males higher on the narcissistic spectrum than females. That’s a statistic that’s out there. So I’ll just accept that. But for the most part, this is going to work for anyone who’s really dedicated to mending or finding their way to just a healthier life as a single person.
Jessica: Love it. Love it. Well, as always, Karen, you give us so much to think about and such great information. I hope everyone that listened got as much out of it as I know I did it. It’s okay if you feel you’re at a point where you are putting in the effort and things aren’t going to change. I mean, if you can mend it, we think that’s wonderful. We just want to help people who feel they’re too scared to end it. It’s important to be able to recognize the things that you’re talking about. Thank you so much for all of that information, we really appreciate it.
Karen: And if I could just say if you kind of know you have to mend and you’re just trying to talk yourself out of it because it’s so scary, I think all of us totally understand that. That’s the point where it’s super, super important to create a support network, the support of healthy friends, of a therapist or a coach, or a mentor like the exEXPERTS, where you’re not making decisions willy-nilly. This is a journey that you want to be very mindful and discerning about – what you do, what comes first, who you choose to talk to, who you hire, that whole bit. So if you’re ready, or you’re not ready but you know you have to end, slow it down. This is a very important transition.
Jessica: Yeah. Well, thank you again so much. For everyone listening, if you enjoyed this episode of the Divorce etc… podcast with the exEXPERTS today, then can you help a girl out, or two girls, really? Because when you subscribe, rate, and review our podcast, it actually helps us get the word out so we can support more people like you going through divorce and beyond. Check the show notes for more info on Karen McMahon. And of course, share with anyone you know who can benefit from listening. Have a great day.
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