Continued from p. 1

Question 16)  How can I choose an effective divorce attorney?

      The answer is for (a) all divorces, and for (b) stepfamily re/divorces

All Divorces

      Premise: any adversarial court action between mates is a lose-lose-lose choice, long term - specially if kids are affected. One of you may “win” short term, but the hostility, hurt, resentment, anger, anxiety, distrust, disrespect, and guilt you all feel will taint your souls and relationships for years to come.

      Moral: as you seek short-term relief and resolution, keep a full-generational outlook that includes the welfare of any kids. If a false self governs you, this will probably feel impossible.

      I encourage you to interview prospective lawyers to see if they:

view divorce as an agonizing multi-year family-change process, vs. a get-all-you-can, battle-to-the-death between four or more antagonists (you mates and your lawyers); and they…

have genuine empathy for and concern about he long-term effects of divorce on all your adults and kids,

      Lawyers choose their profession partly because they want justice served, and they use the law and psychology to achieve that. Typical attorneys also like the excitement and ego-challenge of fighting to win. That win-lose mindset inexorably raises the barriers to teamwork between most divorcing partners and their family members.

      Alternatively, raging (psychologically-wounded) partners can harass humane, empathic lawyers to fight "the enemy" more aggressively. Both are guaranteed lose-lose stances, long term - specially for any minor kids involved.

      Male lawyers may more combative and aggressive than (some) female attorneys. Lawyers who have experienced divorce may have extra compassion - or bitterness and bias - than their unmarried or first-married colleagues.

Typical Stepfamily Re/divorces

      Stepfamily re/divorce is highly complex, and merits wise, experienced legal and psychological counsel. The "/" in re/divorce notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. Helpful attributes include...

  • having credible stepfamily knowledge and experience, and...

  • having helped, say, over 25 other stepfamilies (vs. couples) re/divorce; and..

  • knowing how to advise all of you at recognizing, avoiding, and  managing values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles.

I suspect that your state laws make little or no distinction whether it's your first divorce or your fifth. Lawyers who know how different stepfamilies and re/marriages are can be real allies for you caregivers and your kids.

      If you agree with me that divorce is a symptom of significant inner wounds (like reality distortion, major biases, compulsive combativeness, and a short-term focus), then you may prefer a (a) married and never-divorced, (b) stepfamily-aware legal consultant, who (c) shows few of these traits.

      You'll want a veteran lawyer well grounded in the family-law statutes of your state to represent your whole nuclear stepfamily (vs. just you), despite being paid to "beat" the opposition. Balance sacrificing some short-term wants and some fairness, for long-term peace and health for you and your dependents!

      In bitter and/or complex re/divorce battles, you may need to hire a lawyer to represent the interests of one or more minor children. Veteran family-law attorneys can advise you about pros, cons, and costs of such a Guardian ad Litem (GAL). Scan the American Bar Association's Web site for ideas, guidance, and resources.

      On behalf of your elderly future selves and the quality of your descendents’ childhood years, I urge you to do everything you can to avoid a prolonged legal fight over property settlements, child custody, and co-parental rights. Letting rageful Warrior or Amazon subselves lead your re/divorce decisions will probably cost all of you years of resentment and regret. Work to let your wise true Selves guide your family reorganization  process!


Q17)  Why can't typical couples problem-solve?

      Premises - typical psychological and legal divorces are caused by a mix of five stressors. These include ignorance of how to communicate and problem-solve effectively, because average parents and schools don't teach these essentials. So most dissatisfied, wounded mates focus fruitlessly on trying to "fix" surface partnership "problems" like these, rather than on identifying and filling the primary needs that cause them...

feeling unloved


values conflicts

infidelity / affairs


ex mates

intimacy including sex

relationship triangles

too little time together

boundary violations









In my experience, few courting partners objectively evaluate "how well can we problem-solve together a key commitment factor. Does that match your experience?


Q18) Is Redivorce Different Than First Divorce?

      No and yes. No, because it's the same (a) emotional, legal, financial, psycho-spiritual process causing (b) major losses and lifestyle changes; which upset and hurt adults, kids, and society, and takes years to adjust to.

      Yes redivorce is significantly different, because the second (or third) time someone says “I quit"…

  • it's far harder to dodge personal responsibility for this ending; and…

  • admitting the personal identity of “I’m twice (or thrice) divorced” can invoke greater shame, guilt, embarrassment, and self-doubt; and…

  • the intense guilt, grief, remorse, and shame typical parents feel at subjecting their kids to another family trauma is often beyond description; and…

  • divorce-initiators “know the legal and social ropes,” and may feel less confusion, hesitation, and doubt than the first time; and…

  • redivorce occurs later in personal and family life cycles, so mates' assets, priorities, wisdom, and other things are significantly different. For instance...

      Typical redivorcers are in early to late middle age (35 - 55). Careers may have peaked or be in full bloom. Retirement and death are often no longer remote concepts. Supportive bioparents may be retired, infirm, or dead. Kids are older and more independent, and may have their own kids. Health and related expenses have probably become a bigger personal concern.

      Spirituality may be deeper, and personal recovery from psychological wounds may have begun or progressed. Finances may or may not be "comfortable." Assets are (usually) greater than first divorce, and dividing ownership may be more conflictual.

      Some women are more financially independent. Covering kids' college education expenses and bequests to grandkids can become significant conflicts. Rejoining the "dating scene" seems far more unappealing. Typically, living "the golden years" alone is an awful prospect.

These combined differences justify using "redivorce" to differentiate the process from a first legal breakup. It's estimated that about 90% of recent U.S. re/marriages follow one or both mates' prior divorces, vs. spouse death. Around 1900 the ratio was just the reverse.


Q20)  What  are the phases of normal divorce recovery, and how long do they usually take?

       Divorce recovery means grieving divorce-related losses (broken bonds), while adapting to and stabilizing from many family-system and social changes. Grieving and adapting occur on many levels at different rates, so the slowest one determines how long it takes each adult and child to "recover enough."

       The multi-year grieving of divorce-related (or any) losses occurs on three interrelated levels. Each level has distinct phases. Factors that affect how fast a divorcing person moves through these sets of mourning phases are...

  • how wounded and unaware s/he is,

  • how bonded s/he is to (a) their partner and (b) the role of spouse, and...

  • how many adults and kids comprise their family system, and...

  • the nurturance level of their extended (multi-generational) family, and...

  • their (a) personal and (b) social permissions to grieve well.

      Divorce recovery depends on who is affected, how, how much, and why. Key factors are (a) the implicit grieving policy (rules about admitting significant losses and feeling and expressing grief) in each partner's family and friends, and (b) how compatible these policies are.

      Key (subjective) indicators of whether a person or family has "recovered" from (adjusted to) divorce losses and changes are...

  • whether they can talk about the causes and effects of the divorce - generally, and on anniversaries)  without undue guilt, shame, sadness, confusion, hurt, and anger;

  • whether they usually focus on the past, present, or future; and...

  • whether each affected adult, child, and home has resumed a stable, balanced lifestyle.

      Personal and family adjustment takes at least several years from the time one partner decides to break their commitment vows. If family members are significantly wounded, recovery may take well over ten years - or may not occur until the wounded people hit true bottom and choose personal healing. This often occurs in midlife or later.

       Needy people who recommit before they or their new partner are well along in recovering from (a) psychological wounds and (b) divorce or mate-death, risk making unwise commitment choices and another psychological or legal divorce.

       For more perspective...

  • invest time in self-improvement Lesson 3 here;

  • learn from this worksheet on divorce recovery; and...

  • gain inspiration and direction from Bruce Fisher's' useful book Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends.


Q21)  How can concerned adults tell if an adult or child has "recovered" from family divorce losses and changes well enough?

      Each family member and supporter will have their own criteria for deciding "What is 'well enough'?" Key behavioral signs of stable acceptance and adjustment: the person...

  • can talk calmly and honestly about their (a) losses (broken bonds) and (b) family changes, and (c) how s/he feels about them and their personal and family impacts; and s/he...

  • can clearly answer basic questions about their losses and changes, like...

    • "Why did the divorce happen?"

    • "How has it affected you and other family members?"

    • "What have you lost because of the divorce process?"

    • "What are the major changes you've experienced because of the divorce?"  and...

    • "How well are your other family members adjusting to all the changes and losses?"

    And the "recovered" person...

  • shows stable interest and energy in pursuing a healthy range of life activities, including religious and/or spiritual affairs; and s/he...

  • shows none of these incomplete-grief symptoms in recent months or at anniversary times; and s/he...

  • maintains normal relationships with all family members and others affected by the divorce - i.e. s/he hasn't cut off or avoided contacts with any of these people, and participates freely in family and other social activities.

      Each person's adjustment process and pace depend partly on how stable their family system is following major separation and divorce changes. So the real question is "How can concerned adults tell if the family has adjusted well enough to divorce-related losses and changes?"

      A practical reason to research this question well is to avoid making courtship commitments before all related adults and kids have "recovered" enough from prior divorces or deaths. For more perspective, see these divorce recovery and "right (commitment) time" worksheets.


Q22)  How does psychological or legal divorce affect typical minor kids and their grandparents?

      The answer depends on many interactive variables like...

  • the person's age, gender, and personality; and...

  • their family's past and current nurturance-level (high > low) and grieving policy (healthy > unhealthy), and...

  • the person's degrees of woundedness (high > low), bonding (high > low), and social support (effective > inadequate).

These combine to affect how and how long parental separation and divorce affect a typical biochild or grandparent.

      Generally, minor and adult kids must (a) grieve many significant tangible and abstract losses (broken bonds) over time, and (b) fill a mix of adjustment needs while they (c) continue to fill their normal developmental needs. Their success at these interrelated processes depends largely on how aware, healthy (vs. wounded), and nurturing their adult caregivers and family supporters are.

      Typical grandparents of divorcing adult children must...

  • admit and grieve significant losses,

  • admit (vs. deny or minimize) and adjust to family-system changes (e.g. altered roles, rituals, priorities, and allegiances), and...

  • keep their personal boundaries and integrity intact while they do these complex tasks over time.

      Their grieving progress requires reaching credible answers to special questions like...

As a parent, what did I (or we) do wrong to cause my/our child to divorce?" How can I manage any significant guilt, shame, and anger (a normal phase of grieving)?

Can I trust that my child/ren and grandchild/ren will adjust successfully to their losses and changes? What do they each need now, and how can I best support each of them in filling their adjustment and other needs?

If I need to forgive myself and/or apologize to my mate, or anyone else in the family, why, how, and when?

How do I handle being asked to - or needing to - take sides among my family members? Who's needs come first?

How should I redefine my relationship with my grandchild/ren's other parent and his/her relatives?

What supports do I (or my partner and I) need to help us grieve and adjust to our family reorganization?

How do I (or we) handle any religious conflicts or stressors (e.g. the Catholic annulment process, and/or church-community judgments) over my child's divorce?

If a grandparent is too wounded and unaware to face questions like these honestly (vs., deny, minimize, rationalize, or intellectualize them), they may get stuck (blocked) in grieving. This usually promotes significant personal and family stress.

      For more perspective on typical grandparents' issues, see this.


Q23)  How does divorce affect a typical biofamily's developmental phases?

      Like all living things, every family system moves through identifiable developmental phases as its members age, procreate, and die. Psychological and legal divorce add several phases to the normal biofamily sequence:

  • adapting to significant partnership and family conflicts;

  • stabilizing altered rules, roles (family responsibilities), rituals, routines, alliances, loyalties, priorities, boundaries, and identities after one partner moves out;

  • adjusting to possible mediation, reconciliation, and readjustment, or to a complex set of stressful  legal, financial, social and possibly religious divorce events over months or years;

  • adults and kids grieving a related set of abstract and physical losses (broken bonds) over some years, and possibly...

  • adjusting to one or both ex mates dating again and forming or joining a stepfamily. Then for some...

  • merging three or more biofamilies over many years, and stabilizing new stepfamily roles, rules, rituals, routines, identity, boundaries, names, assets and debts, and co-parenting goals, styles, values, and strategies. Some multi-generational stepfamilies then must...

  • go through another version of these extra family-development phases each time a stepfamily couple re/divorces. Then all family members are older, and the family system, structure, and social environment differ from the first cycle - so adjustment may be easier or harder than the first time. 

      Each family member's personal developmental path may be hindered by these extra family-development phases - specially in low-nurturance systems. The degree of adjustment-stress from these extra phases (low > high) will affect how the family reacts to these four or five common stressors.

      For a comparison of typical biofamily and stepfamily developmental phases, see this.


Q24) Do extra-marital affairs mean (at least psychological) divorce is inevitable?

       That depends on many factors, including whether both mates are genuinely (vs. dutifully) motivated to...

  • identify what marital needs  were not being met well enough

  • admit their part in not filling these needs, and forgive themselves and each other

  • honestly assess for psychological wounds, and commit to healing any they find

  • honestly assess if either or both made unwise commitment choices

  • honestly assess for an active addiction

  • see the affair as a chance to learn and heal  

For more perspective on affairs, see this article and YouTube video.


Q25)  How can concerned relatives and friends best support divorcing adults and kids?

      Let's broadly define support as "anything that helps one or more people adapt to or reduce some current personal or group stressor." There are many things that can do that, like...

  • sincere empathy, affirmation, and encouragement

  • respectful listening, without trying to "fix" the speaker

  • cooperatively defining the problem and brainstorming solutions

  • relevant new information and ideas (education and consulting)

  • appropriate physical touching - e.g. nonsexual hugs

  • respectful, unbiased mediation between conflicted people

  • constructive confrontations (vs. enabling or avoiding)

  • recommending relevant resource people, programs, and materials

  • maintaining clear boundaries - not taking responsibility for someone else's problems

  • volunteering time and energy without self-neglect

  • reframing problems (suggesting a different point of view) - e.g. glass half-full vs. half-empty

  • encouraging win-win problem-solving vs. fighting, arguing, or avoiding

  • acknowledging personal and group strengths

  • being realistic, vs. cynical, pessimistic, or idealistic

  • encouraging others to provide these supports

  • (add your ideas...)

      "Support" means (a) "respectfully helping people identify and fill primary needs (reduce current and chronic discomforts), and (b) filling your own needs effectively as you do." So effective divorce support starts by...

  • keeping your true Self in charge of your personality,

  • accepting the difference between surface and primary needs, and then...

  • objectively identifying the specific current primary needs of each adult and child affected by the divorce process and your own needs.

      A major initial support is to ask each such person "What do you need now?" and "What are your options for filling these needs now?" Then listen empathically without trying to "fix" or reassure the person.

      And effective support includes...

  • helping each able person to keep their self-respect by filling their own needs, and not taking  responsibility for doing so (rescuing them). Restated - the most caring divorce support may be to compassionately "help by not helping."

      A related support is to help each adult and child who wants help to do effective problem-solving - i.e. to review and evaluate all options for filling each significant divorce-adjustment need, and encourage the person to use these wise guidelines and appropriate human and spiritual help in accepting or filling each major need. This is illustrated by the ancient parable of helping a starving person learn how to fish, vs. giving them a fish.

      A vital way to support divorcing-family members is caring, wise encouragement to (a) learn healthy-grieving basics, and (b) form and help each other use an effective grieving policy. This includes helping family adults...

  • put their true Selves in charge,

  • assess for incomplete or blocked grief, and...

  • learn how to patiently free that up together.


Q26 How can troubled primary partners select effective professional relationship mediation?

      Some troubled couples seek professional mediation on their own. Others are ordered to do so by a well-meaning family-court judge who often lacks appropriate education. 

      Premise: an effective mediator respectfully assists mates who have trouble filling key  relationship needs to...

  • accurately and impartially assess relationship strengths and key stressors (unfilled needs);

  • suggest practical education and options for filling these needs more effectively, or...

  • after a thoro assessment, the mediator confronts the couple with reasons they cannot fill their needs with mediation, and/or makes an informed referral to other relevant support.

      Professional relationship-mediators range from wounded, unaware, and ineffective to wholistically-healthy, well informed and aware, and very effective. How can couples evaluate this expensive type of help? Useful criteria: can the mediator...

  • demonstrate that his or her true Self is consistently guiding her nor his personality subselves?

  • describe and model all seven effective-communication skills, and describe these common communication blocks and how to avoid or resolve them?

  • if appropriate, can s/he...

    • affirm that s/he received professional training in stepfamily basics, hazards, realities, and these topics; and...

    • offer realistic, practical stepfamily and re/marital advice, and...

    • understand and accept these alternatives to divorce?

    And does s/he...

  • see psychological and legal divorce as a family stressor, not just a relationship ("marital") stressor?

  • does s/he have healthy attitudes about key concepts?

      If the candidate lacks too many of these requisites (a subjective opinion), look elsewhere, no matter what her or his credentials! If a judge or someone else referred you to this mediator, tell that person of these criteria.


Q27)  What are traits of an effective community or online divorce-recovery support group?

      Effective implies that a support group fills the main support needs of each participant well enough. So to rate divorce-support groups, divorcing men and women need to...

  • discern their unmet primary needs clearly, and then...

  • evaluate how well a prospective group may help to fill these needs.

      For perspective, read this article about effective (high-nurturance) support groups, and these suggestions about divorce support (Q25).


Q28)  Why are stepfamily mates at special risk of re/divorce? (The "/" notes that it may be a stepparent's first divorce).

      Because compared to typical intact biofamilies, there are usually...

  • more (step)family members and relationships, and more complex, unfamiliar (step)family roles,

  • up to 30 concurrent, alien, biofamily-merger tasks, and...

  • higher odds of incomplete grief, and...

  • more simultaneous values, loyalty, family- identity, and family- membership conflicts, and associated relationship triangles, and...

  • more psychologically- wounded and unaware adults and kids, and...

  • less effective social support available for kids and adults.

      Typical stepfamily couples and supporters (a) aren't expecting or prepared for these concurrent stressors, (b) don't know how to problem-solve effectively, and (c) often become overwhelmed and hopeless over some years of struggle and frustration. The site proposes 7 self-improvement Lessons to help typical adults avoid and manage the stressors.


Q29)  How can courting partners with prior minor or adult kids minimize the odds of eventual re/divorce? Why and how should they select effective pre-re/marital counseling?

      This non-profit Web site proposes that...

  • typical co-parents who date after someone's divorce are unaware, wounded survivors of early-childhood abandonment, neglect,  and abuse ((trauma); and...

  • they unconsciously risk making up to three unwise re/commitment choices that promote eventual re/divorce. (The "/" notes it may be a stepparent's first union.)

      Premise: courting partners with kids can best make three wise commitment decisions by patiently helping each other progress at these Lessons before deciding. One way of assessing their progress is by thoughtfully filling out these right-people, right reasons, right-time, and divorce recovery worksheets.

      Another protection is to invest in the unique guidebook Stepfamily Courtship, by Peter Gerlach, MSW;, 2002 - and use it.

       A third protection is using effective pre-re/marital counseling. For perspective and options on choosing effective stepfamily counseling, study and discuss...


Q30)  What does redivorce usually indicate about the partners and their families?

      A second or third divorce for one or both partners is strong evidence that both are significantly wounded (ruled by a false self) and are not yet in effective personal wound-recovery. Such Grown Wounded Children (GWCs) are apt to deny, minimize, intellectualize, rationalize, or ignore these implications until the person hits true bottom. This often occurs in mid-life - and may never occur.

      Redivorce also implies that the person survived early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma") and her or his parents, grandparents, and their ancestors probably did too. If the person has biological kids, they have probably inherited some version of the psychological wounds also, and are at risk of these six consequences unless they get qualified professional help.


      Reflect: why did you read this - did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your wise resident true Self or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful  

Share/Bookmark  Prior page   Lesson 4  Print page 

 site intro  /  course overview  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact