The ABC’s of Dealing with Our Parents’ Divorce

When I learned my parents’ divorce was still affecting me, it proved enlightening and overwhelming. Fortunately, manyflattened by questions overwhelmed cropped tools are now available to overcome issues created in us by parental divorce. But in conversations with adults from broken homes, I’ve learned a basic A-B-C approach helps tackle divorce-related issues in our lives.

ABC blocksA. Acknowledge that the impact of their divorce continues. This two minute video discusses the subtle change parental divorce can create in the trajectory of  the kids.

B. Identify how our parents’ divorce still affects us. Kelly Spenser’s Happy Healthy YOU article addresses common challenges adults with split parents face.  As a life coach, Spenser’s perspective is insightful. Her observations reveal we always have a Plan B, sky-high expectations, cautious disbelief, and have a fascination with normal. Spenser’s article yields an intriguing  glimpse at idiosyncrasies that often affect us.

C. Take steps to overcome these issues. Identifying and replacing the lies we believe is a crucial first step. The Bible offers truth that can deliver us from the fear of inadequacy, feelings of unworthiness, anger, and other issues. Holding fast to God’s truth is the only answer when the hurricane-force-winds of deceit try to blow us off course. Though our fears (fed by lies) say otherwise, the Bible says, “With God all things are possible,1God has not given us a spirit of fear,2Cast all your cares on him for he cares for you,3If we confess our sins, he (Jesus) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,4  and “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still The truth that God offers love, forgiveness, acceptance, and the power to change can break the chains lies have forged.

Along with your Bible,  Gary Neuman’s book, The Long Way Home: The Powerful 4-Step Plan for Adult Children of Divorce helps identify issues we struggle with individually. It also equips readers with tools to change behaviors that are destructive to themselves and their relationships.

It’s time to free ourselves from habits and routines that produce hurt rather than healing.This A-B-C process can help.
1Matthew 19:26
22 Timothy 1:7
31 Peter 5:7
41 John 1:9
5Romans 5:8
The Long Way Home, Gary Neuman, (Wiley, 2013)


The Brady Bunch is Back…and So Are the Triggers

I’m among the 8% of Americans who don’t have cable, satellite, or fiber feeding their televisions1. What’s fascinating to me is the programs coming through my good-old-fashioned antenna are a steady stream of shows from my childhood.

mod squad 75Brady Bunch 20Steve Mcgarrett 60
Programs I haven’t seen in decades are filling the screen each night: The Mod Squad, Brady Bunch, Bob Newhart Show, Carol Burnett, Happy Days, Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii Five O (the one where they wore suits and neckties), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, even The Beverly Hillbillies. Each show’s theme song time-travels me back to the 70’s, and I relax in anticipation of a good, clean, half-hour escape from the world’s problems.

But my mood saddens sometimes because I’ll suddenly remember how I often watched those programs alone. This was the period right after my parents’ divorce. Back then, feeling there was no where to turn with my broken heart, I  needed an escape. And these shows s365.060 - Watching TV by Al Ibrahim 22erved me well.

Now I see my attraction to The Brady Bunch differently. They were perfect and my life wasn’t. Every week brought thirty minutes of stability, loving fatherly wisdom, and everything turned out ok (except for their two-part Hawaii trip when I spent a week wondering if Greg would drown!)

This whole experience is an example of a trigger. A trigger is a stimuli—like a scene in a movie, a song, or even a friend’s divorce—which causes us to react. The problem is, when we’re triggered, we’re reacting to something in our past and applying that to our present situation.

Adults with divorced parents can have layers of triggers acting like mines in a minefield. One minute we’re in the present, but the next moment, BOOM, we’re unknowingly reacting from something in our past. Even if we realize it’s happening we often miss the parental divorce connection. So we become melancholy, cranky, or angry.

Fortunately, triggers can be overcome. Here are some helpful steps:praying woman 15

  • Admit that we are saddened by the trigger event (Remember, what hurts our heart is never “silly”)
  • Share with someone or write out specifically why you feel sad
  • Take your pain or loss to God in prayer. (Cast all your cares upon the Lord for He cares for you.2)
  • Stand on the truth that God has blessed you today. Your past may contain pain, but the past is over. Focus on today’s blessings.

Working through our triggers is very important when trying to maintain healthy relationships. childrenofdivorce.netThe Long Way Home by Gary Neuman helps adult children of divorce identify and deal with triggers caused by their parents’ split. Once identified and dealt with, over time, the trigger’s sting will diminish and there can be as much joy in your home as the Brady’s!

21 Peter 5:7
Head Image – 365-060-Watching TV by Al Ibrahim

Potholes, Triggers, and Adult Children of Divorce

Car in PotholeIt’s pothole season in Michigan. For those of you in other areas of the country, this is the time of year when the temperature sinks below freezing at night and warms up during the day. The thawing and freezing action creates potholes in our roads.

At best, trying to drive around them can make you look like a drunk behind the wheel. At worst, hitting one of these craters can shake the whole car, ruin your alignment, bend a wheel rim, or flatten a tire—any one of which can cost hundreds of dollars.

Triggers and Adults with Divorced Parents
This bit of asphalt trivia is important because triggers can act like potholes for adult children of divorce. If you’re not paying attention, hitting one can jar you severely, ruin your mood, bend a relationship, or flatten a marriage.

A trigger is something that occurs now, but reminds us of something that happened in our past. For example, if you were in a house fire as a child, the smell of smoke is a trigger for you. A song, which reminds us of a special night long ago, is another example of a trigger.

worried smileyTriggers are neither good nor bad, however, for adults with divorced parents, triggers can cause us to react when no danger exists. For example, should our spouse, friend, or boss look at us sternly, we may tense up. The problem is their look is not the issue though our mind thinks it is. In reality, our brain flashed back to a scene where our parents looked at each other sternly before they divorced.  Unfortunately, before we know it, we’re responding now the same way we did as a child—with fear. This is often the sequence of events:

  • We see their look
  • It, unknowingly, triggers a childhood memory of our parents
  • We become fearful that we may be abandoned
  • Our fear triggers anger (We didn’t deserve a look like that!)
  • We respond in anger
  • Our wife, kids, or boss, are blindsided by our overreaction
  • The relationship is

Moving around Triggers
You can see why identifying our triggers is very important. So how do we deal with triggers?

  1. Identify them – The best tool I’ve found for adult children of divorce to identify their triggers is the book “The Long Way Home” by Gary Neuman. Read my review of this book here.
  2. Analyze them – The Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” The next time you sense yourself overreacting, (or you are accused of overreacting) stop. Ask yourself, “what am I thinking? What am I feeling right now?” And, “when in my childhood did I feel this way?” Many times you’ll realize that you’re not responding to the present circumstance. You’re reacting the same way you did when you felt threatened as a kid.woman praying over Bible
  3. Pray through them – pray that God will help you to know when you are being triggered and to respond based on the present circumstance and not the past.
  4. Overcome them – Triggers don’t go away, but, by learning specifically how they are affecting you, you can change your response to them.

We can rarely avoid triggers, but we can very effectively manage them. This is a vital part of strengthening our relationships and breaking the cycle of divorce.

What I Wish I’d Been Told After My Parent’s Divorce

Gary Neuman’s book, The Long Way Home: The Powerful 4-Step Plan for Adult Children of Divorce has been a repeat guest on this blog. It’s a strong tool for healing from the impact of our parent’s breakup. Talking with your childhood self is part of his four-step process. Basically, I was to share, with 14-year-old Kent, what I’ve learned regarding the effects of the split

Picnic table meetingSo, as the book instructs, I visited a park. A slightly warped picnic table sufficed for “our” meeting. I visualized sitting across from my teenage self as I walked toward it. Journaling plays a major part of Neuman’s process, so I have notes from the “dialog.”

I began with, “Kent, Star Trek is true. I’m here from your future.” Figured this was a strong conversation starter for Trekkies. Then I shared my heart with that bewildered and scared young man.

  • Though you’re the oldest, it was not your responsibility to keep them together. Nothing you could have done would have stopped the divorce.
  • It’s ok to share how you really feel with “Ms.” (a favorite teacher and lifelong friend). Mom’s belief that no one can be trusted is wrong.
  • Though you don’t feel special anymore, you’re valuable to God. Rejection, particularly by girls, is not because you aren’t special or are unworthy. Everyone is rejected sometime.
  • Don’t look for anyone but God to fill the hole that was created when Dad left. People will fail you, but God never will.

“Our” chat lasted about thirty minutes. My heart longed to reach out to that young me, but Star Trek isn’t real. I can’t change the past, but I can stand on what I’ve learned today.

Now it’s your turn. Are there things you wish you had known then? Write them out. Then share these important items with a trusted spouse, relative or friend.

“The Long Way Home” is Worth the Trip

by Kent Darcie

Today everything is reduced to “4 easy steps”. “No pain, but you can gain anyway” is the mantra of our marketing gurus. Four simple steps to losing weight without exercise. Four secrets to becoming a millionaire without hard work and on it goes. Recently, I purchased a new book and, confident of my immunity to those teasing and appealing voices, I plunged into “The Long Way Home: The Powerful 4-Step Plan for Adult Children of Divorce,” by M. Gary Neuman.

Four steps for an issue as complicated as dealing with a parent’s divorce seemed like a stretch. However, with pen in hand for the required journaling, guarded hope, and a healthy amount of skepticism, I started the steps. 10 weeks had passed before I completed the 5 week process and to my amazement, doubts were crushed under the weight of all the discoveries I made.

childrenofdivorce.netFeeling like Christopher Columbus
Neuman believes that our makeup as adults is linked directly to our parent’s divorce. Thus, his four steps lead you through a methodical process of discovery and action. One unknown link in my life-chain explained why I’ve responded to tense people so negatively all my life. I am very uncomfortable around tense people.  If someone is tense around me I will tell a joke, compromise, or find some other way to release the tension.

While somewhat aware of this tendency, I never suspected a link to my parent’s divorce. Yet there it was! For the first time since adolescence, I saw how tense my dad was when he came to visit us back in the early days following the divorce. My journaling reminded me of the tension in the room and how uncomfortable it made me. That was a major revelation. More startling was looking at times in my life when this tendency directly impacted how I responded in a situation—both constructively and destructively. And there were many such discoveries following Neuman’s 4 steps.

The road toward healing is not a straight line
Journeying through The Long Way Home is like spending the day at a carnival. The rollercoaster of emotions will take you to super highs and deep drops. You’ll experience the fun house, house of horrors, midway with all the noise and lights, begging for candy from your parents and being turned down, and the exhaustion you feel at the end of the day.  But like the carnival, The Long Way Home is well worth the trip. Better stated, it’s a powerful journey that will propel you toward healing like a bullet leaving a gun barrel.

bible open -with background shaped

The only missing piece in his process was the part I found most helpful working through the book—my relationship with God. God’s truth is critical to silence the lies that are uncovered  and accepted as axioms since our parent’s divorce—I am unworthy, you can’t trust anyone, things are great now but they are all going to fall apart, the divorce was my fault because, etc..  As unearthed memories played on my mind’s screen—some good, many bad—God’s comfort and solid biblical truth served as my bedrock when the waves of the past threatened to overwhelm me. They are also critical to achieving the change in our life that The Long Way Home offers.