April 3, 2012

A summary of Bernie’s appearance on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife show – ABC 702 Monday 2 April 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Admin @ 8:01 am

Divorce – everyone knows someone who has been through a divorce.  With nearly 1 in 2 marriages breaking down and over 30,000 of these involving kids every year, we need to get it right.  So how come so many of us are getting it wrong?

Bernie Bolger, a Sydney based psychotherapist has been looking into this with her colleague, Hadass Segal. And they have come up with the Happy Divorce Method – the 5 steps needed to be taken to ensure a happy and fulfilling life post divorce.

Listen to Bernie Bolgers Talk – Click Here


Question: Before we go to the idea of a happy divorce – why do you think so many marriages are ending in the first place?

The 20 million dollar question.  There is no one answer to this.  In fact what seems to be a deal breaker for one couple sometimes is the making of a marriage for others e.g. infidelity for one couple might be an unforgivable breach but for another it can be a reason to start paying more attention to the relationship.

However overwhelmingly, communication and financial issues come up time and time again in the research. More so than abusive behaviours and habits.  So while violence affects 1 in 4 marriages today, it is not often cited as a cause of marital breakdown. External pressures such as the ‘in-laws or work’ tend to be in the slightly irritating basket rather than a reason to leave.  Unfortunately there does seem to be a socio-economic bias.  Divorced women who reported severe abuse during marriage tended to be poorer than those who reported communication or financial pressures as the main reason

Question: I presume it is normal for one person to end the relationship – what connection is there between a person being the one who makes the decision and his/her ability to move on?

There is a big difference between being ‘left’ and being the ‘leaver’.  Sometimes it is helpful to use the horse race analogy. The leaver might already be at the finishing post while the person who has been ‘left’ isn’t even in the starting bays. So yes the emotional adjustment after divorce is often very dependent on a person’s part in the decision making process.

Question: So what is this concept of a HAPPY Divorce? For me a HAPPY divorce is a situation where both partners can move on after the breakup to lead happier and more fulfilling lives without regret and without anger.  If there are children involved, the ongoing relationship between the partners is conducted in such a way that the best interests of the children are always at the heart of any their decisions and interactions.

Obviously there is no magic path and every divorce has its own idiosyncrasies.  But it seems to us that there are some common steps which people who have a Happy divorce seem to take.

Question: So what are the steps involved in getting to a Happy Divorce?

The first step I would suggest is to seek outside HELP.  Do not be afraid to seek help from a counsellor when the issues first arise.  On average people wait 7 years from the first signs of marriage distress to the time they seek counselling. And this is just too late.  Bad behaviours have already become entrenched.  People can halve their counselling bill in the long term if they are proactive about getting Help.  Obviously from a financial point of view, this isn’t a very sensible approach for me to take as a counsellor but in all honesty, I am more concerned about getting a good result.  And this is so much easier if I am called in at the beginning stages of the breakdown.

Question: I’m looking at your acronym ‘HAPPY’ and I’m sure many people would be substituting A for Anger – tell me about Acceptance?

Acceptance.  So many people waste time and energy digging over the past or refusing to accept the relationship is over. They blame everyone except themselves.  They refuse to move on.  And if they eventually do come to terms with the demise of the relationship, they then spend their lives trying to change their spouse. They try to change his/her time keeping habits, the food that is being cooked for the kids, the bedtimes.  This is all a waste of time.  What smart people do is to understand that the reason the old relationship is ending is to allow both parties to move on to a new life. To make this a better life, they need to park the baggage of the old relationship at the door of the old home and not take it with them. This is easier said than done. A useful first step is to take responsibility in part for the relationship. No matter how obnoxious your partner may have been, mature individuals will take responsibility for their half of the relationship while saying their partner was responsible for the other half. Focus on what you could have done better, without becoming maudlin or getting into the game of self-blame, rather than what your partner did wrong. You had no control over your partner during your marriage and now you have even less. But you can control yourself and working out what you can do better will help you in the future. It also helps to leave any bitterness and anger that you feel behind. Taking anger and bitterness forward is disastrous for both parties, but most so for the party who can’t leave it behind.  In the first instance it means the divorce proceedings are used as the new ground to fight old battles and seek vindication. Battles that will never be won and vindication that will never be achieved. But the financial costs of trying to win this unwinnable battle are devastating for both parties. And the impact on kids even more so. The best divorces occur through mediation or the collaborative law process

Question: So tell me about mediation or collaborative law?

Done through mediation and with the help of a good mediator, the total legal costs can be kept to below $10,000. Done in an adversarial way, there is no end to what the costs may be. It has been common for me to counsel clients who have initially had a divorce lawyer quote them around $10,000, but because they do not accept advice or mediation (sometimes encouraged by an adversarial lawyer) they end up chewing up the equity in their house and pay a legal bill in the many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Worst of all is the impact on any kids in these situations.

An alternative is the Collaborative Law Process where both parties and their lawyers undertake to try and come to a mediated settlement out of court.  All meetings will involve the four parties plus any experts such as Financial Advisers or Mental Health Counsellors as are deemed necessary by all parties. Should negotiations break down, the clients must engage new lawyers so therefore it is in the best interests of everyone to come to a negotiated settlement out of court.

Smart people fight the battles that need to be won and they don’t sweat the small stuff.  They use the divorce proceedings as a chance to look forward rather than to look back. They choose lawyers and counsellors who are going to represent them well, while being fair and sensible. They are guided by principles of fairness and reasonableness, not revenge and vindication. Given time they accept the new reality, they accept the new single self and they accept the reduced lifestyle and all that it means

Question: You are also a qualified financial planner and you emphasise the importance of this – why is this important?

For me the first P in the Happy divorce is for Planning. Planning gives structure and meaning to this new life.  Smart people plan their finances with the help of a financial adviser if possible. They set a budget and take control.  This can be one of the most empowering things they do. To work with a planner who will help you discover your values then help you set new goals which are aligned with these values.

People who move on also plan their new social life.  A social life as a single person doesn’t just happen.  Sundays are the worst; they are such family days and your married friends are busy with their own families. So people who want to start afresh plan to meet friends on Sunday mornings and they also plan for Sunday evenings. There is nothing worse than being alone on a Sunday night – in the early phase it can leave you wallowing and wondering what has happened to your life. It is easy to fall into the trap of looking back.

Question: I would imagine parenting post divorce is one of the hardest aspects to deal with. There is normally a whole lot of emotion invested in the kids.  How do you deal with this?

Parenting. Just because you divorce doesn’t mean you stop being parents. One way to look at it is that your ex partner will always be the parent of your kids, therefore you will always have a relationship with them, so it might as well be as good as it possibly can.  So many parents use the kids in their marital warfare and the only people who are affected are the kids.  It doesn’t work and I counsel so many kids who are the products of a dysfunctional family unit.

Question: And finally tell me about looking after yourself.  It would nearly seem that this is the most important – I mean if you fall apart, you will be no good to anyone?

Yes you’re right – taking the time to look after You is huge and is something that often gets forgotten. It’s time to start being kind to yourself, showing some self compassion.  Maybe lowering expectations

There is no better time than when you are going through one of the biggest life changing events to look within and perhaps change aspects of your life which are not aligning with your core values