Book: The Wisdom of a Broken Heart

Earlier in the summer, late on a Friday afternoon, I received the following text message from a friend:

“Went to the library and decided it’s a self-help book weekend.  I thought you would like this quote from one, ‘the heart that is broken has been broken open’, about being open now to transformation.  Sounded interesting.”

The book she was referring to was Susan Piver’s The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight, and Love.  My friend tore through the book over the weekend and then urged me to read it as well.  So, I bought myself a copy.  And I’m so glad I did.

Susan Piver offers a unique approach to dealing with a broken heart:  she suggests that one choose to view it as a gift instead of a curse.  A Buddhist, she prescribes a seven-day program of healing to be obtained through meditation, writing and reflection.  But don’t worry, she’s not all high-and-mighty about her suggestions.  Throughout the book, she humbly tells the story of her own broken heart and subsequent sobbing insanity.  She admits to her unflattering actions and emotions as a result of her heartbreak.  It’s clear that Susan’s unique perspective was arrived at by way of painful personal experience.

Susan talks about mood swings, fleeting affairs and the stories we tell ourselves to help (or hinder) the coping process.  She reminds us of the strength that can only come from an authentic state of vulnerability in which your heart may be broken over and over again.  She urges us to forgive and be grateful.  As I turned the pages, I laughed and cried.  I felt exhilarated and exhausted.  I softened and strengthened.  One of my favorite parts of the book was when she talked about the tears…

“One way to think of all these tears is as a flood of love.  Liberated from it’s object, love now flows freely, powerfully, mercilessly, as rain, as sorrow, and as longing.  …in some sense your limitations in love have been removed… 

…This is your heart.  Freed from the containment of a relationship, it roars.”

I have to agree with Susan.  In my own experience, I discovered a wondrous liberation when I surrendered to the grief brought on by my situation.  In sitting with my self, I realized that my love, kindness and compassion towards others had multiplied exponentially as a result of my pain.  This new vision has allowed me to see the humanity in everyone— even those who are supposed to be my “enemies”.  I am continuously overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude for the beautiful agony which I endure(d) (am i over it yet?).

My broken-hearted friends, I hope you find the courage to gratefully embrace the “roar” within you.  And then, spend some time learning from The Wisdom of a Broken Heart.

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Emotional Money: An Interview With Maggie Baker, Ph.D.

Until a few months ago, I was under the impression that money was all about math.  I thought personal budgets were the employment of simple equations, stocks were graphs, risks were variables, etc.  I suppose, in the purest sense, I may have been correct.  However, when considering the way money functions in our lives, I was way wrong.

Several months ago, a friend of mine introduced me to the book, Crazy About Money:  How Emotions Confuse Our Money Choices And What To Do About It.  A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to sit down with the author, Maggie Baker, for a chat about money, emotions and relationships.

First we talked about money and marriage… and divorce.  Maggie told a (probably common) story about a woman who wanted to rent a house after separating from her husband.  While she was married, the woman allowed her husband to handle all of the finances and as a result, she found herself with a poor credit rating and needed someone more credit-worthy to sign the lease with her.

“…Women leave themselves so incredibly vulnerable if they let their husbands do all the finances.  Because if they do get divorced, they have no credit worthiness and they have to assume his.  And, you know, maybe it’s good, but maybe it’s not.”

In the book, Maggie talks about the different personas around money.  I imagine women who end up in this situation are Money Avoiders- it’s probably much more comforting to turn over the finances to one’s trusted partner.  Unfortunately, such a plan can have disastrous consequences regardless of whether or not a couple separates.

Maggie talked about how the finances are handled in her marriage…

“My husband and I separated our finances.  We have completely separate accounts because there’s enough difference in the way we spend and enough difference in how hard we work.  Even though both of us are very hard workers, it’s really interesting. We work about as hard, but I’m much more vigilant about collecting what I’m owed and he’s not particularly, because he just doesn’t think about money. And consequently he ends up making a lot less. And that’s where money vigilance pays off… He’d go out and he’d wanna buy X, Y and Z and he’s not a spendthrift at all. But, I’m so careful with money… And now, if he wants to buy it, God bless him! It’s great, I love it…  We’ve done that now for about seven years… We keep everything completely separate and he has very little interest in what’s going on with it.  And I like all the things you have to deal with that come with it.” 

I enjoyed hearing about Maggie’s arrangement with her husband.  Separating finances and maintaining independent accountability and responsibility can save a lot of stress in the relationship.  It also allows for a cleaner financial break in the event of a divorce.

We went on to talk about family members we knew and the vast differences in peoples’ attitudes and habits regarding money…

“The most important thing is to have a balanced attitude. To have a certain kind of flexibility about how you handle money, so that you have a golden mean.  So that you’re not too expansive and generous and you’re not too stingy and hoardy.  But, it’s hard because the emotions are so complicated and the learning around money is so complicated. It’s hard to be the golden mean.  Most people are extreme in one way or another and then they get caught up in really bad habits…. I think a lot of people feel a great deal of shame about the level of credit card debt they carry and they don’t want anybody to know that.  But at the same time, I think that people are far more comfortable having a lot of credit card debt.  They figure, ‘Everybody else does too, I’m no different from anybody else.’” 

We talked about parents and the desire to help their children.  I brought up the fact that so many divorced parents feel a heightened sense of responsibility to be the Best Parent They Can Be and yet in many ways, this can prevent some individual growth on the part of the parent as well as the child.  Single parents need to take care of themselves first and foremost, so they can exhibit a complete and whole-hearted example for their children.  Sometimes a parent has to step away from the role of being a provider.  Maggie went on to further discuss a topic she addresses in the book…

“What I see that really scares me is that with this generation, there’s been so much investment in the kids being successful so that they do well at college but then end up coming home.  Which has got to feel like a failure in some way.  And they can’t get a job and here’s this kid that’s been highly nurtured to feel that the most important thing in the world is their success, and nobody’s going to hire them.  And then if things continue to not evolve, then very often the parents step in and out of their own sense of frustration and guilt and feeling like they failed because they can’t help their kid, they may start to raid their retirement money to support the child…  To do more education, which may not really be what’s called for.  So my whole value in what I want to impart to the reader is, take care of yourself, you have to learn to see that you can’t fill in the blanks with money.  And you have a right to hold onto that money for yourself.  Even if it means denying your most loved child.  Because what will help the child much more is to sit down with the kid and help them figure out what they’re going to do.  Not ‘Oh, they’re in pain, I’ve got to provide.’  Especially for women, it’s almost reflexive.  And what do they do?  They spend their retirement money to help their kid out and then when they get old, they have no retirement money and then they’re dependent on their kid, who may have hopefully done well, but still most people don’t want to be in that situation…

There’s a concept in psychology called Self Efficacy, which means that people don’t really develop a strong sense of self and a strong sense of self-esteem unless they feel engaged and empowered through their own effort and through the struggle of effort…. Kids who are given too much don’t have that sense of self efficacy.” 

As the conversation continued, we talked about how emotions and money factor into a divorce, beginning with the costly decisions people make in order to avoid losing money (such as paying a lawyer $10,000 to receive another $5,000 from the settlement of the house)…

“And that’s the whole point of loss aversion, that under circumstances of feeling the pain of loss or the risk of losing money, that people do things that are far riskier than if they’re not feeling that pressure…  And if they’re vengeful in their heart against the person they’re divorcing, then it becomes far more important to hurt that other person than it does to just get out of the situation.  So they’ll spend thousands of dollars pushing their lawyer to do all kinds of nasty things to try to get vengeance and of course it’s never satisfied.  And they’re out a lot of money and they were so blinded they couldn’t not do it.”

Money is a big stressor on a marriage and an even bigger one in the event of a divorce.  What I loved so much about Maggie’s book was the way she pulled away the layers and exposed the emotional aspects and early programming that influences our attitudes about money.  While some see it as a weapon or indication of power, others view it as dirty and shameful.  Think about the judgments we make around the money-aspect of a divorce.  Have you demanded a higher settlement?  Have you offered a higher settlement?  Did you consider your ex to be financially abusive?  Did you agree to let him/her have all the money if only you could have the kids/house/dogs, etc.?

I asked about the effect all of this has on children.  Even the most cooperative parents can’t hide all of their frustrations from their kids.  I wanted to know how such a situation might influence the way children grow up to think about money.  In particular, I asked about the outcome of a “flipped script”— what happens, psychologically, when children go from having two parents who comfortably provide to living in a single-parent home where money is scarce.  Although Maggie couldn’t relate any situations about her current patients, she did share an interesting story about the sixteen-year-old daughter of parents who often argued about money.  In a session with Maggie, the girl confessed that she was stressed about money, because her parents fought about it all the time.  Her parents were surprised to learn their daughter felt this way because the truth was that they had plenty of money and simply disagreed often about how to spend it.  Maggie explained…

“She was picking up their emotionality and not the reality of the fact that they did have enough.  That’s what happens to kids all the time; they don’t necessarily know the reality of money but the pick up the affect.  They pick up the emotion behind it.  If there’s a lot of intensity and negative emotion, then kids, being as narcissistic as they are and thinking that everything is about them, they’ll start thinking ‘oh, what’s wrong with me that my parents are fighting about money?  Maybe I’m too demanding…’  They think that they caused the money shortage or the money fight, just like if they’re getting divorced; they think they caused the divorce.  That’s the most important thing with little kids.  They’re immature cognitively, so they can’t put the pieces together… The steamed upedness is what the kids pick up on, without any facts.  So you either end up with an avoider or somebody who feels that they’re a burden and aren’t worth anything.”

This is important to note, regardless of one’s marital status or bank account balance.  Children are perceptive and they pick up on adults’ feelings very easily.  It’s not enough to simply teach children to be responsible with money.  Part of writing a healthy script is to maintain one’s emotional equilibrium where cash is concerned.  If you’re stressed about money, the kids will be as well, and this might not bode well for that monetary golden mean you want them to attain in the future.

As the conversation wound down, I asked if “money” is a topic everyone should discuss in therapy…

“Absolutely, but nobody does.  Since I’ve been doing this and had this emphasis, I get people to talk about money, but I have to be active in asking otherwise they won’t talk about it.  The only way it comes up in therapy is setting the fee and if someone can’t afford it.  When I was being trained, nobody talked about money.  And yet it’s the number one stress in peoples’ lives.”

After reading the book and considering its content, I have to agree.  Money is important for many reasons.  Understanding how we feel and how we use it is key to understanding a whole new aspect of our lives.  This self-knowledge can help us unlock doors to less stress, better budgeting and financial freedom.  In turn, the result will likely be better relationships, more positive parenting and a more cooperative marriage or separation.

If you’d like to learn more about Maggie, you can check out her web site at maggiebakerphd.com.  If you order Crazy About Money through the site, she’ll send you a signed copy along with a bookmark and a money awareness exercise.

Divorce on TV

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across the sitcom, Happily Divorced, online.  I vaguely remember hearing about the show before it aired.  Intrigued by the title, I watched a couple episodes.  The gist of the show is simple:  husband confesses after many years of marriage that he’s gay.  He can’t afford to move out due to the economy, so they continue to live together while moving on after their divorce.  I wasn’t impressed, and it wasn’t just Fran Drescher’s voice that turned me off.  I thought there were too many jokes and not enough realistic struggle.  Of course, I only watched 2.5 episodes… it might have gotten better as the season wore on.  If anyone knows for sure, please tell me in the comment section.

Another “divorce” TV show that was popular for many years was Reba.  Again, I only watched one or two episodes (years ago), but I liked it.  On Reba’s show, she played a divorcee and mother of three/grandmother of one.  Her ex-husband left her for a younger woman and he and the OW were very much involved in the lives of Reba and her children.  That one gave me a few genuine laughs.

My favorite (I think.  For now anyway.) TV program featuring a divorced couple is The New Adventures of Old Christine.  This one featured Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a divorced mother, living with her younger brother (actually, her brother lives with her) while her ex-husband has moved on with a younger “New Christine”.  Admittedly, I probably like this one the best because I watched it the most.  I appreciate the humorous way Christine blunders about in the dating world as well as the mommy circles.  I like the obvious connection that remains between Christine and her ex.  It’s all very genuine as well as amusing.

Of course, I appreciate all of these entertainment options because they display a respectful and cooperative relationship between exes, even on the heels of a betrayal.  The children on these shows enjoy presence and positive relationships with both parents.  They aren’t coached to hate, they aren’t asked to pass notes.  It’s beautiful.

Ani Difranco once said, “Art may imitate life, but life imitates TV.”  As divorce gains more exposure in our society, I hope this statement holds true.

So… what TV programs did I miss?  I know there has to be more out there that are set in the wake of a separation.  What’s your favorite?

Book: Falling Apart In One Piece

The easiest way for me to consume books is to listen to them while I’m driving my car.  That’s how I absorbed the content of Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart In One Piece:  One Optimist’s Journey Through The Hell of Divorce.  It made my daily commute a lot more enjoyable.  And…at times… awful.

I discovered Stacy Morrison at the Start Over Smart Divorce Expo earlier this year.  After hearing her speak, I vowed to read her book.  I read a lot of nonfictional-self-help-type divorce books.  This one was autobiographical as it was Stacy’s recollection of the process she went through after her husband came home from work one day and told her he was “done”.

On one hand, audiobooks kinda suck because I can’t page through the piece, highlight my favorite parts and quote them here.  On the other hand, it was somewhat of a treat to listen to Stacy tell me her story in her own words.  As she recounted the dramatic events, I identified with her initial bewilderment coupled with her strong work ethic and drive to perform regardless of what was happening at home.  As a mother, Stacy shared her joys as well as her hardships while navigating divorce with a young child.  She talked about the struggle to reconstruct her social life, the difficulties of vacationing as a single parent and the nights she spent crying on the kitchen floor.  It was all very raw and real— no sugar-coating.

What I appreciated most was Stacy’s attitude.  Even though her world was crumbling around her, she stayed strong and true to herself and her family.  She stated early on that she didn’t want to be the one who was right, nor did she want to be the one who was wronged (love, love, love that statement!).  What she wanted was peace and understanding.  She realized that she needed to create her own story- that she and her ex had to blaze a unique path through their separation instead of getting caught in the currents of animosity born from the jagged pasts and filtered frights of so many peers.

Of course, the journey to peace and understanding is never an easy one.  As Stacy shares the highlights of her divorce, she imparts the bits of wisdom she learned along the way— little lessons such as “You Don’t Get To Know Why, But Ask Anyway”, “Grief Is Not a Mountain, It Is a River” and my personal favorite, “Anger Hides Everything You Need To Feel To Get Past The Anger” (that mouthful so simply says it all).

Through the initial shock… the uncertainties… telling the family… picking up the pieces… the leaning… the crying… the angry outbursts… the journey is unique, yet the territory is not.  The story is familiar but not boring.  And the lessons hold true regardless of the path that led to their discovery.

I’m glad I found the time to observe Stacy’s process of Falling Apart In One Piece.  Did you read it?  Did you like it?  I’m open to discussion @relativevolutions, divorce.encouragist@gmail.com or my Facebook Page.

Healing Words of Truth

Earlier today I was listening to an interview between Cheryl Richardson and Iyanla Vanzant* and I heard something that caused me to hit the pause button and reflect for minutes on end…

They were discussing the concept of “no sacred cows” and stating that respect is always necessary, even in relationships with family members.  Iyanla was recounting a personal story involving a conflict with her grandson and she stated, as if she were speaking to him directly:

“I love you very, very much.  I love you.  And I have given you everything that I could.  Please forgive me if I wasn’t who you needed… I’m still gonna love you.  But I’m complete.”

Her sentiment struck me with a force I wasn’t prepared for.  My vision blurred with tears as I felt the sting of old wounds, awakened by her words.  How appropriate for separating couples, I thought.

Pain and anger so often drive us to declare war.  And what purpose does that serve?  Regardless of what side of the door you’re on, the truth is the same:  Love, though present, is not enough.  And we don’t need another person to make us whole.

The key to Peace is to find your Self and release the other person from your expectations.  Accept what is.  Breathe, love, forgive and move on.  You are complete.

~~~~

*If you’re interested in the full interview, you can listen here.

And please excuse my ego for just a moment as I remind you that you can now follow my Facebook page for updates, blog posts and more.

Saturday’s Song: Let That Pony Run

I have plans to do something touristy today, and I considered sightseeing on horseback… until I saw the price tag.  I decided to save a few (and by “few”, I mean “a lot of”) bucks and travel on foot instead.  The reason I’m telling you this is that the brief consideration, combined with the fact that it’s Saturday, reminded me of this particular song.

I don’t think I’ve heard this one on the radio since the 90s.  Too bad, it’s a good story— one that’s all-too-familiar for many.  In some way, there’s a little bit of “Mary” in all of us.  And I love the part about hanging on and then letting go.

Here’s Pam Tillis with Let That Pony Run

Video:

Let That Pony Run (written by Gretchen Peters)

Mary was married with children,
had the perfect suburban life,
’til her husband came clean with the help of Jim Beam
and confessed all his sins one night.
Said he’d fallen in love with a barmaid,
said she made him feel reckless and young.
And when he got through, what else could she do?
She just let that pony run.

(chorus)
‘Cause you do what you gotta do,
and you know what you know.
You hang on till you can’t hang on,
then you learn to let go.
You get what you want sometimes,
but when it’s all said and done,
you do what you gotta do
then you let that pony run.

Now Mary moved to West Virginia,
after the shock wore off.
She got a divorce and a chestnut horse
and a barn with an old hayloft.
Sometimes she rides down by the river,
said it makes her feel reckless and young.
She just closes her eyes, and she holds on tight,
and she lets that pony run.

(repeat chorus)

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