Families in Divorce

A friend asked for advice about his parents getting divorced.

Remember that extremely tough situations can lead to good outcomes. The darkest periods in my life have been part of my path to a great life.


The couple:

a – don’t focus on right/wrong – focus on desired outcome and not adding to the pain of the situation

b – if there isn’t abuse/addiction in the relationship then work to save it – the NY Times has a great series about baby-boomers getting divorced that says it better than me. The series is called Unhitched: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/booming/lessons-learned-when-its-all-over.html

c – if things are truly over then don’t fight – you never get the time and emotional pain back.

d – people waste tremendous energy worrying about money – if you fight then large sums of money will evaporate. Be willing to settle to avoid pain and suffering.

e – never ever give bad news in writing


Friends and Family – your #1 role is to listen, not to fix.

Help the couple focus on what matters: (a) not fight; (b) end the cycle of pain; and (c) achieve a mutually desired outcome.

Families waste huge amounts of energy seeking to fix other people’s marriages. It’s not your problem to fix. The family’s role is listening and emotional support.

Specifically as a child, or younger sibling:

a – it is embarrassing to fail in front of our ‘youngers’ – can change a family dynamic. Youngers should be very sensitive to the embarrassment the elders are likely feeling.

b – parents often want approval as much as kids do – many adult children aren’t aware of this need for approval. That’s too bad as it can be a rich source of self-knowledge.

c – it’s better to use outside sources (counsellors, books) to influence change – many elders are closed to direct advice from youngers. If you get hostility then you may have triggered pain in the elders arising from 1 and 2.

d – if you can’t help yourself from giving advice then chose your best stuff (not more than three points) and say as little as possible. Better yet, you could say something like… “hey, I see my role is to listen and support your decisions. However, if you ever want a couple ideas then let me know.”

e – people in highly stressful situations often show cognitive impairment – lapses in memory and reduced ability to reason. Your elders might be stressed, rather than senile.

Everyone will be tempted to take sides – remember that (absent abuse/addiction) there’s rarely a clear right/wrong. A smart person can always make it seem like it’s the other person’s fault. Emotional truth is relative.

Focus on outcome, break the chain of pain and listen.

To be a partner in a successful relationship (after my divorce), I needed many years to improve myself. I was also comfortable with being alone. In other words, I was able to improve myself to the point where I didn’t expect another person to complete (or serve) me.

The person that seeks to fix everything can become a focal point for blame. Personally, I’m ok with that as a leader’s role is to take the blame but I need to remember my goal/role in relationships is not to fix anything.

People thank us for love, listening and being there. Years after my divorce, I remember who was there for me – I don’t remember specifics and the searing pain is completely gone.

Faced with a lack of trust, my decision was to end the marriage. I have good friends that decided otherwise and have enviable marriages, that continue today.

Why is that?

If my marriage works for me and my spouse then that’s enough. We don’t need to justify our love to other people. This keeps us focused on what we control – our actions towards each other.

Values Game

I came across a free eBook from Tony Robbins. In the book, Tony asks the reader to rank pleasure values. His suggested list: love, success, freedom, intimacy, security, adventure, power, passion, comfort, health.

I took the bait and ranked things:

  • Freedom
  • Success
  • Adventure
  • Health
  • Love
  • Power
  • Passion
  • Security
  • Intimacy
  • Comfort

Tony then shared that we will do a lot more to avoid pain than to attract pleasure. So he asked the reader to rank aversions to: rejection, anger, frustration, loneliness, depression, failure, humiliation, and guilt.

Once again I mapped it out:

  • Failure
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Rejection
  • Humiliation
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness

In the book, he gave examples on how values conflicts can set up misery. For example, do we know our spouse’s rankings? Do our (more powerful) aversions operate to sabotage our desires. For example, see Success vs Failure in my lists.

Having done the work to rank my pleasure/pain values, Tony recommended writing down the rules associated with our top drivers. I didn’t think too hard and wrote quickly…

  • Freedom – when I control my day and have space in my schedule
  • Success – I am already successful
  • Adventure – when I have new experiences
  • Health – vanity, use my body for adventure
  • Failure – when my kids don’t behave or yell at me
  • Anger – when my kids don’t behave or yell at me
  • Frustration – when my kids don’t behave or yell at me
  • Depression – when my kids don’t behave or yell at me

Pretty clear how my rules are creating periods of parental misery! As well, my rules are completely impractical for living with young kids.

When my oldest was young, she could quickly bring me to tears by crying. I got past that pain by borrowing my mother-in-law’s rule that “babies need to cry.”

I also created my own rule, “when they’re crying, they are alive.” My rule addressing my fear that my kids might die (!) if I didn’t cater to their every whim.

Some mantras:

  • I am free when I breathe through the energy of strong emotions
  • I am successful when I let my actions be the lesson
  • The randomness of life is an adventure in itself
  • Let go of outcome, be the brand

All of the above are lessons that I taught myself in athletics and need to relearn inside my house!

I had a wry smile when I realized that I was closed to Tony’s teaching because of his happiness!

Athletic Errors

I have come to realize that a focus on athletic performance makes me more likely to make mistakes.

What sort of mistakes?

Getting caught in a cycle of beat down and amp up to compensate for excessive load.
Taking unnecessary risks with my orthopedic health

The sustained load and intensity associated with ambitious race goals pushes me towards poor decisions. In my peer group, it’s accepted, and strangely admired, when speedy athletes push themselves to orthopedic breakdown. I’m surrounded by pals that will trade their feet, joints and teeth for a little bit more.

Separate from wrecking myself, fatigue makes me too tired to participate in my marriage, family and community.

As a single young adult, I laughed at the concept of relationships. The world existed to provide me with opportunities for sex, wealth and achievement. There was too much to get done (to worry about anyone’s feelings). My identity was tied up in what I could do, and I did a lot.

So if I can’t outwork the world, then what’s next?

I’m not sure.

My random ideas of the last few years: change my sport, move to Cali, go back to school, volunteer at hospice, write my second book, an Australian sabbatical, move house… These might be explained by a search for a new identity.

In my personal strategic plan, I have a slogan, “if in doubt then wait.” As most of my ideas have proven impractical, I’ve been following my own advice and waiting. Other tips I give myself:

Create space
Keep what works
Share the passions of your favorite people
Say no to non-core activities

It’s always inconvenient to change my situation but it’s better than having an inappropriate situation change me.

Living Young

As an elite athlete, I spent a lot of time grumpy, sore and tired. If you wanted to see me happy then you’d need to join me on a workout. The rest of the time, I was at home feeling oh-so-tired.

I took pride my grumpiness – it was a sign that I was doing what it takes, what others couldn’t do.

Yay me! 😉

I held onto elite athletic performance into my 40s and had success at it. Via coaching and participation, I was able to see under the hood of elite amateur racing and didn’t like that version of my future self. It seemed that I was destined to end up admired, yet grumpy and living a solitary life.

Grumpy and alone is how I saw old people when I was young. Serene and connected seem more attractive but will require a big change of attitude. You see, I trained a mental habit that it was OK for me to be grumpy because I was doing what it takes.

My “what it takes” was athletic performance but we can see the pattern with achievers in all areas – sales performance, work performance, academic performance…


At the end of December, I’ll be closer to 60 than 30 (yrs old). Knowing that too great a focus on performance might cause me to make mistakes, how can I help myself make good choices?

This picture, of Quality vs Time, shows one way to define success:

Quality of Time

The goal line shows a high quality of life for as long a possible.

  • How do I define quality?
  • How might I define quality 10, 20 and 30 years from now?
  • What am I willing to change to maintain quality?

In defining quality, a trap that I’ve fallen into is looking backwards to what I remember as high quality. Two problems with that:

  • I’m not great at remembering backwards in time – I forget the grumpy!
  • I’m optimizing for a younger self that no longer exists – even if I was happy, I can’t handle the protocol anymore!

What’s my definition of living young?

  • Lift my kids to my shoulders – Dad’s most functional strength move
  • Healthy and appropriate sex drive
  • Vanity
  • Orthopedic health – being hurt is horrible
  • Manage blood pressure, blood sugar and cardiovascular health
  • Avoid damaging addictions
  • Capacity of share outdoor activities with my wife and kids
  • Read, write, teach, learn, explore

Ideally, I’d like to manage all of the above without pharmaceutical assistance. Long before I started sports, I was adverse to drugs and I’ve had a lot of positive reinforcement with that decision. It will be interesting to see how, and if, my current views change. Nearly all my older friends (and fellow citizens) have different views on drug use than I do.

What’s your list?

How are the choices you made today impacting that list?