talking about divorce

“The reason there are so many divorces is that we live in a throw away society and no one is willing to work to fix things.”

You’ve no doubt heard a version of this statement before, or possibly even repeated something like it yourself. It is often followed up with comments that start with “in my day” or “I was raised to believe that …”

Yes, the statistics on divorce are alarming at worst, disappointing at best. But not just because they seem to increase or because they might reflect a shift in attitude to marriage (or any other cultural trend that we might point to) but because each of those numbers represents two broken people, maybe a broken family and a whole lot of implications for those in the sphere of this couple … forever!

Divorce is devastating. Divorce is sad. Divorce is taking a ‘one’ that has been created by the union of two and tearing it in half. God says He HATES divorce (Malachi 2 :16) and I can totally understand why. It’s messy, it’s hurtful and its consequences are far reaching. I know this from my own experience – both as a child of divorced parents and as a divorcee myself. 

It doesn’t matter how bad a marriage was, a divorce is never good.

Our language matters.

We need to be more careful in how we talk about divorce – because, again, we’re talking about people. Not just a social trend or statistic. People. On the end of every one of our generalisations is a person who has been impacted by divorce in ways that flippant language not only fails to consider but may also compound. As I move around I hear so many stories of people being unnecessarily wounded by the careless words of others and see the easy traps people fall in when speaking about divorce. Our language matters.

No one gets married intending to be divorced.

No one.

Even people who don’t do anything to make their marriage work aren’t expecting that it won’t! Anyone who finds themselves divorced, even if it was them who initiated and actioned it, is living a different future than they expected. It might be better (safer, healthier, necessary) to not be in the marriage anymore but it still isn’t anyone’s goal to be divorced.

Divorce isn’t the easy way out.

Even when the pathway to divorce is clear – an abusive partner, an unfaithful spouse, untenable circumstances – divorce is not an easy option.

It is practically taxing. Division of assets, closing and opening bank accounts, relocating (for one or both), potential custody considerations and all manner of things required to detach and then re-establish independently and recover financially. It’s emotionally devastating. Even the most amicable of separations are founded on a level of relational fracturing that carries all sorts of implications for a sense of self and one’s view of the world – a life story is forever altered. 

It may seem easier than staying. It might seem like a cop out. But it carries its own consequences and challenges that can’t be underestimated (by those considering it or those journeying through it with others).

“We just never gave up” only works if it’s truly ‘we’.

Often, when asked the secret to a long marriage people respond “We just never gave up”. Which is undoubtedly true. Sticktoitiveness is one of the essential ingredients to longevity in anything. But it’s important to emphasise the ‘we’ in that statement. It requires BOTH people to have not given up.

The old adage applies that if only one is paddling in a two person canoe it will just go around in circles. Some divorced individuals never gave up. Some fought harder to compensate for another who didn’t fight. In the end one can’t be married alone.

A high value of marriage should be second to a high value of people.

Many people stay (or are counselled to stay) in abusive or destructive relationships because of the emphasis placed on the value or sacredness of marriage. Well might we benefit from a greater honouring of and investment in marriage – your own or those of family, friends or church community around you. Let us be champions of marriage – encouraging and supporting in anyway we can. But let that never be at the expense of the emotional or physical safety of the people in it.

Our language matters.

How you speak about divorce – in public forums (the platform at church, social media or other communications) or in casual conversations – matters to those impacted by divorce. Let’s be mindful to consider the people the statistics are referencing when we make observation of cultural trends or shift. Let’s be champions of people and places where healing and support can be sought and experienced rather than (perhaps inadvertently) communicating judgement or exclusion to people already navigating a difficult life experience.

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leading with ‘we’ instead of ‘I’

We’ve all heard the adage “There’s no ‘I’ in team!” – but there can sometimes be a lot of “I” in leadership! (And I mean more than just the little one that is the second last letter!)

Of course, leadership by definition is often an individual or solo task. It’s the act of being ‘out in front’; the front bird in the geese formation, the pointy end of the arrow, the cutting edge, the trailblazer, the pioneer – all of these aspects of leadership are true and right. But more often than not, we find that our leadership plays out in teams and groups. There’s limited value in being the trailblazer if no one is actually then walking on that trail – and if you’re flying out the front of the geese formation and there’s no one else in the geese formation? You know what that makes you? That’s right, a goose!

The purpose of leadership is to take others somewhere they wouldn’t otherwise go. It’s to see things that are not yet and paint a picture in the imagination of others to inspire them towards future possibilities. It’s to champion gifts, skills and capacity in people that they might otherwise not have known they possessed and to lead them into actions, thought and influence that they might otherwise not have explored or experienced.

Language matters.

How we speak as leaders shapes the culture of our teams and contexts.

Here are some things that can happen when we use “we” instead of “I“.

  • We draw people in to realising their part in a broader movement; a greater purpose. We reinforce a culture of collaboration and team work. We allow others to feel part of activity and outcomes that they may not have even had direct involvement in. It generates energy and excitement around the bigger picture and grander vision.
  • We indicate that we’ve included other voices in our thought processes and decision making. It may be our spouse, parent or friend (as opposed to someone within our organisation or team) but it demonstrates a willingness to listen to other opinions and allow accountability to external input to refine and shape our actions.
  • We demonstrate the humility to share successes (that might actually be wholly ours) with our team. The idea might have been ours, the hours of preparation might have been ours, dealing with the obstacles and opposition might have been ours, but the win is the team’s. We also communicate an expectation of humility in others.
  • We create a culture that handles failure in healthy ways. When we communicate a loss in the language of ‘we’, we show our teams that they can explore, innovate and experiment with confidence because we will all share in the loss. They don’t need to fear public correction or embarrassment. Review and recovery will be handled in a shared and sensitive way.
  • We keep a separation between policy, processes and decisions, and people and emotions. The language of ‘we’ draws on a corporate code; our agreed methods of working and interacting. It reminds others of the decisions we’ve made as an organisation that are guiding our choices rather than making it about personality.
  • We reduce the need for personal defensiveness – from ourselves and the team member. This is not me against you. No one is fighting for themselves in this conflict, process or project – we are on the same team.

It’s really important to note – this is not about deflecting personal responsibility when the responsibility is ours. It’s not an ‘out’ for taking ownership of decisions that are difficult for others to process or avoiding ownership of personal mistakes and shortfall. “I” is also necessary sometimes. But our tendency towards that language first can be unnecessarily distancing, hierarchical, and contrary to building healthy team culture.

your teen needs you!

There are times in the parenting (or leading and teaching) journey when this feels far from true. Your teen may not LOOK like they need you, they might not ACT like they need you and they may even SAY they don’t need you! But they do.

The cry of the teenage/emerging-adult heart is for relationships and community where three things are present – Trust, Respect and Belief. Sociologists report this drive as the key factors behind gang or ‘bikie’ culture. Such is the need of the heart that it draws a person to connection and belonging ANYWHERE these things are present. It’s true of adults too – but (hopefully) there is a greater degree of discernment to determine whether the presence of trust, respect and belief outweighs any negatives about the people or culture who are offering them.

Let’s unpack these three factors further.

TRUST

What they want …Teens want to be trustworthy but they also want to believe they are capable of trustworthiness and so will crave actions and communication that demonstrate this trust and confidence.

What they fear… Questioning their decision-making skills, their ability to consider all outcomes and options, or their self management or control, translates as an absence of trust.

What to try…

  • Give ample time and opportunity for your teen to explain what they do know and what they have considered (rather than assuming they haven’t really thought things through).
  • Ask questions or use hypothetical scenarios to extend  their awareness of potential outcomes and concerns and grow their consideration.
  • Express your desire to ‘assume the risk’ for the unknown or potential consequences of a decision rather than burdening them with that when their experience or vision is limited. In other words, sometimes a parent needs to be the one who decides because the decision and its outcomes are too weighty for a young person to have to bear.

BELIEF

What they want… In the face of sometimes crippling self-doubt, insecurity, fear of the future and competition teens will gravitate to people and places where they are encouraged to dream big dreams and imagine an extraordinary future.

What they fear… Youth are constantly wondering if they really have what it takes to succeed in life (aren’t we all!). They don’t have the history or experience of seeing how things will play out and so their capacity to predict the future is limited. They are highly sensitive to any inference from adults in their world that what they hope for or are aiming for in their future is not possible.

What to try…

  • Check any language that overloads current decisions or actions with future impact (“if you don’t do well at school you’re not going to have opportunities in work later”). Of course all choices and actions have consequences but then all consequences have options, grace and capacity for recovery. Finite, exaggerated or fatalistic language will scream dis-belief.
  • Encourage aspects of character, attitude and heart that, if they continued to develop them, will open up a world of opportunities to live a productive and impact-ful future.

RESPECT

What they want… As teens transition into adulthood, they are super sensitive to insinuations of immaturity. While they fight for independence they want adults around them to start seeing them as emerging adults and treating them accordingly.

What they fear… Commonly the language and tone we use when talking to young people is quite different to how adults would talk to peers. We can present as quite condescending and they feel that we are unable to see them as anything other than a child.

What to try… 

  • Ask the question “How would I handle this situation if this were a co-worker or peer rather than a teen?” (For example, if a coworker knocked a drink over at a meal table we’d probably be quite quick to help them feel ok about the mishap rather than chastise them for their behaviour.)
  • What actions or statements can you change or add to your interactions that communicate respect of their property or privacy, of their opinions and perspectives, and of their insecurities and fears?
  • Consider how you could deescalate a situation by prioritising respect – both given and received.

How about you?
How have you seen this need for Trust, Belief and Respect manifest in your teens? What do you recall of your struggle with this in your own journey into adulthood? How might you leverage this knowledge to bring greater connection with your teen?

 

it’s not just you


I do some really random things. Too many to list, but here’s an example. 

When I’m pouring a drink, filling a pot with water, or even emptying a new bag of rice into the Tupperware I count. “Pouring ..1, 2, 3, 4 … done.” I don’t have a reason for counting. I do nothing with the number I reach, I just count. 

I don’t know why. 

One day I was talking with my Dad and he just happened to mention that he did exactly the same thing!! We were both incredulous! “You too? I was sure I was the only one!”

We proceeded to share all the different places and times we do this and laughed as we tried to work out together why! (No logical conclusion was reached.)

The power of the “you too?” moment is awesome. In funny, random things like this example it creates a fun and friendly link between two people (I often stop mid-counting now to think “ha, Dad would do this too”). In more weighty or life-impacting issues the power of that is exponentially greater. 

The divorcee, the abuse victim, the fired worker, the tired parents of toddlers, the grieving spouse, the carer for an elderly relative, the gender-excluded, the shift worker, the insecure or intimidated, the abandoned child, the heart-broken, the lonely person, the socially excluded, or the financially challenged often experience exacerbated levels of grief or struggle because of the perception that they are the only one feeling or experiencing their particular circumstances. When in reality, there’s unlikely to be many experiences known to humankind that aren’t also encountered by others – sometimes many others …sometimes even most. 

It’s probably not just you. 

The issue with this is that on top of the struggle of whatever it is we’re facing we add an often unnecessary sense of isolation that brings with it an increased emotional cost to process our way through to wellbeing. The language of this looks something like “everyone else is …”, “no one else has to…”, “I’m the only one who …”It’s harder for me because…” or “it’s easier for them because …” Sound familiar?

So what can we do?

  • Share your experience. Not only might you find someone else who can relate but you might be that person to another. The more I share of my own life and my own challenges the more “you too?” connections I make. For example, EVERY time I’ve mentioned my own experience of miscarriage I’ve found a “you too?” person in the group. 
  • Save your emotional energy for the real stuff without adding (most probably untrue) emotional baggage to your journey. When you’re struggling through a challenge or experiencing a difficulty – devote your heart energy to finding a way to cope and thrive. Don’t add the burden of self-imposed aloneness or isolation to the list of things you’re carrying. 
  • Change your language. I am 150% more prone to exaggeration than the average person. 😉 But in emotionally intense situations we are easily drawn to using exaggeration and over-statement to try and garner the depth of sympathy and response our hearts are looking for. “Never”, “always”, “everyone” and “no one” are rarely accurate statements (like, really, have you polled everyone?!). Yeah. Stop that. 
  • Check your self-talk. The things we say out loud are at least able to be challenged by more emotionally sober and objective people. What you say to yourself is incredibly powerful and largely unknown to those around you. Take responsibility for your thought life and the kinds of things you accept about yourself from yourself. 
  • Acknowledge the equation. While each of our circumstances may not be unique in and of themselves, the combination of them in our own lives – plus our personality – plus our life stage – plus our faith – plus our family dynamic – plus our place in the situation (etc etc) -combine to determine its impact on us and our response to it. The “me too” response ought to bring connection not a sense of being dismissed.