The first holiday after you’ve lost a loved one is tough. How do you make it through a time of joy and family when you’re grieving? Here are 3 practical steps to navigating the holiday season after someone you love has died.
“I want a divorce.”
Some words cause your body to go numb. Your ears buzz. You start to float above yourself. In those moments, you’re experiencing so much stress, and your body is being flooded with so much adrenaline, it can be difficult to think straight.
As difficult as it may be, thinking straight is the #1 thing you can do to help yourself when you’re getting terrible news. It’s crucial, in those moments, to keep your wits about you, gather information, and maintain self-control.
So how do you stay calm when you’re in the middle of receiving terrible news?
Take a sip of water.
It’s a tiny action, but taking a sip of water can be a great move when you receive shocking information. First, it gives you a mental break from the tough conversation. You may feel like you need a split second to close your eyes and process the information, and taking a sip of water gives you an excuse for breaking eye contact without looking “weak.” Taking a sip of water also gives you something to do with your hands, to keep them from jittering. Especially if the conversation is with someone like a boss, you want to appear composed and stoic. Having a glass of water as a prop can cover up your nerves.
Stay present in the moment.
It’s human nature, when getting bad news, for your thoughts to start spinning out of control. You can’t help but think about the future, and how this news will shape your life for months or years to come. Instead, keep your thoughts in the moment at hand. When you keep you mind focused, you’ll be better able to process what’s actually happening than if you allow your mind to wander to all the worst case scenarios. As this Forbes article remarks, it’s definitely best to avoid heading down the spiral of “what if…?” When you stay in the moment, you’ll be a better participant in the conversation, and you’ll remember the important information more accurately. Which dovetails perfectly with the next step…
When I found out I had cancer, there were so many questions I wished I had asked the doctor when I was right there in front of him. Because I was so flustered at the news, I sat there in shock instead of asking smart questions. I had to email my concerns to the nurse and wait several days for a response. If you get bad news, don’t hesitate to ask as many questions as you need, rather than assuming the worst. It also helps to take notes. Many times our adrenaline keeps us from recording good memories of these tough conversations, so taking notes will help you not only focus in the moment, but also give you something to jog your memory later.
Remind yourself all the ways it could be worse.
We’ve been taught to believe we should think positive when we get bad news. But last week I had the honor of hearing Sheryl Sandberg, the author and Facebook executive, participate in a Q&A, and she had a different perspective. She recalled that a friend told her, after her husband Dave died, that “it could have been worse. Dave could have been driving the children when his heart gave out.” She realized that she could have lost her entire family in a single moment. By remembering that things could, in fact, be worse, we put our struggles in perspective.
Take a single action.
Getting bad news makes us feel powerless. We can’t control the situation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. Figure out the first action you can take to regain control, no matter how small. Through a psychological construct called “self efficacy,” taking even the smallest action helps you feel more competent and powerful. If you’ve been diagnosed with an illness, your fist step could be finding a specialist. If you’re faced with divorced, your first step could be protecting your financial information. If you’ve been let go from your job, it could be brushing up your resume. By doing what you can do, even if it doesn’t feel like much, you’re building your self efficacy for the moments ahead.
Getting bad news can feel like life as you know it is over. But if you keep calm, stay present, gather information, and put the situation in perspective, you’ll be able to move forward as quickly as possible.
Think grades are the only thing that matters? Not all important predictors of success are on a college application. Here are two real-world issues that your teenager needs to know how to handle in order to succeed in college and life beyond. Teach your teen these real life skills for an easier path to success.
My husband is great. But he’s not my rock.
I don’t say that to be insulting. In fact, I mean it as a compliment. He’s not my rock, or my anchor, or any of those other overused phrases to describe a partner. A rock and an anchor are things that tie you to one place. They slow you down, weigh you down, or even drag you down. That’s not a metaphor I want to use in my marriage.
On top of the terrible image of being weighed down by your partner, a boat is pretty much helpless without an anchor. It can’t go much of anyplace. It can get stuck at sea forever, but it can’t go much of anyplace else. The boat needs the anchor. That’s a pretty crummy analogy for a healthy marriage, too.
By describing our spouses using outdated comparisons, we set negative expectations for what relationships should be. If you hold on to a belief that your marriage is holding you in place, what do you believe will happen if you grow and evolve? Or want to experience the world on a grander scale? If you believe that you require your partner, in order to be safe and secure, what will happen if your partner can’t always keep you safe? Or if life ever challenges you to be alone?
Healthy Marriages Don’t Need Rocks
My husband isn’t a rock. He’s more like… Technicolor.
Movies were great long before Technicolor was introduced. But they were even better after. Before Technicolor, we could still experience the story, the characters, and the emotions. We still enjoyed the drama of it all. But with Technicolor, everything got brighter. It got more engaging. It seeped into our souls.
The analogy of Technicolor works because it helps us understand how our partner makes our life better, while still allowing us to be whole, functioning individuals. It acknowledges the richness of relationships, while not supposing that singlehood is like being adrift on a lonely see. Heck, some people prefer black and white films!
When we rely on other people to provide necessary functions we should really be providing for ourselves, like happiness or stability, we’re handing over our personal power to someone else. And that’s a recipe for dysfunction. The struggles of life require us to be fully complete individuals, all by ourselves, to survive.
My husband is my Technicolor. He brings brightness and joy and intensity to my life that I didn’t have before. My movie would still be running without him, but it’s far better with him.
How do I raise a child who is kind and giving to others? Lots of parents ask me that, because I used to help get young adults volunteering and donating. There’s one strategy most of us forget. We don’t know how to teach our children to ask compassionate questions! Here’s how to do that, and raise a more kind and loving child.
Family conflict is normal. It can even be healthy! But if you and your family are fighting all the time, it might be out of control. These three warning signs will help you recognize family conflict that’s become an unhealthy pattern, so you and your loved ones can get back on track.
Why Is My Family So Lazy?
I get it – your family just drives you crazy sometimes. They’re lazy. Or they’re too loud. Or they’re forgetful. Whatever issue is annoying you, it’s tempting to take that complaint and turn it into a character flaw.
The trouble with calling out our loved ones’ character flaws is that we personalize the conflict. When we tell someone that we’re frustrated because they’re ALWAYS lazy, or ALWAYS whatever-it-is, we make the conflict worse. Research from my book, The Successful Struggle, shows that when we make a conflict personal, we escalate the conflict to higher level, making both sides dig in their heels and feel less inclined to meet in the middle and find resolution.
Additionally, parents may want to be especially careful about labeling behaviors as character flaws, because children can easily internalize those statements and come to believe that they’re “bad” people, or that they’ll never overcome those traits.
Everyone Is Lying To Me!
Lying can become a way for children and adults to deflect conflict. Now, lying can also be a developmentally appropriate (if totally infuriating) thing for a child to do. But if your children don’t outgrow the typical lying phase, or lying seems to become a multi-generational habit in your house, look deeper for an underlying cause.
If everyone in your family lies to avoid a fight, one reason could be that the adults are handling conflict in a volatile and scary way. When that happens, everyone else tip-toes around in order to keep from making Mom, Dad, or whoever else angry. If lying seems to be a big problem in your house, make sure you aren’t overreacting to issues, causing your family members to lie to avoid your anger.
Apologize… or Else
Children should always be respectful of their parents. But when it comes to family conflict, it’s important to find the right balance between respect and resolution.
It’s not always appropriate for children to shoulder all the blame for a conflict. But in many families, the idea of “respecting your elders,” can mean that children are required to apologize, yet never receive an apology in return. If you lost your cool, it’s important to own your part of the fight and apologize. Watching you gracefully acknowledge your frustration and ask forgiveness is role modeling for your children, and will make them better at handling conflict in their future.
The end goal of family arguments should be true resolution, not just a child’s forced apology. Putting the burden on your child to apologize to end an argument can be a sign that you’re unclear on how to resolve a fight in a healthy way that hopefully ensures the same issue doesn’t crop up again.
It’s time to end the homework battle and dinner table fighting for good. Recognize these three signs and get your family conflict under control so everyone can be happy and healthy (and you stop pulling your hair out!)
This marriage can’t be saved. It’s over.
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that in the middle of a fight, you’re not alone. Marital arguments are frustrating and uncomfortable, because the person we expect to be our biggest ally in the world, suddenly becomes our adversary.
And that’s the problem. When you start seeing your partner as your enemy, you’ve entered a dangerous element of conflict known as detachment. When we detach from someone else in the middle of a conflict, we see the two sides are “my side” and “their side.” We have a hard time acknowledging any common ground or common desires.
As you start to detach, you find yourself getting your emotional needs fulfilled everywhere but your marriage. Or you may find yourself “stonewalling,” where you freeze the other person out. John Gottman, Ph.D, who coined the phrase, says that stonewalling breeds resentment in both members of the couple.
Once you’ve detached from your partner, it’s easier to fight dirty. They’re not a real person to you anymore, in a sense, because your anger makes you blind to the human being (whom you hopefully love!) standing in front of you. They’re just the enemy. And the enemy must give in or be destroyed. And once you’ve detached from your marriage, it’s MUCH easier to throw out phrases designed to kill. Phrases like “I want a divorce.”
Dropping the d-word is so much more than just a dirty fighting tactic. Threatening divorce is a signal to your partner – and to yourself – that you don’t’ trust the relationship enough to assume that it can weather the storm. You’re indicating that you’d rather just save yourself the fight because there’s nothing worth salvaging.
Now, don’t think I’m advocating that you can never bring up divorce in a marriage. Sometimes – and I’ve been there – two incompatible people have to start the process of considering divorce. But that needs to be a very well-though out, well-prepared conversation. Not a bomb dropped in the middle of a fight for shock value or to hurt your partner.
Threatening divorce is a signal to your partner – and to yourself – that you don’t’ trust the relationship enough to assume that it can weather the storm.
Using “I want a divorce” in a typical marital argument is the ultimate sign that you’ve allowed yourself to breed an unhealthy detachment from your spouse. If you realize you’ve detached, you can fix it.
For starters, find common ground in your argument. Try to go back to the root of the issue and find some kind of common ground. Common ground has been proven by scientists to help people in conflict avoid detachment and depersonalization.
There is almost always something you both want in common, even if that thing is “to stop fighting.” Maybe you both want financial security, but you disagree on the details. Or you both want a relaxing vacation, you just disagree about whether his mother should be there. Many arguments start as task-related arguments – a disagreement about how something should be accomplished. But when the disagreement goes unsolved for too long, it turns personal, and that’s when detachment happens.
“Divorce” is a dirty word in a marriage. There are far more productive ways to fight besides dropping the d-word bomb, so don’t say it if you don’t mean it. Instead, stay attached to your partner, find common ground, and fight healthy. It’s worth it!
Ask a mom what she wants for Mother’s Day, and you’re likely to get one of two answers: either she wants a fun family experience, or she wants some relaxing time by herself. Either a family fun day, or a spa day.
Those two answers seem opposite of one another: one mom wants quiet time, and the other wants quality time. One wants to be alone, the other wants to be with her spouse and kids. But the two answers aren’t really that different, if you look deeper. Both types of moms are asking for one thing: more meaning out of life.
When we all run around with the stressors of modern life hanging over our heads, we leave very little time to add meaning. Sure, we can find it in small moments, like reading bedtime stories, or once-a-month volunteer time. But in the rush of day-to-day living, stress often wins out over meaning in the battle of where we put our focus, time and attention.
The two polar opposite responses – one wanting more family time, one wanting more alone time – are in fact solutions to the same problem of not having enough meaningful moments in life.
I recently surveyed my readers, and I asked them the fill-in-the-blanks question “what would make your life easier or more enjoyable?” The top two answers were “relaxation/down time” and “time with friends and family.” (The #3 answer was along the lines of “fewer details/simplification”, just showing how much stress interferes with our life enjoyment.)
A Mom who wants quality family time doesn’t want just more hours with her family. She likely spends 18+ hours a day thinking about her spouse and kids! (even more during Science Fair season, right?) It’s not about more time, it’s about doing enjoyable things with that time. It’s about non-stressful time, where she doesn’t have to make anyone’s lunch or mediate a fight or use a plastic spoon to dig the last little chunk of stain stick out of the tube. It’s about building a meaningful memory, without stress getting in the way.
And a mom who wants quiet alone time doesn’t just want to be solitary. She is looking for space to hear herself think. She wants to hear the little voice in her head that reminds her of who she is outside of being a wife, mom, employee, daughter, sister, volunteer, boss, whatever. It’s about slowing down and remembering what’s really important to her.
When we let the stress and busy-ness of everyday life become our standard operating procedure, we don’t have a life with very much meaning. When life is one endless responsibility after the other, we don’t have a life with very much meaning. When peaceful, unstructured time (either by ourselves or with loved ones) is the best gift we can think of, we don’t have a life with very much meaning. What mom really wants for Mother’s Day this year is a little more meaning in her life. Can you find a bow big enough for that?
Friendships and popularity are of critical important for kids, but its equally important to be able to stand up for what’s right. Here’s the ONE key thing you can say to raise a child with strong enough self-esteem to be unpopular.
Rejection is hard, and that first rejection for a teenager can be devastating. Here’s a guide for parents on the healthiest ways to help your teenager get over a breakup.