My divorced parents care more about hurting each other than they do about me and my sibling. How could I get them to stop this behavior and focus on us instead?
Use Brain Hacks
You can hack your divorced parents’ brains to alter their behavior. Humans are social creatures and we love to feel needed. That’s why the first thing you should do when you move somewhere is to ask your new neighbor for a favor.
So, start with the nuclear option. Use variations of, “Could you please not fuss about Dad today; I’ve had a hectic week and I just need a little peace right now.” It’s super effective because our brains are hard-wired to assist people who need help–especially kids. Since this is the nuclear option, don’t use it every time or it could lose its effectiveness.
Otherwise, stay positive, always agree, ask questions, appeal to nobler motives, and stay positive.
Adjust the following example to fit your situation and personality:
Dad: Your mom is a shoe.
Kid: Yes, she can be hard to deal with sometimes (agreeing). She knows how to cheer me up. (Going positive.) Last week she made me a cake. (No transition words even though it feels awkward. You started out agreeing with him which flips the “agreeable” switch in his brain. Then you suddenly go positive while that switch is on and his brain is stuck in agree mode. If you use a transition word (but, however, although) then you flip the switch back to argue mode. That’s bad. Practice with a friend before trying it on a parent.)
Dad: Rabble rabble rabble.
Kid: What do you like about being a parent? (A question to get his brain to turn on the parenting mode.)
Dad: Blah blah blah.
Kid: Do you know I really love both you and Mom and it’s stressful when you guys try to hurt each other? (Appealing to nobler motives while his brain is in parenting mode.)
Dad: Rabble rabble rabble.
It’s not rocket science. It’s super easy to train your divorced parents to behave, but you have to be very patient and very consistent and trust that it will work. You want to gradually move them over to the light side by nudging them ever so slightly every day. Always stay positive and have high expectations, then go nuclear when it feels like the best option.
First, you should carefully read your orders. In general, you have a First Amendment right to post videos of your children. Absent special circumstances a court can’t order you not to.
The general advice I give is that a parent should give the legally required responses in a friendly way. For example, if your ex sends you an irate long-winded email asking why your son is in the hospital, you would simply respond along the lines of, “Jason sprained his ankle playing football. nothing is broken. The doctors expect him to be able to play again in 4–6 weeks.”
On the other hand, if your ex sends you an email demanding you refrain from posting pictures of your children, then no response should be sent because no response is legally required — assuming nothing in the orders or your local laws suggests it is.
How Easy is it to Get a Divorce in Texas if Both Parties are in Agreement?
Sometimes people come to me wanting to get a divorce where they think they are already agreed. Couples don’t necessarily know the consequences of their agreements and how they could affect their futures. Here are some issues you should consider when you are seeking an agreed divorce.
Problem 1: Do you have Children?
If there are children involved, who is going to have primary custody, what is going to be the visitation schedule, who is going to make decisions regarding the children’s physical and mental health, education, and religious upbringing? Have you truly thought through what could lead to disagreements in these areas and how they will be resolved? Once the other parent gets a boyfriend or girlfriend, attitudes in these areas are likely to change.
What is child support going to be? Do you have proof of income to determine the amount based on your state’s guidelines? Is the obligor going to pay guidelines child support? Is the reason the obligor paying under guidelines because it is honestly in the best interest of the child, or is it in the best interest of the obligor?
Have you come into an agreement on all of these issues because you are putting the convenience of an agreement above the best interest of the children? How can you be sure? Have you had a neutral third party evaluate and confirm that your decisions are in the best interest of the children?
Problem 2: Do you have a home or other assets?
Will the parties sell the home or let one keep it? If one party is going to keep it, are both going to stay on the mortgage and title? How are you going to ensure that the party out of possession’s credit and interest in avoiding waste are protected? Have you talked to a divorce lender about an equity buy-out? For example, you should know how to pre-qualify and what language needs to go into the divorce decree to protect everyone’s interests.
Do you have any other assets? Do you have bank accounts, brokerage accounts, bonds, life insurance, or any other financial assets? Are you sure know about all of the financial assets of both spouses? What if you find out later divorce that an asset has not been disclosed?
Do you have any retirement accounts? Have you accounted for the value of your retirement assets? Is there enough other property to divide with enough value to avoid splitting the retirement accounts? If not, do you have language for the decree and QDROs to ensure that the division complies with ERISA and the specific requirements of the plan administrators?
Problem 3: Do you have any personal property, collectibles, motor vehicles, etc.?
Have you created sworn inventories of all of the property and how much it is worth? Are you in agreement over how much everything is worth? Have divided the property evenly and added up all of the agreed values to determine if it is a fair division. Are you sure all property has been accounted for?
Is there any separate property? Has one party used community funds to improve or maintain separate property? Are there community assets that one party has used separate property funds towards the purchase, improvement or maintenance of? Does it matter?
Problem 4: Do you have any debts?
Does either party have any debts that the other will still be liable for after the divorce is finalized? Have you talked to a credit management expert to make sure your credit is protected during and after your divorce?
What are you going to do about tax liability? Who was responsible for filing tax returns during the marriage? What if they were under or over-paid? Will the IRS be coming after you if your spouse took deductions that are later disqualified?
Problem 5: How will you live after your divorce?
Have you talked to a financial planner to determine how to reach your financial goals after divorce? Is it better to take a big cash payout, an interest in the retirement account, or spousal maintenance secured with a lien? Do you want to go back to school, save for your children’s college, or retire? Do you know how exactly how you can accomplish any of the things you want?
Divorce is extremely traumatic.
Agreement doesn’t make the divorce less traumatic, it just reallocates the trauma–either in a way that either one party bears the brunt of it or in a way that is fair. Getting an agreed divorce that works best for you and your goals is extremely difficult unless you have no children and no community property.
You are getting a divorce for some reason. You are going to have competing interests with the person you are divorcing. It can be extremely easy for one side in an agreed divorce if the other side rolls over. That doesn’t reduce the difficulty it only pushes it all onto the loser. A fair divorce is hard, but very doable by agreement.
If you get along well enough to work out an agreed divorce, consider deciding not to get divorced. Sometimes you can’t avoid it because of abuse, infidelity, or other serious issues. However, if it’s a difficult decision, decide not to. Once you make a decision, your subconscious can start working on ways to make things work.
First, you must decide whether you need a divorce. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. You think that a divorce will solve some problem that you have. If your spouse is abusive or cheating on you, then divorce is likely to be the better option in dealing with it. But if the problems are financial, emotional, or something else, you may have better ways to solve your problem. Even if you think you have “tried everything,” chances are you haven’t tried anything half as emotionally and financially draining as a divorce.
How are you going to survive for the first seven years after your divorce? You may not have thought that far ahead. Do you have a budget and a plan for how you are going to meet your needs post-divorce? How are you going to pay child support, rent, insurance, and all the other expenses in a divided household? Do you want to try Collaborative Law? Who are you going to hire to be your attorney? How are you going to pay attorney fees? Where will you live while the divorce is pending?
3. The Petition.
The first legal step in a divorce is to file the Original Petition for Divorce and paying the filing fee. The petition states the grounds for the divorce and the relief that the petitioner is requesting from the court.
4. Service of Citation.
After the petition is filed, it along with a citation must be served on the respondent. The citation is a document prepared by the clerk under the seal of the court that has information that the respondent needs to know in order to respond to the divorce suit. The citation and petition must be served on the respondent by a sheriff, constable, or licensed process server. The respondent can sign a waiver of service of the citation to avoid this expense.
5. The Answer.
The respondent has until the Monday following twenty days of receipt of citation to file an answer. The answer can contain a general denial, denials of specific allegations, and counterclaims. A typical answer contains a general denial and a request for attorney fees.
6. The Counter-petition.
Counter-petitions are optional. A counter-petition is a petition filed by the respondent of the original petition. Counter-petitions are filed when the respondent has claims to make against the petitioner. They can also be filed to keep the suit alive in case the petitioner dismisses his own case.
7. Temporary Orders.
Temporary orders are also optional. Parties request them to preserve assets while the divorce is pending, or to make orders regarding the children until the divorce is final. They may include a temporary restraining order or temporary injunction to make sure the parties behave themselves during the divorce process and may include an order to mediate. Temporary orders can be agreed, or a judge can decide on temporary orders after a hearing.
The discovery process is where the parties exchange information necessary to determine what will go into the final order. Discovery can start as soon as the divorce is filed and can be informal or formal. Informal discovery consists of requests between the parties or between their attorneys for information that they think they will need to finalize the divorce. It is usually cheaper than formal discovery. In formal discovery, the parties serve each other requests to produce documents, disclose certain information about the lawsuit, answer interrogatories, answer depositions, and make admissions or denials. Third parties can also be subpoenaed and deposed during the discovery process.
9. The Final Trial.
Almost every divorce ends in a final trial. If the divorce is agreed, only the petitioner typically shows up for the trial, gives evidence, and asks the judge to sign the order. Some courts allow the petitioner to file an affidavit with the final order so that no one must go to court and there is no trial. If the parties can’t agree on the terms for the final order, then either the judge or a jury will decide after a contested hearing.
10. Motion to Enter.
Unfortunately, even after the final trial is held and the judge or jury rules, sometimes parties still can’t agree on language for the final order. When that happens, the parties must appear before the judge at least one more time to have the judge rule on the language and sign the order.
If you want to control someone, it’s an easy process. People from earlier generations knew how to do it instinctively, but most of them were raised to be better than that. Today, I am worried that young people don’t completely understand how to manipulate others to get everything they want. Please allow me to point out ways to succeed in life at the expense of others. As long as you win, it doesn’t matter what happens to anyone else, right?
4 simple steps
The first step is to see or hear some slight and blow it completely out of proportion. If you are a man, it might be something along the lines of screaming at the top of your lungs when your girlfriend says something critical about your mother. If you are a woman, you might try having an emotional breakdown when your husband stops to chat with an attractive female coworker. The situation should be serious enough to warrant some reaction, but innocuous enough that you have plenty of room to overreact.
Condition your target to react negatively to everything a disapproved person says…
Second, gauge the reaction. You want your target to apologize, attempt to console you, and try to calm you down. If instead, your target blows you off or refuses to play the game, then you need to be patient and wait until he has more time and emotion invested in you. And, be on the lookout for a bigger mistake to which you can overreact even more! It will surely come if you look hard enough. Analyze and use every situation until you break your target down
Third, give a reward. Praise your target for any signs of submission, whether it is an apology or just an acknowledgment of your feelings. If your target is a romantic partner, add a physical reward such as a favorite meal or intimacy. You want to raise serotonin levels to reinforce the behavior.
Fourth, isolate your target. Isolation should be both physical and emotional. To physically isolate your target, do things like prevent him from getting a job or forbid her family from visiting. To emotionally separate someone, destroy the character of anyone you don’t want them interacting with. Constantly insult the people you don’t approve of with horrible names. Condition your target to react negatively to everything a disapproved person says and blow up every time your target communicates with the unapproved person. Reward your target for telling you about anyone who says something negative about you or your relationship. Don’t forget to overreact!
Keep up the pressure
Finally, escalate and repeat. If your target is your romantic partner, never use violence more than once. That is enough to plant fear into their mind for life, but more than that can land you in jail. And after all, it is much harder to control people from jail. Make a bigger scene and react more extremely to smaller and smaller things. Embarrass him in public. Start making it harder to get a reward and increase the isolation. A fun thing to try at this stage is “gas-lighting”, where you start accusing your target of manipulating you and other ridiculous things. At some point, your target may move out. This is normal, and temporary if you did a good job with the fear and reward cycle.
A fun thing to try at this stage is “gas-lighting”…
Pretty soon, your target’s friends and family will no longer recognize him. No matter how hard they try, they will not be able to talk sense into him. The more logic your target hears, the more bizarre and outlandish excuses he will make for your behavior. Even better, knowing how crazy his reasons sound to everyone else, he will scream at and push away anyone who tries to help. Now you are on the right track. Complete dependence on you!
Don’t worry, this will work on anyone … housewives, engineers, and even doctors and lawyers. Intelligence does not matter. It is all brain chemistry. Try it, and let me know how it goes!
Belief systems are powerful, and when shared by a population, they build civilizations up or burn them to the ground.
Before he died, a distant relative sat down with me and humbly told the story of how he gave his wife a black eye. He did this with all the boys in our extended family at a time when we were old enough to understand but young enough to shape our belief system. He wanted us to grow up with a deeply held belief that it is never okay to strike a woman.
Belief systems define who we are and are difficult to change. I could post a hundred scenarios where you think a woman deserved to be hit, but my subconscious completely rejects the input as absurd or rationalizes why it does not matter. Belief systems are powerful, and when shared by a population, they build civilizations up or burn them to the ground.
A “Men’s Problem”?
Recently, I was at a domestic violence conference where a speaker asserted that “domestic violence is a men’s problem.” He went on to say something about not caring if it offended people, that it should offend people, and his belief was backed by statistics saying women are overwhelmingly the victims. In other words, that is his belief system, and he will rationalize why any contrary information does not matter. So, let me give you that contrary information, and then tell you why it does not matter
First, let me tell you a little bit about my experience with domestic violence. Not only have I seen it in my professional practice, but I’ve witnessed it with family and friends.
Arnold and Ann have a child together. Both parents have drinking problems. When Ann gets drunk and upset, she throws things at Arnold. One day, Ann became especially angry and started throwing items at Arnold and punching his head and body while he was holding their baby. Arnold kicked Ann out, and she called the police and had Arnold arrested. Ann, it turns out, has done this with at least two other boyfriends. The truth was only revealed later when she attacked the wrong person.
Previously, Ben was arrested for beating his wife, Betty. The attack was so severe that she required hospitalization. But he used the kids as leverage to get his wife to come back, and she never prosecuted him. One day when they were both drunk, they had an argument, and Betty locked Ben out of the bedroom and passed out. Ben decided to retaliate for his prior arrest by filing a false report that Betty pointed a gun at him. Police records showed multiple inconsistent statements on Ben’s part, including bizarre claims that Betty’s prior injuries were due to her own clumsiness. And yet, because Betty doesn’t remember anything, she is labeled a perpetrator and indicted for family violence assault with a deadly weapon. “She pointed a gun at me” almost always wins over “I don’t remember what happened.”
How do you tell who is the victim and who is the abuser? The victim is probably the one you don’t like. Think about it. Is it the popular kid being beaten up at school, or is it the popular one doing the beating? Abusers are masters at manipulating other people’s belief systems – not just their victims’. It is downright creepy hearing the support an abuser receives from family, friends, and fellow church members against the victim. I wish I could repeat some of the things they say.
Anecdotal versus Statistical Evidence
These examples may not matter to you because they are anecdotal evidence, which refers to evidence derived from individual stories and experiences. It is often dismissed as immaterial because it is considered less reliable than large scientific studies. This, however, is another belief system that you should challenge.
Your belief system may prevent you from considering this latter possibility and questioning the validity of your assumptions.
While statistical evidence is more reliable, it is only as reliable as what it measures. For example, if I go to the courthouse and count the number of men and women in suits, I should get a good indication of how many lawyers are there. Why do it that way? Because it is more efficient than asking everyone to show a bar card. It’s important to remember, though, I am not measuring lawyers, I am counting people in suits and assuming that is a good proxy. My assumption sounds reasonable, but it could be way off. Domestic abusers do not carry around domestic abuser cards. We can only count arrests, admissions, complaints, or some other proxy. Nobody can go back in time to see what really happened.
In my anecdotal experience, the number of male and female victims are about even, and the number of wrongful arrests and incorrect findings of domestic violence is frustratingly high. In the two examples above, a study counting arrests would find three female victims and one male victim. Case 1 revealed one female victim when it was actually one male victim. Case 2 showed one male victim when in reality the female was a victim twice. So, the study is flawed.
Maybe my anecdotal data is completely unreliable, and I am an outlier in the statistics. Or, it could be that studies matching my experiences better reflect reality. Your belief system may prevent you from considering this latter possibility and questioning the validity of your assumptions. See, for example, this story: “Women more likely to be perpetrators of abuse as well as victims“. University of Florida News (last visited October 30, 2017).
Being a Victim
At this point, it may help to talk about why victims return to their abusers. As I said before, abusers are masters at manipulating people’s belief systems. An idea that they instill in women is that if they leave, they will lose their children forever. For men, the notion is that if they leave, they will be arrested, ruining their lives and reputations. Thanks to the belief system that domestic violence is a men’s problem, this is sadly a very real risk.
If you are not willing to have your belief system challenged and instead want to silence or shut out contradicting information, then you are part of the problem.
How do men become victims in the first place? Like me, many men are instilled with the belief system that it is never okay to strike a woman. They live in fear that if they lift a finger in their own defense, they will be prosecuted. Women have fingernails, hands, feet, and whatever weapons are handy that are capable of inflicting damage and pain. Imagine you are that guy in school who was beaten up all the time. Now, you are being hit by your wife, and your self-esteem is entirely wrecked. If you call the police, you risk being arrested. If you leave, you also risk being arrested. In either case, do you really have any options?
Whose Problem is It?
The more important the problem is, the more ideas and perspectives are necessary to solve it.
So, how can we determine whether domestic violence is a men’s problem? In my opinion, that’s the wrong question. The question should be, “What use is a belief system that says domestic violence is a men’s problem?” All around us, there are victim monsters in pretty floral dresses with bright eyes smiling at you, and victim monsters wearing dashing suits giving you friendly handshakes and pats on the back. Does it matter if 4 or 40 percent of victims are men? The children in their homes see horrible treatment and abuse of their mothers or fathers. What belief systems are being wired permanently into their little brains? Let’s focus on that.
If you are not willing to have your belief system challenged and instead want to silence or shut out contradicting information, then you are part of the problem. You may see yourself dedicating your life to standing up for what you believe in, but you aren’t. The more important the problem is, the more ideas and perspectives are necessary to solve it. And yet, today we do the opposite
Listening is Better than Pontificating
Aren’t some things worth a broken ego? How about we don’t shut out ideas we don’t want to hear? Why not put the problem of domestic violence above our belief systems and listen? Are ideas that challenge our deeply held beliefs scarier than the monsters they might be creating?
When a parent remarries, the new spouse is often the source of alienation between the children and one of the parents. This is especially true when there is a clash of cultures. Mixing cultures can be a recipe for disaster between divorced parents and their children. Watch this one hour video by Stefan Molyneux for an example of the problems it can cause.
Unfortunately, you cannot know when you are experiencing cognitive dissonance. Everyone else seems just as wrong either way.
The first thing we need to cover is “cognitive dissonance”. Cognitive dissonance happens when new information clashes with our own realities. If you see a flying pig your mind will rationalize that it must have been shot out of a cannon or launched from a trebuchet. Your mind has to come up with something to rationalize the absurdity of the situation because in your reality pigs cannot fly.
Everyone wants to marry a soul mate. We want, and hopefully think we have found the most wonderful perfect person to share our lives with. In our reality, this new wonderful person could not possibly be the cause of a child hating us or hating the other parent. In order to deal with this absurdity, our minds will rationalize that either the other parent is causing the alienation or the child is the problem. In the video you can hear at about the 60 minute mark where the father says he respects and admires Stefan Molyneux. He deals with the absurdity of disregarding the opinion of someone he highly respects by hallucinating that the reality is more nuanced than even Mr. Molyneux can understand.
Unfortunately, you cannot know when you are experiencing cognitive dissonance. Everyone else seems just as wrong either way.
Our culture informs our reality
Mixing cultures is also a recipe for cognitive dissonance. Culture and values are intimately tied up with who we are. By the time you marry someone, you’ve negotiated those differences. You look past them to see the person you love and rationalize and adjust to the differences. This is all well and good, but your ex spouse and children are not going through the same process in the same way. It’s like you’ve gone to the personality tailor and swapped out a chunk of who you are. To you, you are the same person, but to those closest to you, you are not. Moreover, anything your ex or your children do not like, they are going to blame on the new spouse. And because some of those changes involve new culture and values, you can bet there are going to be some things they do not like.
The best thing you can do is focus on the children and not the fault.
If you divorce from a conservative culture and marry into one that is more permissive, your ex may see you as becoming immoral and teaching the children bad values. If you go the other way, your ex will see you as becoming oppressive and authoritarian.
In either case, the children are likely to be caught up in the middle of the culture war and be forced to choose sides. Both parents are going to want to teach their values to their children. When they were married, the parents had already worked through those issues, so in divorce they likely co-parented well to start with. When the culture of one household changes, it throws everything out of balance.
Alienating a parent
Alienating a parent is never good for the child. Because of cognitive dissonance, people never think that they or their new spouses are part of the problem. It’s always going to be entirely the other parent’s fault. And remember, nobody knows when they are in cognitive dissonance. Everyone else is just being crazy and acting absurdly.
In some cases, the goal of the new spouse is alienation. Because of the cultural differences, the step-parent simply sees the other parent though the cultural lens he was born into and wants the other parent gone for the good of the children. In other cases alienation is the goal of the ex-spouse for the same reasons. Either or both of these could be the reality, or it could be completely accidental. Regardless, everyone will believe it is the other parent’s fault. Worse, everyone will have all the evidence they need to prove it is the other person’s fault because of confirmation bias (the nearly inescapable tendency to only look at evidence that supports one’s beliefs and disregard or minimize other evidence.)
What should I do?
The best thing you can do is focus on the children and not the fault. Understand that no matter what you think of the other parent or how much you want to think otherwise, alienation is bad for the child. If you think alienating the other parent in your special case is the right thing to do, you are experiencing cognitive dissonance.
If the relationship between either parent and the children deteriorates after a re-marriage, start family counseling before you start blaming. Don’t put your children’s emotional health at risk, even if it is not your fault.