All posts by Kim Bowen

How to tell the kids about divorce (when parents can’t agree)

Despite some couples’ best efforts, there are times when divorce is inevitable.

If you share kids with your spouse, your next question is usually “What do we tell the kids?”

Many therapists will advise you to partner with your spouse, take a united front and tell your kids something like, “Mom and dad have decided to get a divorce.”

But what if you don’t want the divorce?  Should you lie to your kids?

(If this is your situation there may still be hope for your marriage. Read What to do When Your Spouse Wants a Divorce and You Don’t.)  

Talking to kids about divorce 1

Talking to kids about divorce without a united front

I covered some basic concepts on how to tell your kids about divorce here, but today I want to get more specific and talk about what to do when one parent wants the divorce and the other does not.

I don’t think lying to your kids is ever the best response.  

For one thing, they will almost always know when you are lying.  

They have lived with you and your spouse and have seen the issues up close even if you think you kept all the negative stuff hidden.  

Kids have brilliant “BS” detectors.  

Lying to them about such a big issue will cause them to doubt everything else you are telling them and that just isn’t good. Lying and telling them this is a joint decision won’t lessen the pain they feel.  

While I think honesty is very important, I also think it would be easy to turn this already difficult situation into a damaging fiasco.  No matter how you present the divorce option, your kids may be inclined to take sides and telling the truth could easily slant them against the parent who is wanting out.

Be sensitive to this and avoid encouraging this with blaming words or nonverbal cues. Your kids need both of you in their lives.  If you give in to the temptation of swaying them to your side, you risk their emotional health.  

Create a gameplan with your spouse about telling the children (if you can)

Prior to telling them, it’s important to discuss with your spouse how you’re going to tell the kids about divorce.  

You do not have to agree with your spouse about presenting a united front to the children, if you’re not also wanting a divorce.  This may make your spouse very angry but you are not responsible for their emotions or behavior–only your own.

Your spouse will almost certainly want you share the blame for the failed marriage.  It makes him/her look less like the villain.  But do you really want to make it easier for your spouse to leave and feel good about the decision?  

The argument you will hear from your spouse and very likely other “experts” is that you need to think about the kids first.  You need to put their needs before your own.  

Isn’t that ironic?  

You may be thinking if your spouse was really putting the kids’ needs first, he/she would be fighting for the marriage, right?

Experts want a united front because it makes everyone look as if they are playing nice.  

The object is to keep conflict and blaming away from the kids because divorce is painful enough.  

But you can be honest without casting blame or giving your kids information they don’t need.  

You can simply say something like “You guys know we haven’t been getting along very well.  We disagree on a lot of things including whether to stay married.  Since it takes two people who want to be in a marriage for it to work we are getting a divorce.”

Your kids don’t need to know the reasons why one of you is leaving, or why the other wants to stay married.

You can stand up for yourself in this way, and it is still both honest and respectful.

When the kids have questions about the divorce

The kids will most likely have questions.  They may not come up during the initial conversation.  

Regardless of the timing, think through how you will answer difficult questions.

Do not share personal or intimate details of the reasons behind your divorce.  

Instead, say things like, “You may have noticed that we’ve been fighting a lot,” or “We are having a tough time seeing eye-to-eye on some really big problems.”  This addresses the main issue, but does not provide details that the kids do not need.

Assure them they are not the cause of the divorce and let them know you will continue to be their parents and they can depend on you.

Remember the kids are not a go-between the adults.  

They are still children.  

You are the adults in this situation.

Ultimately, remember that you don’t have to present a united front about divorce.  It’s best to be honest and open, but to find the balance between sharing enough without all the graphic details.

Other helpful links:

Divorcing you marriage – what have you done to change?

9 Things to Consider Before Telling Your Kids About the Divorce

The Re-Engage Toolkit

Insightful Marriage Articles You Don’t Want to Miss

This week I’ve rounded up several articles that I think are really insightful about marriage, relationships and the hard work of keeping a marriage healthy.  I invite you to read these posts and the latest from our blog, listed at the end of this roundup.

As always, we’re here to help you strengthen your marriage, even if your spouse won’t come along.  We can help you make personal changes that oftentimes make a spouse stop and think twice about leaving your marriage for good.  Contact us here.


Glennon Doyle Melton from the Momastary blog is really spot on here.  A Way to Have Conversations That Will Lead to Deeper Relationships.

“My husband [or wife] doesn’t understand me. We are so different. We don’t really have anything in common.”  Does this sound like you?

Parenting with a broken heart.  Life after infidelity. (There’s hope.)

Tired of co-existing with your people & want to actually connect?  See what relationship expert Dr. Kim Kimberling has to say here.

The Huffington Post published an article from Lorraine Ladish of Viva Fifty, who found love later in life.  I’m impressed with the amount of self-care and study that she took to get to that point.

This is one of the best commentaries I’ve read on the phrase, “marriage is hard work.”

I thought this was really insightful.  I’ve said before that complaining (or nagging) is only the first step in voicing concern over an issue.  Here’s a take on why complaining doesn’t get you what you want, and what will.

Is it possible to “dance” once again?  We think so.  Marriage, a Sacred Dance 

Recent Posts from The Marriage Place

Do Ultimatums in Marriage Work?

How to tell your spouse you cheated.  (In light of the Ashley Madison hack.)

Our counselor Dan Umphress writes an open letter to women about men that I thought was so spot on.  I hope you’ll take a moment to read it.

Do Ultimatums in Marriage Work?

Marriage Advice for those who are unhappy, married and miserable

ultimatums in marriage

If I told you that setting an ultimatum in marriage can be one of the smartest things you can do for your relationship, would you believe me? In fact,

And yet I find that most people are either reluctant to use them, or don’t really know how to use them and end up making a big mess.

When Are Ultimatums in Marriage Necessary?

Ultimatums become necessary when your partner pushes against your bottom line and refuses to take whatever steps are necessary to make things right again.

Your bottom line is the place where you cannot continue to feel safe, secure and respected in a relationship as long as certain behavior goes unchanged. It’s the place where you feel you can’t continue in this relationship if something doesn’t change.

Sometimes, ultimatums are the only way we can protect ourselves and the relationship.  If your husband is an alcoholic who refuses treatment, how can you protect yourself?

You can’t make him do the right thing.

You can’t control how much he drinks.

But you can control what you will tolerate.

You can control how much misery you endure and how long you wait for him to see how his behavior is destroying the marriage.

Ultimatums in Marriage are Scary

We want the relationship to work.  We love our spouse even though they are hurting us. And we are scared that the ultimatum will force the relationship to end.

If we really are at our bottom line that means we know we can’t continue on if things don’t change.  Since we can’t control our spouse’s behavior, it is very possible we will be forced to follow through with the ultimatum.

This is terrifying, so we avoid using the only real power we have and instead we explode in anger or implode into hopelessness and depression. When we explode, we feel more powerful as we tell our partner we aren’t going to take this anymore and we threaten to leave if things don’t improve.

Because our actions never match our words, we are actually only becoming even more powerless.

We are teaching our partner that we don’t mean what we say.

It becomes easy for our partner to make nice for a while to appease us and then go back to the behavior that is destroying the relationship.

Or worse: for our spouse to disregard us entirely like the teacher on Peanuts…”wah wah wah” or the “nut job” who overreacts.

I am often telling my marriage counseling clients that getting so angry and making meaningless threats doesn’t mean they aren’t taking it anymore.

It means they are taking it, but taking it angrily.

All that anger will destroy the relationship even if the offending behavior does not.

Either way, they will continue to live in a miserable marriage until they are willing to set an ultimatum or the relationship continues to erode until there is nothing left.

What I like about ultimatums is that it shows your partner that you really do mean business, and it gives them the chance to clean up their act sooner rather than later.  (Later is oftentimes too late.)

The most common reason women leave a marriage is that, for women, the longer the resentment builds up, the greater the chance she will shut down.

When her partner does change, it no longer matters to her.

By the time he’s willing to change, she’s already given up.

Had the wife spoken up and given a meaningful ultimatum earlier in the conflict, it could have changed the outcome drastically.

Do Ultimatums In Marriage Work?

Yes! There are two possible outcomes in each ultimatum situation.

The first is the most desirable.  Your spouse gets it and has to come to terms with the possibility of losing you.  This forces him/her to confront their bad behavior and make changes and repair.  The relationship is on a fast track to healing.

The second outcome is the one we feared would happen.  Our spouse refuses to acknowledge their contribution to the destruction of the relationship or work to repair it.

But even this is a win because I promise you, this is the eventual end you would have come to anyway.  It’s a win because you haven’t spent years in misery and whittling yourself down to a nub in the process.

You know sooner rather than later that this marriage is destructive and doomed to fail.

The Difference Between Ultimatums and Boundaries

I think it is important to understand the difference between ultimatums and boundaries.  Every healthy relationship has boundaries.

I’m not going to be happy if my husband comes home from work grumpy and bites my head off.  If this happens frequently, I will set a boundary or limit.  I may stop greeting him at the door, or I may choose to eat dinner alone on those nights.

I will protect myself respectfully, but I don’t see this as worthy of putting the whole relationship on the line.

Ultimatums are the big guns.  You only use them for truly relationship-threatening behavior such as abuse (of any kind) or infidelity.

Using ultimatums for boundary issues is a huge mistake.  If you use them inappropriately, you will become the controlling, abusive partner in the relationship.

Using Ultimatums in Marriage: Real life examples

Joe and Emily: Life with an alcoholic

Emily believed that her husband Joe had a drinking problem.  She begged and pleaded and tried to change him, but nothing worked.  Because of his drinking habits, Joe lost his job, and Emily felt hopeless about the whole situation.

During our counseling session, I helped Emily work on an ultimatum.

Emily calmly told Joe that he had two weeks to find a 30-day treatment center at an inpatient clinic for alcoholics.  And after that, he would need to sign up with a sponsor for Alcoholics Anonymous.

Joe tested Emily’s resolve and didn’t seek treatment within the two week time frame, so Emily packed up the kids and went to stay with her mother.

Joe checked in to a  treatment center the next day.

Joe finished his treatment and enrolled in AA with a sponsor, and he is doing very well these days.

In this extreme case, Emily knew something had to change, and she put her marriage at risk.  In the end, they were able to work through their issues and make a profound difference in their marriage.

Matt & Lisa: A sexless marriage

Matt and Lisa came to see me because they weren’t having sex.

They had been married for 25 years and it had been 5 years since they last made love.

Lisa simply wasn’t interested.  In fact, she never really enjoyed sex.

She was happy to live as roommates, but Matt was becoming increasingly frustrated. He was tired of the endless rejection and felt Lisa was being selfish.

In my office, I established there was no physical or emotional reason Lisa was refusing sex. She wasn’t depressed.  She had a complete physical and all was normal.  There was no history of sexual abuse or trauma. She said she just had a lower sex drive than her husband.

I explained to Lisa there was a difference between a low sex drive and going 5 years without sex!

Matt was more than willing to explore different techniques that might increase pleasure and fun for both of them, but Lisa wasn’t interested.

In fact, she didn’t want to come to counseling with him either.

She clearly stated that he was the one who was unhappy so he could find a way to get happy or he could come to counseling alone.  She was fine.  So even without my prompting, Matt decided to make himself happy and told Lisa he refused to live in a sexless marriage.

If she wasn’t willing to work on this with him, he wanted a divorce.  Lisa actually did divorce Matt.

I found out later that  Lisa had been having multiple affairs over the years. Matt had no idea until after they divorced.

He was sorry his marriage ended, but he was so glad he finally stood up for himself and for his needs in the marriage.

If you are in a marriage that has hit your bottom line, it may be time to set an ultimatum.

It’s scary. But remember, it can be the best way to get your relationship moving in the right direction.  The Marriage Place can help you figure out if it is time for an ultimatum.  We can also teach you how to show up in your marriage in a way that makes it easier for your spouse to want to give you what you need.

Sometimes, pent up anger and resentment creates bottom line issues that can be resolved with counseling.  Either way, we are here to help  you!  Give us a call at 972-441-4432,  or contact us using our confidential online form.  We care about saving marriages!

How To Tell Your Spouse You Cheated

how to confess infidelity
If you used the ever popular Ashley Madison site you may soon be busted. Hackers have gained access to millions of names and they are threatening releasing these names to the public if the site isn’t shut down.  Ashley Madison makes millions of dollars a year.  They aren’t closing shop, so if there is a possibility your name is on the list, you need to know your spouse may soon be finding out.  If you want to save your marriage, there are steps you can take to increase your chances.

ashley madison hack

If your name could be on that list, you are probably tempted to wait and see if the news will go public.  Why tell the truth, risk your marriage and cause your spouse all this pain if there is even a remote possibility the names won’t be shared?

I can give you two reasons why you need to confess your infidelity:

  1. If you want any hope of saving your marriage, this is your next best move and
  2. You have a fairly good chance of being caught whether your name is leaked or not.  Secrets have a way of being found.

If your name is on that list…I’m sorry.  I’m sorry you are probably having to worry and stress that your spouse, family, friends and coworkers could find out about your actions. Of course, being found out is always a potential consequence to having an affair. But this kind of very public revelation is going to be painful for everyone involved.  I’m also sorry you chose an affair over confronting the issues that you made vulnerable in this way to begin with.

If you think your name could be on that list, you need to prepare your spouse and yourself for the fallout.  I’ve outlined some steps to help you navigate this process.

If you’ve used Ashley Madison to have an affair, here’s what to do next:

Step 1:
Immediately close your Ashley Madison account and delete any emails, texts or pictures.  If you have a secret email address, close the account.  This isn’t to hide information from your spouse.  This is to keep your spouse from stumbling onto explicit information that can never be unread or unseen.  I’ve worked with many clients in this situation and it is much harder to get past an affair when this level of detail has been shared.

Step 2:
Get ready for questions. You need to be ready to answer the questions that will invariably come.  Your spouse is going to want to know who, how many, where and for how long (and many, many others). It is critical that you are honest and up front from the beginning BUT do not give any graphic details about any encounters with your affair partner.  Don’t be belligerent.

If your spouse asks these kinds of intimate questions, tell him/her you feel this information would only hurt them further.  If they persist. tell them you want to seek advice from a marriage counselor before saying anymore.

Above all, do not lie or deceive to try and minimize damage.  This will only come back to bite you.  I’ve seen it too many times.  Answer honestly and respectfully and if it is a question you aren’t sure whether to answer, be honest about that and why.  When your spouse asks you WHY you did it, do not say anything that remotely sounds like your spouse is to blame. No matter how nagging. mean, neglectful, sexless or thoughtless your spouse may be, you could have chosen anything else besides an affair. Take ownership for your choices.

Step 3:
Be prepared for a wide range of emotions from your spouse. Expect sadness. grief. confusion. anger, hurt and fear.  Your spouse will need time to process this news and what they need from you now is patience, honesty. compassion and remorse.  If your spouse lashes out at you with hurtful words and accusations, do not lash back.  Do not try and justify the affair in any way.  Expect questions to continue for weeks and months.  Your job is to stay patient and be honest.

Step 4:
Confess. Your spouse deserves to find out from you–not the internet.  If you wait for the perfect time to have this conversation, you will never have it.  This is obviously a delicate situation.  Tell your spouse you need to talk and find a quiet, private place where you will not be interrupted by kids or the phone.

Do not have this conversation in a public place and do not have it where the kids can even possibly hear you.  The best way to have this conversation is to simply state what happened.  Don’t backtrack or try set this up with long explanations.  Simply tell your spouse you have had an affair.  And tell them why you are telling them now.  Your spouse needs to know this news could be public knowledge.

Step 5:
Accountability.  Expect there to be at least 3-6 months of complete transparency.  Give your spouse all your passwords and access to your phone.  Tell your spouse where you are at all times before they ask you. You have lost your right to privacy for the time being but remember this is only temporary.

Step 6:
Seek help. I strongly advise you get professional help at this point.  See an experienced marriage counselor who can help you both navigate the difficult days ahead.  Make sure you choose a pro marriage or “marriage friendly” therapist who will help you strengthen and restore your relationship.  I also recommend Getting Past The Affair as a resource.

Seek Professional Help

You haven’t made the best choices in the past, but be strong and courageous now.  I sincerely wish you the very best as you fight for your marriage.  Our counselors and coaches are expertly trained to help you get through this.  We are here to help.  Just give us a call at 972-441-4432 or contact us by email.

Are You Shutting Out Your Spouse? Learn 4 Ways it Happens And How To Fix It

Do you shut out your spouse? and how to fix it

On a scale of 1 to 10 (worst to best), how do you think the communication is in your marriage?  We see poor communication as one of the biggest issues we see in our offices.  The good news is that with effort, many times it can be remedied with small, intentional changes.  This week, we’re discussing ways that poor communication can sabotage a relationship of any kind, but specifically a marriage, and how to fix them.

To Undermine Your Marriage Connection:

1.  Communicate as little as possible, or give the silent treatment

When you don’t talk very often, there are so many opportunities for miscommunication errors.  Perhaps you only talk about the kids’ schedules, your schedules, and what household tasks need to be completed.  This is a surefire way to zap any intimacy in your marriage.

Also, when you shut down communication, you leave no room for resolution.  How is your spouse supposed to break through that wall of silence?  How can you find a solution if no one is talking?  Intimacy is for grownups and grownups do not give each other the silent treatment.  The verbal shutdown also happens to be my passive aggressive movement of choice and a hard habit to break.  But I did it and so can you!   :)

2.  Communicate in anger or by bullying

Do you or your spouse raise your voice in anger when talking?  What about speaking in passive-aggressive statements? Like telling your spouse you are “FINE” when your actions say otherwise? Stop and think if you fall into this category. No one likes to be around an angry bully.  Even if you get what you want, you aren’t winning.  There will be payback somewhere along the road.  Most bullies in a marriage don’t think they are bullies.  So ask your spouse if they feel you get your way most of the time.  And be open to what they tell you even if you don’t like the answer.  If your spouse says he/she feels you are often angry or threatening in some way, believe them.  Then talk to us because we can help with this.

3.  Make your to do list more important than the people in your life

Our society glorifies being busy, and having a full calendar.  If you’re running from activity to meeting to sports practice, your to do list may be taking precedence over the people in your life.  Most everyone will list their families as the most important thing in their lives, but answer this question honestly for the real answer.

Where do you spend most of your time, energy and resources every day?  

Do you like the answer?  It may be time to make adjustments.  Not having enough time with your spouse means there isn’t much opportunity for communication or intimacy.  I once worked with a client who spent 15 hours a day working…six days a week.  He felt he was providing security and wealth for his family so it was a good trade off.  His wife left him because she was lonely.  She tried to tell him for years but he just couldn’t or wouldn’t get off the hamster wheel.  Now he would give anything to turn back the clock, but for his wife…it really was too late.

4.  Be inconsiderate about how someone feels

Feelings are never right or wrong…they just are.  Do you minimize your spouse’s feelings when they try talk to you about how they feel about a certain topic?  You may be minimizing and not even realize it.  Here are certain things people say to be “helpful” but their partner often feels they are being disregarded in some way.

  • “Don’t dwell on the negative.  Focus on the good things.”
  • “Just take my advice and this will all work out.”
  • “You stress and worry over everything.”
  • “What do you want me to do about it?”

Most of my clients aren’t trying to be dismissive.  They just don’t want their spouse to be sad or anxious.  But that’s about YOUR feelings and anxiety.  Sit with your partner in their feelings for a moment by simply acknowledging what they say they feel.  One simple sentence can change everything.  Are you ready for it?

“Honey, I’m so sorry you feel this way.  It must be awful. I love you.”

Ok..I lied.  I couldn’t stop when I got rolling.  Three sentences is a bonus!


Try These Actions Instead:

1.  Communicate often

Is there a time you can set aside to talk through the day with your spouse?  It doesn’t need to be long, but if you start with 15 to 20 minutes each day, you might be reminded at how much you enjoy talking with your spouse.  Happiness expert, Gretchen Rubin, recently published her latest book, Better Than Before, about the power of cultivating good habits. Gretchen’s husband, Jamie, suggested that they make a point of discussing their days each night after their daughters go to bed.  After putting this practice into place, they were both pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoyed this evening ritual.  Try it.  You might be surprised, too.  For me and my husband, our best times of intimacy come with our evening walk.  We get 30 minutes of uninterrupted time to just download the day. Priceless!  And…we burn calories at the same time.  An added bonus.

2.  Communicate patiently

If you find yourself escalating to anger during a conversation with your spouse, try and take a time out and let them know that you need a few minutes to cool down before continuing the conversation.  If you are hurt, angry, sick or tired, the probability of having a positive conversation is slim.  If you can, set aside a time where you know you will most likely both be in better moods to discuss the topic at hand.

3.  Prioritize People

It is easy to fall into the trap of checking things off your To Do list, rather than to spend time with people.  If you are a Type-A planner, perhaps you could set a time or activity that you and your spouse could do together.  This way, you’re carving out specific time for each other, and you get to mark it off your list.  If you are just a very busy person, are there things you could remove from your calendar, or volunteer positions that you could say no to?  Take a look at your schedule and see what could go, and then take the necessary steps to free yourself from those commitments.

4.  Acknowledge Emotions

When your spouse comes to you and says, “This makes me angry,” or “I feel really bummed about this,” take time to acknowledge what they’ve said.  By simply saying, “Yeah, I can see how that would make you angry,” Or, “Gosh, I’m bummed for you, too,” you’ve just empathized with them.  This can go a long way in breaking down communication and intimacy barriers.

Do these issues resonate with you?  See if you can make a concerted effort to identify one way you may be sabotaging your marriage, and make a point to react to your spouse differently this week.  If this is just one of many issues in your marriage, I would recommend getting some outside help for your marriage.  Make an appointment with The Marriage Place today.

Three Questions That Can Change Your Marriage

3 Questions to change your marriage

Think Back to Your First Years of Marriage

Remember when you first met your spouse, and hours passed that seemed like seconds, and you got butterflies just thinking about him or her?

Unfortunately, I have many clients sit down in my office who come in, where they just don’t have those “feelings” anymore, and their marriage has turned into more of a companionship and roommate situation than a romantic, intimate marriage.  One spouse inevitably says “I’m not in love anymore,” and the other spouse is shocked.

Fighting Hard to Stay In Love

As I mentioned in my post, A Counselor’s Secret Confession, “Soulmates aren’t found, they are created through commitment, perseverance and hard work.” My husband and I have been married for over 25 years, and we’ve fought hard for our marriage to be where it is today.

It’s a tough battle that has been fought, and won, by many couples in our office.  Even if your spouse won’t agree to come with you to counseling at first, we can help you find ways to work on your side of the marriage.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself to Change the Marriage Dialogue

  1. Do you know your spouse’s Love Language?  Marriage expert Gary Chapman qualifies five different ways people give and receive love.  By speaking your spouse’s language, you can more easily convey that you value them.
  2. Are you casting blame on your spouse?  Often times, when we feel like we may lose our marriage, we blame our spouse.  Stop and consider if you have internal-dialogue with yourself, blaming your spouse for your unhappiness all the time.  Recognizing it is the first step in making a shift.
  3. Do you nag your spouse, or are you able to give kind, constructive criticism?  Start by sitting down with your spouse and letting them know how you feel.  For example, “I feel ______ when this happens in front of our friends.”  By using “I statements” you are not accusing or nagging, just starting a conversation. Keep in mind that behind every complaint is a request. Drop the complaint and stick with the request.​

Take A Next Step
Regain the connection in your marriage with help to move past resentment and find the way back to hope.  Love is a great place to start, but it certainly isn’t all you need. The Marriage Place Counseling Center brings together both people in a relationship to create something bigger and better…and far more powerful.  Schedule a free, 30-minute consultation or book an appointment today.