Finding Love Again: An Interview with Dr. Terri Orbuch
In a recent interview with Dr. Terri Orbuch, a social scientist who has been studying relationships for more than three decades, we uncovered brilliant insights on partnership, breakups and finding love again (which is the title of her book).
Q: You’ve been following a group of 373 couples since 1986. What have you noticed about those relationships?
A: Well, 46% of them have divorced, which is the national average. When couples divorce, I continue to follow the divorced individuals and their repartnerships, their adjustment, what they regretted not doing, how they coped, how their children fare, what they’re doing now with their ex partner. There are two common issues, which lead to my biggest pieces of advice.
Q: What are these two challenges as you see them?
A: How to have a positive breakup and letting go of strong emotions connected to your past.
Q: How does one have a positive breakup?
A: This can mean a marriage ending or a subsequent partnership, where kids have been involved, coming to an end as well. That’s why I say breakup. It’s always possible to have a positive breakup. That doesn’t mean painless!
The most important thing is not to criticize or speak negatively about your ex. That’s the golden rule. People are going to ask you why you broke up. You don’t want to say too much but you don’t want to say too little, and you definitely want to take the high road. Especially with children.
Second, don’t get your kids in the middle. Talk to your ex directly; don’t send messages through your children.
Q: What if your ex-spouse bad-mouths you or doesn’t take the high road?
A: I always encourage parents to take the high road still. You need to get to sleep at night and you need to know that you’re a good person. Not criticizing your ex does not mean you don’t talk to your lawyer, stand firm, and fight for the proper amount of custody and visitation. You don’t roll over and play dead. You need to stand up for your rights and your kids’ rights.
Being open and honest within age limits with your kids is good. You can say to your kids, “I know that you may be hearing something else about me from your mother or father. I don’t agree. I still love you. I am there for you. You are my first and primary concern.”
Part of having a good breakup, when kids are involved, is making sure your kids know that you’re still there for them, that you love them, and that they are your primary concern, always.
Q: Can ex-spouses truly be friends?
A: Being friends is not always the right way to go for everyone. You can be good co-parents. That doesn’t mean that you need to hang out with one another, have coffee, share Thanksgivings, sit together at school plays together. As an individual or as two divorced parents, you need to do what is best for you, and it’s the gamut, but you need to be civil and respectful and not criticize or speak negatively about each other.
Also, remember that kids hear everything. So when two parents are arguing over the phone or having conflict or you think the kids have gone up to bed and you’re talking to the other parent at the door, they hear everything. You don’t have to like or love one another or agree with everything. You do have to respect one another. There were disagreements when you were married; there are going to be when you’re divorced.
Q: How do you let go of the emotional baggage connected to a previous relationship?
A: That is the one thing that is most significant to do in order to find love again.It’s also very important for your children, and their adjustment and coping.
Divorced individuals who don’t feel any strong positive emotions or strong negative emotions for their ex are significantly, statistically, more likely to find love again in the future and significantly more likely to have a high quality relationship. They also have children that are better adjusted after divorce.
Q: What can people do to release that emotional baggage?
A: There are lots of ways– write a letter to your ex and express your anger but don’t send the letter. It’s just a way to release your emotions. I encourage people to do that weekly and keep those letters and see how discussing, releasing, admitting, your anger or longing changes over time. The mere fact of release allows you to get better.
Exercise or get physical – hike, swim, play golf, do yoga. That helps release emotions. Exercise decreases stress hormones, increases cortisol, which are the feel-good hormones.
Find a community. Whether it’s a support group, a chat room, it’s important to have people to talk to and know that we’re not alone. You can also see what has worked for other people.
Volunteer. When you become less concerned with your own problems, when you are able to see that some of your challenges may be small or medium compared to others, it’s a cognitive shift in your brain that can really help you.
Write a new story. When people develop a story about the meaning, the whys, of their divorce, it allows them to release strong emotions connected to the past. That story can be done in journaling, with a friend through art or music, poetry, fiction.
[That’s also true for children. Kids need to release their own strong emotions to the past so help them to do that through art, music, fiction, journaling, telling the story to you, other kids, a therapist, a support group.]
Finally, reassign the blame of the divorce. Change “I” or “He/She” statements to “We.”
“We weren’t compatible.”
“We married too young.”
When you say he, you’re still angry.
When you say I, you’re still longing or sad or depressed.
It’s a cognitive shift that allows us to disconnect strongly our emotions to the past. We become more neutral.
And that is the best place to begin anew.
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