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How to Cope With Divorce During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As every American is aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed practically every aspect of everyday life. The health crisis has caused families across the country to quarantine in their homes, staying inside as much as possible and cutting out contact with others. The quarantine is putting a strain on relationships of all kinds, especially marriages.

When the confinement period ends, divorce attorneys are expecting a surge in divorce filings across the country. Many couples are expected to separate because of financial stress, tension caused by forced proximity, and cases of domestic violence.

While more couples may divorce, those who were already in the process of divorcing or who were newly separated when the quarantine began face unique struggles of their own. If you're among the 827,000 divorces that happen every year and find yourself in this situation, you may be feeling more stress than you ever expected at this time. This is especially true if you still live with your spouse. Take a look at these tips to help you cope with the stress of divorce during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Avoid Arguments

Avoiding arguments with your spouse is much easier said than done, especially in uncertain times. However, it is essential for reducing your stress levels. If you still share a home with your spouse, create a plan for the two of you to get along during quarantine. This could involve dividing the physical space in your home so you reduce your interactions or scheduling times when you can air grievances and work on resolutions. If you don't live with your spouse, avoid phone calls that could lead to arguments and only check in when necessary.

Stay in Contact With Loved Ones

Communication with the ones you love is important during any times of high stress. As going through a divorce and a quarantine caused by a pandemic are two major causes of stress, talking with your loved ones is more important than ever. Remember to call or video chat with your friends and family so that you can share your feelings and frustrations. They'll be able to offer valuable support.

Spending quality time with your children is also important during this time. In general, children spend 277 days out of the year with the custodial parent in divorce cases. If you are the non-custodial parent and your already-limited time with your kids is being reduced further by the quarantine, be sure to chat with them regularly. They need your support as much as you need theirs.

If you, your spouse, and your kids are all still living together, try to be intentional about what memories you want to want to create for the little ones. They're probably going to remember this as the last time you are a family together before you become two households. Remember to place your children's well-being as a higher priority than expressing stress or anger to your spouse. Develop a plan with your spouse to work as co-parents so that you can reduce stress for everyone in your household.

Learn About Divorce

The pandemic has given many people much more free time. If you're at the beginning stages of divorce, you can use your newfound free time to become more informed about the process of divorce. Couples with children should do research on child support and child custody. You can also look more in-depth at how property division works in your state. By doing this research now, you can dispel some of the uncertainty and confusion you may feel about how your divorce will work. With a clearer idea of what to expect, you may feel less stressed about the situation.

As you're learning about divorce, it can be helpful to contact a divorce attorney. They can offer further guidance and provide resources about the process. As at least one-third of data passes through the cloud, you likely won't have to worry about getting these resources from them in person and risk breaking quarantine. They can share everything with you virtually. You may even be able to video chat with your attorney to discuss your options in the divorce process.

While you may be going through a tough and stressful time right now, remember that there are solutions. You can use these methods to cope with the stress you feel and have an easier time during the quarantine. If you're still feeling overwhelmed, remember to seek help and keep in mind that this quarantine is temporary and soon your life will be able to move forward again.

For Children, A Holiday From Divorce

Jackie has decided to be an ice-cream cone. And why not? Who doesn’t love ice cream?

Carolyn is going to be a puppy. One of her favorite words so far is “woof,” so this makes sense, totally.

We have two superheroes this year. Superman is Milo; his cousin Spider-Man is Leo — in case you’ve been wondering about the super-super-secret identities of these champions for justice.

Clayton — at age 8, the eldest grandson — will terrorize younger children as the Grim Reaper. Or not. He is the gentlest of boys, and I suspect that the costume is a chance to try on the personality of someone he would never be.

Halloween is upon us, and I delight in watching our grandchildren love our cherished family tradition. It brings back memories of their parents at their age, particularly of that mad week before trick-or-treating. I’d demand they settle on their choice of homemade costumes and then close my bedroom door and plow facedown into the pillows to muffle my screams of panic.

The toughest Halloween costumes back then generate some of my proudest memories now. Please forgive me for bragging that I once fulfilled my son’s burning desire to be a U.S. mailbox. We’re talking a big one, the kind you find on street corners. For that briefest of shining moments, I looked at my son peering through his mail slot and allowed myself to believe I was an amazing mother. Then he fell over in front of the Filippells’ door, and the moment passed.

Years later, when his little sister was 8, I spent far more than I could afford to rent the perfect old-lady wig and wire-rim spectacles so that she could be Mrs. Doubtfire.

“Because she’s a dad who loves his children so much he will do anything to see them,” she said, explaining her choice of the Robin Williams character. We were three months into my new life as a single mother. More than 20 years later, those photos of her young elderly face can still make me cry.

This brings me to why I am interrupting your presidential election coverage and ignoring, for just a moment, the World Series. (Go, Tribe!) Welcome to my annual reminder about what children of divorce have a right to expect during the holiday season.

Let’s start by acknowledging that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and all other cultural and religious celebrations can be fraught with stress and emotion for even the stablest of families. We humans have a way of complicating even the nicest things, which is why I so often envy our dog.

For too many children of divorce, this is the season for worry and heartbreak as people who are supposed to be parents surrender all claims to the honor. As divorce lawyers tell me, year after year, there’s nothing like a holiday season to inspire revenge parenting — which isn’t parenting at all.

Divorce makes many people feel angry and helpless. Often they feel terribly bitter, too, toward the person who no longer loves them — and proceed to demonstrate precisely why that might be.

The most common calls interrupting divorce lawyers’ dinners during this time of year come from clients who’ve just found out they will not be seeing their children at the previously agreed-upon times. If a weapon is meant to injure and one is determined to inflict harm during or after a divorce, then young children are the handiest arsenal. Too young to have a say, too often wishing they had never been born.

No matter what you think of that former spouse who hurt you, every child you brought into the family you used to be still wants to love everyone in it. In the absence of abuse, every child deserves to live the essential truth of the human heart: We can never love too many people.

Divorce usually brings with it a measure of regret. We start to heal when we begin to move forward into a future of our own making rather than dwell in a past we cannot change.

We can be better than our worst moments, and we show it every time we act brave and trust that the courage will come. Most divorced parents hate to relinquish time with their children to the person who hurt them most. The best parents let them go anyway because they love their children more than their injuries, and that is the only way to heal.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: Guests wait along Main Street USA for Mickey’s “Boo-To-You” Halloween Parade at Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

It’s Summer, The Season For Grandparents

Two summers ago, my then-6-year-old grandson propped himself on a comfy chair and clasped his hands behind his head to watch me make a spectacle of myself in our kitchen.

I was performing, as if grinding 4 cups of fresh basil into pesto were the ceremonial equivalent of turning water into wine.

“Now, let us add the minced garlic!” I yelled over the food processor. He pumped his fist in the air.

“Next, the lemon!”

“Woo-hoo!” he yelled.

This was to be our final big-family dinner before my grandson and his parents whittled our numbers by moving far, far away to a new job awaiting his father — formerly known as my son, before he announced he was moving my grandson far, far away.

Away from me, I want to emphasize.

For my grandson, I was determined to be jolly.

I picked up the bottle of olive oil and raised it in the air. “And here we have the olive oil! Extra-virgin! Don’t ask what that means!”

He smiled.

I brandished the salt and pepper mills. “And must I remind our television audience that we only use freshly ground salt and pepper?”

He waved his arms. I shut off the processor and offered forced smile No. 223. “What is it, honey?”

“Grandma,” he said, his brow knitted with concern. “What are you going to do without me?”

We interrupt this cooking extravaganza so that Grandma can scurry off to the bedroom and bury her face into the skirt of her apron.

He is my first grandchild. He was the only one to lay claim to the title of “only” for nearly five years before our family’s baby boom would give him four cousins in three years. Until then, he had me all to himself. The best word to describe our mutual affection during that time: smitten.

We had our own habits, our own ways. By the time he was 3, one of our rituals involved my looking up at the ceiling as if I were pondering a question for the ages. “Hmm,” I’d say, “who’s the center of the universe?”

“I am!” he’d say, to the head-shaking groans of anyone within earshot who claimed to love us.

This was the child about to leave me — the child wise enough at age 6 to see right through me. Two years later, his mother tells me he sleeps with my letters under his pillow. I cannot type that without pausing for a moment. The relationship between a child and a grandparent is the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing magic.

Here is where I admit I have set you up — maybe. My grandson and I are not what you might assume us to be. I did not meet his daddy until his daddy was 6, through marriage. I was raising his father full time by the time he was 8. Ten years after my divorce, he walked me down the aisle to marry the man who is the love of my life.

If you were ever misguided enough to tell me that our beginnings mean he is not my son, our conversation would be brief, and I dare say you would not enjoy it. He is my son, and he has given me this miracle of a grandson.

That is only the beginning of this crazy tale of this family of ours. My husband and I brought two children each into our marriage, and we now have five grandchildren, period. Challenge this at your peril.

Why am I telling you all of this, you might wonder.

Well, it’s summer, which is that time of year when so many grandparents long to see the children they love no matter what. No matter who is divorcing. No matter who brought them into the world. No matter who is angry with whom.

Children should not bear the burden of unfinished grudges. This is especially true now, when the briefest snippet of overheard news via TV or radio can make a child believe the world has lost its collective mind.

I’m not saying grandparents are perfect or that we’re even someone you’d choose for neighbors. But we are in this for your children. For so many of us, the moment we become grandparents, in whatever way that happens, something changes in us.

Your children become the center of our universe. Shouldn’t they know that? Shouldn’t all children, everywhere, get to feel that way at least once in their lives?

 

Editor’s note: Connie Schultz filed this on American Airlines Flight 1068, her second flight of three to spend a week with the grandchild who rightly worried about what she would do without him.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Photo: An American Airlines airplane prepares to land at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana September 19, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

What Half-In, Half-Out Relationships May Do To Health

High on most checklists for ensuring a long and healthy life is being married. Marriage is said to bestow protective health benefits, such as low blood pressure and better cholesterol numbers.

But does putting a ring on it confer the same well-being to all married couples or even most? No, according to a recent study out of Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. It suggested that people in “ambivalent marriages” are not so healthy as other married couples.

This and similar studies have their critics, but they provide a needed deeper look into the nature of each marriage. The Brigham Young researchers asked married people without children to answer questions on how their spouse responds to their worries, their requests for advice and, importantly, their good news. Does the spouse share in their happiness?

About three-quarters of the husbands and wives surveyed see their spouse as sometimes supportive, sometimes not. They are ambivalent.

The researchers repeatedly took all the respondents’ blood pressure readings. Not surprisingly, those in relationships with mixed levels of support had higher blood pressure than those in consistently supportive marriages.

Some social scientists looked at the Brigham Young study and suggested that the health drain in an ambivalent marriage may not be the spouse’s negativity so much as the unpredictability.

“When you know someone is not going to be supportive, you acclimatize to that,” Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York told a reporter. “But if they are sometimes one way and sometimes the other way, it’s much harder.”

Ambivalence could help explain why so many couples live together rather than marry. Some of that could be a matter of keeping one’s options open and, with it, an expectation of constant change reinforced by the gig economy. In other, more bloodless words, staying a free agent leaves a path open “should something better come along.”

Surely, some of these couples end up marrying to end the craziness of having options. Not that divorce isn’t a possibility. It obviously is, but it’s a lot less traumatic to simply pack one’s suitcase and, as the song goes, “hop on the bus, Gus” than to go to court.

In olden times, marriage was an unbreakable lifetime vow for all except heiresses and Hollywood stars. The joke went: “Would I ever consider divorce? Never. Murder, frequently.”

The anthropologist Margaret Mead saw the growing acceptance of divorce as a destabilizing influence on marriages way back in the 1940s. She wrote: “Quarreling, sulking, neglectfulness, stubbornness, could be indulged very differently within a frame that could not be broken. But now over every quarrel hangs the questions: ‘Do you want a divorce? Do I want a divorce?'” And so forth.

In the interest of full disclosure, let us note that Mead herself was married and divorced three times. And she famously said that all her marriages were happy ones.

Mead knew that access to divorce had become an escape hatch adding an element of unpredictability to the marriage bond. This form of unpredictability wasn’t a measure of a spouse’s day-to-day reaction to his or her partner’s successes or need for comfort and advice. It was the growing unpredictability of the whole marriage enterprise.

In light of the Brigham Young study and the role the divorce option might play in undermining marital stability, one may question whether marriage is much of a health benefit at all. Perhaps the growing popularity of cohabitation simply took the ambivalent couples out of the marriage statistics. Perhaps living alone is not so bad.

More study warranted.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2015 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Rosemarie Voegtli via via Flickr