An Emotionally Healthy Divorce in 5 Easy Steps

Today, I am going to talk about the 5 critical emotional needs that every person needs to have fulfilled in order to have productive and peaceful relationships.

In his book How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children: Meeting The Five Critical Needs of Children…and Parents Too! Updated Edition
Gerald Newmark, Ph.D discusses these 5 emotional needs in relation to children, but as we are all just grown-up children, they can apply to adults as well and to any relationship.

When going through a divorce it is important to keep these needs of yourself, your ex, and your children in mind in order to have as peaceful an experience as possible.

1. The Need to Feel Respected

Respect is a word we throw around a lot.  But if you ask someone to define what respect is, they may have a hard time coming up with a black and white definition.  We tend to think of it as a “I’ll know it when I feel it” kind of thing.  And we definitely know when we feel disrespected by others.

Dr. Newmark says respect translates to the need “to be treated in a courteous, thoughtful, attentive, and civil manner – as individuals deserving of the same courtesy and consideration as others.”

So how can we show the people in our lives respect?

We can avoid being rude or discourteous.

We can avoid lying.

We can stop demeaning others when they make a mistake.

We can avoid interrupting, ignoring, or half-listening to others.

It is a sad but true fact that we often treat strangers, acquaintances, co-workers, etc with more respect than those closest to us.

Next time you find yourself in a conversation with your ex or anyone else where you feel things getting close to that respect/disrespect line, ask yourself “Would I say that to a stranger? to my boss?”  If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t say it at all.

2. The Need to Feel Important

“A person needs to feel – ‘I have value.  I am useful.  I have power.  I am somebody.’”

I know you may feel that your ex should not be an “important” person in your life anymore.

But if you have children together, than you can bet that they are still important in your children’s lives, whether they are there on a day to day basis or not.

Also, at one time, this person was very important to you.  If you suddenly pull that “importance” completely away, you may be met with less than ideal behavior in return.

As humans, we need attention.  If we don’t get positive attention, then negative attention will do.

It is a fine line when dealing with attention, importance, and your ex.  You don’t want to give the wrong impression, but you can do a few things that will help your ex feel important as a person and hence lessen his need to “act out” negatively.

First and foremost, listen.  When having a conversation, don’t just react to the first thing you hear and go off.  Listen hard.  Get to the root of the conversation.  And then act accordingly.

Give positive reinforcement.  I know this sounds like advice for dealing with a dog or a small child (and hey, keeps those snide comments to yourself, we are being respectful here), but it works with adults as well.

When your ex does something positive, whether it is paying his child support on time or taking soccer practice duty off your hands, say “thanks”.  Tell him you appreciate it.  You are more likely to get more of the same in the future.

Involve your ex in the decision making, even if you are not legally obligated to.  Ask his opinion.  You can still make it clear that the final decision is yours (if indeed it is), but by giving him his say you are showing that he is still important in his child’s life.  And who knows, he might have a good idea.

3. The Need to Feel Accepted

I love this quote from Dr. Newmark regarding acceptance: “We need to recognize that feelings are not right or wrong; they just are.  Acceptance does not imply liking or agreeing, nor does it have anything to do with condoning behavior.”

We need to help the people in our lives (yes, even our ex) know that their feelings are accepted – whether or not we agree with them.

That means not trivializing, ridiculing, or ignoring their feelings and ideas.

It also means not trying to talk them out of their feelings.  Feelings themselves cannot be wrong.  You feel how you feel  -  and someone telling you it’s silly or wrong does not make you feel better.

We always want to encourage people to feel free expressing their feelings to us.  It is far better than what happens when people keep their feelings inside only to come out in a negative way later.

4. The Need to Feel Included

When you have gone through a divorce, the family unit has been changed unequivocally.

However, if  you have children together you will always be a “family” whether you like it or not.  If you can’t bring yourself to like it, at least get used to it.

It is important that all members of the family and especially the children still feel as if they belong and that they are connected to other people.

It may be hard in the beginning, but if at all possible, it can be helpful to still engage in some activities or projects together as a family.  Maybe something to do with the holidays or school functions.

In addition, it might be helpful to have family meetings to discuss things that are happening in the divorced family.  This can be especially helpful to figure out how the children are coping with the divorce or to counter-act the playing parents against each other that older children tend to experiment with.

If the parents display a united front and regularly communicate both with and about the children it can help all members of the original family feel that they still belong to that family community.

5. The Need to Feel Secure

Divorce is a time of upheaval for everyone involved.

It can seem like the security and comfort of our previous life is gone in a second.

It is important to settle down into a new routine as soon as possible so that everyone can feel secure and know what to expect.

When dealing with your ex, it is important to not be ambiguous with your expectations.  Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.

That way there is no misunderstandings about rules and/or consequences.

And when something doesn’t go the way you would have liked – don’t freak out.  Be rational.  Avoid inappropriate or excessive consequences.

You want everyone to know what to expect.  When people are constantly afraid that you are going to over-react to every little thing, they tend to keep you in the dark a lot more.

Don’t make threats unless you intend to follow through.  If your ex is doing something you don’t like – ask yourself “Am I really prepared to go to court over this?   Does this really warrant him not seeing his kids?”  If the answer is no then don’t even make the threat.  And if the answer is yes, then get on with it instead of making empty threats.

Nobody likes to live on pins and needles, worrying about what you may do next.  Replace that voodoo doll with a security blanket.

Final Thoughts

As you read this article you may have been saying to yourself “well, it would have been nice if my 5 critical emotional needs were met during the marriage.”

Unfortunately, the fact that the divorce happened probably means that one or more of the needs was not being fulfilled for you and your ex.

But it’s not too late.  Oh, for the marriage it may be, but for the family unit that will continue to be in existence for the life of your children it is never too late to improve.


More on Dr. Newmark:  Dr. Newmark is President of The Children’s Project.  He is dedicated to awakening American consciousness as to how failure to meet critical emotional needs of children, and adults too, is a root cause of our recurring crises in schools, families, communities, businesses and society at large.  To learn more about Dr. Newmark  and How To Raise Emotionally Healthy Children go to:



The 5 Mistakes That Turn a Phone Call With Your Ex Into a Living Nightmare

When you are divorced with children there is no getting out of having to communicate with your ex.  I’m sure sometimes you wish that you never had to speak to him again, but that’s not going to happen – so it’s time to deal with reality.

Today we are going to talk about how to have a productive, civil phone conversation with your ex.  I have found that phone conversations are often more volatile than in person talks.

The phone provides that layer of “safety”.  We are more inclined to say things we wouldn’t say in person – plus we can delude ourselves that our kids are not “hearing” this conversation, so we tend to just let it fly.

Here are 5 common mistakes that we make when having that phone conversation that often leave us either in tears or wanting to pull our hair out.

Angry Dialing

It doesn’t matter what triggers it – your child making an innocent remark about daddy’s new “friend” or that he let them stay up way too late.  The end result is you are steaming mad – steam actually coming out of your ears, your heart racing, your blood pressure sky high.

Your first instinct is to pick up that phone and give him a piece of your mind.  Please don’t.  Nothing good or productive will come of it.

Instead follow the 24 hour rule.  Do not mention it to your ex for 24 hours.  Go outside and pull weeds, punch a pillow, anything but pick up that phone.  If possible have no contact with him during that time.

After the 24 hours, ask yourself “How important is it?”  If you can let it go and move on – do so.  If you still feel the issue needs to be addressed you can now address the real concerns you have without coming off as a screaming banshee.

Accepting an Invitation to a Fight

There will be times when your ex “angry dials” you – there is nothing you can do about that, but you can control your reaction.

I remember once my phone rang and I answered and said “hello”.  What I got in return was nothing but a minute long rant being spewed from the receiver which ended with my ex hanging up.

I literally didn’t even say a word.  I practically had to sit on my hands to keep myself from calling back and asking “what the f# @&?”

Most of the time you won’t be so lucky, the hurting and angry person on the other end of the line wants you to react, to engage in this fight.  This is where the STOP phrases come in handy.  “Sorry you feel that way”, “That’s your opinion”, “Oh”, and “Perhaps you are right”.

The last one is my personal favorite – it kind of stops him in his tracks.  If you just keep repeating these lines in any appropriate combination, one of two things will happen.  He will get frustrated and hang up or he will calm down.

If he hangs up, you can be proud that you did not play a part in escalating this fight.  If he calms down, you can either catch your breath and let the negativity you were barraged with dissipate and continue the conversation or take a small break (say you have to pee or something) if you need to center yourself even more and then continue the conversation.

Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

Your ex has issues (we all do).  There are things you disagree about, things he does differently than you, things he believes that you don’t, maybe a different parenting style.  You couldn’t change him when you were married.  Guess what?  It’s not going to happen now either.

Do yourself a favor and stop trying.  It only frustrates you and destroys your peace of mind.  Unless there is a real danger to your children (in which case you should be seeking legal advice), let it go.

You don’t want to walk around with a bruised forehead from that wall do you?  You no longer have the power to knock it down (you probably never did).  It may come down one day on its own, but it won’t be because of your lectures.

Feeling PHAT

I do not mean that you can’t get into your jeans.  I am talking about your state of mind and making sure none of the following are affecting your good sense and attitude before you pick up the phone.

  • Are you in pain?  Do you have a headache, a stomachache, any ailment?  P can also stand for PMSing.  Either way, it is probably not a good time to try to have a productive conversation.
  • Are you hungry?  This is a big one for me.  If I am hungry I become really cranky and you do not want to be around me until I’ve had some food.
  • Are you angry?  I’m not just talking about being angry with your ex, but are you angry at your boss, the rude driver on the ride home, anybody?
  • Are you tired?  If you are tired it affects your ability to concentrate and to be rational.  A conversation will probably leave you feeling overwhelmed.

So before picking up the phone, check for these feelings and try to correct them beforehand.  If your ex is calling you, do a quick check and if you find something that needs to be corrected, don’t answer – call him back after you have eaten or taken a nap.

Now, I know there will be times when you have to answer (when your kids are with him and it could be an emergency, etc).  If that is the case, do a quick check and if you find a PHAT, take a breath, try to center yourself and pick up the phone.  Just know that you are not at your best.

If possible, once you know it is not an emergency try to put off the conversation until later after you have taken care of you.

Being Mean

I know sometimes it can be tempting to get in our little jabs when we see an opening, but try to resist.  The consequence it has on your relationship with your ex and therefore on the well-being of your children is just not worth it.

So, say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.  This might take a little practice.  It’s ok to rehearse in advance.  Go ahead and talk to yourself in the mirror.  Most of the time it won’t go exactly as planned, but you still will be ahead of the game.


The most important thing to remember is that while it might take two to tango, you only have control over yourself.  You can only change your way of interacting with your ex.

At first it might seem unfair – you’re trying to be civil and he is continuing to be hostile, etc.  But don’t give up.  Give it some time.  Be proud of yourself for all the changes you are making to create more peace for yourself and your children.

Change what you can control, let go of what you can’t.