Holistic Divorce Counseling

Holistic Divorce Counseling Nicole S. Urdang, M.S., NCC, DHM, LMHC. Free support, resources, and comfort for all life's issues and transitions.

Visualization October 31, 2008

Filed under: VISUALIZATION — chocophile @ 5:16 pm



Visualization might be considered a type of meditation, as your mind is focused on the task at hand.

There are many ways to use visualization to help you through this trying time.  One of my favorites is the following:


Build a sanctuary in your head.

Picture a room, teepee, house, treehouse, whatever appeals to you, anywhere you like.

Decorate it exactly as you would want it to look.

Spare no details.  As a matter of fact, include everything you could possibly desire to make this space a sanctuary.

If there are scents that appeal to you, include them.

If there is music, or bird song, include it.

Add your favorite food and drink.

This is for you alone, so make it precisely how you would want it to be.


Once you’ve accomplished that, and it may take some time, go there often.  Later, when you are stressed, it will be easier to access your inner refuge. 

Creating a safe haven is critical when your world feels as if it’s crumbling around you.  This personal positive imagery helps you see a future in which you will feel peaceful and calm, while giving you one more resource to support your journey.




Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Practical Matters October 25, 2008

Filed under: PRACTICAL MATTERS — chocophile @ 1:15 pm


First and foremost: Trust your intuition.  If you have a bad gut feeling pay attention to it, whether it “makes sense” or not.



If you have any joint accounts with large sums of money freeze them.  Ditto for any open lines of credit, like a home equity line of credit.


If there’s anything you want, and you have reason to believe your mate would do something underhanded, like remove valuables or financial records, take those things now.


If you have reason to believe your partner has lied, assume they have lied about more than you currently know.  Don’t trust them to tell you the truth about anything.  You may be over-protecting yourself, but that’s better than the alternative.


The laws vary from state to state.  Equitable distribution, for example, in New York, does not mean equal distribution.  This is why after even decades of marriage a woman often walks away with less than her husband; especially, if the children are adults and the woman worked.


In a long-term marriage, any debts you paid off, like education, loans, etc. will probably not be reimbursed.


All debt, even if incurred by only one party, and even if you had no idea the debt existed, is deemed marital.  In other words, you are responsible for half of it.  Make sure you are not liable for your spouse’s debts post-divorce.


Be suspicious if your mate suddenly starts paying all the bills from his or her office.  What is s/he hiding? If you are naturally open and honest, being suspicious will feel very foreign and unappealing.  Get over that and investigate what is going on. 


If you think your mate’s collection of Asian art or Hank Aaron memorabilia is valuable, have it assessed.


If you and your partner can be civil, try mediation.  It will save you thousands of dollars, not to mention time.  But, if you have the slightest inkling your mate will be sneaky and lie, get the best lawyer you can afford.  Find someone kind and competent.  Ask everyone you know for a referral and interview, at least, three attorneys.  


If you think your mate is irresponsible with money siphon some off and hide it: in cash, someplace safe.  Do not put it in a separate account with your name, as that is marital property, and (typically) will be divided in half.


Judges generally couldn’t care less if you were the best spouse on earth.  All the lawyers and judges care about is money and property.  None of them want to get distracted by your story. 


Never use your lawyer as a counselor.  Their fee is double or triple that of a therapist, and they are not trained to help you emotionally.


Allow yourself to be needy, even if you’ve always been independent.  Ask for help.  This is crucial. You will need it.  So, overcome whatever false pride is fueling your hesitance and take any support that comes your way.  There’s no shame in letting your friends and family help.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Memories: Post Divorce Hauntings

Filed under: Memories: Post Divorce Hauntings — chocophile @ 11:55 am

Unless you have a lobotomy, you will have to contend with a boatload of memories.  Some good, some bad, most mundane or neutral.  The last group won’t haunt you, but the happy ones may.  Surprisingly, negative recollections can aid your healing journey by reminding you all was not bliss.  Positive memories allow you to see why you stayed.  It’s the same old balance of light and shadow, yin and yang, that we find in all facets of life.

If you notice you’re pining for the past resurrect a few unpleasant images. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it can bolster your resolve to get through this trial.  If anger arises, it’s OK.  You may think rage is undesirable, but it can be constructive.  Unlike depression, anger is empowering. It lights a fire under you when you need energy to act.  Don’t worry, you won’t stay furious, nor will you give in to every one of your revenge fantasies.  Your wrath is temporary, just like everything else on earth.

Nostalgia and sentimentality are other aspects of remembering, and you will feel their emotional tug from time to time.  Certain events, situations, and holidays may trigger them.  Welcome every one; but, remember: they are history.  Hanging on to some especially poignant images may feel like a sweet grief or a volcano of other emotions, it’s all fine.  Just keep making it safe to feel everything.  Your memories will fade. It’s natural for the present moment to supersede the past. You don’t have to work at it, it happens organically. At some point, you will be ready to live fully in the present, and leave what was behind you.

Sometimes, we unconsciously bring up memories as a way to feel attached to our old life and former partner.  It’s the mind’s way of easing you into a new state; especially, if the break-up was sudden or fast. This emotional bandage allows you psychic space to accommodate to new ways of being with yourself and in the world.  Assume you are healing every minute of every day, whether awake or asleep.  Knowing that enables you to embrace whatever comes.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Faith October 24, 2008

Filed under: FAITH — chocophile @ 2:19 pm
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When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing one of two things will happen: There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.

Patrick Overton


Faith in yourself is the prerequisite for true joy and success.  


Focus your attention inward and explore.  What would it feel like if you had faith in you?  How would your life be different right this minute? Confidence doesn’t drop out of the sky.  It comes from doing difficult things. Faith is knowing that you can do those things, even if, at first, they seem daunting.  


There are no short-cuts.  Day after day, as you face your challenges (whether born from divorce or other causes), with an ever-increasing sense of possibility and enthusiasm, your self-confidence grows.  The fact is you may not enjoy everything life deposits at your door, but you can handle it. You have coped with it all, so far, even when you thought you couldn’t.  No one finds a crisis a cinch.  The great benefits of getting to the other side are recognizing and appreciating your competence and inner strength.


Faith is your assumption and belief that goodness will reign in your personal kingdom.  Where is the empirical evidence to support that concept? It’s just like the radio station that’s always there, but you hadn’t heard it because you didn’t tune in.  Realize that whenever you decide you can access this infinitely wonderful, optimistic feeling. It’s always available.  By choosing to feel positive, and dwelling on your desires, you will change your life.


Trusting yourself goes hand in glove with faith.  You have made it this far; granted, it wasn’t always easy, but you survived.  From now on you decide to thrive.



Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


4 Quick Ways to Keep Conflicts from Escalating October 22, 2008

Filed under: 4 Quick Ways to Keep Conflicts from Escalating — chocophile @ 11:54 pm


Have you ever noticed how threatened you can feel when someone doesn’t agree with you?  Over-identification with your thoughts is the culprit. Believing you are your opinions when, in reality, you are far more.


Why is it so crucial for our intimates agree with us?  Is it all ego?  Must we prove we’re right to get that short-lived thrill of besting someone else? Do we use winning arguments as a way of establishing dominance or superiority? Perhaps, the short-lived thrill comes at the long-term expense of setting up an adversarial environment? How could this not take a toll on our closest relationships?


It’s easy to feel on guard when someone doesn’t see things the same way, especially if they are a partner, child, parent, or best friend.  It’s only a tiny step from perceiving a threat (whether real or imagined) to acting angrily; but, with practice, you can change your thoughts and ratchet down your reaction.


The following is a short list of some new ways to think when someone’s opinion differs from yours.


1. There has to be something I can learn here.

2. Agreeing with their position doesn’t take anything away from me.

3. What if I let myself really listen to what they have to say, rather than immediately constructing a retort to make my view more compelling?

4. I respect this person in so many ways, maybe they have a point.

5. Let me try on their belief for a minute to see how it feels.

6. What if I thought this way? How would my life be different?


Once you have set the stage, and feel more open, you can start using some simple behavioral techniques to increase your intellectual and emotional flexibility, and encourage undefensiveness.


When you next find yourself in a situation where someone’s sparring for a fight try:


1.Take  a breath and give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts and decrease your emotional intensity.

2. Agree with something they are saying.

3. Use the Oreo approach: say something positive, then say what you think as gently as possible, then say something else positive.

4. Have an exit strategy in mind, so you can take a break and regroup, even if it means asking to use the bathroom, or getting a glass of water.


In time, these new responses will become second nature.  Discussions will be less likely to escalate into arguments. You will feel more in control and less anxious about interacting with others because you have practiced new ways of thinking and behaving.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Powerlessness, Control & Acceptance October 21, 2008

Filed under: POWERLESSNESS, CONTROL & ACCEPTANCE — chocophile @ 3:27 pm


When we speak of acceptance we really mean accepting things we don’t like, understand, or can’t change. It’s fairly easy to accept the things we enjoy.  The challenge is taking life on life’s terms, and cozying up to the notion that we can’t control many aspects of our health, job, or relationships. Intellectually, we know that, but emotionally, it’s another story.  Our frustration with our inability to make things the way we want them to be causes a fair amount of suffering.    


Powerlessness can be a bitter pill; especially, if it’s in relationship to someone you love.  Perhaps, your partner had an addiction, was unfaithful, or spent all the family’s money.  The details are secondary to the common underlying problem: you couldn’t change their behavior.  It’s so easy to become mired in blame, self-blame, depression, anger, and worthlessness in that situation.  The good news is: even if you truly accept your inability to change someone, and let go of all the “shoulds,” you still have choices.  It may not feel that way, because none of the options are particularly appealing, but they exist.


Our ego loves to think it’s in charge, but it isn’t.  The flip side of all that hubris is that when we can’t change someone we feel impotent, ineffectual, and extremely frustrated. Albert Ellis used to say, “People are going to do what they want to do, not what you want them to do.”  Of course, you already know that, but it’s quite another thing to live it.  The trick is: be exquisitely patient with yourself,  this is very challenging work and it takes time.  Write out all your unhelpful, recurring thoughts and question them.


Here are a few examples of things you might think with possible questions:


If she really loved me she wouldn’t have cheated.

How does her cheating prove she didn’t love me?  Could she have been confused?  Could we have been going through a rough patch?  Am I all-knowing?  

If he cared about our family he wouldn’t have gambled away all our savings.

Is gambling an addiction?  If so, was he in control?  Couldn’t he care about our family and be addicted to gambling?

If our marriage mattered she would have gone to AA.

Was she too scared to face her demons to go to AA?  Was she too inebriated to think clearly enough to seek help?  


The truth is:  Your mate’s behavior had very little, if anything, to do with you.  It’s all about him or her.

You can’t make someone lie, cheat, or keep secrets, any more than you can make them honest, loving, or kind.  You just don’t have that much power. 


Your unhelpful thoughts and feelings have one important thing in common: they all have a component of awfulizing.  This means that whatever happens you consciously or unconsciously think: “This is just awful.  I can’t stand it.  S/He must behave differently, and if s/he doesn’t I can’t take it anymore.”  Obviously, if you’re alive you can take it because things you can’t take, like lack of oxygen, kill you.  Once you acknowledge that you can stand the situation, even if you really don’t like it, you suddenly feel more empowered and capable of going forward in whatever way makes sense to you.


The good news is: you have power over yourself.  You get to choose your thoughts.  Once you train yourself to choose more helpful thoughts, via rational-emotive behavior therapy, you’ll find you’re feeling better. (I highly recommend Albert Ellis’ book: HOW TO STUBBORNLY REFUSE TO MAKE YOURSELF MISERABLE ABOUT ANYTHING, YES, ANYTHING! for effective ways to restructure your thoughts.)


All endings are beginnings.  Let this be the start of a new relationship with yourself.  After all, it’s something you can control.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Grace October 20, 2008

“The growth of grace is like the polishing of metals. There is first an opaque surface; by and by you see a spark darting out, then a strong light; ’till at length it sends back a perfect image of the sun that shines upon it.” Edward Payson (1783-1827)

“We’re all stumbling towards the light with varying degrees of grace at any given moment.” Bo Lozoff

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott

If you choose to you can see grace in everything.  Surely, it was grace that let you take a breath when the grief was so intense you thought your body would implode.  It was grace that, after a night of tears, let you see the beauty of red leaves falling to the ground; and, it was grace that brought a smile to your lips when you saw a young couple holding hands.

The Hasidic Jews practice saying a Hebrew phrase: Baruch Hashem, which roughly translates to “Thank God,” whenever anything happens. So, let’s say you made a huge pot of soup and it’s been simmering all day. You carefully pick it up, but trip on something and it spills its entire contents on the floor.  Why say Baruch Hashem?  Because you’re assuming everything happens for the best; it’s all from God and divine. On a purely pragmatic level, falling at that very second may have prevented something worse from happening.

There’s a fairly well-known story about a man who led a righteous life. Without reason, his horse escaped, and fled into barbarian territory. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said : “What makes you think this is not a good thing?”

Several months later, his horse returned, accompanied by a superb stallion. Everyone congratulated him. But the old man said: “What makes you think this cannot be a bad thing?”

The family was richer from a good horse, and his son enjoyed riding it. One day, while riding, he fell and broke his hip. Everyone pitied him, but the old man said: “What makes you think this is not a good thing?”

A year later, a large party of barbarians entered the border. All the able-bodied men drew their bows and went to battle. Nine out of ten died. But because he was lame the man’s son did not have to fight and was spared.

What do we know?  Why not assume the best?  It’s the nature of life to have balance: yin and yang, light and shadow.  All things contain seeds of their opposite.  If you ever had a baby, you know (consciously or unconsciously) that from the second your child is born they move towards increasing independence, and away from you.  Their self-sufficiency is actually your ultimate goal.

Everything is bittersweet.  The greatest joy ends and the deepest sadness heals.  Perhaps, this ebb and flow from one type of experience to another, is what keeps us so entranced with life.  We’re on an intermittent reinforcement schedule, and there’s no way to predict what’s next.

Nature’s most intense expressions: tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches all end with peace resumed.  Yes, there has been a major upheaval and plenty of damage; but, just like the naturally occurring forest fires, it paves the way for an explosion of new growth. There’s grace in that transformation, just as there’s grace in each of us.  It may be harder to find because of our habitual preference for stability and familiarity, but it’s there.

The entire cycle, from birth to death, is grace incarnate.  Not every minute is joyous, but even suffering can be sweet in its ending, setting the stage for greater delight.

Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Triggers October 19, 2008

Filed under: TRIGGERS — chocophile @ 9:34 pm


You can’t avoid triggers.  They’re everywhere.  The longer you were coupled, the more you have.  Some days, it might seem as if everything is a trigger.  If you were together for decades, that’s likely.  You literally shared millions of moments.  Deepak Chopra used to say that couples shared sub-atomic particles by being so physically close for so long and literally breathing each other’s breath. Those particles became part of your cellular self.  If it takes the body seven years to completely refresh its cells you can make a great case that it takes time to fully heal.  Be patient and loving to yourself as myriad scents, foods, places, movies, seasons, holidays and birthdays trigger a roller-coaster of memories.   


Even if you were only married a year you still amassed a bushel of shared experiences; and, many were good.  Because these experiences didn’t happen in a vacuum, there are sounds, sights, smells, touches, and tastes that when re-encountered trigger a flood of memories and feelings. While you can’t really prepare for this sensory/emotional bombardment, you can be sure it will happen.  Having a heads-up means you’ll be better able to cope with the tsunami of feelings when they wash over you.  By making it safe to feel them all, even the scariest ones (like those that make you question if splitting was the right choice), you move forward.  


Progress may be indiscernible to the naked eye, but it is there.  My favorite example of this almost-unmeasurable growth comes from yoga. Imagine you are doing a standing forward bend.  You would like your hands to reach the floor, but they don’t, so you get a 365 page book and rest your fingers on it. Every day you remove one page. By the end of the year your hands reach the floor. This dark emotional journey of healing through divorce is like the book: bit by bit, you move into a fresh way of being in yourself and in the world, creating a new life while befriending your scariest thoughts and feelings.


One day, when you least expect it, something that was a reliable trigger won’t press all those emotional buttons.  You’ll be centered and peaceful.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Self-Pity Can Actually Help you Feel Better, Sometimes. October 15, 2008


The Buddha taught there is no one more deserving of compassion than you.  More recently, acupuncturist Barbara Sullivan said, “Self-pity is like self-comfort.”  Not only can it be OK, it may be beneficial.


Self-pity has gotten a bad rap. There are times when feeling sorry for yourself opens the floodgates and lets all your sadness pour forth. This emotional cleansing detoxifies your bodymind, moving you along your healing journey, helping you evolve.


Self-pity can be a conduit to compassion, encouraging you to be more gentle, understanding, and patient with your unique process of letting go. Feeling sorry for yourself is appropriate during divorce, grave illness, death of a loved one, and any other time you experience it.  Telling yourself what you’re feeling is wrong is the ultimate put-down.  If you trust the process, i.e. your bodymind’s way of presenting you with something useful, even if seems hurtful or worthless, you will embrace whatever comes up.   Milton Erickson, MD, the famous hypnotherapist, believed your unconscious mind is always protecting you. By extension, anything that emerges, especially during stressful times, is there to ultimately help you. You would feel sad for someone else going through a stormy time.  Don’t you deserve the same tenderness?


Perhaps, the legacy of our country’s Calvinist background is to blame for the extreme negative cultural reaction to self-pity.  But, it is time to re-think this concept.  What is the worst thing that can happen if you feel sorry for yourself?  You won’t count all your blessings?  You will take the still-good things in your life for granted?  What if you do? Is it likely you’ll remain mired in self-pity the rest of your life?  No. You will feel sorry for yourself until, one day, you’re done and it’s time to move forward.


Self-pity might provide a psychic buffer zone, allowing more time to heal.  What may look like emotional self-indulgence could be a break from the litany of “shoulds” and adult responsibilities you’re shouldering. You may benefit greatly from time spent acknowledging the enormity of your situation, with all its challenges and opportunities. What looks like self-pity may actually be a path to self-compassion.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


Freedom October 13, 2008


After the slaves were freed many chose to stay on with their “masters” because they didn’t know any other way of being in the world.  Dependent for so long, they were afraid of starving if left to their own devices; but, the majority bravely went forth, conquering their fears and forging new lives.


Divorce has some similar aspects.  When married, you allowed yourself to count on someone else.  Even if your mate was undependable, there was the illusion of support.  Now that you’re separated or divorced, you are totally responsible for yourself.  Luckily, all that responsibility is balanced with a heady dose of freedom. Develop a trusting relationship with yourself and you’ll handle the demands of life with grace; not every minute, but most of the time, which will leave you feeling emotionally centered and capable.  


Learning to trust yourself is a tall order, but it can be done.   The first step is proving you can take the very best care of yourself possible. Whether it’s eating healthily, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, getting outside every day,  or making time for exercise, everything you do contributes to how you see yourself.  Are you worth the time and the trouble?  Yes!  If you don’t think so, pretend you do.  Act as if you were the kind of person who tended their own garden.  Just as they say on the airplanes: “Put your own oxygen mask on first before you put one on your child.”  Once you have covered the basics, it’s time to look inward.  Start keeping a journal (see the categories section here for a post on dream journaling), and allow all your feelings to be expressed on its pages. Letting yourself feel your feelings doesn’t mean you act on them; you use them to better understand your true self.  Once you’re physically better, and emotionally more in touch, you can delve into the spiritual.  Anything can be a spiritual catalyst: nature, music, art, yoga, meditation, friends, or religious services.  It doesn’t matter.  Experiment.  This is a time of discovery.  


So many choices can be dizzying.  But things do settle down, routine stabilizes everything in its path, and you find a comfortable, safe place within yourself to live.  It’s not quick or simple, but after a while, you develop an easy rapport with freedom.  You understand its gifts and its costs; you learn new dances to new tunes.


Restructuring your life after divorce can feel overwhelming.  Let the process to unfold in its own good time. Focus on one area (this is not a time for multi-tasking) and you will adjust more easily.  As Robyn Posin, PhD, likes to say: “The you that you are today can’t imagine the you that you will be.”  Your world will morph into something different from what you envision now.  Allow the mystery, and practice patience.


This transformative period is a radical shift.  You were part of a couple, now you’re single.  Coupledom isn’t necessarily better, but it does typically provide you with instant company (it may not have been the company you wanted, but there was a warm body with whom to do things).  Now, you have to make an effort if you want companionship.  See friends, go to cultural events, many of which, like gallery openings, are free, take a walk in the park, and expand your repertoire of activities.  Hibernating at home is a sure-fire way to get depressed.  I don’t mean taking some time to burrow under the covers and grieve, that’s healing.  I’m referring to a pattern that shrinks your circle until it only includes you.  When the solitude or loneliness gets to you go out and meet new people.  With over seven billion on the face of the earth there are plenty whose company you will enjoy.


Copyright Nicole S. Urdang


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