Everyone’s life takes unexpected turns. Perhaps it could be divorce or death or any one of the other unpleasant surprises that life can throw at you. But in its wake, you are left reeling and wondering how you’re going to cope.
Deanne Moore is a therapist with a practice in North Texas called, Never Too Late Counseling. She has some insightful strategies for helping individuals move through unforeseen challenges.
Watch the whole video or use the links below to jump to areas of the lightly edited transcript that interest you.
- Tell us about your experience in helping people navigate some of life’s difficult changes?
- How can we know what’s best (or worst) for the kids?
- How do you help people cope with the death of a loved one?
- What problems are teenagers dealing with these days?
- Is divorce always the answer?
- How did you get into therapy?
- What should people look for when they are hiring a therapist?
- What are some signs that you’re with a good therapist?
- What message of hope do you have for those struggling with one of life’s unexpected turns right now?
Tell us about your experience in helping people navigate life’s difficult changes?
Let’s talk about divorce first, and then we can talk about the death of a partner.
Obviously, the breakup of a relationship is never a good thing. First, we’re dealing with emotion because, typically, one person wants to dissolve the relationship more than the other person does. And that causes a lot of conflict because the hurt party wants to punish the other person. So, imagine the man leaves, and now he’s got a girlfriend. That’s just “game over.” The wife tries really hard to return to that logical side of their brain, but the emotional side won’t allow it.
I often find that people who have been really hurt want their partner to hurt just as much—as if that will somehow make them feel better. And that’s not logical.
But it’s a real thought. Even subconscious thoughts are real thoughts. You’re not sitting there going, “I’m gonna hurt ’em, I wanna hurt ’em.” In this scenario, he shouldn’t have a girlfriend yet because he’s not divorced. It gets really messy, really fast. I want to help people try to avoid that.
How do you do that?
Some people are afraid of therapy so sometimes I like to say, “Okay, don’t call me a therapist, call me a coach.” I don’t care what you call me, but I’m here to help you navigate through this problem. I’m going to help you educate yourself and get information. I want to help make lemonade out of a lemon. And I want to help you do it without alienating that other parent or start blaming each other in front of the kids. We want everybody on the same team.
It’s important to get help and to talk to somebody because no one in the relationship is acting perfectly. Even if you’re the perceived victim, I promise that you’re doing some stuff wrong, which you probably don’t mean to.
It sounds like you’re saying that there might be some personal responsibility in this situation, but I think it’s very natural to want everybody to know that the other side did wrong. Right?
Which is funny because what you’re saying then is that you married an idiot or a terrible person. Why not say, “Hey, I married a great person because I have great taste. It just didn’t work out.” Wouldn’t that be better? Then your kids can have an honorable mother or an honorable father. But, stereotypically, most of us can’t do that right away because we’re so mad about our immediate situation. We’re not thinking about the best thing for the kids.
Speaking of the kids and our propensity to think we’re always right, now everything I do is in the name of the kids. Well, who said it was best for the kids? That’s your version of what’s best for the kids. And the other party is going to have their version of what’s best for the kids.
How can we know what’s best (or worst) for the kids?
As a divorce lawyer, I often see that when the other spouse has an affair or does something bad, there’s a natural tendency on the part of the victim to want to tell the children. What impact does that have on kids?
It’s not positive, and it’s almost impossible to get people not to do that. It’s much better to avoid it.
Mom and dad are grownups. We aren’t getting along, and it’s not always infidelity. It can be alcoholism, a mental health disease, or gambling. It can be, “I’m bored. I don’t love you anymore.” Whatever the reason, how is it helpful to tell the children?
Most of the time it’s not so much wanting to say the other person is bad, it’s about making sure the kids know that I’m good, and I tried. Why does that person have to be bad for you to not have done wrong? Why can’t it just be, “Look, I tried everything, and it just didn’t work. I really thought I was doing the best I could, and I want you to try too when you grow up.”
How do you help people cope with the death of a loved one?
In the beginning, it’s really just crying with them. Whether that’s rhetorically or in reality, it’s letting them sit in that space.
Sometimes people come, and you can say, “It’ll be okay, it’ll be better. You can get through this. He’s or she is in a better place.” But sometimes that’s not effective at the outset. They don’t want the lost loved one to be in another place, they want them here. We’re hurting here…on earth. So, part of it is finding that balance between acknowledging that it’s terrible while recognizing that for others that could make them feel worse.
Most people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, so they don’t contact the person who’s hurting anymore. Or they see them, and just give them the “pitiful eyes,” Or they avoid making contact because they don’t want to say the wrong thing. Sometimes the reason nothing gets said, is that they don’t want to bring it up, but the person who’s lost someone is like, “Are you kidding? I think about it 24 hours a day. This is not something you can make me think about more than I already do!”
So, bring it up. Share a fond memory. Tell them something that the person did for you and how wonderful it was. With a lot of the teenagers, if a parent dies, they’ll say, “You know, your mom or dad was so nice when I came over, and I remember this time with your mom/dad,” That gives the person suffering from loss a warm feeling. This is better than “I don’t know what to say.”
That is so true. We really don’t want to make things worse for the bereaved person and are afraid to say the wrong thing. But warm stories are the best way to share that moment the right way.
The scenario I hear all the time goes like this: One person says, “My mom died when I was 22.” And then, so often people are like, “Oh my gosh, I would die. I don’t know how I would cope if my mom died when I was 22.” How is the first person supposed to respond to that? “…. eh …Thanks”?
It’s natural when you hear about someone else’s loss, to immediately think of yourself and how it would affect you. Don’t do that. If you can’t think of anything else to say, just say, “I’m sorry.” If you think that’s too shallow, you might say something like, “This must be a really hard time to walk through. I don’t know exactly what to say, but please know I’m thinking about you.” Things like that seem to be pretty vanilla, but that’s ok if you don’t know what to say.
What problems are teenagers dealing with these days?
Here’s the thing about that: I personally believe everybody needs a therapist in their back pocket. And what I mean by that is people should also come in when things are good; come in when things aren’t tragic and you’re not in crisis. This is a great opportunity for the therapist to get to know the teen. Then, when something does happen, and they visit their therapist, we know them. We’re not starting from scratch.
That said, things are going to happen with teens, but the things that bug them are not usually the things that parents think are bugging them. So, they come in because the parents are getting a divorce, and they’re like, “Yeah, they fought their whole life. Finally, they’re getting a divorce.”
Obviously, this isn’t always the case, and little ones are different, but still, often the things they are mad about are like being left out of a group chat at school. For teens that’s devastating. They’re being excluded. Or they weren’t invited to a party and that still impacts them, and they need space. A lot of times, as parents, we go into teaching moments. We say to them that they will build resilience and they don’t need friends like that anyway. But sometimes what they want you to say is “I understand this hurts, and I am sad for you.”
Also, teenagers’ concern with their weight is off the charts right now So, of course, as parents, we have to tell them, “No, go ahead and have the hamburger. You’re not fat. Love your body. Love yourself.” That’s what we’re supposed to teach.
But some kids need to hear it from someone else. Mickey Mouse could tell them something that you can’t. As the parent you’re supposed to tell them they’re pretty.
It’s so funny. My youngest is 14 now, and there is a shift in my parental role. In the early days, you were their teacher; and they look to you for everything. But as they get into the teenage years, you get an eye roll whenever you go into teaching mode. That’s not what she wants or needs from me.
She doesn’t want that, but don’t stop. Just make sure you up your empathy and understanding game. Does that make sense?
I have to actively remind myself that my job is to just be present.
Right. Make empathetic statements like, “That sounds hard,” instead of, “What did you say to cause them to keep you out?”
You want to still teach because the roots are being formed well into their twenties. I’m not telling you to stop; just increase the empathy factor. Ask, “What can I do to help you?” or “What would make this better?” Sometimes, all you need to do is sit with them and listen until they’re ready to get up and go.
Often, we call therapists in a crisis mode, but the most effective relationships are really formed when we are not in crisis mode. It’s important for kids to have another adult help give context to what they’re experiencing, so it’s not just the parent all the time.
And we try to be that at Never Too Late Counseling. We try to be disarming. A lot of therapists keep their clients at arm’s length and it’s true, we do need boundaries. But we also need to be super relatable and present with teenagers.
Sometimes couples come in and say, “As we were driving in, we didn’t know what we were going to talk about.” And I’m thinking, “Okay, now we can get some work done because we’re not just over here trying to navigate a fight.” A therapist doesn’t want to be a referee. I tell all my couples, “Okay. Laughing is required.”
But…I want them coming in once a quarter. You change your oil, you rotate your tires, and you come in for therapy. There’s something about seeing it on the calendar because if you stray two degrees off course, suddenly we have a ship going north. We’re in Australia, and we didn’t want to be over there.
The healthiest couples are the ones that take it seriously. You have to put some work into any relationship, friendship, or business partnership, and anything that happens in my room is universal to your children, to your relationships, and to work. You just have to stay on top of it.
People often ask me, as a divorce lawyer, what I see as the leading cause of divorce. The sexy answers are adultery or financial crisis. But the truth is many couples just became complacent in their relationship. The relationship wasn’t a priority, and they drifted apart. That’s where I imagine having those routine check-ins is effective.
When you first get married, your spouse is your world. It’s only the two of you. Then you have a baby who is completely reliant upon you. And then you think, “That was fun. Let’s do that again.” Now, you have two babies. And then, for some strange reason, you kept going and have a third. Not sure how that happened, but now you are literally in charge of three children who cannot function for themselves.
Now, let’s say you both work outside the home and have your jobs to attend to, and then let’s say you have to go see extended family one evening. On the way home, the kids are crying, and, realistically, you have to ask yourself: where is the time for the relationship?
People define words differently. Men will say, “She doesn’t prioritize me.”
So, I have to ask, “What does that mean to you?” Sometimes it’s easy; they just want their partner to sit on the couch with them. That’s all it takes.
Then the woman is like, “Well, come live my life for one day and see how you’re going to prioritize it.” It’s stereotypical, but men need sex; they need it to feel connected, while a woman needs emotional security to feel prioritized. She wants to know you’re proud of her and that you think she’s doing a good job.
When she’s not getting that sense of emotional safety and she’s tired, she doesn’t want to have sex that night. She’s exhausted. Now, he feels rejected, and you can just see the cycle happening. It’s not like when you were single, and you didn’t have anything else going on.
Resentment builds, and then, over time, the call is made.
Everything is a solvable problem. When she still loves you, we can get it back. If he loves you, we can get it back.
Problems arise when she goes to work and her coworker is really nice to her. Meanwhile, her husband’s always telling her she’s gained weight or some other negative commentary. Before you know it, people who are good, honest, hardworking, and loving people end up in an affair that they didn’t want or intend to have.
It’s rare that I’ve had somebody take me aside and say, “I was looking to have an affair.” It happens because you connect with somebody else, and if you spend quality time with someone, you’re going to see how fantastic they are. You didn’t mean it to happen because you really love your family, but you don’t feel appreciated at home, and this serves as a replacement of sorts.
But they’re all solvable. That’s the thing: it seems insurmountable, but they’re solvable.
Although, I think when the years of resentment have layered in…
Then we’re in Australia, and we’re asking, “How do we bring it back?” That’s why maintenance along the way is necessary.
Is divorce always the answer?
Even as a divorce attorney, I always say, “If your marriage can be saved, go work on it.” In fact, there’s even a post on the site titled, 15 Reasons Not to Get a Divorce. Because you and I both know that while divorce will solve some problems, it doesn’t solve them all, does it?
The divorce rate is just as bad for second marriages as the first. You tend to take the same problems with you into the second marriage.
If you’re telling your new partner that your ex used to call you a workaholic, your new partner will turn that into a positive: “You’re not a workaholic; you’re a hard worker.” But that same behavior will be taken into this new relationship. So, my job is to take a big mirror and hold it in front of you to say, “This is who we’re working on. You can change a relationship by working on yourself.”
But yes, to your point, sometimes it’s too far gone. I hate to say that. Sometimes somebody’s decided that they’re done, but you can still do the work because that same work will then go on to the next relationship.
That same work will make you a better co-parent; it’ll strengthen your relationships. Human relationships are complex.
How did you get into therapy?
I was married and things had become difficult. He was in law school, and things were hard. We had been to three therapists who were not good and not helping. I really didn’t know what therapy was supposed to look like until we moved back to Dallas. Here we found a therapist who was a game-changer—one we understood and who spoke our language and connected with us. I felt like my husband, at the time, listened to him to some degree, and that connection was so important. Something about that experience made me think; I want to do that. If I can be that good, I want to do that.
What should people look for when they are hiring a therapist?
Referrals are great because you know that therapist worked well with someone else. You really want to find someone you can connect with. Sometimes, you can read about them and make sure that they align with your beliefs or that they specialize in what you hope to focus on.
I work a lot with couples. My sister works with me, and she’s great with kids and with teens. So, even though our professional training isn’t necessarily age-specific, you want to know what they specialize in—in terms of who they best connect with.
What are the signs that you’re with a good therapist?
Connection is really the most important thing. Are you willing to really go there? We only know what you bring us; we’re not mindreaders. Find a therapist who you’re willing to be transparent and honest with. You have to open up to them.
What message of hope do you have for those struggling with one of life’s unexpected turns right now?
First off, what you’re going through is horrible, and you are not the first person to go through it. But there are people out there that want to help you.
My favorite word is hope, and my favorite phrase is it’s never too late. It’s never too late to start again. You have to believe that it’s going to get better even though better may mean fixing the problem.
If you’ve had a death, it can get better, but you can’t bring the person back. If you found out your partner is having an affair, but they say they want to repair your relationship, let’s see if we can fix it. Maybe we can’t. But are you willing to look in the mirror? It’s not your fault, but is there something you could do differently in the future? What are you willing to own?
I love the message of hope because I think it’s so important, and life does get better—even in the midst of painful situations. I hope you have enjoyed our session today and that you will reach out to Deanne if you would like help through an unexpected turn your life has taken.