Divorce Custody Work Beat Me Up. It Also Made Me Stronger

6 minutes Written by Dwayne Kruse

I have recently stepped into the world of divorce counseling and mediation. Wow-what an amazing experience. I have long been involved in the community mental health system where I have seen entitlement, intelligence, potential, scars, resilience and the like. All walks of life. To my surprise, the matters of custody disputes and mediation are far more detrimental to mental health than I ever gave anyone credit for. I am a child of divorced parents. They separated when I was ten. I heard basic rumors about my dad having another lady friend and such. It did not bother me.

It was not until I was an adult completing a graduate school project that I noticed that my parents had some pretty difficult times.  And boy was I sure a handful; silently blaming, playing my parents one against the other, getting what I thought I wanted out of life. But the adult stuff, the negative feelings, the stress of divorce and custody. I was protected. I had no real clue what was going on. Again, not until my parents told me for my graduate project. I feel the need to say thanks mom, thanks dad for protecting me from that. I know you did your very best to allow me to be raised without fear or feelings of misgiving toward the other parent no matter how you may have felt.  

In direct correlation with the stress model – Family-Centered Regulatory Therapy or as I call it upside down CBT my parents chose love rather than behaving out of fear. They chose to act responsibly rather than reacting. And when my parents did make a mistake or let a problem slide through they admitted responsibility and followed through on making amends and teaching that it is possible to steer yourself and your family back on track. Those lessons are life lessons that I will never forget and that steers my everyday struggle with the divorcing and custody battling parents today. Mom, Dad, there is hope. Don’t give up on yourself, your child or your ex-spouse.

Remember three key things:

Reflect- When stress arises it is usually a life stressor or an angry, scared, frustrated emotion. You may see it in your self or a close family member. Identify with it. Understand what that behavior is and where it comes from. Pay attention to the level of stress being demonstrated behaviorally and nonverbally.

Relate- Has this happened before? Have you been in those shoes? Come alongside that stressor. Ignore the behavior and commune with the level of stress. Work towards a better understanding of the challenges and fears behind the problem.

Regulate- Find something to do. Exercise, share in relationship, get or give a hug, just being there for someone else. There is a chemical in our body called oxytocin. it is the anti-stress hormone. When we do these things, it is secreted and helps calm and regulate us.

 In fact, this evening I asked for some help. I was depleted. Having too many stressors, I myself as a therapist, mentor and teacher of the Stress Model and Family Centered Regulatory Therapy, a trauma expert had had enough. It happens to all of us. I ignored my cues, signs of wearing down, had a bad day. Guess what, I asked for that help, and I got it; a word of encouragement, a knowing glance, someone to absorb my worries for just five minutes. Then I was able to move on. My window of tolerance, my ability to manage my stressors on my own kicked in again and I am off and running. Yes, I still have to work through my bad day. So, I am going to get some exercise, let the endorphins kick in, squeeze some lactic acid out of my muscles then I am going to get a massage.

A healing touch massage connects the largest organ in your body, your skin, to your brain. Yes, I am a manly man. To that end I now when it is time for love, peace and relationship. Connecting with someone does not have to be a spouse; it could be a friend, a coworker or even your hairstylist or masseuse. Be careful not to suspend your negative and judgmental feelings over your child’s head.  Choose wisely.
Divorce is difficult. Take care of yourself. Then take care of your family.


Post Script

 I wrote this six years ago and did not publish it. Now, professionally I took 4 complaints against my license. It was from parents who were so entrenched in fear and their divorce for multiple reasons; notwithstanding a 200 dollar an hour lawyer bill, not having any skill set or practice at effective parenting and not getting their needs met, that they felt they needed to blame someone. I found that children lost, I lost the parents lost. There are no winners in family court. Would the outcome have been different had I charged 200 dollars an hour in cash? Maybe I should have demanded to see the clients without Lawyer input. Or refused to take the stand as an expert witness. Advocated differently somehow for the children.

So what is the final outcome of such a negative experience? I am fighting for my license. The state looks at me as a hack therapist. Word on the street is that several divorced family members are still battling it out. The kids have been played as lame chess piece in the parents’ game to get their wants and needs met and they are getting worse. What creates such a negative response. FEAR. ANGER SADNESS AND MORE FEAR.

I ended up writing a letter to the courts and refused to take any more children. My work was not doing any good and things were worse off for me and for the kiddoes I was working with. I thought I could instill hope. I thought I could make dramatic change. I feel beaten.

Fast forward two years. I have decided to take charge of my life and my license. I am not going to be beaten by fear. I am going to persevere. I am going to take back my life and my license. I am going to go out there and do great things. I intend to help make people well. I am going to make dramatic changes with and for my clients. I am an expert.  I am not beaten. I do matter. Just as my clients and the people of my town matter.

Who else has a harrowing experience?


Avatar Dwayne Kruse

Written by Dwayne Kruse

Dwayne Kruse is a therapist in Arizona who specializes in couples, family, group and individual therapy.