When He Goes Silent, What Should You Do?

By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Ladies, you are in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and so on looking for the ‘right’ partner to spend your time with and along comes a nice looking, intelligent, romantic, polite, etc. gentleman who seems perfect. You have already dated long term, been married/divorced, have kids, looking to have kids and this guy seems just right. Until, four to six weeks goes by and he quits texting and calling you. He cancels plans at the last minute. He appears no longer into you. You wonder, what happened? You try to get in touch with him and he has vanished without a trace. What happened? This nice man, or what appeared to be, is not in his 20’s or early 30’s, he ‘should’ be more mature about dating. Instead he is ghosting. Clearly, he is not emotionally mature enough to be in relationships; he is unable to have difficult conversations that may place him in a vulnerable state. Or he may not be into you and is not able to verbalize that for fear of hurting you. Whatever the reason may be, you need to ask yourself if he is worth it? Many studies suggest these are types of attachment styles and known as either dismissive avoidant or fearful avoidant.

There are many reasons this man may not be contacting you, and many youtube channels, dating coaches, etc will try to explain what’s going on. Sure, majority of what these relationship coaches are saying make perfect sense, however, rather than sugar coat the reasons as to why these men are ‘ghosting’ women; let’s talk about the brutal truth. These men have some sort of insecure attachment styles, dismissive avoidant or fearful avoidant. Since these men were most likely raised by parents or guardians who were physically, and/or emotionally not present, these men lack in being emotionally present, emotionally available and do not know how to handle situations when a possible love interest is involved. These men may have trauma from their childhood because they were abused, sexually, emotionally, and/or physically and fear being rejected, hurt, and irrationally play scenarios in their minds about their current partner hurting them, so they justify leaving the relationship first and sometimes without warning.

Yes, we can blame it on their upbringing, however these are adult men and should be held accountable for their actions. When men go silent or ‘ghost’ with little to no notice, this is at the very least unfair to their partner who has put time and effort into this relationship or courtship. And let’s not forget, many of these avoidant or fearful avoidant men (And women) are commitment phobic and will not discuss the “C” (commitment) word. It seems when the two of you are having a good time and the courtship seems to be going well; he vanishes or begins to communicate less snd less. Many women are left confused and wonder ‘why’ especially when the relationship seemed to be going well.

Jack (Name and circumstances changed due to privacy) found Jane attractive and interesting. He began to pursue her in the beginning. They would text for hours, talk on the phone and see each other one to two times per week. Around the five week mark, Jane asked him if he was seeing other people. Jack provided a vague answer and said “not right now, I will tell you if I am.” Jane wanted further clarification and asked “what did that mean.” Jack repeated what he said and further added, “You and I are having fun, I do not want a relationship.” Jane wasn’t sure how to respond and became quiet. She went home shortly after and Jack began to text and call less and less. They made plans for the following week and Jack canceled their plans 5 minutes before they were supposed to meet. Jane was left confused, hurt, and upset. She didn’t understand what happened. Jack, on the other hand, felt relieved because he didn’t know how to communicate to Jane that he needed his alone time to regroup. Jack had told Jame he doesn’t like relationships and prefers his alone time. Jane tried to text and call Jack, however, he did not respond; he went silent (Ghosted her). Jane was distraught and confused for days. She thought their relationship was going somewhere, however, after a month of not hearing from him; Jane began to realize he was not coming back. She had tried to communicate through text, email and phone calls and had no response. She had seen him a couple times, but he ignored her. What happened?

Depending on Jack’s upbringing, his prior relationships, etc. may provide more insight what Jack was thinking and feeling. Jack was raised by a single dad who was not emotionally present. His dad worked all the time and other than providing the basics for Jack, he was not able to participate in Jack’s daily life. Jack grew up taking care of himself and learned no one was going to care for him except himself. Jack didn’t have many friends and mainly kept to himself. He had a busy career and during his downtime, he relished in movies, video games, exercise and whatever else he wanted to do. Jack preferred to vacation alone and enjoyed his own time. Jack desired a relationship, however, when he became close to someone he would vanish before they could hurt him. He would unconsciously begin to distance himself from his partner until he no longer could take it and cut off communication so he didn’t have to ‘deal’ with his partner. He really liked Jane, enjoyed her company, and knew he may have been falling for her. Therefore, his brain went into safety mode before this could happen. When he read a text from Jane or heard her voice, he felt sad for the moment and then busied himself with something else. He told himself “it’s for the best.”

Although this is an example of a dismissive avoidant, many may say ‘this sounds so familiar.’ Jack may eventually contact Jane once he feels safe and Jane has moved on, or he may not. Jane may try to reach out to Jack again and they may even go out again. However, unless Jack begins to identify why he does this and begins to move in closer to the discomfort; he will not be able to retain a relationship. If Jane wants to be with Jack. she will soon learn to be self sufficient and not rely on Jack to console her or be there for her because he most likely believes everyone can care for themselves. If Jane wants this relationship, she may be lonely and unsatisfied unless she is an independent woman who is securely attached with outside support. And most importantly, Jack will need to identify his past his is the past and learn how to put his old wounds to rest. He will also need to work on his issues and learn how to move through his discomfort while still being in the relationship with Jane, communicate with her and allow her into his life. Unfortunately, Jack may not realize this consciously and continue old patterns of behavior.

Regardless, one may ask themselves if they really want to be with someone who is dismissive avoidant, hot snd cold, and can disappear so quickly? Some women will say ‘yes’ because they were patient, hung in there, and the dismissive avoidant worked on themselves identifying their triggers and learned how to communicate with their partner. Other women will say ‘no’ because they didn’t want the hot and cold and pain associated with the relationship. It really depends on the person, their connection, whether the avoidant is willing to actively work on themselves and the relationship, and does this relationship bring happiness as a whole regardless of the hard work involved. If you can answer yes to the above, then your relationship may be worth the added efforts. However, if you say ‘not really’ to the above, you may want to think about moving on. Yes, it hurts, however, there will be new opportunities ahead of you. Remember ladies, you are high quality women who deserve the best for you. You deserve to be treated as their queen and nothing less. Never allow a man (or woman) to treat you poorly, leaving you feeling worth little. If these men want to be with you, they will find a way to be with you. In general, when a man finds a woman worthy of his time, he will not let you go. He may disappear for a while, and reappear once he feels safe. The most important thing to take away from this article; if the partner who is avoidant puts in the effort to make changes to his attachment style and learns healthy ways to handle his fears, then the relationship has a chance to thrive into a loving, deep connection. Allow him to go and find his way; all you can do is continue to move on in your life and put your energies elsewhere. As the saying goes, “if you love someone, let them go; if they never come back, they were never yours.”

I hope this article is helpful and useful. I have many couples right now struggling through this hot and cold dynamic and there is hope for this to change. It takes effort and work for these relationships work. There is hope; when these couples work on their issues, and learn ways to cope with past trauma and heal; these relationships are solid.

Thank you for reading,

Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Forgive Yourself…There are two sides to the story! Learn Self Care.

Self Care and Forgiveness is Key!

While child custody and deciding on where the children reside majority of the time, or half of the time; just remember there are two sides to the story even when lawyers and courts are involved. Unfortunately, the information gets muddled and somewhere in the mounds of documents, declarations, pieces of evidence, etc. lies the truth. It may be their version of the truth, but not the actual truth. Let’s take a look on how to go about taking care of yourself when dealing with child custody, possibly estrangement from your children and overall the dealings with our court systems brutality.

Research has proven staying out of courts is the best option. Possibly, settling through mediation, arbitration, or another mode other than court. Although preparation for mediation or arbitration can be stressful because this process is preparing parties for court; the process itself provides more control for both parties. This is the best option for most cases and can be resolved using these services mentioned above. However, there are parents that refuse to use alternatives to courts because ‘these parties’ believe they will win ‘only if the Judge/Commissioner’ hears ‘their’ side to the story. So, if alternative methods are not an option, let’s take a look at ways to maintain self care.

While caring for children, working full time, getting children to and from activities, friends, school, appointments, etc. isn’t enough; adding child custody fights brings on a whole new stress level. We all know self-care is important, but how do we take care of ourselves when we have enough day to day stress let along the battles in court?

Since I have been working with these child custody cases for over 20 years now, I have been able to find coping skills to help my clients weather the storm. Here are a few techniques, although they may seem little, that have been proven to reduce some stress and learn how to take care of yourself during these challenging times.

Remember, children are only young for 18 years and then they become adults. If you can close your eyes and visualize your child/children and see them now wherever they are in age and then at 18. Poof…that time is gone quickly. Spending quality time with your children is extremely important; it is not about the quantity. Your children will remember when you were at their little league baseball game in the rain, at their soccer game early in the morning, their band recital when it goes on for three hours after work, when you are there for the good and the bad; helping with homework projects, overall being with them in the present moment. This isn’t easy when you are dealing with the ugliness of family court.

Tips for self care:

1. Take time every day for yourself (even if only 30 minutes). This may include meditation, exercise, journaling, hot bath, deep breathing, drawing, listening to music, etc.

2. Seek out a therapist, coach, pastor to talk about how you are feeling. Talking to professionals can help keep you grounded.

3. Get enough rest and sleep. Yes, sleep is important all the time and especially during stressful times. When our cortisol levels decrease due to stress, we are prone to more illness, physical and emotional pain, and not able to process our feelings as well. Lack of sleep increases our inability to make good decisions, more hyper sensitive, easily startled, and so much more. Sleep is vital all the time. Especially during stressful times.

4. Spend time with friends and family who care about you. Shutting people out makes people feel isolated and alone. It’s always a positive endeavor when you meet with friends/family for dinner, go for a hike, meet for coffee, play games, etc. Stay connected to your loved ones.

5. Laugh…yes, laughing helps with stress. Watch funny movies, read funny memes, articles or books, etc.

6. Self talk; “everything will work out.” “This will come to an end.” Keep positive and know you are doing what you can during this process. Even when the demands are high and there are deadlines to meet, keep talking to yourself with positive affirmations.

Now it is time to put your self-care routine into action!

There are many ways to care for yourself. The six listed above have helped many parents I have worked with in the past and present. Divorce and child custody is not an easy time. Making time for yourself and spending quality time with others will help during this process. Additionally, your children are young for a short duration of their life; try not to waste it on the small stuff.

Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

The Day I Self-Reflected…

By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

As I drove by the streets in the city and noticed human beings sleeping on the ground with a blanket wrapped around them in the cold, the man on the corner staring blankly as if there was nothing left in his soul, and the woman dancing in the streets with no music playing; I began to ponder how this happened. I know some people say, “it’s drugs”, “these people are…”, “they chose to live this way”, etc. I wanted to look at this more closely and better understand why there are people living on the streets, with no place to go staring blankly. All these people share something in common; they are homeless, possibly on drugs, or possibly have mental health issues (or both); they are also a son/daughter, sister/brother, mother/father, friend, cousin, grandma/grandpa, they are ‘somebody to someone’. These people are human beings who have feelings and a story to tell. So, I began sitting down with them to hear their stories.

A woman described her story where she escaped domestic violence, left her children behind because she felt he would have killed her and their children. This woman had the courage to leave her children behind to save them and herself. She was not being selfish, she was not thinking about herself; she was thinking about her family and leaving the man who tried to kill her. She stated, “he can hit me all he wants, but I refuse to allow him to continue to beat me down emotionally; I am a good person.”

Another man lost his job making six figures after he came home and found his wife with another man. He started to drink every night to heal the emotional pain, he started to slack at work, drink more alcohol and dabble with other drugs; and eventually lost everything. His eyes were blank, yet he wanted help so he could find himself again. He still had a small twinkle in his eye to find hope.

A male talking to himself and others telling people the FBI is after him and he needs to get to the post office before they find him. People stared at him strangely and his paranoia increased. He was begging for help, crying and yet he was ignored and laughed at.

A female in her 30’s was dancing in the middle of the streets appearing to be clueless others were watching. She was in another world, one may say. When she came to the sidewalk. I inquired about her life. She reported hesitantly she once had a husband and three children, with a big house and white picket fence. After she and her son were in a serious car accident where a semi truck side swiped her small car, her youngest child died at the age of 3, and she was seriously injured. She recalls this time to be blurred and painful. As she suffered in pain, both emotional and physical, she could not get past the death of her three-year-old son. She was discharged from the hospital three months later with 80 pain pills and some physical therapy. She and her husband grew apart and her two other children were distant from her. She didn’t know how to cope so she lived on pain pills and slept. Once the pain pills wore off, her doctors refused to provide anymore; so she found heroin. She hesitantly said, “I was not one of those drug seekers, I was in pain both physically and emotionally, and a skeleton of myself. I was no longer there, rather an existence of myself.” She reported the heroin took over and she used methamphetamines during the day so she could care for her children and “get by.” Her husband had thrown himself into work and she was home.

I sat down with a 70 year old man who I could barely understand because he spoke gibberish, but I understood he had served in the Navy during Vietnam, he had a PhD in Engineering, he lost his wife and children in a house fire and had recently been beaten while sleeping outside. He had a kind soul, laughed at his whimsical nonsense, and his eyes lit up when he spoke about a warm plate of food. He said he had been living on the streets for 30 years and was always moving to stay warm and safe. Although he was an honorable veteran (he showed proof of his DD214 that read ‘honorably discharged’; he still lived on the streets and his demeanor and speech was like talking to a 10 year old in a 70 year old body. His sleeping bag and bag of items were next to his bike and he gracefully requested that he needed to leave so he could find his ‘bed’ for the night outside. He politely said “thank you” and rode away on his bike.

These stories are real, these are human beings who have a story and reasons why they are on the streets homeless wondering around trying to find something to bring them a moment of peace. People are too busy looking at them, making a judgement rather than a hand up or simple prayer, staring at them while they act strangely or stay away because they are dirty. What happened to our community where people cared for others, even strangers and offered a helping hand or a kind word?

I may not have the answers to the questions above, rather than a reflection about how every human being deserves a chance. These streets that I drive on and see people of all races, sexual orientation, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, etc. have a story to tell. Majority of these people did not intend to end up homeless, on the streets, and some participating in illicit drugs to make the days go by easier. Rather, they ended up on the streets because of life circumstances. Every individual and family I spoke to had a story to tell. Some were waiting to be housed, possibly the 780th in line for housing. Other ones were waiting for treatment, or didn’t know where to seek help. While others reported, they keep trying to find help, work, etc. and unable to locate the resources. As many people said, “I find a job easy, but cannot hold the job because they don’t have an address, reliable transportation, an alarm clock, trespassed in the area, and the list goes on. Rather than thinking about what movie they are going to watch, or what they were going to eat for dinner; they worried about where they were going to sleep for the night without being beaten, frozen, trespassed, or have their stuff stolen.

After many weeks spending time speaking with individuals and families who were homeless, I reflected about my own misjudgments about people who were living on the streets. They were not monsters; they were human beings trying to survive on the streets. They had life circumstances that negatively impacted their lives, made wrong choices, lost their jobs, turned to drugs and alcohol, had mental health issues, etc. I know I have had my share of negative events in my life and thankfully have a roof over my head, food to eat, and a family to go home to. As I reflected about the people I met and how they ended up homeless, I realized how important it is to enjoy every moment, through the good and bad; and not take life for granted.

I did not write this article for negative comments or judgements, I wrote this article based on my experience meeting people who are homeless in the greater Seattle area and listened to their stories. I wanted to share my experience with others and what I learned. Thank you for reading. And may we humble ourselves when we walk or drive by someone who is homeless, especially during the holiday season and cold months, and remember they are human beings who have a story to tell.

Dating after Separation With Children – Finding Your New Normal

The 5 Do’s and Dont’s about dating after separating/divorcing from your partner especially when you have children. And, when is it the ‘right’ time to introduce a new partner to your children?

Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Let’s admit, dating after marriage or being together for a long time is difficult and scary. This applies to everyone including those who are not married. Adding children into the picture and the the dating scene seems even scarier and sometimes “too much work.” How do you know when it is the right time to begin dating post divorce? The ‘rule of thumb’ to begin dating after your marriage ends is for every year you were married, allow yourself one month to heal. For example, if you were married for ten years, allow yourself ten months before dating. I know, some people say, “that’s too long” or “that’s not long enough.” This article is just a guide; please follow your own path on what feels right to you and when you think you are ready.

1. Do allow yourself to heal after your divorce and allow time to find yourself. Allow yourself to be alone and allow yourself to grieve the divorce. Yes, many couples will say ‘our marriage was over a long time ago and I am over her/him.” Yes, you may feel this way, however, is this really what is going on inside your emotional psyche? Be honest with yourself and give yourself time to be a single parent, spend quality time with your children and yourself. Find a balance in your life for work, children/family, alone time and time for friends. No need to rush into the dating world; it’s most likely changed since you were dating.

Don’t begin dating right after you separate or divorce. Don’t bring another possible love partner into your children’s lives right away, allow the family to find their new normal and healthy balance. The children do not need to be involved with your dating life; that may set everyone up for more chaos.

2. Do begin to date after you feel you are in a good place in your new life. Do check in with yourself to ensure you are healthy and have allowed time (use the ‘rule of thumb’ or another gauge) to heal. Do look at the new single scene (a lot may have changed since you were married), and possibly sign up for a dating site (make sure to read the site reviews and what the dating site is about – some dating sites are merely for ‘hooking up.’). Do go out with friends when your children are with the other parent (or a babysitter/family/friend if the other parent is not around). Do go out in groups of people or meet people out in public such as a park or restaurant.

Don’t meet someone you have met online or never met before alone in a secluded place. A great rule to make is to always meet up with someone new (regardless if you know them casually) with a group of people or in a crowded area. Make sure your children are not around and only know you are going out with friends.

3. Do enjoy dating. Dating is challenging at times and it is best to keep it light and friendly. Beware of the men and women out there who are pushing for a relationship or wanting more (like sex) right away. Watch out for the red flags (ex. they are in love quickly, they call or text all the time, too good to be true, etc.). Slow down and get to know people. Do let the people you are dating know upfront you are not ready for anything serious and just in the initial dating phase. Do allow yourself to be content with dating and allow your voice to be heard. If the person just texts, let them know you want phone calls so you can get to know them better. It’s difficult to get to know someone through texting. Here is an opportunity to be selective and see who is out there. There is no need to rush.

Don’t rule out quality people for a dating partner who may be shorter, taller, larger, skinnier, not gorgeous, etc. Get to know someone by email and phone before going out in the first date. You may be surprised the person you like isn’t what you would have normally chosen. Don’t have sex on the first five dates and even then evaluate whether you are truly ready for this next step. Possibly sex is sex to you or them, but sex can bring a whole new element into the relationship. Don’t allow someone to come on too strong; checkmate them at the door and let them go. Be patient…it takes time. You may date many people before finding someone who you connect with on a deeper level.

4. Do allow yourself to like someone. Once you have selected someone you may be interested in more than a ‘casual fling,’ do begin seeing them more regularly without the children. If this feels right, and you are checking in with yourself regularly, and this person has the same level of interest; possibly the two of you will discuss what the next steps are. Do you continue to keep it casual or become exclusive? Remember there is no rush and you have time to get to know someone. Yes, it feels enlightening, warm and fuzzy when you like someone, enjoy this time. No need to rush!

Don’t rush to have your new love interest meet your children. Keeping your children out of the dating scene is very important. If you have found someone you want to be exclusive with, make sure they feel the same way. Some questions to ask yourself (check in moment); Do they have children? How long have they been single since their last relationship? If they don’t have children, how do they feel about being around children? Are your children prepared to have another adult person brought into their lives? Have you discussed (age appropriate) possibly dating with your children and if so what was their reaction(s)? Listen to your children and decide whether they are ready to meet your ‘special’ friend.

5. Make sure you are over your ex. If you are still wondering what your ex is doing, missing him/her, thinking about your ex, you are not ready to date!

Don’t begin dating to fill the empty void after separating from your spouse. This is the time for personal growth, exploration and putting your goals into action. Fill the empty void with devoting time to yourself, children, family and Friend’s. Begin accomplishing your goals and build your self esteem. Remember healthy people attract other healthy people. Find your new normal healthy balance.

These five Do’s and Don’ts about dating after your marriage ends is only a guide. You know yourself and what is best for you. If you are still struggling after one year (or less), find a relationship coach our therapist to help you move toward a fulfilling life (might be a good choice anyways). You deserve to be happy and finding ways to execute this is finding your new normal balance.

Ask Rochelle…

I am here to answer questions and provide the best possible answer based on my expertise, knowledge and experience. I will answer one to two questions per “Ask Rochelle…”. Please keep your questions coming at longcounseling@gmail.com and I will do my best to answer your questions. Thank you and always remember you matter!

*Please remember I am not an attorney nor do I act as an attorney regarding any legal issues. I am licensed in the state of Washington and adhere to their guidelines as far as state laws and mandates. I will answer questions based on the knowledge I have learned throughout the years and what works and doesn’t work in my practice.

Question: I haven’t seen my kids for 284 days even though there is a parenting plan in place and my ex-husband has been found in contempt twice by the courts. We have two children, 8 y.o. And 12 y.o. My ex-husband continues to use the children as a way to hurt me. With this Corona virus, he now uses this and the courts are closed. We have 50/50 joint custody and the children state “they hate me and never want to see me.” We had a counselor, however, he was making the situation worse (in my opinion) because he didn’t hold the father accountable for having the kids available for their appointments. I would show up and their father would always have an excuse. Now there is a shelter in place and the therapist is only doing video and my ex will not allow the children to engage in video. Any suggestions?

Ask Rochelle:

I want you to know you are not the only one going through this. There are so many parents going through this right now and have been suffering for years. There are support groups online you can join to help with this endeavor as you seek to see your children.

Your ex-husband has not been held accountable and will continue to act in this manner until he is held accountable AND even then he may justify in his mind he is doing the right thing. Without knowing all the details and how you got here today (there are so many potential factors), it is hard to provide guidance without the facts. However, generally speaking you have been an involved parent with no abuse history, substance abuse issues or mental health concerns (without taking you medications/treatment); this may be a case of parental alienation or something around those lines. Provided the information provided it is hard to tell. Parental Alienation, whether covert or overt, is hard to prove in court. Your odds are better finding an expert working with these type of cases and having the expert outline the recommendations. It has been a long time since you have seen your children and based on what the father has told them, your actions (or inactions), they may be mad or hurt and their guard is up. This is very frustrating as a targeted parent because you are stuck especially with the ‘shelter in place’ order.

Please note the shelter in place order does not prohibit parents from following the parenting plan. This is deemed essential and parents are following an order by the courts to see their children. 1. Reach out to the therapist you are working with and request that you see your children. 2. Are the courts open for contempt motions or motion to compel? If so, you may want to note this matter as URGENT and see if the judge will hear this matter because it is an emergency. If the courts deny to hear your motion now, keep the motion in place for when the courts re-open. 3. Follow the parenting plan and court orders. Call the children when you are supposed to, video chat with them per the orders and if there is residential time and no restrictions, request by email (preferably using an app such as talking parent, my family wizard, etc) to the father that you will be following the parenting plan and will pick the kids up at this time on this day. If he doesn’t respond or responds “we are busy” or “have plans” or whatever, politely state with no emotions, you will be picking up the children for your court ordered residential time, phone calls, etc. Remember to document everything (date, time, etc.) and show up or call for the times even if the father denies access or your children state they don’t want to see you.

Question: The custodial parent is denying my residential time with our children during this pandemic. I only live 10 minutes away and our family is healthy.

Ask Rochelle: The shelter in place order is for non essential people and businesses to not travel or be out other than going to the grocery store. The parenting plan set in place is considered ‘essential’ and there is a court order set in place. Both of you must follow the parenting plan unless both parents agree to deviate from the plan and are truly concerned about the children’s welfare because someone in the household is sick with the virus or other reasons. However, if it is your residential time, you are the parent to decide whether you feel the children are safe or not. With you living only ten minutes away there should be no reason not to see your children. Every state seems to have addressed this issue and some parents are getting in trouble for withholding the children for no reason. Look at your state laws and whether the courts are open. Best of luck to you.

Overall, do what you can to co-parent with the other parent. Hear their side and possibly they have some valid concerns. Communicate as business partners and keep the emotions out. Hopefully the other parent will listen to you as well. Talk to your children if they are old enough (over 12) and see (age appropriate) how they feel during this time. Open and honest communication is truly what is best for your children.

Send your questions to longcounseling@gmail.com. I look forward to your questions. Take Care of You, love yourself and others and forgive the ones who hold you from moving forward.

Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

EMBRACE Our Mental Health During COVID-19

Take Care of Yourself And Decrease Unnecessary Stress During this time…

We are all living in the time of uncertainty. Our world is going through an ever evolving learning curve on ways to handle this pandemic known as the COVID-19. Many people are rushing to the stores buying vast amounts of toilet paper, cleaning products, papertowels, medicine for colds and flu, thermometers, water and various other products. Our country is watching other cities and countries battle this pandemic. Depending where you live, majority of people are on self-quarantine, optional quarantine, state lockdown, country lockdown. People are reacting in their ‘flight or fight’ (response is a physiological reaction that occurs to a response during a perceived harmful event (Gross, 1998) mode. Some people are fighting and others are fleeing, (i.e hoarding products and food (fight response) or staying in their home with very little contact with the outside (flight)). Regardless, stress levels are on the rise and their mental health is decreasing.

Stress is known to decrease the immune system (McLeod, S.A. 2010). The main stress hormone is cortisol (built in alarm system, ability to control your mood, motivation and fear). When cortisol is released during a stressful response, the immune system is unable to regulate our body and neurological system. When we are stressed, the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses and other medical conditions. Hence, we become more susceptible to infections. Stress is linked to headaches, infectious illnesses (flu, colds, other viruses), cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma and gastric ulcers. Does heightened stress also increase the chances of being infected with or worsening the symptoms when positive for COVID-19? Research indicates, yes.

undefined Since we know stress may increase the chances of getting sick, what can we do during this unsettling time?

  1. Be mindful – stay in the present moment, enjoy the moment and little things in life.
  2. Limit media exposure and computer screen time (pop ups occur) to 30 minutes a day. Pinterest and online shopping is always a fun way to spend time.
  3. Get outside, even if it is in your front or backyard.
  4. Keep in touch with friends and family either via Skype, FaceTime, phone calls, texting, etc. Isolation is unhealthy.
  5. Keep going to counseling via tele therapy – no reason to stop.
  6. Exercise inside or outside. Exercise is vital for stress regulation.
  7. Give yourself plenty of forgiveness tokens – yes you will get stressed, you may cry, shout, sleep, etc. Allow this, however not for too long. Make sure to check in if this continues for more than a day.
  8. Family time is important, play games, go for walks outside if permitted, watch funny movies, cook together, etc.
  9. Declutter the house and organize.
  10. Stick to a routine, normalize your life as it is now. This too will pass.

DO NOT PANIC, PREPARE! “It is important to not let fear control your life” (McGuire, J.F., 2020). Do wash your hands for at least 20 second, practice social distancing with the public, do not touch your face with your hands if they are dirty and other safety measures. In the mental health world, some individuals are already diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This pandemic is providing majority of our world to have this temporary diagnosis. If you are a sufferer of pre-COVID-19, please ensure to be in touch with your therapist regularly. OCD can be debilitating and during times like this even more so. If you did not have this diagnosis prior to this pandemic, and find yourself cleaning over an hour a day, washing your hands to the point of them sloughing, stressing too much, etc, please reach out to a therapist.

Not only is OCD a concern, so is depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. Please do not ignore symptoms of these issues; for example sleeping for hours on end, eating to comfort, loss of energy or motivation (if not sick), panic attacks, suicidal thoughts/actions, cleaning for hours, exhausted for no reason, etc. If you are feeling this way, DO NOT WAIT! Contact a therapist immediately and a friend/family member. You are not alone!

On a positive note, this is an opportunity to spend time as a family (if you have one living with you), find new activities you enjoy, enroll in online learning, declutter your home, catch up on reading and find a new way of enjoying your time. Change can be difficult for some, especially forced change out of your control. Control what you can and roll with the ever rolling changes. This too shall pass.

Written By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Coping with Parent Alienation: Consider these Tips:

by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

What exactly is parental alienation? “Parental alienation when one parent alienate the affections of the children so the child does not want to be with or spend time with the other parent.” (Darnell, D. 2007).

Parental Alienation is not for those parents who have been estranged from their non-favored parent due to domestic violence, abuse, un-treated mental health issues, substance abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, etc. Parent Alienation occurs when parents who were once involved in their children’s day to day lives, has an emotional connection with their child(ren), does not present any of the above issues and were close to their child at one time in their life; especially during the first seven years of their lives (Bowlby, 1998).

High conflict parents (HCP) already struggle with co-parenting and/or parallel parenting. When parenting alienation occurs, either overt or covert, this shuts down the communication further between the HCP. Unfortunately, children and teens are left in the trenches of this psychological trauma. Children love both parents and should feel free to express their feelings and emotions towards either parent, unfortunately this is not the case when parent alienation is present.

Some signs parental alienation is present:

1. Children (includes teenagers) state they are ‘scared’ of their non-favored parent, however unable to articulate the reason(s) of this fear. They outwardly show disdain and hatred toward this non-favored parent, not fear to speak to them. For example, I had a 10 year old and her mother in my office working through their relationship when the 10 year old stated she was scared of her mom and then five minutes later this same girl who said she ‘feared’ her mom began screaming and hitting her mom stating how much she ‘hated her mom.’ When children are truly afraid of their parent, they do not act like this.

2. Children erase the good memories and distort or remember only the bad memories. When children are shown pictures of their non-favored parent enjoying their time with their children, children make statements such as “he/she must have cut and paste this picture,” “this event never happened,” “see how crazy they are to create made up photos,” etc.

3. Children parrot (repeat) their favored parents wording and explanations as to why they do not ‘like’ their non-favored parent. For example, a 7 year-old may say “My mom has schizophrenia and is not taking her Haldol as prescribed so she is not safe.” Or “My dad killed our cat so he is a psychopath and scary.” What 7 year-old explains their reasoning this way? Few, if any. However, when professionals interview the favored parent, the same comments above are made during the meeting. These are big adult wording, not from a 7 year-old. Additionally, when children are asked to explain more about the situation, they usually say “I just know” or repeat themselves. There is very little substance to the child’s allegations.

4. The residential parent provides a non-working phone number, a message only phone, does not allow any communication between the non-favored parent and child. This also includes throwing away snail mail, deleting messages, blocking the other parent from any communication. However, it may look like the favored parent is supportive of communication and just doesn’t understand why the non-favored parent doesn’t contact their children.

5. The child/teen asks to change their last name because they don’t want to be associated with the non-favored parent.

6. The child/teen has no interest in staying in touch with your side of the family; i.e. grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is especially true when the child/teen was once close to your side of the family and now they don’t talk or want to see them.

Ways To Cope With Possible Alienation:

1. Seek Legal consult with an attorney well-informed of parental alienation immediately.

2. Continue to see you child/children if you are ‘allowed’ to. Don’t give up. Continue to write to them, call them, and/or begin a blog on the web so they may see it and help you feel part of their lives.

3. Seek professionals to help yourself and children. Make sure the professionals are educated in high conflict child custody. Ask questions about their professional background and methodologies working with PA (parental alienation).

4. Try not to let this go on too long. The longer the child/teen goes without contact the less likely the child/teen will want a relationship with their non-favored parent. Unfortunately, family court may take awhile so do your best to have assertive patience (be patient, however ensure the process is moving forward).

5. Self-Care. Take care of yourself, seek out self help groups, counseling for you, exercise, sleep, taking a walk, journaling, drawing, seeing friends/family, whatever soothes you. Stay healthy mentally and physically. This is not an easy time, some say one of the hardest. Self care is essential!

Remember if your family is suffering from PA, the children are the ones in the middle. These children are not the ones to blame or get mad at, these children are in pure survival mode. These children have learned to appease their favored parent and not ‘rock the boat’ with them or there will be conditions/consequences they will need to deal with if they go against the favored parents wishes.

Written By:

Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

References:

Is it about the parents or the children?

I was recently asked by a Commissioner, “Ms. Long, would it be fair to ask, in your opinion, should parents focus more on their children’s needs and desires rather than how much parenting time they receive?” Since I was acting as an expert witness on this case, I provided a standard answer, “The children shall be the center focus, and the decisions made are based on the children’s best interests.”   After leaving the court room I began to ponder more about this question, and explored what the true meaning of “best interests of the child.”

Although there does not appear to be a definitive answer for what “the best interests of the child means”, the ‘best interests’ concept derives from the courts determining several key factors (child welfare.gov):

1. The emotional ties and bonding between the parent(s) or caregivers, including siblings. 

2. The capacity of the parents to provide a safe environment, with adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical. 

3. The mental and physical health needs of the children. 

4. The mental and physical health needs of the parents.

5. The presence of any past or present Domestic Violence within the home. 

6. The presence of any subastance abuse issues.

7. The child’s wishes (depends on age and maturity). 

While the above listed key factors are obvious and shall be taken into account when determining parenting time, we must review some other relevant factors that may be possibly secretly denied by the courts or argued by the attorneys/parties. Children do not come with a price tag, nor are children up for sale. Parents who argue about 30%, 50%, 70%, etc. of parenting time and negotiate who decides what the children can and cannot do is potentially dangerous to these children. Parenting plans are considered legal binding and if they are not followed as written, one or both parents may be in contempt of law. Contempt, in layman’s terms, is a legal order that is not being followed and a Judge may issue all sorts of penalties, including jail time and financial payment. Parents argue all the time in court, disagree on what the parenting plan says, do not follow the parenting plan as written, etc. What about the children? Where is their voice? And what about the developmental stages; a three-year-old has different needs than a twelve-year-old; and a sixteen-year-old is more interested in their social, extra curricular, education, etc. You get the gist of what is being discussed and parents still argue amongst themselves regardless of the needs and wants of their children/teenagers. Just stop for a moment and reflect (if you really care about your kid); what is the best interest my child?

Courts are looking to professionals to make recommendations for the children and teenagers. Family courts are beginning to sway toward the children’s needs and wants especially when they are older. Family courts are even providing more guidance toward adding different stages in the parenting plan due to their ages and development. Additionally, courts are finally recognizing the importance of extra curricular activities and social aspects of the children’s lives. So, parents, if you are truly interested in the best interests of your children; truly hear them and do your best to incorporating their wishes into the parenting plan.

When I testify in court again and the Judge asks me about the best interests of the children; I will provide a more detailed answer based on the child and their family history. We need to listen to the children and teenagers out there going through these tough situations. It has nothing to do with the amount of time each parent receives, it is about the quality of time and allowing the child to grow and prosper.

Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Owner and Founder of Long Counseling and Evaluation Services, PLLC

http://www.longcounseling.com

Is it really possible to Co-Parent with High Conflict Parents?

Written by Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Parenting children and adolescents with intact families where there are two parents in the same household is challenging as it is. Parents who are no longer together (or never were) and going through custody battles takes parenting their children to another layer of potential complications. The decisions being made about where the children will reside majority of the time, decision making, education, medical, extra curricular activities, vacations, holidays, child support and so much more is now consuming these families.

Majority of parents (approximately 80% depending on the research you read) going through child custody issues resolve their issues fairly quickly and move forward so they can begin their ‘new normal’ lives. These parents are able to resolve their issues and find ways to co-parent for the most part with some bumps along the way. This is absolutely the best for all parties involved especially for the children. Why can majority of parents figure this out and the other 20% of parents are unable to see past their own beliefs?

These other 20% of parents are considered to be high conflict custody cases plaguing the family law courts. These parents have difficulty seeing past their own beliefs, challenging to see the best interests of the children and most importantly keep fighting in court, spending enormous amounts of money attorneys, mental health professionals, parenting evaluators, court appointed evaluators (Guardian AdLitems), etc.

For the past 19 years I have worked with several hundred high conflict custody cases and have found there is no ‘co’ in co-parenting. Co-Parenting is when both parents are able to communicate effectively for the sake of their children, put their personal feelings aside and discuss what is best for the children. Co-Parents use the parenting plan as a guide, not the ‘bible’ nor do they threaten ‘contempt’ or ‘court’ with every email, text or communication. Of course co-parents have their disagreements, however, they learn ways to overcome these obstacles for the children’s sake. Parents who are considered ‘high conflict’ are incapable of co-parenting due to many reasons. However, if you break down the main reason high conflict parents are unable to effectively co-parent is the challenges of getting past their rigid beliefs about the other parent. Additionally, it may just be one parent creating the conflict and the other parent on the ‘defense’ trying to work with the difficult parent.

What can these parents who are on the defense do when trying to ‘reason’ with the difficult parent? Some professionals will say ‘nothing.’ Yet, I have found the following techniques to ‘help’ when going through these ugly custody battles and dealing with the difficult parent:

  • Do not respond to an email or text when the context is blaming, threatening, etc. If there is something that needs to be answered, ONLY answer what needs to be answered with no emotions attached…business only!
    Keep all emails and text messages brief, clear, concise as if you are responding to a business colleague. Stay on point and do not stray to other topics.
    Use the 24 (minimum) to 48 hour rule before responding to an email or text that needs attention, however is upsetting to you. If the email/text needs immediate response, wait as long as you can and then run it by a friend, family member, professional, etc. to make sure you are answering without any emotion. Write the context in word or another document so you can read an re-read your answer. Then copy and paste when you believe you have provided a brief, clear and concise (BCC) message.
    DO NOT PROVIDE MORE AMMUNITION THAT CAN AND WILL BR USED AGAINST YOU. Always be professional and use the BCC method.
    Document everything – keep your notes, documents, everything organized where you can easily find.
    Have an email account just for this parent so you have a reference point and can stay organized.
    Communicate only by email (sometimes text if need be). This keeps the emotions out of the communication and provides extra time to respond.
    Do not deviate from the parenting plan set in place (if there is one). If the other parent does, make sure to document – do not threaten the other parent. If you plan to take action, speak with your attorney and see the best plan of action. Court may not be the answer.
    Try to resolve the custody battle sooner than later. Go through arbitration rather than mediation. Try to avoid trial if you can.
    Keep focused on your children. DO NOT SPEAK NEGATIVE ABOUT THE PARENT “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
    Spend time with your children, laugh, have fun and be a parent to your children. Try not to focus on the ugly custody battle going on when you are around your children.
    SELF CARE
    Seek a professional counselor who is trained in this area to help keep you focused on what is important.
    Remember the difficult parent is doing whatever they can to make you look BAD…keep living your life, move forward and keep your personal life (such as dating) away from the children while going through this custody battle. You do not want the other parent to know anything about you. The difficult parent will question the children unfortunately so keep your focus on the kids. DO NOT QUESTION YOUR CHILDREN!
    When the kids ask hard questions, answer them age appropriate. Try to keep the courts out of your relationship with them except on a need to know basis such as if there is a court appointed evaluator (GAL, parent evaluator, etc.) and letting the children know what to expect (not what to say).

Again, these are simply guidelines I have used in my practice and have implemented in my model when working with high conflict families. These guidelines have appeared to help calm down the high emotions and sometimes assist parents in resolving their high conflict issues rather than running through the vicious cycle of going to court and feeling like you didn’t get anywhere. Taking the emotions out of the equation and treating the other parent as a business transaction may work in many of these cases. If anything, it helps one or both parents to keep their emotions in check when corresponding with the other parent.

Give this a try and let me know if this works in your situation or practice. Working with high conflict parents is already challenging, so assisting them with anything that may help is a positive in my opinion.

Written By Rochelle Long, MA, LMHC

Rochelle has years of experience working with high conflict families and helping them find what works for their family. She thinks outside the box and has helped many families settle out of court.

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