In this episode, they discuss common relationship issues couples face during and after divorce, including money matters, different views on parenting, infidelity, and the role of in-laws. They also delve into co-parenting and how to get both parents on the same page to ensure children don’t feel the stress or tension from their separation.
Johanna explains that separating the pain of the separation from the co-parenting relationship is essential, and the foundation of healthy co-parenting is acknowledging that both parents love their children and want the best for them. She also suggests that looking at their relational family history and understanding each other’s reactions can be helpful in trying to maintain a healthy relationship with their co-parent for the sake of their children.
Note: Our Podcast, “A Year and a Day: Divorce Without Destruction”, was created to be heard, but we provide text transcripts to make this information accessible to everyone. All transcripts on our website are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and could contain errors.
Jamie: Welcome to A Year and a Day. I’m Jamie Davis, board-certified family law attorney at Gailor Hunt. On this show, I talk with lawyers, psychologists, and other experts with the goal of helping you navigate divorce without destruction. In this episode, I’m talking with Johanna Lynn, relationship specialist and founder of The Family Imprint Institute. With over 20 years of expertise in resolving inherited family patterns, Johanna helps her clients dismantle unhealthy patterns, restore relationships, and create resilient boundaries. We’re going to talk with Joanna about how you can get on the same team with your co-parent. Thanks for joining me, Joanna.
Johanna: It’s so great to be here, Jamie.
Jamie: So what are some of the common relationship issues you see between couples who have gone through a divorce?
Johanna: Well, I think we all know money issues, don’t they say it’s the number one reason why couples come into some friction and challenge, and sometimes it means the end of the relationship. Some of the things I see in my practice are different views on parenting. Different values start to emerge a couple of years into the relationship. Certainly, infidelity is a top one, broken trust. I think the in-laws come in a lot, and we joke a little bit in the work we do. We start calling them the outlaws. That a lot of times they can cause all kinds of challenges inside the family unit that is present. And there can be some negotiation that needs to be talked about, and I think that leads right into healthy boundaries. So it can be a mix of one or two top themes or all of the above.
Jamie: And so when you are working with couples who have experienced a divorce or going through a divorce, how do you get the co parents on the same page?
Johanna: That’s a big one, because our kids feel the stress, the tension, whether it’s something they overhear or something they just feel between us. And I think a big part of the work that I start to do with couples who are trying to figure out this whole co-parenting dynamic thing is to really come into that space where if I look at the other person, I’m really acknowledging that without them, my children, who I love so much, wouldn’t be who they are. To really acknowledge that that other person that’s caused me heartache and difficulty and all the things I’m still processing is half of my children. And so to really kind of come from that foundational place first and to begin to look at, it will always be for the love of these children that we’re going to share. And so that’s something that we can meet on the same page about and the commitment, in a way, and even if you’re the only one that’s starting, someone’s got to start to find that resolution that the hurt from the relationship is now over. So we separate out the relationship hurt from the co-parenting choices and begin to look at how we can come forward from here, keeping the love of our children as sort of the guidepost, as the way we can look forward together. I think a big part of looking at ourselves, because it sounds easy, okay, let’s separate my relationship hurt from my co-parenting choices. But I think the biggest empowerment can come from our self looking at, well, who am I now after really loving this person? What have I learned about myself through how things got really sticky or the final separation of this relationship? And the big one is, are there any gifts that I’m taking with me? Who am I after spending all these years with this person? And sometimes the gifts are looking right back at us through the eyes of our children.
Jamie: That’s so interesting. I feel like I say this to my clients all the time. They really do tend to have a very hard time separating the pain of the separation and the end of their marriage from this co-parenting relationship that they have to have moving forward. We tell them all the time it’s about putting your children first and making sure they feel loved by both of you. And while it may be tempting in your email communications with your co parent to respond to some of those negative comments they may get, that’s really not furthering the goal of what’s best for the kids.
Johanna: Not at all. And I think we can do all kinds of things for the love of our children. And I know I started to do a lot of my own work once I became a mom with this feeling of, ooh, I don’t want to repeat past pain. And these are things I never looked at before, Jamie, in all the years of just living life, but something about for the greater love of our children. And so I would encourage your listeners to really consider, how do I drop some of that pain that belongs between the two of us and protect our kiddos from that as much as possible?
Jamie: Absolutely. How do you get parents to understand why their co parent may be doing what they are doing or acting the way that they are acting?
Johanna: Yeah, that can be super preventative. We want to start to look at where their reactions come from, and the strongest place to do that is start to look at their relational family history. So how long have you been married to this person? You know their mom, you know their dad, or you know, the stories that are held inside of your ex about them and to recognize that what’s going to get played out has a lot to do with what’s unresolved back there. So a big place to be kind of neutral is to understand a lot of the conflict. A lot of the trying to negotiate and figure things out is probably not even addressed to you. The stonewalling, the withdraw, the criticism even the name calling to be able to call it what it is, which is almost like you could imagine turning your ex back towards their family of origin as a way to put them back in sometimes where they could go with you from a relational perspective and where they never could. And let’s face it, a lot of that is probably the reason why the relationship has ended or the relationship has turned out the way it has. So we’ve got to kind of accept that what’s unresolved between the two of us is now bleeding into the co-parenting dynamic and we’re back to it’s time to separate that out. Otherwise our kids are going to kind of carry the weight of that. And so the practice here is as much as possible not to take it personally, to understand the full context, to hear where it’s coming from so that you can stay centered and grounded. As soon as we take it personally, we’re pulled into reaction or defense and then it’s kind of all downhill from there.
Jamie: So is the idea I just want to make sure that I’m understanding here is the idea that the co-parent may have learned these patterns from his or her parents based upon things that they have witnessed. Like for example, is this them modeling marriage? Right? Like were the co-parents parents modeling marriage and it’s a repeat of that or is it more about the co-parent’s relationship with his or her parents and how they were treated?
Johanna: That’s a great distinction. And so it’s both. So the first thing to remember through the science of epigenetics is that we are literally born imprinted with what’s unresolved the emotional hurts, the life experiences of our parents and our grandparents. So it’s even more so what was modeled. That’s one part of it. And the other part is what is imprinted. And so we really want to look at ourselves, our own marriages, our own children in the context of the larger family system. So that’s why it’s so important when we look at this co parenting piece as oh my gosh, my gorgeous son or my amazing daughter, they’re half me and they’re half my ex. And so sometimes we might see the traits of our ex coming out on our child and we kind of cringe or we pull back and the biggest gift we can give our kids is to say things like, you know what? You are so funny, just like your dad. Or when I first met your mom, that was what we would laugh about for hours. And you’ve got that same trait in you giving that gift of being able to say the things I see in you from your mom or your dad. I really appreciate and love it’s great to see them in you. The worst thing I hear from many of my clients is my mom used to tell me, you’re just like your father in that tone and we all know what that means. That’s a pretty loaded conversation and so we want to pull that back into understanding it’s not just the modeling, it’s also what’s been imprinted.
Jamie: So once you’ve gotten to this place where the co-parents are hopefully understanding why the co-parent is acting the way that they are, how do you create open communication with your co-parent? How do you get them to do that?
Johanna: I think it’s so important to stay present, to stay with what is the decision we’re talking about today? Instead of bringing back the old hurt from what might be unresolved, separating it out, these various parenting decisions or showing up present to the school appointment or to the recital or the game for the children to really be there and having conversations. Are we going to celebrate the birthdays together? Are we going to have some, I don’t know, Thanksgiving piece where maybe it’s not the whole dinner together, but we’re going to get together and just have a family moment that is it possible to hold how I communicate with my co-parent that of course we are still a family and now it just looks different. And what is that look different for us? That works well as we’re healing from the separation and also models the best option for our kids moving forward.
Jamie: I really like what you said about being present. That’s something else that I try to stress with my clients that once we’ve reached an agreement about what the custody schedule is going to be, there is no need to continually go back and rehash all of the evidence that you were going to use against your co-parent in court. We’re moving forward and we’re learning to co-parent. We’re not keeping tabs for court.
Johanna: Well, exactly. It’s so much about I’m still in a fight for what I didn’t get enough of in the marriage or I still need to be heard for what went wrong here. And I think it moves us further and further away from a healthy co-parenting piece. It’s almost like we don’t act in our marriage like we do when we’re dating and we don’t act in our co-parenting like we did in the fight of the marriage. We’ve got to be able to move that trajectory along in now how we’re relating.
Jamie: How can co-parents avoid unnecessary conflict?
Johanna:I think one thing to keep in mind is to be very careful of our language. So watch the statements like she always or he never does. We get locked into these positions and we kind of don’t let ourself get to know this new relationship. So what I mean by that is you were once my partner and now you’re my ex and now you’re my co-parent and so how am I relating to you now? Differently. I want to give up the fight for how things went back then and I want to look at how we can be constructive together. So coming from that place that we both share this love for our children, and how can we meet there? Let that be the guiding principle.
Jamie: How do you ever learn to rely on your co-parent?
Johanna: That can be a really big one, because the marriage ended for a reason, right? And a lot of that was, I stopped relying on you. My heart closed to you. We’ve got our own dynamic in that. I think the foundational piece to that, though, Jamie, is if I couldn’t rely on my parent, if that was my early life experience to recognize, oh, I’m playing that out again here. So the first part is really the ownership of ooh, that’s familiar. That’s my part. And that’s actually good news because it doesn’t require the co-parent to be involved at all. It’s the recognition that I had a hard time trusting my parents to be there for me. Oh, this not being able to rely on really played out in the marriage and how might the co-parenting piece look differently? And so that might be some pretty honest conversations about setting up realistic expectations. That’s sort of more logistical and practical. But the biggest piece that moves the needle there is healing at the origin. Otherwise it has no other option but to replay in the present.
Jamie: Why is it important for children to see their parents getting along?
Johanna: Well, the simple truth of that is that our parents are the template for our future generations. Our parents are the template for our future relationships. So how we were loved as a child unconsciously becomes how we expect love to go in our relationships. So we’re modeling to our kids even how to do conflict, how to be kind, how to keep our heart open even when it hurts, how to have boundaries, how to negotiate difficult situations. There’s so many learning opportunities in this dynamic. It’s very important to know that if our child takes a side, it hurts them. So one example is if I’m the daughter, and I can only see my dad through my mum’s eyes as the person who hurts her, the person who makes her cry, I lose my dad, I lose the ability to be the daughter, and I become mom’s ally I see mostly all men through the way she sees dad, and that’s probably not the healthiest way to do it. And so a lot of what I’m working with, with my clients in their 40s, 50s, 60s is this piece. Oh, gosh. Back in my teens, when my parents separated, I went over there, quote unquote, on Mom’s team, and I ended up with a very similar marriage to what I saw with my parents. Keeping in mind this all happens underneath the surface, this is all unconscious, but this is what I mean by our sort of love imprint, or the blueprint that we run from, depending on how things went for us in our childhood.
Jamie: This is also very interesting. And as you’re talking, I’m kind of thinking through similar things that I say to my clients in my practice. Someone comes in for a consultation and they don’t want to get separated because they don’t want their child to have two homes. And so as I dig a little more into the marriage and the things the child is witnessing in the home of these two people who do not get along, they’re very high conflict. They’re yelling in front of the child. I say to the person, you do realize you’re modeling marriage for your child and your child is going to grow up thinking this is okay either to talk to someone this way or on the flip side, to be talked to that way, depending upon which role. And so it’s very interesting to hear your take on this as well.
Johanna: Oh, and I couldn’t agree more with exactly what you’ve said. I think I say to many of my clients, sometimes separation is the healthiest way to show respect. Sometimes that separation gives us almost the space we need to find it. Because when we’re in such close proximity, all there is, is friction. And so sometimes it’s the separation that actually protects our kids and models to them something that can again, we’re still a family, it just looks different. And what else is possible?
Jamie: Well, and the child is going to be better off if he or she has two healthy parents. Maybe they live in two separate homes, but they’re both healthy and have the opportunity to be happy. And the child gets to see that.
Johanna:Exactly that’s what we want at the end of the day.
Jamie: Well, so let’s say that you’ve gotten through the separation, you’ve gotten through the divorce, and you are ready to begin dating or searching for a new relationship. How and when do you communicate that to the children?
Johanna: I think it’s really going to be very individual. There is no sort of formula to follow. It takes time to get to know a new person. It takes time to see how that dynamic is going to unfold between two people. But I think a primary thing to sort of use as a guideline is to keep our kids out of our adult problems, our adult relationships, our grown up decisions. And so that’s our primary role as their parent. And so we’ve got to know as much as possible, is this person really going to be a long term part of our lives. And so for some of us, that takes four months, six months, for others, it’s well into a year. But it’s deciding for yourself first before almost doing like a test run. How do the kids like him or her? Or how does this all fit together, that you really want to test out that dynamic for yourself so that your kids don’t have to go through yet another separation in six months to twelve months time.
Jamie: So let’s say that you feel like you have met the right person that’s going to be around for a while. What is the best way to discuss that new relationship with your co parent?
Johanna: Well, optimally, in an ideal world, this conversation is part of the custody agreement or sort of set forth as all of the main decisions are decided. Because I think when the time comes and we’ve met that person but our co-parent doesn’t want that person to be around the kids or we can just get into all kinds of challenges and conflict when that arises. So if at all possible, plan ahead. If we’re at that crossroads and it hasn’t been discussed, I think it’s a great idea to have our co-parent out for a cup of tea or coffee without the kiddos and just have an open conversation if that is impossible because it’s too high conflict. I think it’s important enough to bring in a mediator to bring in some sort of relationship specialist to walk through this and come to a very secure agreement that can be moved forward from here. Like you say, you don’t have to go back and forth and keep having a decision on every little game or night out.
Jamie: So let’s take things one step further and complicate it a little bit more. Let’s say that you want to get involved with someone, you’ve gotten serious with them and they also have children and so you’re trying to blend two families. What is the best way to go about that?
Johanna: I think, stepping in with very clear expectations so that to recognize, okay, we’re a second relationship. We’re getting together, and he’s got three kids and I’ve got two. That we step in acknowledging we are both in fifth place, meaning our children’s needs come first before the marriage, at least until they’re off to university or college or off in their next phase of life, that this won’t be like this forever. But while the kids are young, this is kind of the agreement or the rules of engagement of this blended family that we’ve got to accept that we’re in fifth place with each other. There gets to be all kinds of entanglements and complications when me, the new partner, is jealous of the time my partner is spending with his daughter or son. And so we sort of have to recognize that even if I come in as a stepparent, I am my partner’s trusted adult friend to his kids, but I’m certainly not a parent. That we really have to understand that they’ve got a mom, they’ve got a dad, and we sort of separate our place, which is, I’m a trusted adult. You can come to me, and I want to be a good friend, but I don’t take the place of your parent.
Jamie: Yeah. One of the issues that I see a lot when clients have exes who have started dating and relationships are becoming serious and the client does not want the new person around the children, even though maybe this new person is now a fiance or a wife or a husband. And one of the things I always say is it’s a good thing to have as many people love your children as will love your children. That’s not a bad thing to have more folks who are willing to be kind to your kids.
Johanna: Oh, I couldn’t agree more. And nine times out of ten, Jamie, that goes back to that parent and their own insecurity. Will I be replaced? Will my daughter like the step mom more than me? And the complexities that might go on as that daughter gets a little bit older? And so we’ve really got to be honest with ourselves. And look at ooh, is that my insecurity getting in the way of inviting another person in to love my daughter, to love her in a different way, to give her new perspectives or experiences, to be able to be whole enough within ourselves so that we don’t project that out onto our kids? Divorce opens all of this up. It’s not just a legal process or just an emotional completion. There’s so many moving parts. That’s why I think your podcast is so important, just to give information to those people who are trying to reorganize their lives and make it make sense again.
Jamie: Absolutely. I could not agree with you more about all of the moving parts and just trying to get the legal and the emotional and the business sides of things to all come together. If you could only share one piece of advice with someone going through a divorce, what would it be?
Johanna: I think it’s to really get honest with yourself about how the relationship came to an end. What were the factors, what was it really about at the end of the day? Looking at what you need in your loving connections, the more you take time to review this and really understand sort of the more subtle under the hood kind of stuff that went on, it’s less likely that you’ll repeat these patterns in your next relationship. None of us get to be the way we are in relationship by accident. And so starting to look at gosh, what was my love imprint? How did I show up in this relationship? What maybe unresolved pieces did I bring? And of course, it’s not taking it all on for ourselves. There is the other half of it, but I think many of those folks I’ve worked with in their divorce, they’re really in hurt and blame. And I think blame is the cheapest hit of power going. We’re just all fingers are out to them. And I’d like to turn that inward to look at what was my part, because we can only ever change ourselves.
Jamie: That is wonderful advice and I have thoroughly enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you so much. If one of our listeners is looking for help from you in their divorce. What’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Johanna:A great resource is to find me on LinkedIn under Johanna Lynn. I have a divorce recovery newsletter that they can subscribe to and get all kinds of information there. If they’d like to learn more, they could certainly visit my website, which is www.johannalynn.ca. All kinds of podcasts and articles there too, just to learn more and gain some more insights.
Jamie: Thanks, Johanna, for joining us. And thank you for listening. If you like this episode, be sure to follow the show wherever you get your podcast so you don’t miss the next one. While this information is intended to provide you with general information to navigate divorce without destruction, this podcast is not legal advice. This information is specific to the law in North Carolina. If you have any questions before taking action, consult an attorney who is licensed in your state. If you are in need of assistance in North Carolina, contact us at gailorhunt by visiting divorceistough.com. I’m Jamie Davis, and I’ll talk with you next time on A Year and A Day.