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The Valentine Challenge

The Valentine Challenge

This Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for you to be truly intentional about the relationship with your significant other. If you want to express your love in more than roses, chocolates, and Hallmark cards, try the 14 Day Valentine Challenge.  

If you are reading this blog past Valentine’s Day, that is okay! You don’t need to wait until next year to be intentional and deepen your relationship.   

The Valentine’s Day challenge has three daily intentional acts, and three special demonstrations of your love that you can do within the 14 day challenge. 

Three Daily Intentional Acts

For 14 days, do each of these everyday. 

First, write a love letter to your lover. Write about why you love your partner. Be specific and consider both external and internal attributes. Be grateful. Think of the little things they do everyday and how much you appreciate them. Think of why you were initally drawn to him or her. With this step, the first few days are easy. By the time you get to day 14, you will need to go deeper and think harder about it. That is the idea! 

My wife anticipates her love note everyday. Everytime we are apart we write love letters and send them via email to each other daily. We talk to each other daily as well. We have been married for over 47 years. We communicate daily about money, kids, the calendar, errands, etc. Once a week, we usually go deeper. We talk about goals for ourselves, our family, our businesses, and life. We dream together. Constant and intimate communication is the lifeblood of your relationship. 

Second, do something for your lover everyday. This can be simple stuff. Pick up after yourself. Do the dishes. Wash the car. Clean the house. Change the oil. Run an errand. Pick up groceries. Make dinner. You get the idea. Think of something your lover does everyday, and then do it for them. Keep it simple, and do it daily for 14 days. 

Third, act like you love each other. When the shine has worn out on a relationship, physical touch has often waned. Rekindle your relationship with physical touch. Hold hands, cuddle, hug. Not everything has to lead to sex, but that is certainly ok! My wife and I hug and kiss every morning, whenever one of us leaves the house, and before bed.

Three Special Demonstrations of Your Love

Sometime during the 14 day challenge, incorporate one of these into your intentional acts of love towards your partner. 

First, buy them a gift. You can keep this simple, unless you want to go big. There is no need for expensive jewelry or something extravgant. Go out to your favorite resturant. Consider going shopping. When I go shopping with Sharlyne, it is the ultimate demonstration of my love for her! If you want to hit it out of the park, choose a spending limit and go with your lover on an all day shopping spree! That is guaranteed to make a good memory. If your budget is smaller you can also do something. Hand made gifts can be the best!  

Second, spend time together. Get away, epecially if you have kids. You may not be able to get away during this challenge, but you can make resevation or plan a future trip and let your lover know about the future getaway! Nothing says “I love you” like a weekend getaway. If you can’t get away for that long, do a day date. Spend an entire day together. Sharlyne loves a day day. I work long and hard hours, yet always carve out time for her. She enjoys a whole day with me without distractions. Leave your phone in airplane mode and give your spouse your undivided attention. In the next 14 days, if you can’t get away, do at least one day date and date night. Sharlyne and I usually have a weekly date, even if we stay home and watch a movie together. 

Finally, resolve conflict. Couples get into destructive cycles of unresolved conflict that continually escalate, leaving the relationship raw and bleeding. Wounds never heal. If you don’t know how to repair the damage, start by apologizing. Own your own stuff. Apologize for it. Make sure to forgive your lover. Repair and make up. You don’t need to fight over the little stuff, and the longer I live, most everything is little stuff. 

I hope that you enjoy the 14 Day Valentine Challenge and that your relationship goes to a new level! You can even keep these suggestions up once the 14 days are over. If you tend to your relationship, your relationship will flourish. Happy Valentine’s Day!

How To Overcome A Fear Of Conflict

How To Overcome A Fear Of Conflict

Conflict can be scary for many people. If you are one of those people, it can put you into Fight or Fright mode. Once your adrenalin kicks in, your frontal lobe is bypassed. This causes you to react in one of three ways: Fight, Freeze, or Flight.

 We often fight if we feel criticized or threatened. We become defensive or we go on the offensive. Either way, we often say or do something that will damage our relationships. If we react in Fright, then we freeze or flee. We can freeze and feel paralyzed, not knowing what to say or do. That feeling can be more terrifying than any horror movie. We can flee, causing us to walk out of the room without any response. We may feel safer when we flee, but the conflict still lingers. Unresolved conflict can easily come up again in the next exchange we have with the person we are fighting with.

How can you respond instead of reacting? Here are three simple steps (the Three P’s):

Pause. Stop talking or doing ANYTHING. Take a breath, a long and deep one. If you need to, ask for a brief break before you reengage. If you can, go on a walk. Walks can be very helpful to cool down and give yourself time to respond instead of react. If you need more than a quick pause or time for a walk, end the discussion but set a time to resume it another day.  

Perspective. Perspective is about stepping back from the situation for a moment to see the bigger picture. I often ask the crystal ball question. Whatever we are fighting over, will it matter five years from now? The answer is almost always, NO! If you are fighting with a friend or family member, remember that this person loves you. While it may not always be the case, most of the time they are FOR you, not against you. It might feel like they are against you at this moment, but step back and gain some perspective on the situation. 

Pick. You have a choice. You do not need to react. You can Pause, gain Perspective, then Pick your response. You choose by your response to either escalate the conflict or help resolve the conflict. You can get out of the fight or fright loop.

If practicing the Three P’s does not work, give us a call. We have helped mediate important problems and issues between families and businesses. We are here to help you become the hero of creating peace!

5 Most Asked Questions For Divorce With Children

5 Most Asked Questions For Divorce With Children

If you are thinking about divorce and you have children, you are probably seeking answers to questions that involve custody, child support, spousal support, parenting time, and settlement. We have helped over 1,000 couples through a peaceful divorce, and these are always the first questions they ask.  

CUSTODY

What is custody? Custody is the most frequently asked question. Many parents confuse custody with parenting time. Custody is all about decision making. In the states of Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Arizona (as well as most states), those decisions center around religious training (if any), education, and medical. Let’s look at each one:

Religious Training. The decisions usually surround if a child will attend catechism or membership instruction in a certain faith, attend Sunday School, children’s or youth program, or other form of religious training with any faith. Within this area includes any form of worship attendance. Parents may disagree about any form of training, or the various types of training within a faith community. 

Education. The decisions around education include which school a child may attend, or if private education or home schooling is a choice. If parents do not live near to one another, the choice of school could mean significant driving for the parent not close to the school. Sometimes the location of the school becomes an issue. In most cases, the quality of the school is the major issue between parents. If parents have the available funds, private school is often a consideration. Home schooling can be difficult in a divorce situation as both parents typically need to work full-time. 

Medical. The decisions around medical include the choice of physicians, medication, therapy, and elective medical procedures. Depending upon the medical needs of a child, diet can become very important (such as with diabetes). If there is a medical emergency, there is no decision other than taking the child to the hospital ER. Once at the hospital, there very well could be some important medical decisions for parents to consider. 

Extracurricular Activities. The decisions about sports, music, dancing, and other extracurricular activities are important for children. Although not rising to the same importance as those above, to both children and parents these are important lifestyle decisions. 

What are custody options? There are only two options – sole/full or joint custody. More than 95% of our clients in mediation select joint custody. Our clients typically have a great deal of agreement on the topics within custody. And, if they come to place of hard impasse, they schedule an appointment with us. We can often resolve the matter in one session. Mediation allows for some variation within custody, such a joint decision-making on most areas, but sole custody on one area. In the state of Washington, a client can select joint or sole custody on each area. 

If parents struggle in all areas of decision-making, sole custody may be a consideration. Sometimes a parent could be temporarily struggling with an addiction or mental health. A plan can be created to move to more joint decision-making when progress is demonstrated. Custody does not involve parenting time. If a parent has sole custody, that parent cannot independently change parenting time for the other parent. 

Custody battles. Some attorneys will strongly recommend sole custody. This decision instantly positions parents for a custody battle, often costing upwards of $25,000 each. A parent must prove to the court the other parent is not capable or unwilling to work toward an important and necessary decision related to the children. This is why custody battles can be so destructive to the future co-parenting relationship. Often, there is little relationship left between parents to navigate. There are situations which warrant such a decision. We have found through mediation the need for sole custody is rare. We have negotiated modified sole custody with a few parents. In this case, the parent with sole custody must consult with the other parent before making the decision. In a few cases, we have written into the agreement that after the first attempt to resolve the matter between parents, the next step is one session of mediation. If the matter is still unresolved, then the parent with sole custody makes the decision. We recommend you carefully evaluate if sole custody is needed. We can often de-escalate emotions in mediation and help parents find common ground for the good of the kids.

CHILD SUPPORT 

What is child support? Child support is payment from one parent to another for food, shelter, and clothing of the children. All states in the US have some form of child support calculator or worksheet. The support calculator becomes an objective tool to arrive at child support. All states use a formula based on income between the two parents. The income formula may or may not include any deductions, such as taxes. Some states factor in the amount of time the children spend with each parent – Oregon is an example of this. Included in the calculators is the cost of health insurance and childcare. Child support calculators have a rebuttal section for special exceptions. In mediation, we ask parents, “How do you want your children to live?”, and create a budget for the children, which includes ALL their expenses. Then, we help them decide how to fund the budget. 

What about other child related expenses? Child support is not factored into extracurricular activities of the children. Parents decide upon some formula and process for covering these expenses. We often recommend building a budget and creating a separate bank account for the expenses. Parents can split the costs (common if income is similar) or base the contributions for the expenses by percentage of income. Usually, both parents have debit cards to shop for the children and have visibility into the joint bank account. Often, one parents makes most of the purchases and the other parent can see the expenses in the bank account, as well as communication from the parent making the purchases. 

What happens when a child turns 18? In most cases, child support ceases. If the child is still in high school, support usually continues until graduation. If the child has special needs, the support might continue depending upon the decision of the parents, or, if necessary, the courts. A child in Oregon has the right to support until 21 if they are enrolled in post-high school education full-time, single, and passing all classes. Most parents agree and plan for college or tradeschool for their children. 

SPOUSAL SUPPORT

Spousal support varies greatly from state to state. Only a few states use a spousal support calculator. For most states, some of the factors that decide spousal support are length of marriage, difference of income between parties, ability to produce income, age, assets, and any disabilities. We have found creating budgets is one of the most helpful exercises to help determine support. The goal of support is similar, not exact lifestyles. In very few cases do parties end up with the same income. However, between spousal and child support, incomes for both parties can approach a level of equity. 

Types of support. In Oregon, there is three types of support: maintenance, transitional, and compensatory. Maintenance is the primary form of support to help equalize the income between parties. Transitional support assists one party to gain further education to produce a larger income. A party needs to have a vocational or educational plan, including acceptance into a college or trade school. Compensatory is very rare, and awarded if one party assisted the other party in greatly increasing the other partner’s income.

In other states, most support is maintenance in nature. Again, many factors come into play. We highly encourage you to seek legal counsel from an attorney to determine any potential support. Spousal support needs to answer two questions: how much and for how long?

PARENTING TIME

 What is parenting time? Simply stated, parenting time is how much time the children spend with each parent. Parents need to work out a weekly or bi-weekly schedule, focusing on as much consistency as possible. Some jobs make a regular weekly schedule very challenging – law enforcement, fire protection, and medical, to mention a few. In mediation, we work through these challenges, seeking as much consistency as possible for both parents and kids. After parents settle on a weekly schedule, then we work on a summer and holiday schedule. 

What is a parenting plan? A parenting plan includes parenting time, as mentioned above, plus much more. A parenting plan will include custody, rights for each parent for information, parental communication, exchanges of children, decisions around technology, firearms, and first right of refusal. If you have children, a parenting plan and child support worksheet are needed when submitting your documents to the court. As mediators, we help parents come to agreement on all the decisions incorporated into a Parenting Plan.

SETTLEMENT

How do we divide personal property? We create a simple spreadsheet, with a column for each partner. Parties decide on who gets what vehicles and their values by subtracting the Kelley Blue Book value, minus any auto loan. Then, the parties to divide up all the “stuff” – camping, outdoor furniture, grill, bikes, sporting equipment, tools, collections, small kitchen appliances, dishes, etc. Some clients put values to larger items to try and create equity, others just spit ball them. 

How do we divide the real property? We have an entire blog dedicated to how to settle the hosue coming soon. Briefly, both parties need to agree if the house will be sold, or if one party buys out the other. If parties sell the home, they agree on what improvements/maintenance will be necessary to put the home on the market. Parties should secure a trusted and excellent realtor to guide them on decisions of home repairs in preparation of sale and how to market the home with the initial asking price. Parties should agree on how to split the proceeds before the home is put on the market. If one party is buying out the other, they need to agree on the value of the home. Typically, the home will need refinanced to remove the other party from the loan and title. Most lenders will want an appraisal in the loan process. Parties can use the appraisal as an objective valuation for the home. Simply subtract the current mortgage from the appraisal value to obtain the net equity. Most parties equally split the net equity. This is the amount owed to the party leaving the home. There is a method to split the equity while retaining the current mortgage for the party remaining in the home. The method is a bit complicated, and I will address it in another blog.

How do we divide retirement? Parties combine their retirement accounts and divide equally. If one or both parties have a pension, you can either seek to value the pension, or split them for the duration of the marriage. If a party had a retirement account before the marriage, then the premarital balance should be subtracted from the current balance. If parties need to transfer funds in retirement accounts, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) will be necessary drafted by an attorney with expertise in that field. Retirement accounts are pre-tax investments. Sometimes dividing retirement accounts can become complicated, and the assistance of a professional can be very helpful.

How do we divide banking and investments? Most investments are usually simple to divide equally. Parties often use their financial advisors to assist them. We like parties to divide whatever is possible without a court order before the court documents are submitted. This alleviates the need to transfer money post-divorce. Some accounts will need the signed copy of the general judgment, so parties do not incur tax consequences. Parties can use any banking or investments to “true up” or equalize assets and liabilities.

How do we divide our debt? We highly encourage parties to pay off debt from the sale of a home or from investments. If that is not possible, then we brainstorm ways to divide the debt. Cash flow and credit scores determine the ability to secure a loan or credit card to transfer 50% of the debt. Negotiating the debt can become a challenging point in the divorce process. Seeking assistance from professionals is recommended. 

What if we have IRS and state tax debt? Tax debt is one of the most difficult areas to resolve. Again, if there is any possible way to pay off the tax debt, along with any consumer debt, this would be the first option. If this option is not possible, and the parties have not yet contacted the IRS to set up a payment plan, then contacting the IRS and setting up a payment plan would be recommended. 

What about child tax credits? Parents often split children or rotate years for the Child Tax Credit. In other words, if parents have two children, then one parent takes a child, and the other parent takes a child. If parents have one or an odd number of children, then parents rotate years of claiming the children. In mediation, sometimes parents will agree for one parent to claim all or more than 50% of the children. 

If you need more information, you can attend our next Divorce Options Workshop, where we go into all of this and more in greater detail. You can also contact us for a free 15-minute phone consultation. 

Our Divorce Options Workshop

Our Divorce Options Workshop

If you are reading this blog, you are considering divorce. Depending upon who you ask, divorce can be the greatest or worst decision of someone’s life. Divorce is a life-changing decision emotionally and financially. 

I began offering a Divorce Options Workshop years ago to help answer the myriad of questions surrounding divorce. Should we try one more attempt to reconcile? Would separation help us stay away from conflict and help us work through some things? We heard about legal separation. How is that different from divorce? If we divorce, do we need attorneys? Can we do the process ourselves? And, how much does it all cost?

We answer all these questions and more at our Divorce Options Workshop. Here are some things we cover in the workshop:

  • Reconciliation. Many couples have tried counseling without much success. We offer a process of collaboration and building a team around you. We help with communication, conflict resolution, and some basic other topics like money and kids. We work to find a therapist to help with specific needs for both of you; anxiety, depression, trauma, etc. With your permission, we may invite others into the process. The goal is creating a team with the single goal of healing and reconciling your relationship.
  • Therapeutic Separation. I created this process several years ago. We help you separate for a period of time, making sure issues around money and time with kids are settled. Then, the process of working on your relationship is very similar to the process of reconciliation. We create benchmarks with you to evaluate your progress and help you make decisions along the way. Some couples are successful at reconciliation, while others decide to move on to legal separation or divorce.
  • Legal Separation. Couples may select legal separation for many reasons. What both parties agree upon is creating legal and financial separation. The process is very similar to divorce. If you have children, you will need a Parenting Plan and possibly child support. You will need to settle all the assets and liabilities in your marriage. If one of you is seeking spousal support, then you will need to decide on the amount and length of time.
  • Divorce. We get questions all the time about the divorce process. You can download the papers from the local district court and work through the process yourselves. Mediation is the next step in helping couples walk through the process and assist with any unresolved decisions. You can elect to consult or retain an attorney through the process. If you involve attorneys, you can either choose a collaborative or litigation process. With collaborative family law, both attorneys are trained in mediation and work toward the common good of the family. If you select a litigation attorney, then you will go through a traditional court process. 
  • We also answer questions on parenting time, custody, retirement accounts, how to deal with the house, businesses, child and spousal support, and more!

One of the most frequent questions we get is “How much does this all cost?” The least expensive option is downloading divorce papers from your local circuit court. However, many find that the paperwork and the process can be overwhelming. In mediation, we help couples through the process, including filing with courts. Our costs are usually less than the retainer for ONE attorney. We often save couples over $10,000. A collaborative or litigated divorce can cost from $15,000 to $25,000, and that is without a custody battle. Custody battles can cost $50,000 or more. 

The Divorce Options Workshop is FREE. You can register by going to our event calendar or clicking here. We also offer FREE 15-minute consultations for you and your partner. You can attend the Divorce Options Workshop with or without your partner. We have found attending the workshop together with your partner allows you both to hear the same information at the same time. When couples get separate consultations and receive very different information, it can push them into an expensive and divisive process with attorneys. We encourage you to learn about mediation and other options first, then make a decision about which option is best for you.

We hope to see you at our next Divorce Options Workshop or connect with you on the phone for a FREE consultation.

3 Actions to Take Your Relationship from Good to Great

3 Actions to Take Your Relationship from Good to Great

Want to know 3 simple actions that can take your marriage from good to great?

  1. Listen. Seem easy, right? Most people struggle with listening well. Listening is one of the key actions for moving from good to great in your relationship. Want to grow your relationship? Grow your listening skills. Only 2% of people are taught how to listen. If you want to learn about the five levels of listening and take the listening quiz to discover your listening “Villians”, click here. These teachings from Oscar Trimboli has helped many of our clients. I have found learning to listen at a deeper level takes communication to a whole new level. And, moving from good communication to great communication is a game changer.

2. Resolve Conflict. Unresolved conflict contributes to relational strain and can lead to break up. Understanding your Conflict Style for each of you as partners is helpful. Then, learning how to resolve conflict is a game changer. Conflict is part of life. Ignoring or fleeing from conflict is not resolving conflict. When you and your partner learn skills for conflict resolution, you take your relationship from good to great. You both feel safe and confident if you need to talk about a difficult subject, or any subject! You cannot grow a relationship if you are angry or hurt by an interaction. Great relationships include apology, forgiveness, and repair. 

3. Intentional Time Together and Apart. Life is busy. Our calendars can be filled with everything from work, kids, sports, and friends. Couples how grow from good to great keep their calendars with two important dates: each other and themselves. Time is an important fertilizer to grow relationships from good to great. You can skimp for a while during a season, but then time away together without kids keeps the fire burning. Over 46 years of marriage, Sharlyne and I have practiced daily time together and periodic time away, just the two of us. Our lives are busy with family and businesses. Unless we put it on the calendar, the time away does not happen. Our daily routine usually includes praying together before bed. This simple practice has continued to develop deep intimacy between our souls. The periodic time away refreshes our relationship as our only focus is each other. 

I hope these give your relationship a boost from good to great. If you need a bit of help, we help couples listen more deeply, resolve conflict more effectively, and take their relationship from good (or even poor), to great.

Happy Valentine’s Day 

Make “Someday” Today

Make “Someday” Today

The problem with New Year’s Resolution is most fail. In fact, one in four quit the first week! Only 9% make it to the finish line at the end of the year. Instead of a trying to lose weight or save money, how about focusing in on that Someday goal and make that actions for Today?

In order to convert a Someday goal into Today, you will need to FOCUS:

  • FOLLOW
  • ONE
  • COURSE
  • UNTIL
  • SUCCESSFUL

Follow involves finding a leader and walking in his or her steps. Whatever your Someday goal, the first step is finding a leader to follow. Everyone needs mentors. If you want to find success, follow those who have been successful. You define success. It might be a certain income level, or for more people today, a certain lifestyle. How do you want to live? The mentor you follow should not just have the income, but the lifestyle you desire and hold the values you embrace.

Shutting out the distractions is a major obstacle for most of us. That new shiny object is sure tempting. What about that shortcut? I can multi-task. No problem with more than one focus. If you want to find success, you need to narrow the focus to ONE. Narrowing your FOCUS to ONE thing is the secret ingredient to success.

You need a plan, a COURSE. Your mentor can help with a course. He or she built the rails. You can follow the path. Even if you are a trailblazer, there are those who designed a path to blaze trails. Select a plan, follow the plan, and stay the course.

Patience and Persistence are virtues to stay the course. Remember, one out of four quit the first week. You need to be one. You can stay the course until successful. You are the 9%. Nobody who is successful was the 91% who quit. When you face barriers and problems, both internal and external, you must decide at each moment your decision – persevere or punch out. The key to success is hanging around long enough to see the results. We live in an instant culture. Very few find instant success. Many find success through patience and persistence.

Congrats! You reached the finish line. There will be another Someday goal that needs to become Today. With each conversion from Someday to Today, you become more and more successful living the lifestyle of your dreams. 

Dreams come true when we FOCUS.

Wishing you a Someday that will turn into a Today!

Happy New Year