Relationship Challenges

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, many of us are focused on relationships of all kinds.  Some relationships are full of love and harmony.  Some are not.  A recent inquiry from someone close to me about a challenging situation is worth sharing.  I hope this will prove to be beneficial to you.  And, if you have a “Dear Jenn” question regarding specific relationship issues, feel free to reach out at, and I will do my best to respond.  Happy Communicating and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dear Jenn:

I have a challenging relationship issue and I’d like your advice.  My husband and I are co-hosting an event with our son and his new wife and things are not going well.  She is withholding information from me about things we are supposed to be coordinating together.  I’ve asked multiple times for her to provide information to me and she tells me she will share it, but then she never does.  I’ve asked her if I’ve done anything to upset her or to cause her not to want to work with me on this and she has not responded.  Our exchanges have been tense and difficult and I’m just not sure how to develop a healthy relationship with someone who won’t even be honest with me when we are supposed to be working together.  She’s my daughter-in-law and we should be able to communicate honestly and respect each other.  I need your perspective.  Thanks so much!

Signed – Troubled MIL

Dear Troubled MIL:

I’m sorry that the relationship with your daughter-in-law is challenging.  I do have some direct experience with these types of situations and offer to you a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

When someone we love brings someone new into our lives, we are best served by allowing a lot of space for the new person to integrate into our family and into our communication styles.  New personalities introduced to well-established communication patterns challenge our relationships.  We want to be close to the new person because our loved one loves them.  However, we can’t expect everyone to share our values, our experiences, and our love for family. Some people have no desire to be loved the only way we know how to love.  Some people don’t trust easily and are afraid of getting too close too soon.  Some people are intimidated by strong women who speak up and speak directly.  Their response to any of these thigns can be to cling to whatever control they believe they have over their situations.  

So, if it were me in this current situation you have with your daughter-in-law, I think I would back off completely.  Give space.  Go to the edge.  Communicate about the co-hosted event with your son ONLY.  Let him take responsibility for the new person he has brought into the family.  Copy him on any communication you have with her if you must communicate directly with her.  Let him guide you on how to most effectively communicate with her.  Let him deal with her, which may open his eyes to something you see that he does not.  And hardest of all, be willing to let go of the outcome of the situation and relationship.  No amount of desire on your part for her to be different or for the event to be handled differently will change her attitude or perspective.  You deal with your son about any issues of conflict related to what he wants that is different from your desires.  That’s on him, not her.  Let him make his decision and then let him deal with her.  And let him suffer the consequences of his decisions, as hard as that is.   Let your son take the responsibility for all of this, as that is where the responsibility lies.  And, I know you believe that the outcome of this event reflects upon you and your husband as much as it does on your son and daughter-in-law.  Express that to your son and encourage him to make it right.  He’s the only one, in my opinion, who will be able to solve this problem.  Can you trust him to make it right?

Sending lots of love, light and prayers for you in this situation.

Love, Jenn

Life Lessons Countdown

Five years ago I modified a long-standing Christmas tradition. One of my girls’ favorite things about Christmas when they were young was our Advent Countdown “calendar.” It wasn’t a calendar, really, but a cute little wooden house with 25 little doors on it. For many years each of the doors hid pieces of candy that they got to enjoy each day from December 1 through Christmas morning on December 25. Then, as they got older, and as I began to want to provide something more substantive for them, I created a list of 25 life lessons that I typed up on strips of red and green paper. They took turns reading the lesson of the day and then we discussed how these lessons had already shown up in our lives or how we could look for ways to live them out in the future. This year, for the first time, neither of my girls live at home during Advent, so there are no more daily readings. However, they still ring true for me, so I thought I would share them with you here:

1. LOVE…always and in all things.  Love is never the wrong answer.

2. LIGHT…it’s your responsibility to bring it to every situation in which you find yourself.

3. LAUGH…whenever you can.  It heals the heart.

4. LIVE…truly, fully, authentically and from your heart.

5. LOOK…at everything from the other person’s perspective before forming your opinion.

6. LISTEN…with your ears, your heart, and your soul.

7. SEE…others through their mother’s eyes.

8. EMBRACE…everything about yourself.

9. SING…“on the top of your lung” every chance you get.

10. TOUCH…softly and often.  It is good for you and the one you are touching.

11. WALK…toward the light, the truth, and the good.

12. EXPERIENCE…nature everywhere you are.

13. THINK…positively and gratefully.


15. PLAY…by yourself and with others.  It makes you fun and happy.

16. BREATHE…deeply and intentionally.  Breathing can solve anxiety and worry.

17. FORGIVE…even when you don’t feel like it, as forgiveness is a gift to yourself.

18. GROW…in and through all things.  Expand your mind.

19. REMEMBER…the good and the bad.  All experiences make you who you are. 

20. APOLOGIZE…only when necessary and always when necessary.

21. HELP…everyone who comes to you in need.

22. GIVE…love, peace and joy every chance you get.

23. SILENCE…your mind and your spirit at least once a day so you can hear the message meant for you.

24. RELEASE…that which does not serve you so that you can grasp hold of the goodness that is meant for you.

25. SEEK…your truth and your passion.

Wishing each of you a thoughtful, intentional, and joyful Holiday Season!

My best ~ Jenn


I was raised in a family steeped in tradition.  Some of my most favorite childhood memories are of annual family gatherings and seasonal activities that we participated in as a family each and every year, particularly at Christmas.  Christmas was always such a magical time for me as a child, and I am most grateful to my wonderful mother for devoting herself to intentionally creating excitement, joy and happiness for my brother and me each and every year of our childhood.  She set the bar high, and exceeded all expectations each year.  Christmas was pure delight and was greatly anticipated all year long.

When I grew up, got married and had children of my own, I carried forward the traditions that meant so much to me and began creating new Christmas traditions that made sense for our young family.  There was decorating the house and the Christmas tree, special church services, singing and listening to Christmas music, shopping, cooking, wrapping gifts, Santa visits, making cookies for Santa and food for his reindeer, reading Christmas stories, watching Christmas movies, creating and mailing over 150 Christmas Cards, Edward the Elf shenanigans, Christmas PJs, special Christmas Eve bedtime routines, and the culmination of it all – the surprise and wonderment of Christmas morning when Santa’s generous and special gifts were finally revealed.  All of this was a lot of work, but it was so much fun and recreated the magic of my own childhood for my two precious children.  Each and every year I LOVED these traditions.  Until, I didn’t.

October 19, 2010 is the day my divorce was final.  My children were 12 and 9 years of age.  The separation and divorce were very hard on them, as to be expected, and I felt extra pressure to be sure that their routines and home life were disrupted as little as possible.  Christmas time that year magnified this pressure.  I remember trudging through each and every tradition and activity in an effort to keep the magic alive for them, and with each one the magic died a little bit for me.  Christmas cards, church services, and Christmas music that year were especially difficult for me.  I cried.  A lot.  And, somehow, I survived that first Christmas as an unmarried mom.  The next two Christmases were much the same for me:  the same traditions and a lot of crying. All of my Christmas joy had been snuffed out.  Then, something amazing happened:  a thought popped into my head that began the reignition of the magical flame of the season.  On December 16, 2012 I made the following declaration in my journal:

How do I want next Christmas to be different?

I want to FEEL Christmas.

I want to look forward to Christmas.

I want to anticipate Christmas.

I want to be excited about Christmas.

I want to feel joy about Christmas.

I do not want to be depressed or hurt next Christmas.

I want to get rid of traditions that bring me pain.

I want to keep traditions that are meaningful to the girls but that don’t hurt me.

What?  Get rid of traditions?  When I first wrote, “I want to get rid of traditions that bring me pain” I couldn’t believe what I had just put down on paper.  Was it really that simple? Just quit doing things that hurt? I mean, traditions are meant to be carried on each and every year, forever and ever, amen, right?  Maybe not.  It was an earth-shattering and liberating thought.  I created a list of about 10 specific traditions I wanted to keep, and about 8 I wanted to ditch.  That day I became intentional about creating new experiences for the girls and for myself for the following year so that we could all three live the true meaning of Christmas:  love, joy and peace. 

At a leadership conference I attended this past February one of the speakers posed a question to us: “Do you know what tradition is?”  Then she continued: “It’s peer pressure from dead people.”  Laughter rippled through the conferees and it struck me as so very true.  I immediately thought of that December several years ago when I began the journey of taking charge of how I spend my time and energy, especially around the holidays. Traditions are carried on for generations – some of them can remain meaningful and bring joy, and some of them outgrow their usefulness and bring pain.  Many, many times we participate in traditions out of a sense of obligation and not because they are healthy for us.   In 2016 I recognized that the traditions I held onto because “that’s how we had done things for 12 years or more” had become a weight of gloom, doom and despair.  I also realized that I had the power to make things different.  I realized that it was OK to let go, to redefine, to re-create, to change with the times.  Change is hard and scary, and it is absolutely necessary if we want to actively participate in creating a healthy and functional life for ourselves and those we love.

Are you feeling burdened by your circumstances?  Is that burden made heavier as a result of traditions that require more energy than they create?  If so, give yourself permission to make a change.  Ask yourself: “How do I want this to be different next time?”  Allow yourself to dream a big dream of what would bring you love, joy and peace.  And, then, do THAT!  We all have the power to create our reality. 

This year, 10 years after my epiphany that traditions don’t have to last forever, I have reclaimed the magic and joy of Christmas.  My oldest, who is now 24, will be coming home next week.  My youngest, who is now 21, will also be here.  We will be participating in new experiences and some traditional ones, but only the ones that make us feel love, joy and peace.  I am excited for our time together as a family.

I wish for each of you a loving, joyful, peaceful holiday experience this year.  And, if you find that your experience is less than that, I wish for you the strength and courage to make a change for next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.  Intentional living is the best gift you can give to yourself and all of those within your circle.

My best ~ Jenn


It was early in my dating relationship with my now-husband, Wes, when we encountered a pretty disruptive event on the road home from Mobile, Alabama one Sunday afternoon. We were on I-10 keeping up with traffic just outside Mobile, which means I was driving about 75mph, when something under the hood of my SUV loudly popped. I immediately lost power steering and all the warning lights on the dash lit up like a Christmas tree. I was in the middle lane of travel and had to navigate all the way over to the right so that I could take the next exit and attempt to safely maneuver us to a parking lot to try to assess what had just happened. Every time I had to stop I was scared it would completely die on us, so I did everything I could to slow without stopping. I had to make 5 or 6 turns to get to the Wal-Mart parking lot just off the exit ramp, and I struggled with each one. Whatever had just happened wasn’t obvious to either one of us when we popped the hood to look, but what we clearly understood was that we would not be driving my car the 90 miles between us and home. Fortunately, I’m a longtime AAA member so we called for help right away. A tow truck arrived within an hour and we towed my car to the dealership a few miles away . We then had to call a taxi to get us to the airport to rent a car to make the trip home, as we both had to work the next day. Everything in those two or three hours seemed to happen rather quickly and when we got in the rental car to head home I remember actually exhaling a little bit. But I was still flustered and anxious. We made it home and fixed something quick to eat. As we sat at the table and were rehashing the events of the day, I found myself apologizing profusely and commenting about all of the ways I could try to prevent something similar from ever happening again. In response to my third or fourth apology, he actually said, “It’s really OK, Jenn. This is life, Things like this just happen. We are safe. No one was hurt. We’ll make plans to go back to Mobile to pick up your car when it’s ready, and we’ll put this behind us. In the grand scheme of things this is not a major deal.”

My mouth fell open and I stared at him in shock and amazement. I said, “What? You aren’t upset? You don’t blame me for what happened?” He stared at me in confusion and finally said, “Why on earth would I blame you? You didn’t do anything to cause this. It is not your fault.” And I responded to him that I’d never before gone through a stressful situation similar to this – one that disrupted plans and required a great deal of effort to deal with – without feeling responsible, blamed and targeted. Wes then said, “Ahhh. I see. You must have PTRD.” “What is that?” I inquired. “Post Traumatic Relationship Disorder,” he said, and we both burst out laughing.

I have no idea whether the mental health community actually utilizes such a diagnosis, and I don’t use it here as any formal term or in anyway regarding an actual clinical diagnosis. The way I’m using it here is strictly to describe an effect of the baggage we carry from one relationship to another. When we are experiencing “PTRD Moments” we are struggling with expressing feelings about something the other has said or done and are tempted to respond based upon our past experiences with someone else. This causes confusion and frustration that wouldn’t have been there otherwise and further complicates an already tense situation. When we find ourselves in the midst of these “PTRD Moments” we need to clarify what is really causing our discomfort in the situation and understand that our reactions likely have little to do with what has actually just occurred between us, and has everything to do with habitual reactions we have developed from our previous significant relationships. This has been a total game-changer for my husband and me. If one of us reacts to the other in an out-of-the blue way, we can inquire as to whether this may be a “PTRD Moment,” which most of the time will diffuse the situation to a point that we can calmly discuss the actual issue at hand.

Long term, close relationships are tricky to navigate. Communicating our needs in a time of high emotion is difficult, even when we aren’t dragging our past relationships right up into the middle of the stressful situation. The next time you feel triggered by something someone else says, take a minute to take a deep breath and ask yourself if you are responding to what actually just happened, or if you are reacting based upon experiences you have had in previous relationships. You owe it to yourself and to the others with whom you are in relationship to honestly assess the origins of your feelings and reactions and to respond based upon the reality of what has occurred as opposed to the quick, snap reaction that was previously so well-rehearsed that it has become a knee-jerk reaction. With some intentional thought and self-analysis we can interrupt the old patterns and save ourselves a good deal of grief by truly communicating with the person with whom we are interacting. Are there legitimate disagreements to address, or are you transposing into the present moment your feelings and emotions from something someone else did to you some time ago? Did this person intentionally push your buttons to upset you, or are you simply having a “PTRD Moment?”

Civil Solutions: Keeping it Real!

I’m excited to launch my new blog, Keeping it Real! with this introductory post.  This blog will explore topics related to law, relationships, communication, parenting and co-parenting, and problem solving. Join me here at Keeping it Real! as I share personal and professional experiences that may be helpful to you in shifting perspectives to help you manage the meaningful relationships in your life by maximizing effective communication. My hope is that by taking this journey together we can improve our relationships and reduce suffering for ourselves and those whom we love. This first post is an introduction of who I am and the services I offer. My hope is that a basic understanding of Civil Solutions, LLC will serve as a solid background for the substantive, topical posts that will follow this introductory post.

Civil Solutions, LLC

Since 1998 I have been a practicing attorney in Mississippi. I owned an active litigation practice for 23 years before pursuing my new practice, Civil Solutions, LLC, as a consultant and mediator. My primary work through Civil Solutions is focused on helping individuals and couples who are seeking a divorce in Mississippi to reach agreement regarding divorce, child custody/co-parenting arrangements, and property settlement issues and avoid lengthy and expensive contested divorce litigation.  I do this through individual consultations, mediations with couples, teaching a co-parenting class called Communication Skills for Co-Parents” along with two other attorneys, Co-Parenting/Communication Coaching Sessions, and presenting Continuing Legal Education seminars for attorneys.  In addition, I consult with and assist individuals in negotiating disputes with businesses, insurance companies, and others with whom there may be conflict.  My personal and professional experiences greatly inform my work in these areas.  I have learned that problem solving in the legal and business world requires hard work, but is rewarding and cost-effective. Divorce is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it can be done in a way that promotes health and function of each member of the family, especially any children who are involved.  Parenting and co-parenting are challenging – always – but when separation and divorce require parenting and co-parenting in separate homes and with new people added into the mix, it becomes extremely difficult.  These are problems that persist in our communities and in our families and deserve intentional attention. My desire is to make a meaningful difference in how we communicate and relate to one another, and that is why I created Civil Solutions, LLC.

In addition to the services I offer to the community, I have a strong drive to serve the legal profession through volunteer efforts. I continue my very meaningful volunteer work through The Mississippi Bar to promote Collaborative Law in the family law setting, and to assist parents and families involved in the Juvenile Justice System. 

The common themes in all of my work and service are collaboration, cooperation, and acting from common ground.  In the legal world this falls into the category of “Alternative Dispute Resolution.”  In the real world, it’s just simple “problem solving.”  The goal is to manage relationships, through effective communication, to reduce our suffering and to preserve our peace.  At its core, Civil Solutions is about helping people work out their differences in a healthy, functional way.   Where conflict resolution is concerned, perspective and attitude make all the difference in the world.  The whole of my experience as a divorced, remarried, mother-of-two, trial attorney, mediator, consultant and problem solver is wide and varied, and is what brings me to this page to share with you some of the most poignant observations I have made over the years in hopes that we can start a dialogue about problem solving that first looks to amicable resolution of the many conflicts and disputes we face as we interact with others in our daily lives. Click here to learn more about my legal career and how Civil Solutions got started.

How can Civil Solutions help you?

Do you ever shy away from having difficult, but necessary, conversations?  Do you ever wish you had handled conflict with a loved one differently?  Do you ever wish you could take back a text or email that you sent in the heat of the moment?  Do you ever feel misunderstood and confused about why your spouse, ex-spouse, child, parent, sibling or friend reacted badly to something that you shared with them that was important to you?  Do you find composing letters, emails, and texts to be challenging? If you answered yes to any of these, and if you would like individualized help with the next tricky conversation/letter/email/text, click here to book an appointment for a consultation.

If you and your spouse from whom you are divorcing want to try to work out a property settlement or child custody/visitation/support issues, I may be able to help you reach agreement to avoid lengthy and expensive court processes and appearances. Click here to book an appointment for a one-on-one consultation with me to determine the appropriate next step for you.

If you and your spouse or former spouse wish to cultivate more effective communication and co-parenting, click here to book an appointment for one-on-one Communication and Co-Parenting Coaching, and/or click here to register for the next Communication Skills for Co-Parents class.

If you have a dispute with a business partner or other individual and want help with effective communication that can lead to a mediated resolution of the conflict, click here to book an appointment to discuss what type of mediation services are appropriate for your situation. If you aren’t sure exactly what you need but know that you would prefer to work out your circumstances in an amicable way as opposed to adversarial litigation , click here to book an appointment for a general consultation.

I am honored to have you join me in this journey of Keeping it Real!  If you have friends or family members who would benefit from exploring these topics,  please feel free to share the link to this blog with them. Together we can work to find a peaceful, functional way of clearly communicating with those closest to us in an effort to preserve relationships.  I promise to “keep it real” with you and hope you will do the same with me. If I can provide a service to you, please schedule an appointment with me. If you simply wish to come along for the journey of exploring these topics based upon my personal and professional experiences, check back periodically for new and updated blog posts here at this link: Keeping It Real!

My very best to each of you….


Get new content delivered directly to your inbox.