Even writing the phrase ‘about the ex’ sends people scurrying for the exits, fearing expletive riddled diatribes and raging self-pity. But what about your kids, when they aren’t really kids anymore. As your sons and daughters head into their own adult lives, is there a point where it becomes okay to tell your kids about the ex?
There must have been some incredibly important reasons for you to go through the harrowing process of separation and ultimately divorce. But are there things that your kids need to know about their mum?
Young Kids vs Young Adults
You separated when your kids were younger, and honest discussions with them in those years reached the level of why they couldn’t have two packets of chips in their lunchbox like they did when mum packed it. Now that they are late teenagers, with boyfriends and girlfriends and part time work and all the things that makes up life pre-marriage, is there a time when it is okay to simply talk to them about the things that led to your separation?
Most professionals advise about the damage that we can do as parents if we fall into the trap of disparaging the ex in front of our kids. There is absolutely no doubt that one of the most important things we can do for your kids as they go through the divorce process with us is to bite our tongue and simply encourage them to have feelings of respect and admiration for their mother. Remember, they are already dealing with trying to find their feet in the lives of separated parents, two homes and readjustments.
There are a lot of things to be aware of as your young kids grow through the divorce and challenges that come with their age. There are many articles that provide good guides for what to do and what to say up to the age of 14. But, at that age your kids are beginning to desire more independence, they’re questioning parental authority, and they’re developing relationships outside the home which are even more important than their relationship with us. It is next to impossible to find advice on talking to your kids beyond the early teenage years.
But as they age they are no longer kids needing to be shared and managed between two separated parents. They are now young adults who are exposed to many adults in differing settings, and you and your ex are becoming less unique to them.
They are becoming young men, like you, and young ladies, like their mum. They are adults in secondary and post-secondary education and they are taught to think broadly, apply their understanding and their moral code to develop their own personal impressions and opinions on situations and events they experience. They will be developing opinions about the people who make up their lives, the things they like and dislike, and the things they need and detest.
You have very strong opinions about their mother which are undoubtedly a big part of why you are not together anymore.
Naturally, you want the best for your kids as they build their own lives. Don’t you need to tell your kids about the ex and what led to the divorce?
If you have a daughter would it be okay for her to never know anything of what it was that brought your love for her mother to end? Would you be happy for your son to choose the partner he will spend the rest of his life with without knowing anything of what it was that broke down the mrriage with his mother?
Tell Your Kids About the Ex
The kids probably spend a lot of their teenage years living with their mum. If anyone knows mum well, they do. They are now far more resilient and self assured than when they were the 7 or 8 years old when they just wished mum and dad still lived together. They now have seen many of their friends go through divorces with their parents, and discussing mom and dad’s divorce with these trusted friends is easier than with anyone else. These discussions likely have been going on for years, thus helping to forge their ‘critique’ of you as their dad and your ex as their mum.
So, if your son or daughter at 17 or 18 asks why you and your new partner don’t seem to argue as you did with their mum, or they raise an issue they have had with their mother, is it okay to be honest about their mum? Whenever there is an elephant in the room it is better to simply confront it than trying to beat around the bush?
So long as the discussion remains objective and has the right mix of honesty about yourself as well as about their mum then aren’t you arming your kids with knowledge that you likely didn’t have as you grew up in a generation when divorce was more rare?
Many articles point out that you may anger your children if you try to describe the process of separating as something like ‘mummy and I still love each other, just not in that way’. That’s because it minimizes your child’s maturity to form their own opinion.
Honesty is Always the Best Policy.
We have always been told that it’s best to tell the truth. It has always been drummed into us not to lie. In fact it is almost impossible to think of another area where telling the truth to your child is seen as anything but the best parenting practice.
It has become more acceptable to discuss sexuality with our kids. Thank goodness. And in the process we reinforce the importance of intimacy and feelings with the people that we choose to love and cherish in our lives.
We know we will have to comfort our kids hearts when their boyfriends and girlfriends have broken their hearts. Is it really so bad to admit that that was something missing from your marriage with their mother? Is it preferable to lie? Or won’t that go the same way as trying to tell them that you still love mummy? Your kids know you and they know when you are lying.
You have spent a lot of time talking about times past through rose-colored glasses only for the benefit of your young kids. If you have a strong relationship with your grown kids where you can speak openly and honestly about things such as your work relationships, your thoughts about the future, and your thoughts about the world, then speaking honestly about what wasn’t right about your marriage to their mum shouldn’t be taboo.
You can discuss how people change over time. It may have been a process of falling out of love with the woman you married as you discovered she was turning into someone you didn’t like. You can discuss the need to continue to develop as a person. You can talk about what it is like when someone stops listening. The kids would have similar stories in their lives already.
Part of parenting is helping your kids find the best parts of both yourself and your ex for them to emulate. In a strong marriage that endures, both partners are reinforced by the other such that pointing out each other’s strengths and weaknesses is a very normal part of life. Separation and divorce is oft times about two people who are no longer being reinforced by one another. And, as they go through the process they lose the opportunity to tell their kids the truth.
One minute you’re leading a blissful married life (not!), and the next you’re officially “separated.” What the hell is that supposed to mean, exactly? Is it like a Ross and Rachael break where anything goes, but not really? What are the rules to being separated? More importantly, what are the pitfalls? You need to learn the Separation Skills Every Guy Needs to know.
Every Couple Does Separation Differently
Separation means different things to different people. If you’re like most men, though, most of the rules of your separation will be dictated by your spouse, even if the separation was originally your idea. So, the first order of business, after collecting your things from off the front lawn, is to sit down with her and figure out how you’re going to do this. There’s no right way or wrong way to do a separation, so technically everything’s on the table.
Respect Her Privacy
Separation skills every guy needs include respecting your spouse’s privacy. That means no skulking in your car down the street, staking out the house to see what she’s up to. If she wants to have guests over, that’s her prerogative, even if you are still paying the mortgage. If she wants to have “adult sleepovers,” that’s her choice, too, as much as that might pain you to realize.
- Respecting her privacy means no checking the call log on the landline account or cell phone bill. (Really, you’ll be a lot happier if you don’t do that, anyway.)
- Don’t drive past her work to see if her car’s in the parking lot.
- Don’t interrogate her co-workers and friends when you “accidentally” bump into them at the grocery store.
If you question whether something you’re thinking of doing is an invasion of her privacy, the answer is likely YES. Consider how you would feel if she did that same thing to you.
Don’t Use Your House Keys
Assuming you’re the one who got kicked out of the family home, try to retain a set of the house keys. If you promise not to use them unless it’s an emergency, you’ll probably be able to negotiate this for yourself. Once you’ve made the agreement, don’t renege on it. Ringing the doorbell to be allowed entry into your own house is going to take some getting used to. But if you go barging in using your keys, you may find them taken away. Worse, your spouse may change the locks or decide she needs to take out a restraining order on you, which you’ll want to avoid at all costs. The more space you give your spouse during your separation, the better things will turn out for you.
Until your divorce is finalized (and really, after that, too), avoid badmouthing your spouse. The less you talk to people about your relationship, the better. That includes your drinking buddies, your coworkers and that cute little number who lives next door in your new apartment building. The thing is, whatever you say could be used against you in the divorce proceedings. And what you say is likely to be inflammatory and possibly libelous. Yes, chances are slim that her lawyer will be able to dig up witnesses that say you made drunken threats. But play it safe. If you need to let out some steam, confide in your paid therapist, who is sworn to confidentiality.
Lay Off Social Media
Speaking of comments, you might want to disable your social media accounts, at least until the divorce is final. Social media becomes a torture platform when you’re separated. Do you really want to see pictures of your estranged spouse with another guy? Or read all the sympathetic comments from her friends (that used to be your friends), telling her she’s better off? You’ve got better things to do than check her relationship status. The best part of disabling your social media accounts is that you won’t be able to leave comments on her page that you’ll regret later.
Put Your Ducks in a Row
During a separation, there’s a chance that you and your estranged spouse will get back together. That would be great. Maybe. But on the off chance that things continue to go south, this is a great time to put your ducks in a row. You’re in your own place (or in your parent’s basement), and have the time and privacy to make arrangements for a worst case scenario. Don’t think of this as setting things in stone. You’re just putting things in place to make it easier if the relationship moves on to divorce. Here’s a list of what you should plan, depending on your situation:
- Make a shortlist of divorce attorney candidates, based on reputation and known abilities
- Research how to do a DIY divorce in your state
- Organize your finances
- Gather tax records
- Gather business records if you own a business
- Start thinking about how you’d take care of your kids for sole or joint custody (babysitter, sleeping area, extra-curricular activities, etc.)
- Review ownership records (bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, etc.)
- Think about the family pet situation. Would you want the pets? Shared custody?
- Organize contacts (school, sports coaches, in-laws, accountant, spouse’s work, etc.)
- Redo your will, Medical Proxy, Living Will and Power of Attorney
- Review and or change your life insurance beneficiaries
Get on With Your Life
Surprisingly, separation skills every guy needs include learning how to get on with your life. For whatever reason, guys often take separation and divorce harder than women. If you aren’t careful, you could let your life stall while you’re in this sort of limbo state, wondering how the rest of your relationships are going to pan out. Don’t let that happen. It’s more important now than ever to keep things moving along in your life. Keep in motion whatever projects and plans you had going on before the separation. If you can’t continue with a certain plan because it involved your estranged spouse, come up with an alternate plan. Don’t go into “waiting mode.” Keep moving forward. If you do that, you’ll be in a much healthier position to deal with whatever comes next as far as your relationship.
No one expects you to be a perfect angel if you and your wife have separated and are legitimately on the road to divorce. The temptation to date might be too strong to resist. You’ll have to decide for yourself if dating is something you should do while you’re technically still married, but also technically separated. But the separation skills every guy needs to know include understanding the dangers of dating while separated. Carefully consider the potential ramifications of your actions. You could accidentally impregnate the other woman. You could jeopardize any chances you ever had for reconciliation with your estranged spouse. Your dating activities could be used against you during the divorce if you live in a ‘Divorce Fault’ state. Your spouse might resent you exposing your kids to your girlfriend. You might develop deep feelings for another, which would cloud your feelings about your marriage. Your girlfriend could develop a dangerous jealousy of your estranged spouse. Any number of scenarios are possible. If you must date, be cautious about it. Consider the risks as well as the rewards.
Learn to Take Care of Yourself
Marriage can be a comfortable place. You may have become used to having many things done for you, like laundry, cooking, cleaning or social obligations. If so, you’ll have to learn to take care of yourself. Even if you end up getting back together with your estranged spouse, you’ll be better off in the long run learning more basic life skills. If you do, you’ll be a lot less inclined to rush into another marriage for all the wrong reasons, just so you’ll have someone to take care of you.
Separation Skills Every Guy Needs
These separation skills every guy needs will help you to navigate the rocky road of separation. Occasionally, you may find yourself in a very dark place emotionally. Remind yourself that this situation is temporary. Being separated is trying for anyone, so give yourself credit for getting through it as best as you can.
There are couples that divorce, work things out and then re-marry. That is the classic definition of reconciliation. It is possible to achieve reconciliation with an Ex without redoing the marriage vows. It may take years to achieve, but it is possible and it’s good for our health if we can reconcile without remarrying. In fact, that is the only way reconciliation is possible if one or both of you have married someone else.
I recently had dinner with my Ex, our daughter, her husband and their younger daughter. After dinner we were attending a play together on campus where their older daughter had a part in Shakespeare’s play – Othello. Dinner was rather poignant since that day was the fiftieth anniversary of the day we met. I opted not to point that out. There didn’t seem to be any good way to incorporate that fact into the dinner conversation.
Still Connected in Many Ways
I appreciated the opportunity to reminisce about our earlier years together, the houses we renovated, the history behind heirlooms now passed along to adult daughters, challenges overcome, and the status of one another’s various childhood family members.
I did wonder how, given we each had such strong memories of our formally shared lives, we stayed apart and estranged for so long. By the end of Othello all the major characters have died. The play is about jealously run amuck and the tremendous power our feelings sometimes have over us. Sometimes those powerful emotions are destructive. Sometimes they end marriages.
Reconciliation as the Path to Peace
Sadly, we each played a part in just such a drama, though mercifully the results were not fatal. Reconciliation is a peculiar thing. It is the sun shining after weeks of overcast skies and damp weather; it is the warmth of a fire on a night when temperatures dip to single digits.
Reconciliation with an Ex takes time. We play a leading role in the drama; but we must also be willing to let the process unfold in its own unique way by whatever path that may take. Reconciliation requires us to relinquish our personal preferences and patiently wait for an unknown outcome.
In ancient Israel Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were estranged for decades. It started when Jacob and his mother connived to cheat Esau out of his rightful double inheritance as the first-born male. To say that caused problems would be an understatement of huge proportion. Jacob fled for his life. Years later – we’re talking two wives, over a dozen children, and decades of virtual slave labor to the uncle that took him in – Jacob and Esau were reconciled. Jacob quaked in his boots when the encounter with Esau was imminent. How would he be received? How would he respond? Years of animosity slipped away in an instant, followed by a tearful reunion.
Reconcile Without Remarrying
We don’t talk much about reconciliation following a divorce. We talk more about moving on, getting over it, and even forgiving – but not reconciling. What does reconciliation look like when one or both formerly married people are now married to other people? It can’t mean getting back together again. It can mean no longer having to avoid one another. It can mean accepting that the marriage is dead, but there are survivors and the survivors can come to a place of mutual respect, appropriate affection and appreciation for the other.
A friend, who is also a professional mental health counselor, pointed out to me that divorce ends the marriage. It does not end the relationship. Divorce certainly does change, absolutely, every aspect of a couple’s relationship.
In addition to figuring out who keeps what, there are all those family events that keep showing up on the calendar of life year after year. What about graduations, milestone birthdays, or the death of an ex-father or mother-in-law? What about the weddings of mutual children or grandchildren? In this case, what about showing up to the performance in which a mutual granddaughter was on stage?
An Endless Series of Emotional Land Mines
These and other family moments can feel like an endless series of emotional land mines divorced people must navigate. Each one requires the ex-spouse to decide whether to stay away and be left out, or go and risk being received like someone suspected of carrying a contagious and lethal disease.
In the midst of all the animosity, anger, depression, and confusion that often accompany a divorce, it may seem impossible to imagine ever being in the same room together again without a lawyer to mediate. The idea that sharing such special family moments could be mutually pleasant– or at least not a teeth grinding-stomach-lurching experience – seems like the definition of impossible.
Is Reconciliation Even Possible?
Is it possible? Perhaps it is, perhaps its not. Perhaps reconciling to the point where there is more pleasure than pain involved when two formerly married people both attend these events is a good post-divorce goal.
But how? How can we move beyond the issues and hard feelings that instigated the divorce? There is no magic formula, but it can and does happen. It may take many years to reconcile, as it did for Jacob and his twin brother. It may come only after many awkward encounters that make walking barefoot over nails seem like a better option than attending a family event together.
Advantages of Reconciling
It is possible – and to reconcile without remarrying the rewards are great. Children and grandchildren no longer fear an outbreak of unresolved anger and hurt spewing out to ruin the occasion. Other divorced couples might look on and consider the possibility of life without vitriol toward their own former spouse.
For me the seeds of such a possibility were planted at a casual neighborhood backyard party. Though the Ex wasn’t there, that party paved the way for future events when we would both be present. The hosts, Bob and Lucy, were friends of my daughter and son-in-law. Their kids were on community summer swim teams together.
I saw Bob’s father and mother, long since divorced from one another, chatting away the afternoon with his father’s current wife and his mother’s current husband. I only knew these were their relationships because my daughter pointed it out to me. To the casual observer the four appeared to be two couples that had been friends for a long time.
The Influence of Reconciled Couples
Though she said nothing at the time, I think our daughter was hoping the day would come her own divorced parents might have such a relationship. Such geniality was not how it went down for many family events following our divorce. Sometimes we would stay as far apart as possible to still be at the same event. Several times one or both of us came with a companion recruited to come along as a buffer; not quite a bodyguard, but closer to that role than a date.
Being at such events was about as pleasant as a root canal without benefit of Novocain. Other times I opted to skip the event, staying home to lick wounds real or imaginary. That led to dealing with feelings similar to what I imagine Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Match Girl experienced when she was on the outside looking in on the happiness of others.
Time Really Can Heal Old Wounds
It is true “time heals all wounds” and “practice makes perfect.” The ice between us began to thaw, slowly, as it does when winter temperatures rise above freezing. Encounters gradually became less like taking a test for which I was totally unprepared and more like walking into an unfamiliar place recommended by a trusted friend. Over time – much time – the temperature between us started to warm up a bit. It became possible to exchange pleasantries as two people just meeting might do. Yes, we were truly able to reconcile without remarrying
Meeting Again for the First Time
In a sense we were two people meeting for the first time. Divorce changes us in profound and deep ways. We are forced to look at our own inadequacies that prevented us from measuring up to the “until death do you part” expectation. Regardless of who did what to whom, when, or how; a divorce brings disillusionments and unrealistic expectations to center stage.
Starting over again as single-again adults forces us to come to terms with unresolved issues. Assumptions we could conveniently ignore as long as the other person was there to blame now demand our attention in the lonely hours when we are totally on our own.
Over a period of many years and family events, the bitterness receded, making it feasible to approach one another with positive regard.
I mark last Thanksgiving as the real turning point in our post-divorce relationship.
Our daughter invited me, and my current husband, to her home for the annual turkey gobbling meal. She told me she also intended to invite her father. The last Thanksgiving meal we shared was at least fifteen years ago.
“Well, your house, your rules. We will come anyway.” So there I was, sharing the same menu I’d eaten pretty much every Thanksgiving since I was young child.
Seated to my left was my former spouse. Sitting to my right was my current one. Across from us were our three young adult grandchildren. At either end of the table were our daughter and son-in-law.
We laughed. We recounted tales of adventures when we were the ages the grandchildren are now. We talked about trips taken and plans for ones coming up. Conversation around the table flowed back and forth like a good game of Ping-Pong.
Recapturing What We Have in Common
When I reflect on that day, I realize just how thankful I am for whatever subtle changes we’ve both experienced that made that meal possible. It took over a decade and many false starts, but we did it. We shared a traditional meal with people we both love – people in whom we both have a vested interest.
I have no advice about how to achieve reconciliation with an ex-spouse. I do think there are some mile-markers along the way that indicate reconciliation is replacing resentment. We’re moving toward reconciliation when:
- We are able to again focus on the other’s positive traits that made them attractive to us in the first place.
- We refrain from pointing out their flaws to others. No matter how tempting or how justified it may seem, confessing someone else’s shortcomings is like putting drops of rat poison in our own coffee and waiting for the other to suffer as a result.
- We can walk into the room in spite of how temped we may be to turn tail and run. Eleanor Roosevelt’s wisdom comes into play in such situations. She famously said, “No one can insult you without your cooperation.” Choose not to cooperate when being insulted.
In our case reconciliation meant we moved beyond the tensions that kept us away from one another for years. We can again enjoy the fruits of our union together. Some divorced couples do re-marry each other. If you may be contemplating that, this article by Caroline Choi in Huffington Post may be of benefit to you.
Whether or not there is the possibility of re-marring the person you divorced, finding a way to be at peace is worth the efforts. Dina Haddad’s article at Mediate.com has tips for how to achieve a workable post-divorce relationship with your Ex.
Reconciliation does not come easily, which makes it all the more precious when we do experience it. Divorce hurts. Recovery takes time. Achieving reconciliation is the spiritual and emotional equivalent of getting a clean bill of health from the doctor after a serious illness. How sweet it is to enjoy the benefits of good health.
For more: Kathryn Haueisen is the author of Asunder, a novel approach to divorce recovery. Asunder is both a novel of life beyond divorce and a study guide for personal and group reflection on the painful topic of divorce.
Many people will tell you that it’s healthy and mature to remain friends with your ex. Not everyone can do so. But being friends with your ex has some big downsides. In reality, it’s best to remain cordial – but don’t be friends with your ex.
You Won’t Be Motivated to Make New Friends
If you were lucky enough to have a spouse that was also your best friend, you both may feel even more inclined to hold onto that friendship after you divorce. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s better to make a complete break so that you feel a void. You won’t be motivated to cultivate new friendships if you hang onto an old one, even if it’s a bad fit. If you feel like you no longer have a best friend, you’ll be more likely to get out there and make new friends, which is ultimately what you need to do after a divorce.
Don’t Deprive Yourself of Being Alone
After something as awful as a divorce, it’s very therapeutic to take time to be alone. Even after those first few dreadful days, you’ll need to spend time exploring who you are as a single man. As part of a couple, it’s easy to get lost. You may have sacrificed a little part of your identity in order to give yourself completely into that relationship with your ex. There’s a unique, individual inside of you, and you need to be alone in order to rediscover who you are and what you really want. If you don’t remain friends with your ex, you won’t deprive yourself of this introspection. Even if you don’t succumb to a physical relationship with your ex, their continual presence in your life as a friend will keep you from exploring your true self, and figuring out what you want the rest of your life to look like.
You May Get Dumped Again
What’s worse than going through a divorce? Going through a second breakup – with the same person. Don’t be friends with your ex and stay emotionally attached to them or you may feel like you have a good, healthy relationship. So, why end it completely? What usually happens though, is that the ex eventually meets someone new. That someone new is not likely to be thrilled that you’re still in the picture, even if it is platonic. In a bid to please that new person, your ex dumps you as a friend. They may even ghost you, with no explanation why they’re no longer speaking to you. Now you have to go through the pain of rejection all over again, which prolongs your own healing process.
You Could Get Manipulated
If your ex is secretly angry about the divorce, or their motives aren’t entirely pure, you could easily get manipulated by remaining friends with him or her. While posing as your friend, they may intentionally give you bad advice, or keep tabs on you for nefarious purposes. They may even try to wreck your chances with another person. Since you trusted your ex during your marriage and you assume their friendship is genuine, you’ll be less likely to pick up on their actions until it’s too late.
The Perception of Yourself Stays the Same
Everyone you encounter has a certain perception of you, and they use that perception on which to base their interactions with you. For instance, your mother might still see you as a child (even though you’re a grown man), and talk to you as though you don’t know what you’re doing. You can’t do much about a doting parent, but you can do something about the way your ex perceives you. If your ex saw you as something less than who you are, underestimated your potential, or never really “got” you, it’s not doing you any good to continue that relationship in any form, friends or not. You won’t be able to alter their perception of you, and it’s not worth it to try. Worse, their unflattering image of you may stop you from realizing your own true self worth.
You Might Jeopardize Future Romantic Relationships
If you’ve started to move on with a romantic relationship but are still clinging to your ex as a friend, you may unwittingly jeopardize your new romance. Just as your ex’s new romantic partner won’t like you hanging around, neither will your new lover. And the more you try to defend your ex by explaining that you’re just friends, the more likely your new paramour will be to take a walk.
Don’t Be Friends with Your Ex
True friends are there for you when you need them. If you stay friends with your ex, you may start to feel entitled to ask for favors. That includes times when you may need help moving your stuff, a small loan to cover the rent, dog sitting duties, or even a ride home after a night of excess drinking. While it’s fine to ask a regular friend for small favors, asking your ex may come back to haunt you. You never want to feel beholden to an ex. If they begin to feel resentful, they could lash out against you or leave you hanging when you really need help.
One of You Might Want Something….More
If you enjoyed a healthy sexual relationship while you were married, there’s a chance that attraction will continue after the divorce. By remaining friends with your ex, you open up the possibility that your ex could begin harboring a desire to get back together, at least physically. If you don’t want to unintentionally lead your ex on, then ‘t be friends with your ex. The same goes for you, too. If your ex’s allure is like a drug to you, it’s time to cut the cord – cold turkey.
Reality is, the buddy-buddy relationship with your ex probably isn’t what you think it is. It’s not so much a friendship but a crutch. Divorce is tough, and staying friends makes it all easier, like pulling off a bandage slowly. While you both deserve credit for getting past your differences to remain friends, in the long term it’s not the healthiest situation for either of you.
Don’t be friends with your ex. What’s best for both of you is to be cordial and polite, but distant. There’s a difference between being friends and just knowing someone. Think of your ex as a close acquaintance. It’s healthy to stay on speaking terms, especially if there are kids involved, but don’t go out of your way to initiate communication unless it’s necessary. In this way, you’ll be able to figure out what needs to be negotiated between you without sabotaging each other’s lives or preventing one another from moving on. Be willing to let go for the greater good – for both of you.
You’ve survived the break-up, the children are finally settling into their new routines and it looks as though life might be on an even keel at last. Then, suddenly the bombshell drops. Your ex has a new bow. And now you’re going to be dealing with your ex and her new partner. In an instant everything changes. You thought things were on the up and up, but suddenly you fell back to rock bottom.
This guy won’t just be in your ex’s life, he’ll be in your children’s lives, in your marital home and sleeping in your old bed. He’ll take over everything you used to own. He’ll be relaxing in your chair, cooking in your kitchen, eating food from your cupboard, smiling at your ex and listening to your children tell him about their day. Not surprisingly, dealing with your ex and her new partner will likely stir one of the most common emotions in life after divorce – anger.
Initially, it will be a huge shock. Even if you thought you were prepared for it, when your ex announces she has a new man in her life, you’re likely going to be consumed by the news. You’ll be resentful, jealous, or angry. And, you’ll be worried about the impact this guy will have on your kids.
Take A Deep Breath
Take some much needed time to adjust to the news. Don’t lose your cool. And don’t say the first thing that comes into your head. The truth of the matter is, no matter hard it is to accept, your ex was inevitably going to find someone new and start a new relationship. Keep calm. Focus on your own wellbeing and that of your kids as much as you can.
Think things through and make a list of your priorities, then you have a better chance of having a calm and productive conversation with your ex. You’ll want to know whether your children know about the new man, when they’ll be meeting him, if they haven’t already, how they are feeling, whether he’ll be moving in, or how often they’ll be in his company and a little about him. Try to push aside that image of him enjoying breakfast at your table and crawling between the sheets with your ex. Stick to practical matters. Remember, your ex loves your children and will most likely be looking out for them and doing what she believes is best for them. Even if you vehemently disagree, try to be realistic. You’re all in the process of moving on and creating news lives, and a certain amount of flexibility will be needed to keep peace. One day, it will be her turn to deal with the new woman in your life and handing her children over to you and some other woman.
Look After Your Mental Health
Be kind but firm with yourself. After the first few days of rage and self-pity, or obsessing about the injustice of it all, you’ll need to start to bury those feelings. It won’t be easy, but you need to understand that negative emotions can have a powerful effect on you physically and psycholgically.
Likewise positive emotions can affect you deeply too, so concentrate on promoting positive thoughts. If you find yourself regularly drawn to dwelling on the changes, purposely steer your thoughts to something happier. Distract yourself. Pour yourself into something you’ve been thinking about doing, or a meeting with friends or even a work project. Distract yourself from these cyclical anxious thoughts. Tell yourself, I’m not going to think about that right now, and then don’t. Focus, focus, focus – on you, and your kids.
This will be hard and you’ll keep dwelling and worrying about the same things, over and over again. But as time goes by you’ll find it easier to push negative thoughts aside. Try not to imagine his new place in your family’s life.
Don’t let anxieties about your relationship with your kids take over. Being anxious about your place in their lives is natural. You’ll wonder if they’ll like him more. He’ll no doubt spend more time with them than you if he lives with them. They’ll tell him things and he’ll give them advice. They’ll have fantastic trips together. He’ll get to do all the things that you thought you’d be doing as they grow up. Stop.
Remind yourself, they love you. You’re their dad and however big a presence he is in their lives, he cannot replace you. If they love him, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t mean they love you any less. It means they’re comfortable and happy with the people in their lives, which is how it should be. If you’re honest, you know that you wouldn’t want them going home to someone whom they don’t want to be around.
If things get too much for you, find someone to talk to. This could be a sympathetic friend, a family member or, if you’re really struggling, a trained counsellor. Just make sure that the person you’re talking to is giving you good advice. Friends are great for sounding off at, but it won’t be helpful to spend time with someone who is ready to label your ex as toxic. You’re looking for kindness but honesty. Sympathy is great, but a good friend will help you accept what you cannot change and won’t let you wallow in bitterness.
Dealing With Your Ex and Her New Partner
After you’ve got over the initial shock, make sure that you keep the channels of communication open so you can deal with your ex and her new partner. You’ll want a certain amount of information about her new partner if he’s going to be spending time with your children. You’ll need to know whether he’s moving in or how often he’ll be seeing them. Keep it civil. If things get heated you’ll miss the opportunity to find out what you want to know. And your input is more likely to be heard if you make your case calmly.
Stick to your existing routines and implement any changes cautiously. Everyone’s priority should be the kids and how they’re coping with the new situation. This article gives an idea of how to sensitively introduce a new partner into your children’s lives – and how not to.
First, know that you don’t have to meet this new guy if you really can’t face it. But, getting to know someone a little can help stop your imagination from running wild. And, it would be useful if you can pick up the children from him if your ex can’t make it or have a phone conversation with him to make arrangements for the weekend.
If you do decide to meet him, make it somewhere neutral at first. Try hard to be polite and approachable. If you find him aloof or less than friendly, stick to your guns and be the better man. Don’t steam in and start trying to lay down rules as soon as you meet him. Start with more general terms; you should at least both be able to agree that you want your children to feel happy and settled. It would be more appropriate to leave detailed rules to a meeting with your ex at another time. Then at least you can say that you have met him and given him a chance.
Over time, things should ease up and become a little more comfortable between you and he. Keep the tone of any meeting professional and try and let the children see that you are able to speak to him without animosity. If you can be civil to each other, as well as easy going and helpful it will make everyone’s lives easier.
How You Can Help Your Kids
Your children will be going through a major change in their lives when your ex finds a new partner. They will suddenly be having to share their mother with someone else and may well have to adjust to a new person living in their home.
Make sure you’re not dismissive when you speak to them about him, however hard it is. Younger children in particular may look to see how you respond to him and pick up on your feelings. It won’t help if you manoeuvre them into feeling negative about him, it will simply give them anxiety and make their lives less happy. And if they do get on well with him, they may feel guilty about it.
Your role is to be a rock for them. Reassure them that nothing will change their relationship with you, he won’t be replacing you and you will always be there for them. And then make sure you are, as often as you can be. Don’t be tempted to indulge them with treats and gifts; what they really need is quality time with you. This doesn’t have to be trips out or vacations, quality time is simply time when you are connecting with each other, over meals, shared books, games or movies for example. Concentrate on giving them a relaxed, pleasant time with you. Let them talk about him if they want to, and try and put your own feelings aside for their sakes. It won’t be easy, but if you manage it you really will be a great dad.
Throughout this difficult time, remember to look after yourself. Remind yourself that there are still good things ahead for you and that this will pass. Focus on building strong, healthy and happy relationships with your children and on creating a good life for yourself instead of focusing on dealing with your ex and her new partner. These are your priorities now, and negative emotions have no place with you.
This is without a doubt one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. Seeing your children accepting a new man into their lives and reacting with good grace can feel impossible at times. But persevere. You may be filled with negative emotions, but put every ounce of effort into putting the negativity aside while you’re with your children. In the end, this will help you too; by getting into the habit of behaving in a positive and easy going manner, you have a good chance of raising your own mood and being able to cope well with the change. As time goes by, the new situation will become easier and more comfortable for everyone and you’ll feel happier about the future as it becomes clearer that although your ex has a new man in her life, your place in your children’s lives will never be in doubt.
Are you divorced or separated and exhausted by the interactions with your former or soon-to-be former spouse? Does it feel, some days, like you get no respite from the crazy? Do you respond in kind to her rants in an attempt to stop it? Do your kids get caught in the verbal cross-fire or notice when you are angry or upset with their mother? Are you at your wit’s end about how to manage? You have learned that no matter what you do you cannot change your former spouse. She rants, she raves, she tries to control what and how you do things no matter what. Getting outraged with her has made no difference. In fact, the only result is that you may feel depleted after you’ve expended energy to attempt to put her in her place.
What then, can you do? The answer may be simpler than you imagine is possible. You may want to sit down for this because it will surprise you. You may need to shift what you do in response to her to change the way things are going. You may need to change. Now, let’s be very clear: we aren’t talking about blaming you. In fact, let’s set aside the idea that you play any role in the unreasonable behavior of your former spouse. It’s surely true our exes know just how to “push those reactive buttons” that make us roar but what if you mostly don’t take the bait? I recommend three techniques that I have found both useful and productive for my clients. It is important to give them a little time to work. It took you and your former spouse a long time to develop the pattern you have now. Shifting the manner in which you interact now will take time too. But it may preserve your sanity and, most importantly, allow you to co-parent your children for many years to come and allow your children to flourish. What’s better than that?
1. Stay Calm No Matter The Outrageous Behavior
Have you ever noticed that once someone escalates a situation, with their voice or behavior, everyone else tends to get worked up too? What if you don’t do that? What happens, if you are screamed at—in person or by text or email—but you don’t respond in kind? You may be surprised to learn than escalation responded to with additional escalation is not very good for you or anyone else. In fact, it’s also true that the most successful people learn how to manage their emotions even when situations are very heightened. http://bit.ly/2HLVOyf Otherwise, your ability to focus and avoid anxiety is diminished. So, even if she tells you (or worse yet, your kids) that you have done something wrong, do not take the bait. If a response is required, deal with the underlying issue and none of the other stuff. Also, and this may be most important, take a break before responding. This is, perhaps, the single most important way to keep calm when under attack. If no one is on fire and there is no immediate logistical issue to be addressed, wait to respond, and only do that if it’s necessary
2. Know When To Hold ‘Em And When To Fold ‘Em
As Kenny Rogers, the country crooner once soulfully said in a song written in 1976 by Don Schlitz:
You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
These sage words, written for a gambler, are just as important to someone who is divorced. In fact, in divorce communications it’s always better to check your ego at the door permanently. Just because something inaccurate is said to or about you does not mean a response is necessary. Explaining a falsehood or misrepresentation is mostly a misguided and time-wasting exercise.
In the event you are worried about what others will think if you don’t make it right, remember this: people may enjoy the gossip around your divorce but, honestly, they don’t really care about the details. Sure, juicy tidbits are fun for most people to hear, especially those who don’t want to focus on the mess of their own lives, but they don’t really have the time, energy or inclination to sort out the truth of the matter. In fact, if they are so interested in you, they likely already know. If they don’t, why should they? One of the most painful parts of divorce is letting go of people you supposed were friends. In fact, they may have been friendly, school acquaintances of your kids or just people in your life who love good gossip (and who like to avoid their own mess at home). Whoever they are, take a deep breath and let it go. Fighting to win the friend or convincing anyone of anything (unless you are in a court of law, god forbid) is likely not worth it. Deal with your co-parent as needed on issues important for your kids. And let the rest go.
When you need to communicate, choose email or text except when a communication is urgent. Be direct, kind and include any important deadlines for a response. Don’t badger after sending an email and only follow up if no response arrives timely according to the issue at hand. Keep your opinions to yourself and include only what’s needed to move the ball forward for your kids. Straightforward honest and kind communication, without extraneous details, goes a long way to improving your relationship with your former spouse. Or, at least, keeping you sane while dealing with a difficult personality who may never change.
3. Give It Time
The only certainty is change. If you can hold this idea high in your mind during and post-divorce, you can recognize that the high conflict dynamic, if you have one, can shift. Sometimes it has nothing to do with how people behave, although it certainly can, but it can simply be a matter of time. People calm down, heal or get their attention diverted to something else. Whatever occurs, you do not need to think that because things are bad now, they will always be this way. So, instead of trying to “fix” the problem, just do what’s needed and give it time. In fact, it’s preferable to do what’s needed, and no more, in order to avoid additional escalation. It may seem counterintuitive, as many believe more is always better but, sometimes, less is just right. Communicate only when needed about what’s needed.
If you can make your focus your work, kids and social life, including your family and friends, you may just find that you don’t need the conflict to sustain you. A connection, even with conflict, is just that. Whether it’s you or your spouse, staying escalated with each other is way more energy than required to co-parent your kids. Try to think of your former spouse as a business contact with whom you need to have a long and productive relationship for the most important product of all: your child(ren). Even if you have nothing in common, and active distaste for each other, you did manage to have a family at one point and time. So, now, create whatever boundaries you need to keep an arm’s length, child focused view of your former spouse.
In sum, although you can never change your former spouse, and she may be wrong and driving you crazy, you can decide what about her behavior is intolerable for you. When you know, do what it takes to acknowledge it, to yourself, and then let it go. Don’t harass, rant, rave or otherwise create additional escalation for yourself or your child(ren). By doing everything you can to contain and take care of yourself and your children, you will do far better for you and them in the long run. In the meantime, make sure you have the support you need and that your children do too. It can get better and you can be a part of the plan to make that happen.