If you’re going through a divorce, there is no doubt you are going to find yourself in some very difficult emotional states. Unfortunately, there is likely no one better at pushing your buttons (usually all at once) than your ex. Learning how to calmly navigate through the treacherous waters of divorce will take a strong emotional steadiness.
The best way to get through these turbulent emotional times is simply to notice you are in them without trying to change anything. This takes practice, patience and a great deal of personal compassion. We are going to make mistakes, and we need to learn to forgive ourselves as we go and keep striving to improve ourselves and our choices. Whether you like it or not, there are going to be days when you feel elated, and days you want to curl up in a little ball and cry. It’s all ok. Become an observer of your process; learn to pay attention to your feelings without allowing them to make choices for you. Make your choices based from a centered, calm place. The trick is learning how to return to this place when you are feeling knocked off balance, or worse, seeing red.
We can sometimes do and say things to people we care about that we immediately regret. Usually, it is because we are in reaction, often lashing back in defense. Sometimes the transgression is a response to current stimuli looking like something that has been threatening in the past, even where they may actually be no threat present, just a replaying of similar times in similar situations. We humans have a tendency to look for trouble; it’s hard wired into us. We have to be careful or we tend to react before we really take the time to create a more appropriate response.
So, when you are trying to figure out how you get so pissed off so easily every time you have to interact with your ex (or estranged) you need to do some personal assessment.
First of all, ask yourself whether you walk into the conversation expecting animosity, or looking to create it? You could already be losing your cool before you even open your mouth, or before she opens hers. I have a distinct memory of being approached by a previous lover during a quarrel and thinking to myself that she was actually insulting me just in the way she walked, I was so angry with her at the time. I was so caught up in defending my position I took her simple act of walking as a threat and aggressive act. I was already in an adversarial place emotionally long before any conversation arose, and a sure bet that I wasn’t going to be happy with anything she said.
We get plugged in. We get really attached to our ideas of what’s going to happen when we talk to someone who upsets us, and it doesn’t give us a whole lot of options when we actually begin communicating. We are already prepared for the worst.
While it certainly makes sense that we can feel vulnerable, attacked, betrayed and discounted or many other unpleasant emotions when we interact with our ex, we have to work to stay present and keep asking ourselves how everything is right now. Is she walking wrong, or am I already applying my past habits to the present moment? Paying attention to what we are feeling and, giving ourselves the space to make choices about how we will respond, opens up a huge place for us to have a different experience.
So, back to the question, are you antagonizing or being antagonized?
Chances are good it’s a bit of both. Clearly, if you are having a hard time with someone, they are most likely having a hard time with you, too. We’re very good at going on the offense as a good defense. So are they.
Try to think back to the last conversation you had with the ex. How did it start? Did she say hello? Did you? Did either of you offer a compliment or an insult? Did you cut to the chase and talked immediately about whatever issue was present, or did you dally around points and talk about the weather?
Think hard. Try to recall the exact conversation. Pay attention to when you started seeing red (or she did).
The more adept you become at recognizing when you are becoming upset, the more often you will make better decisions in your responses. How many times have you wished you could take those words or actions back? You act this way when you are in reaction, not when you are in action.
Promise yourself to start paying more attention to when you stop acting (meaning, making choices of your own balanced freewill) and start reacting (defending yourself, attacking, feelings of anger or confusion, knee-jerk or conditioned responses to confrontation). Again, remember that you can walk into a situation already in reaction. Check with your inner voice of reason. Ask yourself if you feel calm, or if you are already experiencing anxiety, anger, sadness or even elation, as these are all indications that you are creating expectations already.
Keep practicing at noticing when you are feeling calm and when you are not. The next time you have a communication with the ex, work hard to stay relaxed. Remember to breathe, remember that you get to choose how you feel.
Work on this and next time we’ll talk about some specific tricks to use in the moment that may help you in keeping your cool. Could a simple rubber band really make you a nicer guy?