If you have kids with someone you’re never over your divorce. The fracture that changed everyone’s lives, is something you will be a part of forever. And while even in the most cooperative divorce things are tough, fighting against you ex is never a good idea.
I read a business book once called You Can’t Win a Fight with Your Boss. The point was, you might WIN the argument but it would be a loss for your career. So the idea was to not argue directly, but to use more indirect and subtle methods to get the results you want. Divorce is the same way. A direct confrontation is never fruitful, but you will have disagreements. And even as it might feel justified or righteous to lash out when you’ve been wronged, it’s NEVER the right idea.
I know I don’t live by this ideal all the time. And in the earlier years of my divorce I was less patient. I prided myself on my witty cutting responses. But they never solved the issue. I might’ve scored a few bitter points, but the recoil was always coming.
As you move further away from your ex-partner and begin to form a new life without them, the interactions and transactions become easier. Once the heart is out of the relationship, you can deal with them like you would a cousin, or coworker. They don’t need any of your feelings, they just need to negotiate clearly and cleanly about things like school projects, dentist appointments, and what sports you’ll cover during the coming year.
You don’t get a clean break in divorce. You get your time back, and you get to coordinate your kid’s lives together for the rest of your lives. As much as you’d like to run the other way, and get the hell out of dodge, if you’ve got kids… Well, that’s not an option.
It’s not always a pleasant transaction, but the more business-like you can approach your ex-partner, the easier it will be to clear the BS and get to the parenting tasks or decisions at hand.
Often the reasons we got divorced had to do with poor communication. And as things degraded for me, our listening skills suffered greatly. I am just as guilty of this as she was. I simply did not want to hear any of her pain any more. I couldn’t hear it. And thus we both began to shut down the intimacy and connections. It was hardly noticeable at first, but as the emotional distance grew, our ability to negotiate also became strained.
So you got divorced, in part, because your communication and trust with the other person broke down. In divorce you have the same issues, the same decisions to make, and you still have your fractured communication skills. AND, now you don’t even care for the person very much. It is dangerous waters. And the littlest things can give rise to heated exchanges and escalations until both of you are back in the “dysfunctional marriage” again. This is where you DON’T want to go.
You have to do the anger and pain work outside the primary relationship. Once you get yourself healed, you can open up hear what the issue is and work to solve the problem. That’s what parenting after divorce is about: making joint decisions with as little drama as possible, and not stirring up the anger or hurt of the divorce for you or your kids.
So you’re not getting “INTO” divorce, but you’re getting into co-parenting. How you deal with your ex is a good indicator as to how whole you have become. If you are still triggered into anger, or fuck-yous, you might have more work to do outside the relationship with your ex.
We’re going for a relationship with our ex that approximates going into a convenience store, you go in and take care of your transaction. You don’t really need to know about the clerk’s day or feelings. In the same way, you want to conduct business with your ex without any of the other stuff. Sometimes, for me, it’s helpful if I imagine her in a Burger King uniform, maybe with a Burger King Halloween mask on. I chuckle and release the tension and try to pay attention to the issue or decision we need to make.
So when I’m asked, “Are you over your divorce?” I suppose the real answer is, “No, I never will be.” Because your kids are the connector that keep you bound to that person forever. And while emotionally you are DONE with the other person, the new role within the divorce, the role of the co-parent, is essential.
I have heard stories of divorces going very differently, and I can’t really offer any experience around the vindictive ex, or the parent who is trying to keep the kids from having a healthy relationship with the other parent. And I know, as a man, there are a lot of stories where the men are sidelined through some dirty politics and legal shenanigans. But I did not have that experience. And I am doing everything I can to be a present dad for my kids. And being courteous to their mom is 100% part of that deal.
I’ve seen and heard the divorces where the ex rants about their asshole partner in front of the kids. It’s awful. There is never any good reason to slam your former partner in front of the kids. Never. If it’s a legal issue, or money issue, take it to the counselors or to the court, if necessary, but do not act it out in front of your kids.
I don’t want to return to an intimate relationship with my ex-wife, but the intimacy we share in raising our kids is more important and deeper than any of our feelings of loss or anger. We have to get OVER our emotional divorce in order to get INTO healthy divorced parenting roles. There’s nothing more important. Heal yourself. Heal your relationships with your kids. And never let your ex become the enemy. You both have the same goals for your kids, and as a team you still have to shine and show up for them 100% of the time.
You can’t win a fight with your ex.
image: tango couple, pedro ignacio guridi, creative commons usage