Tag Archives: anger in divorce

Prayer for Single Parents, and My Ex

WHOLE-prayer

“I wish you happiness in your new life, I always want to see you shine, you are the other half, the partner in this parenting journey we accepted together. Your joy is joy for our kids. Your peace is their peace, and mine. As we walk separate paths we are blameless and grateful for the gifts we’ve been given. And to you, my dear ex, I give the deepest respect and love. Thank you for where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going, still a family, still parents, still blessed.”

I haven’t always been able to bless my ex-wife. And for times in our marriage neither of us were blessing anyone. It was hard. We tried. We worked at it. We raised kids and grew together and then apart in the process. But we never stopped trying. And I can see that we are still trying today.

I know that my ex-partner is doing the best she can under the circumstances. She always has. And though we have both had periods of struggle and doubt, we seem to be on the upswing of our co-parenting transition. I do believe that there is nothing she wouldn’t do to make our kid’s lives better. And I have to believe that she is always looking out for their best interest, even when I can’t see it.

Somedays, I pine for being a core family again. Somedays, I look back and wonder what I could’ve, we could’ve, done to preserve the respect and love that we once had. And other days I can get so mad, wishing things were different, right now. Wishing I had the next relationship under way, like she does. But that’s not what this is about.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about.

This is about our kids. Two wonderful kids. The supreme focus of my life. And there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. To keep them safe, to protect them from unnecessary drama and hurt, to help them grow into strong independent adults. And I have to know that she has the same intention in mind, even when I think things aren’t going as they should. It’s okay. We still have our differences. And my “way” is not the right way, it’s just my way. She has her own connection with the kids. She has her own path. And now we no longer share that path.

Communication is the key. The less we communicate… The more we communicate… It can be hard. And it is often the cause for friction in this co-parenting dance. So we need to take it more carefully. Answer with some thought to how the other person may react. Breathe when we are upset and want to react. It is never a good idea to fire back with anger. Never.

My anger is my own. My ex-wife does not deserve any of it. (Man that is even hard to say.) But it’s true. We tried, we negotiated a truce and separation, and now we are separate countries with shared resources. We still operate with some of the same interdependent budgets, but we’ve got a new autonomy. And what makes me angry is mainly my own unmet expectations. This is not the way I wanted it to work out. But guess what? It’s not the way she wanted it either. So we’re even. And we’re in this together.

Anger is a funny beast. At first I was afraid to express my anger. And I was almost a pacifist. But pacifists get run over. And over time I learned to speak up for my own needs. And indeed, I got mad as we entered the late stages of our marriage, when things were not going well, I spoke up. And again, today, I can feel my anger, but I can use it to change things about MY life and not hers. And anger is not an influencer for her, it’s only an irritant.

It’s ironic, that when she’s frustrated with me, I can tell. And I sort of take offense. AND… I’d like to respond in-kind. But I’ve learned, that I get NO RESULTS and NO SATISFACTION from being an asshole. In fact, being angry back at her, usually causes me to feel sad. That is not to say I should swallow my anger. This is how I gained 15 pounds during the height of our dysfunction. But I should own my anger. It is mine.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support.

Anger today is a motivating force for me. I can be angry at my ex-wife, I can be angry at the economy, angry at the slow-moving car in front of me, there are plenty of things to get angry about. And keeping it inside is not the healthy answer, so what is the way through the anger? For me, anger is energy. When I am angry, I can tap that charge and redirect it towards something constructive or creative. It’s one of the reasons writing has become such a release. It’s important not to bury it or squelch it. Anger is power, use it, but use it towards something you want.

As a single parent, there are many new challenges, things that were easier to coordinate as a couple. Now, when the kids are “with me” I have 100% of the transportation duties, 100% of the entertainment, and 100% of the feeding and handling. It’s a lot. And when I’m in a bind, I can often ask for help from my ex. You can see how my friendliness and flexibility makes things easier for her. Well, when I’m in need that “friendship” is what keeps things balanced between us. When we were in the earlier months of divorce, it was much less easy to ask for anything. Today, we are still learning, and still making adjustments, but for the most part, we negotiate support for one another.

Support for our kids is support for our ex. There is no way around it. Anger towards our ex is anger that ends up in our kid’s world. I can take that shit elsewhere, as I do when they are with me. It’s no different. My anger is my own, and it is my responsibility to leave it elsewhere, and deal with it outside of my relationship to my kids, and even my ex. Yep, it sucks, but there it is.

Anger is energy. Learn to deal with it and channel it towards something you want. Any anger directed back at your ex is anger that will return to  you ten-fold when you are in dire need of support. So a prayer. Our kids are a gift. My ex is blameless in her journey forward, and it is in my best interest to support her and the kids with everything I’ve got. And that’s what I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: yemanja, vince alongi, creative commons usage

The Divorce Ahead, Go Slow, Breathe

So, you're getting a divorceOnce my then-wife decided she was done with therapy and would rather divorce me than continue trying to “work things out,” my first reaction was to run. I was angry and I wanted to show her just how bad it would be without me. I wanted her to feel the immediate loss of her decision.

In my case the revelation came in a therapy session when I asked her, “Have you already been to see a lawyer?”

She looked ashamed and angry all in one second as she said, “Yes.”

I wanted to snap. I wanted to yell. I wanted to breakdown and jump off a bridge. I sat there and put my head in my hands. I didn’t cry. Not then. Both she and the therapist suggested that I move out and give her and the kids some time out from under the stress of the recent month.

“No way.” I regained my center of gravity. “If you’re in so much pain you can move out, or take a vacation, go visit your family.”

And over the next week I continued stating my position, “The kids are two months from finishing school. If we’re getting a divorce, fine, but there’s plenty of work to be done between now and then. And I don’t want to drop this on our kids before they are out of school.”

I girded up my armor to do battle for the health and well-being of my kids. I reaffirmed my decision to stay in the house until school was out. And I also committed to directing as much of my anger as possible to him and away from my ex-to-be.

Over the last few years I have come to understand, that though my ex-wife is who made the first move and actually asked for the divorce, I had been voicing my dissatisfaction with the current state of our relationship for several months. It was a mutual decision to be in couple’s therapy for the second time. And I have her to thank for releasing us from a situation that had become unmanageable and unrecoverable.

It’s hard to imagine having those thoughts as I was hit with the shock of emotion that unravelled over the next two months. And while both she and my therapist advised repeatedly that I was being unreasonable, I was certain that letting our kids finish 2nd and 4th grade before we adults ripped our unit into two. It was the elementary school counselor who explained to my then-wife how it would really be best if we could wait until the summer. She’d seen so many divorces devastate kids academic and social confidence.

So we agreed to be roommates. And for a few painful months we alternated between sleeping on the couch and the family bed while we continued to go through the motions of parenting our two kids. And the thing to remember is that role and those motions are the part of the relationship that never ends.

Even divorced you have to keep discussing money, healthcare, logistics from school, carpooling to sporting events. There’s no leaving the relationship with your kids and thus from the moment you understand that you are getting a divorce from their other parent, you begin to form the next phase of your relationship: co-parenting.

But it’s a bit of a journey to get there. If you rush into the fury of divorce and start slashing and burning, you’re likely to damage yourself and everyone around you. The anger will come, and you must find OTHER ways of letting it out. Rage and vindictive behaviors towards your soon-to-be-ex will ultimately backfire.

In our case I began to drop into a depression over the course of the next two months, as I neared the precipice that I was still, somehow, hoping to avoid. I vacillated between charming “of course I’ll do it’ husband to “I hate you and am going to let you see what an ass I can be” future ex. But inside I was devastated. I was becoming more and more haunted by the trauma of my parent’s divorce.

In our logical fashion my still-wife and I engaged a family therapist who specialized in helping parents set up healthy parenting plans. And we marched towards June together in our wobbly orbits. As the kids became more excited about Summer and the end-of-the-year parties, I was going to weekly meetings to divide up their lives.

After that first session, when it was revealed that my then-wife had already been to see a lawyer, I called my old men’s therapist for an emergency session. I met him at his house the next morning and upon seeing him and being hugged, I wept. And he just held me, like a father might. And as I pulled apart what I was feeling, all I could think about was how I was going to tell the kids.

And then I wanted to fight. But the fight was about my own emotional hurt and not “what was best for the kids.”

My 5 year-old emotional memory of my parent’s divorce killed most of the joy in my life at the time it happened. I was sinking into that memory and allowing myself to feel the loss and the eventual death of my father. I couldn’t imagine putting my kids, my beautiful and innocent kids, through such a horrible tragedy.

Of course, what I understood once I felt that grief was that I was nothing like my father. And this divorce would be nothing like what I experienced. And with the help of my old friend and therapist, I girded up my armor to do battle for the health and well-being of my kids. I reaffirmed my decision to stay in the house until school was out. And I also committed to directing as much of my anger as possible to him and away from my ex-to-be.

When it initially came down, I really did want to run away. And then I wanted to fight. But the fight was about my own emotional hurt and not “what was best for the kids.” The situation sucks. The divorce is going to happen. Try and slow down. Get a person and place where you can voice and process the anger, outside of the marriage, and not with the marriage counselor either, your wife doesn’t need it to be part of that process.

There will be time for anger. There will be moments when anger is the only way you can find to stand up for what you believe to be right. But the rest is up to you.

In my case, it was important for me that my kids not be blindsided while they were still in school. (That’s how my parent’s divorce was revealed to me.) And the mechanics of divorce were going to take some time, so let’s just calm down and get to work on the next steps. And once my then-wife got onboard with that idea, we weathered the next two months with very little drama, on the outside. The devastation was starting to take its toll inside me. But I wouldn’t be able to listen or feel those feelings until I made it out the other side of the process. So… On to June we sailed in our leaky family boat.

Always love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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