Tag Archives: my angry ex

In Divorce: No We Can’t Be Friends

whole-dontkissme

Let’s do it differently, please.

I’d like things to be different between my ex-wife and me. I’d like us to be friends. I’d like us to be cordial and be good parents. But that’s not how it’s gone between us and I’m sad about it. I learned today, there’s enough sadness to go around, and too little happiness. What we are looking for in divorce is finding the joy of parenting, and not just the managed tolerance of one another. I’d like it to be different, but I’m only one voice.

As with the divorce, I would’ve stayed married for the kids. And perhaps that was not the right answer either. But as it fell apart I tried to stay connected. I tried to stay close.

Sure, I did my best as a collaborative divorcing parent, but as things got tough, the tough came between us and created anger. Perhaps I walled up that anger as indifference. I’d rather not know anything about my ex-wife’s life. I’m content to know she’s remarried and that my kids like the other guy.

But it’s not enough. I still want us to be friends. I still have this idea of us being cordial to one another. And, unfortunately, that — again — is not what it’s like.

And yesterday it took a third-party to finally get it through my thick head. I am writing a tv series about divorce and I was meeting with my cowriter. As we talked about our divorces I gave her an example.

“So, I’ve been out of work for a few months and yesterday I notified my ex that I’d gotten a new job and that the AG’s office had been notified. I was at least expecting a response. A ‘Good job,’ or something.”

“Oh,” She said. “You still think you are friends.”

“Well, yes, we try to be friendly.”

“She’s not your friend. And you need to stop expecting anything from her. Any acknowledgement of your good deeds would mean she’s still engaged with you. She’s not. She’s moved on.”

“So I’m just like a paycheck for her, and she doesn’t care about me at all?”

“Basically.”

“That sucks.”

“Welcome to divorce.”

“Okay, so I know and I’ve written that serenity begins and ends with me. But I was expecting us to at least be cordial.”

“Why?”

“Well, we’ve still got kids together.”

“Yes, but she’s focused on them. She doesn’t care about you and your journey. She’s glad you’ve got your new job because it means the steady checks are going to start coming in again. That’s why she turned you over to the AG’s office. She’d rather not deal with you at all.”

I’m not sure I’m fully over the idea of us being friends, but I sure got a lesson in practical divorce yesterday from my cowriter. Sometimes it’s great to be given the view from the other side of divorce.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Back to Positive Divorce & Co-Parenting

related posts:

image: don’t kiss me, creative commons usage

Please Don’t Underestimate My Fragility or My Ferocity

I have a bit of a mood problem. It seems that when my life gets really tough (bounced checks, trouble at work, arguments at home) I sometimes collapse into a depression. It’s not often, but when it happens it surprises everyone around me with the change in my energy, demeanor, and general outlook on life.

I was mad. I was a little afraid. And slightly intimidated by the event. But the overwhelming feeling was one of injustice.

On the opposite pole is my joy and excitement when I’m on a roll. I tend to be one of those creative people who generate ideas by the boat load. When I’m happy, I try to capture and execute on as many of them as possible. This sets up a bit of a whammy. When I’m hitting stride in my ferocious mode, I’m a bit of an asshole. I know what I want and I don’t take kindly to people, economics, or laws getting in my way.

I got a speeding ticket the other day. This was a prime example of my indignation at the officer trying to help me be more safe. I had excuses (though I didn’t tell him) and a lot of frustration, but I chose to keep my mouth shut. The fact is I know I was going to fast. But I wanted to blame the traffic. The cop. The fact that I switched cars for the week with my fiance. The additional fact that my radar/laser detector was in the other, faster, car.

I was mad. I was a little afraid. And slightly intimidated by the event. But the overwhelming feeling was one of injustice. How did this guy pick me from BEHIND the cluster of cars on a flat road. And the point is, it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t have to prove it.

So I was in ferocious mode, but I was smart enough to reel it in and keep my mouth shut. This is also my pattern when I’m depressed. On the other hand, when I’m ON I have a hard time not saying the first thought that comes to mind. I want to let others around me know (often jokingly) how they missed my point, or didn’t respond the way I wanted them to. Sure, I’m a bit of a jerk.

But sometimes it’s the jerks that are efficient and powerful. It’s the people with ferocious wills who project their ideas and energy onto others in order to get some things done.

This is not easy. I’m not used to living dollar-to-dollar, paycheck-to-paycheck, but since my divorce this is what I’ve gotten. That’s how divorce works.

I am getting things done at the moment. Everything is going swimmingly. And then I bounced a check. Or a couple checks. Just like my speed trap, it wasn’t my fault. It was a timing/accounting detail. I mean, why am I having to count down to the dollar anyway? Why am I paying sooooo much child support AND the full health insurance premium for my kids? Well, regardless of what I think the answer should be, the bank operates by its own rules.

Today I entered the bank and talked to a man about my overdraft fees. He was sympathetic. I can’t get a credit card to protect against overdraft charges. The bank’s card services division was one of the creditors I still haven’t paid off.

This is not easy. I’m not used to living dollar-to-dollar, paycheck-to-paycheck, but since my divorce this is what I’ve gotten. That’s how divorce works. The dad gets the child support payment the mom gets the kids (custody) and the house.

I’m not ready to go to court to challenge our arrangement, but I shouldn’t have to. It’s the fact that my ex-wife turned it all over to the Attorney General’s office, that it has become a real problem. She didn’t need to do that. I was telling her all along that I was going to pay 100% of the money. But she got mad. She got scared. She acted in what she thought was the best interest of the kids. And she inadvertently prevented me from refinancing my house.

If you married and decided to have kids with some 70% – 30% split, perhaps you could start with the standard divorce plan, but it’s a loser for everyone.

Please consider you partner when you make decisions about divorce. The kids need both parents equally. And the more you burden each other with troubles, debt, or “enforcement” the worse it is going to be for all of you. It’s like shooting out the tires of your ex-partner’s car and realizing later that they had to miss a child support payment to pay for the tires. (This did NOT happen in my relationship, it’s an example.)

The whole custodial, non-custodial mess is part of the problem. Always go for joint custody. If you married and decided to have kids with a 70% – 30% split, perhaps you could start with the standard divorce plan, but it’s a loser for everyone. If you think winning against your ex is a good thing, you’re wrong. It’s a victory against your kids and against your own best interests. Listen to me. Go 50/50 all the way, just as you joined and decided to share the responsibility of having kids.

Anything less is abusive to the losing partner. The real loss, of course, is how it affects the kids.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce & Co-parenting

related posts:

image: durban 1995, creative commons usage

Giving Your Co-parent a Break

WHOLE-fatherdaughter

Hitting delete instead of send can make all the difference.

I had another one of those moments this morning. An email from the mother of my children saying some passive-aggressive things that got my blood boiling. Just as I was getting ready to respond in kind—I stopped. That’s the key. Don’t. Ever. Send. The. Angry. Email. Ever.

One of the risks in both active relationships and co-parenting is that we think we have an idea of what’s going on in the other person’s life.

One of the risks in both active relationships and co-parenting is that we think we have an idea of what’s going on in the other person’s life. We read an email and we think, “Wow, that’s really messed up.” Then we have a choice.

  1. We can take the other person’s inventory (a 12-step concept) and tell them what we think
  2. We can pay attention to our own business and feelings alone and manage those.

You can tell which choice is the high road, right?

I never need to respond to a snarky email from my ex-wife. If I stay focused on the goal of parenting and supporting my kids, I can see that sending off a little jab to my ex at 7:00 in the morning would be detrimental to everyone’s lives. Why give her more stress? She, obviously, is dealing with more than she can handle, and in those circumstances things come out sideways. They come out sideways not just at me but at everyone around her. I can do my part to support her and my kids in whatever form necessary, or I can be a jerk.

♦◊♦

This morning I had the calm awareness that the issue was not about her email. The issue was my continued attachment to her as my kid’s mom and custodial parent. I don’t get to remove that relationship, and thus it is important for me to remember that every single interaction has a consequence. If I let a few zingers blow past me and simply say, “Thank you” when the actual result is a YES to my request, I am giving both her and my kids a break.

I’m not trying to take the high road here, either. My anger and frustration at her response is mine and mine alone. Together we have raised resilient and intelligent kids. She is doing the best she can, and she’s doing a fine job. I cannot know what else is going on in her life. I’m no longer married to her, so unless it affects our kids directly, it’s none of my business. My business is taking input, making requests, and responding with love, or at the very least balanced compassion, to her requests.

When I’m feeling frustrated, I find this reminder helpful. My ex and I only need to talk about:

  1. Money
  2. School
  3. Extracurricular Activities
  4. Parenting

Everything else is off the table. This morning, I didn’t need to respond to her jab, I merely needed to thank her for accepting my request. The tone of her reply and acceptance was not relevant to any of the four topics.

♦◊♦

When I can do something for my ex-wife (such as be flexible with a schedule, run an extra errand, even bring soup to her when she’s sick and her boyfriend is unavailable), I’m doing it for my kids first.

Clean up your relationship with your ex, and you will clean up a lot of the drama and emotional baggage of the divorce. Take care of what you *can* take care of and then let the rest flow like water under a bridge. And always, always, always take the high road. Your kids deserve the happiest parents they can get, because they’ve been through enough. When I can do something for my ex-wife (such as be flexible with a schedule, run an extra errand, even bring soup to her when she’s sick and her boyfriend is unavailable), I’m doing it for my kids first.

By considering my kids in every interaction with my ex, I begin to let go of all of the friction between us. It’s no longer about the two of us. The clearer I can get that in my head, the better I get at responding in a business-like and neutral way. This morning it was about scheduling, nothing more. The undertone was angry and exhausted. While married I might have tried to interact with her on an emotional level, to see if there was more that I could do to make her life easier. But that’s the hook. When you are divorced, the entire relationship is about scheduling, school, parenting, and money. Nothing else.

It’s hard to hear a person in anguish and not want to help. The best help I can provide is a clean interaction and honoring her ability to deal with whatever she’s going through on her own. She no longer needs or wants help or love from me; she needs simple and clear answers. Even when she’s not able to rise above the noise floor of the stress in her life, today I can remain detached from my own desire to *fix* and simply be positive. The best I can do is to take care of myself in the best way I can, and give her the support she asks for, nothing more. And when her ask crosses my boundaries, I speak up for myself and reframe my request until we reach an agreement.

Remember this: Nothing is about US any more—it’s about THEM. Detach from the emotional strings between you and your ex, and you can be more available to listen and respond with balance and caring. Caring for your kids by being simple and clear with your co-parent is the path to simpler lives for all of you.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

back to Positive Divorce

related posts:

image: father daughter, john mcelhenney, creative commons usage