So many times we rely on milestones to signal changes in our lives. Marriage represents a change into full adulthood and independent family, a change in depth of relationship, and the path to loyalty and commitment. Divorce represents the break between one way of life and the beginning of another, the divide between past and future. In reality, nothing in life changes overnight. Relationships are created and dissolved over the course of thousands of small interactions and moments shared. Being married carries a different weight with it but your emotions and opinion of your partner don’t change pre and post ceremony. Divorce gives you some finality but nothing forces you to detach upon the signing of your final divorce decree. Sometimes the symbolism of an event can help change your mindset, but in reality, life happens to us every day and not just in one moment.
Conflict is a powerful force that keeps you tied to the past.
Conflict becomes an emotional stranglehold that can tie us to a person, time, or state of mind. If high conflict is present, the other person ends up dominating your thoughts and emotions all of the time. You may be apart physically, you may have tried to divorce yourself mentally, but the constant ups and downs, the surges of anger and frustration, keeps you focused on your Ex.
Whenever something comes up with the kids or a decision has to be made, your body tenses and your Ex’s voice is in your head, you begin to prepare for the fight ahead which reinforces all of the negative emotions your Ex creates. At a certain point this reaction becomes so ingrained that to change it feels like you are going to have to give in, give up, or change your identity. Without boundaries, you can’t actually divorce from each other and truly separate, even if you are causing each other pain.
You do not want to stay in this place.
Keep in mind that your marriage was not meant to be: the path you were following was not the right one for you. Now your job is to make your separation what your marriage couldn’t be. Can you heal by giving your Ex what they need to be able to walk away? Do you need to resolve why the marriage failed? Do you both need to acknowledge the marriage wasn’t all bad? Do you both need to take responsibility for being different people who couldn’t be fully compatible in their beliefs? The way you separate is in your control: being tied together in a hurtful relationship is never the best option. If you couldn’t stay together on good terms, please don’t let yourselves be together forever on bad terms.
Both of you will be okay without the other.
You can both raise your children without being controlled by each other.
You can work through the emotions you feel, appreciate the life you had and work towards your true purpose.
Prior to your final divorce, you may have fought for the Court to see your view of the situation but once the decision is final, the fighting must end. If it doesn’t, then you might as well have stayed married because you would have been better off financially and no worse off emotionally. Divorce is supposed to help you move forward on a better path. You can’t wait for something to change to make things better. You can’t wait for your Ex to have a change of heart or a different approach to parenting, or to become more cooperative. You can make things better by being the agent of change!
Your chronic conflict may be warping your perception of things – they might not be as bad as you think.
One of the things that may be keeping you and your Ex from changing the situation is the perception of the situation. Do you and/or your Ex have a narrow, rigid notion about what is happening with your children and believe there is only one acceptable solution to it?
Anger and stress do horrible things to your brain. Your emotions keep your brain from being open to new information that contradicts your feelings. Having chronic stress keeps your brain from thinking logically or being imaginative. Anger keeps you focused only on your emotions, it will sharpen some areas of thinking and memory and distort others. Your account of how things happened may not be reliable if you were overcome by anger, hurt, or fear during the event.
If your emotions take over there is a tendency to see your Ex’s actions and words as only negative and your actions and words as just what was required. This isn’t really your fault, at this point emotions have hijacked your body and your brain! You’ve been fighting with your Ex for so long that to see things from a different perspective, to be quiet, or to walk away, may seem as if you are just letting your Ex win.
The MOST Important Thing is for Your Kids to be HAPPY!
One way to change your pattern of interaction is to change your perception of what is happening. You may need to help your Ex change their perception of the situation as well. Why did the Court decide the way they did? If you are frustrated and don’t understand, have one more meeting with your attorney or better yet, have your attorney write you a memo that thoroughly explains what the judge saw looking into your family.
Is there anything you and your Ex can agree on about your kids? Can you agree that the kids seem to be safe when with either parent? Can you agree that the kids are doing okay in school? That your kids have friends, are clean, healthy, and seem happy most of the time? Is there a way to re-tell your children’s story the way it is at this moment that gives them a happy childhood? Can you put in perspective each other’s concerns about the kids in relation to things that are truly outside of anyone’s control such as concerns over your child being on time vs the everyday dangers of of illness, cancer, car accidents, climate change, etc…. ?
If your Ex is locked onto a narrow and rigid view of things and creates a lot of conflict, start using the words, “the kids seem really happy.” Try not to say it in defense of your decisions or to prove you are right, but around neutral subjects. For instance, when speaking about their grades, teachers or school-life, say the words, “they seem really happy.” Kids aren’t happy just when they go on vacation or get a new puppy – kids should be happy doing most activities (or none at all). Tell your Ex how they were watching their favorite movie the other night and they just seem to be doing well, “they seem happy.” BOTH of you need to appreciate these moments so you can know that even with the family separation, the kids will still have a healthy and normal childhood.
Learn to detach completely and maintain boundaries.
Even if your Ex continues to be high-conflict, if you can get to the point where you do not see them as an enemy or someone who controls your life, thoughts, and emotions, you will not be as affected by their behavior. This is a difficult process and may require the help of a professional therapist. In the meantime, work on developing a life that you love that is all yours. Do more activities that are self-affirming. Acknowledge your preferences, whether they are for eating certain foods or doing certain activities. Visualize your goals – where would you like to be in a month from now, three months from now, in one year? Visualize how you will be different independent of what decisions your Ex makes or how they are behaving. This is your new life! Only you control which road you follow and the home you create for you and your kids.