There were several stellar examples of broken couples who were able to make it work for their children’s sake in my opinion. “It’s all about the kids,” they told me. It’s not easy, but we just put our differences aside and know that what we are doing in holding a structure together is ultimately the best thing for the kids.” I was mesmerized by these people. They would still go on vacations together, have family dinner nights, do holidays together and were even still in touch with their ex-in-laws.
When I began counseling with my ex, I thought the sky was the limit for possibilities of how we could handle this. I recall telling him, “We need to remember that we are an amazing team, and if anyone can handle this in a positive and out of the box way, we can.” I had it all worked out. We could build an extra floor over the carport and one of us could live there. We could all be in the same place for the kids, and though we may see other people, we could maintain this for a few years until the kids were bigger and I had a full-time job.
Apparently, this was not a shared vision, and maybe some of it was too much to ask; however, I thought for sure we could at least keep things together enough for the kids. As the separation and divorce proceedings progressed, it went from bad to worse. The court documentation insinuated a scenario of me having left my ex and the children which was extremely far from the truth. It went on to attack my personal character as a mother and as a person.
Though I came to separate from the emotionality of these written statements and understood that they were simply really nasty negotiating tactics, it was obvious that with these attacks, I could not manifest the amicable divorce that I had so hoped for. I realized that truly it takes two people who are both willing to put their personal interests aside to put the children first.
The most challenging part was that the way he handled everything was so well strategized to take advantage of the societal pressure of me wanting to look like a good mom that I was sort of getting guilted and shamed into agreeing with things just for the kids sake, even though they weren’t actually good for me or my kids.
Though I am not a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist, therefor unable to fully diagnose, from a lay perspective within a relationship with this person, there were definitely psychopathic and narcissicsitic tendencies that made navigating the passive aggressive manipulative behavior very tricky. Here are three tips on how to work with any divorce or separation regardless of having children when you are working with an ex or soon to be ex that does not cooperate. Each tip builds on the last and are important use together.
Creating Boundaries and Disengaging What does it mean to disengage? Disengaging means to be able to hear what they are saying, read what they are writing or listen to their voice mail message and only hear the subtext of what they are expressing. Usually there is a demand, and the subtext reads something like this, “I am feeling out of control and powerless, and I am therefore trying to control you or the situation the way I used to.”
The pattern of behavior and the feedback that you had provided for your ex by either telling them that, “yes, that’s a great idea” or even screaming “no way” was your past typical reaction and they are used to that. To disengage means no longer giving the reaction that you are used to providing. Usually your reaction was one that really actually turned them on.
When we learn to disengage, we are creating a new boundary. You can disengage and create a new boundary with the quality of your response, or by establishing a new behavior. You will be learning to take the feeling of urgency out of your response and thus, disengage:
- Email—Maybe you only check your email from your ex in the evening. Or possibly you only respond to the email once a week.
- Texts—You make it a point to create a new boundary with your response to text messages by only responding to it in an email that is documented. Or possibly you will wait and allow time to pass before responding.
- Phone Calls—Your ex may like to call and harass you by phone. You don’t have to answer. It’s amazing, I know, but you can let it go to voice mail. Listening to the voice mail allows you to assess without the other party on the line whether or not the content is worthy of a phone response or can be dealt with through an email.
Cultivating Authenticity: Letting go of what people think This tip is one I really worked on, and it also happens to be the #1 guidepost as put forth by Brené Brown’s Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. When we let go of what other people think we should be doing as it relates to how we respond or react to our ex, then we begin to make choices that are in alignment with our own authenticity. We therefore begin making choices for ourselves. When we make choices for ourselves, we increase our self-esteem and our own personal power and clarity of mind grows.
It’s not easy to let go of what other people think. In general, we constantly have concern for how we appear to others based on the decisions we make. Will we look like we are making an effort to work together? Will we look bad if we tell them no? Will we look bad if we tell them yes? We spend a ton of time thinking about what other people’s response to our choice in how we respond to our ex will be. There are many ways to begin to learn to let go of what other people think and this is done in my balance of working with the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual in my divorce coaching practice; however, working with #3 will give you a good base for being able to start to let go of what other people think.
Grounding and Centering Learning how to be grounded and centered in your response to a crazy person is very important. There are many different ways to learn to stay grounded. Overall self care on all levels, mental, emotional, physical and spiritual will help you to maintain a grounded space. Depending on who you are, your tastes, distastes, beliefs and routines. I might recommend anything in the realm of learning to meditate, create an uplifting playlist, journal writing, doing some personal energetic clearing or watching some funny movies. Regardless of what you do to assist you in staying or creating a sense of grounding, doing it with regularity or developing a practice of doing it before interacting with your ex will allow you to stay disengaged and will also create enough space to not care so much about what people think.
Though having an amicable divorce is what we may be striving for, it is not always in the cards when we are dealing with said insanity. Learning to utilize the three tips for working with an ex who doesn’t want to work cooperatively will not only smooth your interactions, it will create a more balanced sense of wellbeing by creating more calm in body, mind and heart.