Redefine The Relationship With Your Ex
Disclaimer: The materials and content within this podcast are intended as general information only and are not to be considered a substitute for professional legal advice or a consultation with a lawyer.
1. Family Law Tip of the Week
You are not alone.
If you are struggling with depression either within your marriage or because of your divorce, ask for help. There are people who love you. There are people who need you. Allow them to support you. Don’t give up on life. Don’t give up on yourself.
The world is a better place because of you.
2. Redefining Your Relationship With Your Ex
Not only has she done it in her own life, but Dr. Judy Rabinor now helps people transition in the relationship with the ex that may not be so great to a relationship where that person becomes an ally. Author of the book, “Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and, Yes, Your Ex,” Judy returns to The Family Law Insider to talk about creating guidelines for having a better relationship with your ex.
“I think people had to paint their ex in very dark colors in order to go through a divorce.”
Otherwise, why get divorced? An example is if somebody is in love with their spouse and this spouse has lost a job, they’ll say “I’m really unhappy. My ex is out of work and this is the 3rd time this has happened to him/her.” But when you get divorced you’d say, “You know why I’m getting divorced? I’m married to a loser! This person doesn’t work. Any job they’ve got, they’ve lost. This is not what I signed up for!”
People get that edge about them when they’re getting divorced. Things that they put up with suddenly look black, dark, and unacceptable. They wouldn’t get divorced if they’re accepting of each other’s shortcomings and frailties.
“One of the things I try to remind parents is that divorce doesn’t damage children.”
What damages children is how the divorce is handled. If the parents handle this in a civilized, calm, and compassionate way, it is not that difficult to create many different kinds of scenarios that enable children to have a good life. You need to keep in mind that your children’s well-being does not depend on the fact that you got divorced. It depends on how you handle your divorce.
A couple of things to start out with:
1. Create a vision of what you think a better divorce would look like.
“Take a moment and imagine it, because imagination is a powerful ally.”
Do you know anybody who’s had a better divorce? In this day and age, people would see a divorced couple who managed having Thanksgiving together.
Create a vision of what you want. Is it Thanksgiving? Is it when you drop your kids off that your ex just gives you a smile and says, “Have a good weekend”? What is it you want?
2. Think of your strengths and vulnerabilities.
“How did you get along with this person for years?”
You have to examine your own behavior. If your ex was always mad at you (even when you were married) because of things that you do, you have the option of changing some of these behaviors.
3. Pick one small thing you can change about yourself.
“Everybody comes to therapy wanting the other guy to change.”
It doesn’t work that way. The only person we can change is ourselves. There are no perfect people. If somebody thinks they’re perfect and it’s just the other guy at fault, there’s a lot of work they have to do to accept that all people make mistakes; all of us have frailties.
Some Of The Most Powerful Words
“Oops, I made a mistake!”
To apologize to your ex is a very kind and generous thing to do. To be able to initiate a conversation with your ex and say, “You know, I believe the kids will do better if we can be a little more collaborative, compassionate, and communicative, and I want to work on that. Are you willing?” It takes a big person to voice that invitation. To say, “We’re divorced and we have so many feelings that we have to process, individually. But we owe it to our kids to do the best job we can. Are you going to try and communicate with me? Are you willing to try and collaborate with me, to really put it out there?”
And every often, the ex will say “Yeah, but what does that mean?”
One can apologize with something in the past. Divorce really brings out the worst in people. But you can start with anything that’s like an apology. Often it’s really saying, “We can create new guidelines about how we’re going to be with each other.”
“It is the expression of approval.”
To Judith, “Wow!” is just an exclamation of enthusiasm. For example, even if you feel upset your your ex got a new car, you could say “Wow! What a great car. You always wanted that kind of car.” You don’t have to be mad at your ex for the rest of your life. These words are linked to deeper emotional concepts—such as letting go.
There are people who can’t let go. They want to tell you the same story after years. They have a lot of personal work to do in order to be able to let go. Judy makes it her job (and everybody’s job) to tell them that they need to keep the big picture in mind—children do better when parents can be kind and generous to each other.
“Thank you for bringing the kids back, safely.”
It sets a different tone in the relationship when you come from a place of gratitude. It centers you in a more loving, generous place. It releases important chemicals inside us when we remember to be grateful.
“Can you do something for me, please?”
We teach the children to use “please,” and then we don’t always use it.
These four words can create such a feeling of goodwill. And it’s the feeling of goodwill that is more important than any specific action. But it’s very hard to do these things unless somebody does a lot of internal work.
What if you’re deeply hurt by the ex?
“You have to love your children more than you hate your ex.”
Children are interested in themselves, and they need parents who are interested in them. When she and her husband got divorced, and Judy tried to gently break it to the children, her 8-year old daughter said “So, am I still having a birthday party?”
The power of politeness
It takes a while. People often have to have a “cooling off” period, to help them transition from being married to being divorced – and to accepting that this is a new relationship. This is a new relationship; people might be able to change because it’s not the same ball game anymore. Behaving courteously and politely sounds corny and old-fashioned… but it’s worth a lot.
“I hear ‘mindfulness’ applied to everything.”
Mindfulness is such a buzzword in our society today. Judy thinks of “mindfulness” as “Stop, Look, and Listen.” Pause and think before you speak. You don’t ever have to answer anything. You can always say, “Let me think about that.” Mindfulness gives you that extra minute where you can pause before you just jump in and say something nasty, difficult, or dangerous.
It’s not just being nice to your ex
“You’re teaching yourself new skills.”
These skills are going to help you with every relationship, including the relationship with your children, with whoever comes into your life next, with your family, and with your work…
Divorce can get to be so unpleasant. It’s always traumatic, because it always involves the loss of dreams, hopes, and love. People get married not thinking they’re going to get divorced. People are so angry when they get divorced, they have to think about how they can contain and control that anger and protect the children. Judith says,
“The children don’t need to know all that went wrong in the marriage.”
But what if the ex doesn’t want to have to deal with you?
It doesn’t mean forever
“All we can do in this life is put our best foot forward.”
That parent has to realize the timing is not right and that they don’t have to beat themselves up.
What do you do when the other person won’t deal with you? You probably won’t be able to figure it out. So the question is: How are you going to behave with your children? What are you going to say to them when they say, “Why won’t daddy come in when he drops us off?” It depends how you’re going to answer that question. There are lots of different ways of putting it where daddy doesn’t come off looking like a monster. Judith’s advice to parents is to try and find out how their children feel and help their children live with the consequences of divorce.
“I think people often feel like such failures when they get divorced.”
They need to keep the other person looking like the bad guy to keep this myth going: The other person did wrong and that’s why they got divorced. They feel justified with that. To break down that barrier requires a willingness. There are always so many opportunities for co-parents to reach out to one another.
“I try to help people be hopeful… That there’ll be another time.”
3. Family Law News
This week, Matt Storrs talks with us about dating for seniors.