Following a divorce, it can be difficult redefining your relationship with your ex as divorcees. If you don’t have any kids together, the finality of the marriage may be the last time you communicate with your ex, due to you having little to no ties requiring your paths to cross in the future. If you do have kids, however, or additional reasons that require you to stay in touch, the quality of your relationship with your ex post divorce matters quite a bit more. It can be hugely stressful for both you and your children if you and your ex have a strained or volatile relationship, which in turn can lead to feelings of deep bitterness and resentment.
It’s understandable: a divorce is one of the most personal and difficult trials many people will go through. It’s heartbreaking to see the future you envisioned fall apart. To add to the emotional turmoil, if you had a drawn out, contentious divorce proceeding, your spouse is probably the last person you want to speak with. While hard feelings are certainly validated, there comes a time when the hatchet needs to be buried, and the re-creation of a functional and respectful relationship between you and your ex should be prioritized, for the sake of your own emotional well-being, as well as your children. We understand—it’s easier said than done. Regardless, if this is something you desire, we’ve created a list of tips that can help curate a respectful co-parenting relationship:
Take Responsibility for Your Part
It can be a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is that rarely is one person solely responsible for the collapse of a marriage. This doesn’t mean that both people were equally responsible—undoubtedly there are situations when one spouse gives their all for years with little effort reciprocated. Nonetheless, marriage is a circular entity, with two halves making a whole. No matter how small, you can most likely identify one area of your relationship that you could have given more, said less, tried harder or acted kinder.
Being able to identify these areas and openly admit to them is freeing not only for you, but for your ex as well, and helps to create a sense of balance and empathy between both partners. The blame game and pointing fingers doesn’t go far if you’re trying to build a respectful relationship with your ex. Every person makes mistakes, and acknowledging those areas is not a sign of weakness, but rather shows incredible strength and wisdom. If you and your spouse are able to openly admit to areas of your marriage that you wish you had done better with, in turn validating and recognizing your ex-spouse’s wounds, smoother communication will likely result, allowing for healthier collaboration.
Remember this: even if your spouse doesn’t apologize in return, it doesn’t mean you can’t. Being able to apologize for something you feel you could have done better really is a sign of maturity and self-awareness. You cannot control how other people react or what they do—you can only control your own actions and reactions. Wayne Dyer explained it well when he said: “how people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours”. Even if your ex isn’t willing to apologize for their part and in turn won’t validate your pain, don’t let that deter you from doing what you feel is right and being the bigger person. In the end, it’s a powerful thing to say you tried your hardest in apologizing, showing grace, and doing everything you could to help facilitate a healthy relationship with your ex—if they’re not willing to cooperate, at least you can know that you tried your hardest for your kids. A clean conscious is a powerful thing.
Stop Bringing up the Past
As with most divorces, there was likely a string of hurtful events, whether it was a serious offense, such as infidelity, or years of small comments or actions, that led to the falling out of your marriage. While there’s certainly a time for identifying what led to the divorce and working through how those actions or comments affected you (this process can take years), eventually there needs to come a point when you let the past be the past and move forward. If you’re able to identify the cause, the effect, and how your marriage may have molded your own sense of self, it’s a lot easier to do this. On the other hand, if you’re still marinating in that pain without really understanding the effects of your ex-spouses actions, it can be far more difficult to lay the past to rest.
For example, say your ex cheated on you and then blamed you for his/her actions, saying you’re the reason they were pushed in that direction. Such a comment can lead to deeply rooted self-doubt and resentment. If you’re not able to work through that accusation, identify the reason for the statement, and ultimately accept your own truth, you might feel stuck and controlled by the event—when that happens, your past controls your present.
For this reason, it’s so important you seek support from family, friends, and a counselor or therapist. Being able to work through painful experiences from your divorce and coming to terms with them is a huge step in letting the past stay in the past. If you’re able to do this, and in turn no longer feel the need to bring the past back up when you’re around your ex, it will be easier to co-parent and communicate effectively and peacefully.
Remember this: making the decision to no longer let the past control your present is not saying that your ex didn’t do anything wrong. Rather, it’s making the choice to liberate yourself from any chains that are holding you back from moving forward and finding your own joy. Anger, resentment, guilt, shame or bitterness will likely cause just as much damage, if not more, to your own sense of happiness as your ex’s. Being able to forgive (both your ex and yourself) and let go are huge steps to leaving your divorce in your past and creating a healthy relationship with your ex-spouse.
Respect your Ex-Spouses Reputation
This one is hard, we know. It’s also something we see both clients and personal friends or family struggle with. When people go through a divorce, it can be tempting to tell the world about their wrong doings. As their ex husband or wife, you undoubtedly harvest a wealth of information regarding their personal life, their flaws, and the things they said or did to hurt you. When we’re in the midst of pain, especially at the hands of someone who is so close, and it feels so personal, it might feel therapeutic or like a justified revenge to tell the world about his or her short-comings. While it may satisfy you in the moment, doing this can hurt not only your spouse and any chance of having a healthy relationship with them outside of the marriage, but your children as well.
Let it be understood: this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about your wounds, and things that were said or done to hurt you. It’s so important to have a select group of friends and family, as well as a therapist, who you can talk with openly and honestly. However, there’s a difference between confiding in a select few trusted individuals, verses spilling your ex’s personal information to anyone who will listen. This is especially important if you and your ex live in the same town. Giving them a bad name and ruining their reputation amongst their colleagues, your children’s teachers or friend’s parents, or anyone else who is a mutual friend or acquaintance will undoubtedly affect both them and your children.
Having loose lips and a vengeful heart hurts everyone involved. Unfortunately, children often end up bearing repercussions of this behavior. If their friends can no longer go to your ex’s house because of a rumor you spread, or they sense people around them have mistrust towards your ex, it can be not only confusing, but emotionally damaging for your kids. In the very least, it will create a sense of resentment in your ex, leading to difficult co-parenting and deeply-rooted bitterness towards each other that is difficult to hide from your children.
Going through a divorce is undoubtedly one of hardest trials many people will go through. Often times, your ex is the last person you want to see or speak with after such a difficult split, but if you have children together, the reality is that you’ll have to face the challenge of creating a different type of co-parenting relationship with them outside of the marriage. While it’s certainly no easy task, creating a healthy and respectful relationship with your ex is possible. It will take patience, forgiveness and a great deal of strength, but the attorneys at Pacific Cascade Family Law have seen countless clients rise above and prioritize a healthy co-parenting relationship with their ex for the sake of their children. Doing so will help pave a path for a better and brighter tomorrow.