Divorce is one of those life lessons that can derail us for a long time or produce a breakdown that leads to many breakthroughs. It is really our choice on whether we want to use our divorce to stagnant or grow. You may be sitting thinking, "I didn't ask for this, I didn't do anything wrong, I wanted to stay married forever so how can I grow?" Every breakdown is capable of leading us to a higher place and I like higher places so let's focus on the breakthrough.
In prior articles we have focused on a healthy path through divorce. The first most important step is to fight for your marriage. If you went to therapy or sought professional help you should have some basic tools on how to communicate respectfully with each other. If you went through Mediation , you also should have some tools for problem solving. If you care about your children, you will want to have your partner land on his/her feet so your children have a good relationship with both parents. When both parents thrive on their own or with new partners, the children thrive. When the divorced family is thriving, it is so much easier to put the divorce behind you and become normal new families.
Communicating with your spouse can support this process or slow it down. Let's see what it looks like supporting the healing. Remember these guidelines are for parents who are working together. Rules for communicating with a contentious partner are different.
It is so easy to tell with one communication if someone is stuck in anger. The attacking, insulting, bitter, references to bad history, use of always and never, comments in the communication give you and your anger away immediately. Lock yourself in a room with your ex, hit pillows, go to a workshop, go to therapy, join a group but get the anger out of your body. We all know that staying angry hurts one person the most and that is you. Whatever you do, avoid communicating with your "ex," until you can be free of your anger. Have someone read your emails and send one that addresses your concerns without the attacks and negativity.
"I know you won't"
"You never cared"
"It was always your way"
"Nice that you are finally being a parent"
"I know you won't answer"
These are some examples of escalating emails. Don't send them! Look at the emails you send to your best friend and use those as an example for your tone.
At one point you respected and loved this person to have them be your lover, best friend, and father/mother to your children together. Find a way to respect your "ex" when you are communicating. Your children need to respect both of their parents and it makes it difficult for them if you won't. When you are communicating with your "ex" speak respectfully. For example, if things go missing from your child's wardrobe as he/she goes back and forth to the different houses, don't assume sabotage. "Let's find a way to support our son in having success with managing his things between our homes" is so much better than "You always keep the things I buy for our son." "What are your thoughts is much better than "here is what I have decided." "How has his health been with you" is a better choice than "He always gets sick at your house". Children know what you are doing so you put them in a position of pretending they are not sick if they know you are going to blame the other parent. They might make up a false story regarding their favorite jacket it they know you might blame Mom. If parents would put themselves in their children's shoes and think about the effect their actions have on their children, communication would be more successful.
Children have anticipated and unanticipated events in their life. Plan time with your "ex" to discuss these event particularly if you know you are going to disagree. Remember from mediation, co-parenting with your "ex" is a give and take process. If you add respect and letting your "ex" know about your concerns, these conversations don't have to be so traumatic.
Examples of events anticipated or not are "rules for prom", colleges, sudden disruptive behavior at school, drop in grades, boy/girlfriend blues, illness, getting a driver's license, dating, bad attitude etc. Not all of these have to be discussed and it would be nice if you and your child's father/mother were on the same page. If you are not, come to some agreement to disagree and present this to your child.
"In my home here is the plan to help you get your grades up and Dad will present his plan to you."
"Since prom is on your night with me here are the rules Dad and I agree are what is best for you or my home, my rules."
"Dad and I are in disagreement about how paying for college will happen so here is what I can promise you from my end. He will discuss his thoughts with you."
Even though you are divorced you can raise your children in a way that is best for them if you act like two adults who remember they wanted to be the best parents possible for their children. Successful, respectful communication post-divorce goes a long way in having you reach that goal.
"Compromise, communication, and consistency are needed in all relationships, not just romantic ones."
Dr. Anne Brown PhD, RN of Sausalito, California, is a psychotherapist, speaker, coach, and the author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No . Anne's approach is especially applicable to people affected by divorce. Backbone Power is a no nonsense self help guide to making decisions while having backbone and integrity in all your choices, short term and long term. In addition to helping the divorce community, Anne has over twenty years experience as the trusted advocate and advisor to influential corporate leaders, trial attorneys, athletes, leaders, physicians and others seeking actionable guidance. Brown is a graduate of the University of Virginia, BS in Nursing; Boston University, MS in Psychiatric-Mental Health in Nursing; and International University, PhD in Addiction Studies. In 1997 Brown also reached a personal goal of obtaining her Black Belt in Soo Bahk Do. You can contact Dr. Anne Brown through her website: www.BackbonePower.com .