I’ve been divorced for about four years now (three? Five? Eh, who keeps track.). It was relatively painless, as far as divorces go. We didn’t have lawyers, considering we really didn’t have much to divide or deal with, and we sat down and went through the paper work together. Weirdly, our divorce brought us closer than we had been in several years as we tried to navigate a situation neither of us had any experience with. Because we’d had a child together, however, our day in court was not the last day we’d have to spend in one another’s company. Thrilling for us both, I assure you. We may have been able to work out our divorce amicably enough, but there were still plenty of hurt feelings, years of bent up bitterness and waves of immaturity to overcome.
Over the last year or so we’ve pretty much got it worked out. We’re both in committed, healthy relationships and dedicated to ensuring our daughter isn’t more adversely affected by our separation than necessary. It’s not easy, we’re not perfect, but here are a few things I’ve learned when it comes to handling the less than ideal situation.
1. Stop Bringing Up The Past
We both made our fair share of mistakes in our marriage but the tip of the iceberg, for me at least, was the infidelity. I wasn’t happy prior to that lovely discovery (on Valentine’s Day, no less) but it’s what sent me out that door. He was angry, he wanted to work on things, he cited my failings as justification for his cheating, ect. I don’t pretend to know if that’s valid, it very well could be. I know I wasn’t the best wife on the planet, but honestly… it doesn’t matter anymore. All either of us could and can do is learn from the experience. There was a time, especially in the first year, where it was impossible for either of us to have a conversation without being snide or making some smartass, off-handed comment that would set the other off. This was not, and is not healthy. It didn’t help anything and it really wasn’t necessary.
I really hate to sit here and place myself on this self-righteous pedestal, but I truly did step back and force myself to be nicer, to take responsibility for my reactions to his incendiary comments. I couldn’t control the things he said or the way he behaved, but I could control how I responded to them. And I made a very active effort to avoid bringing up the past, because, as we all know, the past is the past and we can only move forward.
2. Pick your Battles
This is also an excellent rule to follow before your marriage falls apart, but became very important as we navigated child custody arrangements. I learned to bite my tongue when shoes I’d purchased mysteriously never made it home or toys I’d spent hard earned money on were lost or broken under his care. These things, relatively rare occurrences anyway, were not worth battling over. I forced myself to ignore mocking jibes or intentionally uncooperative behavior. I often felt like my ex was trying to punish me for leaving him, but I refused to rise to the occasion as often as possible and eventually the behavior stopped.
3. Stand Up For Yourself
You have a right and an obligation to stand up for those things you care about and believe in. You aren’t married any longer and ultimately you should do what you believe is best for you and, in my case, your child. You can respect their opinions and views but you certainly do not have to bend to them. Don’t allow your ex a space in your life where they will feel comfortable walking all over you or where their opinion can do you emotional harm. They do not have a right to speak to you disrespectfully or behave cruelly. You are well within your rights to end the contact or conversation until they are able to behave themselves appropriately. I like to think of my ex as a co-worker, it puts things into perspective.
4. Forgive Your Ex and Yourself
This one is not easy. I harbor guilt from my marriage (like I said, I wasn’t perfect) and a level of bitterness toward him that took several long years to let go of. Its cliché, to be sure, but I will never forget the day I realized I was over it, that I didn’t harbor anything but vague acceptance toward my ex. I felt light, free, and happy. It was in that moment that I was truly able to move on. Anger, hate, guilt, shame and bitterness are not healthy or helpful emotions and letting them go in terms of my failed marriage made me feel like a new person. The person I was striving to be.
5. Maintain a Healthy Sense of Understanding and Compassion
They may not deserve it, they may not appreciate it, but there is something to be said for behaving amicably even when the other party won’t. And, in my case, consistently being appropriately compassionate eventually led to him showing something of the same. We may not be friends exactly, but we occasionally are able to discuss our life issues and troubles with an understanding and open mindedness built on the years we spent together and the more distant years we’ll be connected through our child.
6. Avoid Becoming Immediately Defensive
This is easily the hardest ‘rule’ for me to follow. No one can get under my skin quite like my ex-husband can because he has an intimate and legal understanding and opinion on the quality of care I provide for our daughter. My daughter is, by far, my most sensitive subject. It’s far too easy to turn scathing and defensive whenever he questions my parenting decisions or turns an accusing finger. It’s easy to tell myself he doesn’t understand, he only sees her a few times a month, I have to do all the hard work… blah, blah, blah. It doesn’t matter. Unless you’re in a court room or under a legal obligation you shouldn’t feel the need to constantly defend yourself and it deafens your ears to actual and possibly founded issues.
7. Maintain a Healthy Distance
Divorce is packed with a rainbow of confusing, difficult emotions. Wading through my own was a trial in sorting out my intense emotions and ensuring that, while I tried to be kind and understanding, that I didn’t send the wrong message. Our intimate and romantic relationship was over, but because of our child, we had to maintain a level of contact which placed us both on a precipice where we had to balance our behaviors carefully. Divorce sucks no matter the circumstances; don’t make it worse by misleading the other party.
8. Let Go of Jealousy
I can now honestly say that I want nothing but good things for my ex. Partially because I don’t think he is this terrible evil person who deserves only misery and hardship, but also because his happiness is in direct correlation to my daughter’s happiness.
I did not always feel this way.
An immature part of me wanted him to fail, wanted him to suffer and hurt as he had made me suffer and hurt. So when he met his fiancé I was more jealous of his relationship than I was of the ‘next woman’. I didn’t want to be with my ex, but I didn’t want him to be happy either. I was jealous, for a time anyway, that he found love before I, the jilted ex, found it. It didn’t seem terribly fair. I realized quickly how foolish and damaging that feeling was to all parties involved and crazily enough, my ex’s fiancé and I get along wonderfully and I’m truly glad that she is in my daughter’s life.
Like I said, neither of us do all of these things all of the time. I myself fail at several of them more regularly than I’d like, but I truly believe these concepts can create a decent environment out of a difficult and unhappy one. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when the idea of telling my ex-husband our daughter got in trouble at school is looming over me. Number 9 on this list probably could have been ‘practice meditation and breathing exercise.’ Knew those Lamaze classes would come in handy one day…