No divorce is easy, but some can be really, really tough, where the hurt seems to come in waves, bowling you over in an emotional surf.
When a divorce gets messy like this, it’s sometimes all you can do just to hang on, trusting that once the divorce is finalized, the pain will begin to subside. Even after the ink has dried on your divorce, however, you’re likely to still face some unpleasant moments, some of which may involve having to deal with your ex in certain situations. This is especially true if you have kids.
In one of divorce’s more ironic twists, that child who you love more than your own life is also a smiling, laughing, crying, hugging, living, breathing link to your ex-spouse.
Deep inside you know that endlessly wrangling with your ex will not only frustrate you, but it will also inevitably hurt your child. And that’s the last thing you want to do.
So, rather than letting the past hold you back, consider these tips for how to move forward and get along, with even the most unruly ex-spouse.
1. Don’t Say Hurtful Things About Your Ex in Front of Your Children
No matter how much you may feel your ex deserves it, tearing down the reputation of your child’s other parent is not going to be healthy for you or your child. You don’t have to pretend the other parent is an angel if they’re not, but don’t demonize them either, especially not to your child.
2. Don’t Try to Turn Your Child Against Your Ex
Again, keep your child’s perspective in mind. To your child, your ex is not “my Mom’s Ex” (or “my Dad’s Ex”). To the child, your ex is simply “Mom” (or “Dad”). And as you know, that bond with a parent can be both deep and mysterious.
You may not fully understand why your child responds to your ex the way they do, but for your child’s sake resist the urge to burn the bridges between them.
3. Communicate With Your Child About How They Feel
Your child is likely experiencing thoughts and feelings that are hard to process on their own. You can’t (and shouldn’t) force your child to talk, but you can model for them the kind of openness and acceptance that will help them feel safe (when they’re ready) to share their feelings, even the sad and/or dark ones.
Being vulnerable and offering unconditional love will allow your child to see that it is allowed and even encouraged, and it just may be the key to getting them to open up to you.
By the way, don’t use “sharing” as an excuse for getting dirt on your ex from your child. Avoid asking your child questions about your ex’s words/behavior or otherwise pressuring the child to “spy” on your ex.
Leave the grown-up stuff to the grown-ups.
4. Don’t Ask Your Child to Choose Between the Two of You
Similarly, never put your child in the position of having to make what would be, for most children, an unbearable choice.
One way of showing unconditional love to your child is by allowing that child the freedom to love the other parent.
5. Make Going Back and Forth as Easy as Possible
There are a lot of ways to help ease your child’s adjustment to having two “homes.” Clear communication is essential, so you might, for example, keep a calendar posted to heighten anticipation of special events (“Going to the zoo!”) and to keep track of departure/arrival days.
Don’t, however, require your child to serve as a “courier” for messages between you and your ex. Instead, reach out directly to your ex-spouse via text, email, a quick phone call, or face-to-face, whatever works best.
Also, strive to remain upbeat with your child and civil and respectful toward your ex-spouse at drop-offs and pick-ups. Still, if the only way to avoid conflict is to wave from the curb while your ex receives the child at the door, that’s better than getting pulled into an argument in front of your child.
6. Don’t Bring up the Past
For most people, divorce is a last-resort means of getting “unstuck” from an intolerable situation.
It’s important, then, that you keep the momentum moving forward, both for yourself and your child. However, this will be hard to do if you keep bringing up the past—including the past mistakes of your ex.
Want to learn more about becoming a more open, compassionate, forward-moving version of yourself after divorce? The Conscious Co-Parenting Institute offers realistic solutions for parents seeking ways to get along with their ex-spouse and improve relationships with their children.
Learn more about how to take the steps to rebuild a healthy, loving bond with your child from this free online training.