In any stage of divorce, one need not look too far to find conflict. Breaking up, dividing property, the children, schedules, finances, new love interests…the list of fight-starting topics related to any possible phase of divorce could probably circle the planet at least twice.
What happens when you don’t clang swords every time your ex starts something? Well, at first you may feel as though you have to participate in every battle because who will stand up for your side if you don’t? Plus, your ex pisses you off so much that it’s about impossible not to trade insults or argue, sometimes just for the sake of argument.
Here’s what I would like you to consider: you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to! Oooh, I know that’s really hard! You will feel like the belle of the ball for how many invites you will receive to bicker, but I promise it’s just not always worth it.
Note that I said not always. I am not advocating that anyone imprint the word “Welcome” on their forehead and let the world (namely your ex) wipe their boots all over you. On the contrary, it is important to stand up for yourself and your rights. There’s a difference, however, between screeching like a broken record every time he or she looks at you cross-eyed or you assume something’s meant as an insult and standing firm for something you believe strongly in. What I am suggesting is challenging yourself to become much more selective about which battles you need to attend.
What hills are you willing to die on? Is your child returning to you in the same pair of socks so important that it’s worth three hours of angry texting and ruining your entire evening? Probably not. You will definitely get frustrated with plenty of little things, but the fate of a $2 pair of socks is probably not worth an hour in counseling and a migraine.
Now, perhaps advocating that dad’s new girlfriend’s ex-cellmate not be allowed to sleepover on their couch while the kids are visiting and offer the kids free tattoos probably is one of those times that you need to take a stand. I doubt that actual scenario is likely to play out, but hopefully, you get the idea of what is and is not a priority for negotiation.
Negotiation. Such a civilized word. Let’s also try to take that approach more often that full blown “the cops are on the way to respond to an altercation on the front porch” mode. I’ve been there.
In the early days of my divorce, I found myself so angry at my ex Because none of my kid’s homework was being turned in during his week, that I found myself literally screaming at him on my phone in the parking lot of my work. Way to keep it classy! The heat of our animosity has cooled off as time has gone by, so it takes a lot more to get me this angry with him. I find that I am more successful working through my children to help them see the value of doing their work, even when an adult won’t make them, and I try to discuss concerns with him more.
This brings me to the point that you will only have so much control over your entire divorce situation. Your scope of control extends just about to your property line. You cannot make your ex (or anyone in their home) do anything they don’t want to do. You can hope that reason will rule and that the best interests of your children are always at the forefront; but, when it comes down to it, you have to release your grip and have some faith.
For some of us, that is about impossible because we have legitimate fears for what our children may be exposed to outside our circle of control. In these cases, I recommend doing whatever you can over your time to instill strength and character into your children, making sure they know right from wrong, how to protect themselves from various things, and that they are deeply loved. For your part, all you can do is document your concerns and take them to the proper authorities, as needed.
Be sure to separate what is truly wrong and a threat from what is simply a difference of opinions and lifestyle. As a social worker, one of the things that was instilled in me early in my career was that I will encounter hundreds of people who live hundreds of different ways. Culture, religion, economics, and so many other factors influence the ways people live and think. We often have to learn to see beyond the thought that “that’s not how I would do it” and instead realize that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. Your home and your exes will probably have different rules, bedtimes, consequences, and an overall vibe.
Divorce brings out the ugly side of most people, and the issues we tend to fight about are some of the most sensitive and ones most likely to inflame our emotions. You can do your part to help the fire die down by not engaging and not showing when your ex has hit their mark. Most likely your ex feels a need to retaliate or make life difficult for you.
My best advice is not to let another person have that much control over your emotions and ability to be happy. This is a skill that requires great patience and time to perfect, but when you do, you will be like a Buddhist master who can calmly deflect petty insults and drama to stay focused on what really matters.
When someone is clearly trying to get a rise out of you or ruin your day, don’t deliver them your sanity and emotions on a silver platter! Instead, channel the serenity of a mountain stream, take a deep breath, and ask yourself “is this just some childish BS or is this worth my involvement?” Then, if it really is deserving of your gladiator side, “could you succeed with a calm negotiation, or is it war time?”