The points are excellent: none of us is at our best during divorce; hurt and anger cause us to act out; time will work wonders on emotions and behaviors.
Divorcing spouses do not need to be enemies forever.
But is the high conflict divorce another matter? What about the ex who is masterful at mind games, and you’re headed into year five, year seven, year ten? Who will guarantee that the flag to establish a truce – or even surrender – won’t be shot down again? Isn’t it only in looking back after many years that we gain perspective? The perspective to know that it’s safe to lay down arms – for ourselves and also for our dependent children?
In her article on recent trends in “diagnosing the ex”, author Tara Eisenhard provides food for thought.
Ms. Eisenhard suggests we reconsider issues of labeling our divorce types, making assumptions based on what we read, and drawing conclusions that bad behavior means we’re doomed for years to come.
Conflict is Natural in Divorce
Ms. Eisenhard writes:
“Let’s take a step back and consider the topic of divorce: it makes everyone a little crazy, doesn’t it? In a state of heightened stress, every interaction can feel like a train wreck, and every unmet expectation can appear to be an intentional attack. The emotional roller coaster spins us to the edge of sanity, and then some…”
Yet, in most cases, such conflict is born from productive intentions on both sides. Often, couples can adopt a new approach to work through the issues… It’s usually possible to find some cooperative middle ground so Mom and Dad can remain on the same parental team. She recommends that we consider testing the waters periodically, especially over the years, precisely so we needn’t be enemies forever, as she suggests:
“… let’s remember the effects of time as we move beyond the broken pieces and reconstruct our lives… What was once a high-conflict scenario might be more cooperative a year or two (or five or ten) later.”
Transitional Periods Following Divorce
Naturally, we go through all kinds of transitions as we divorce, and after divorce. Some of us grieve; some of us feel liberated. We may feel both, on the roller coaster emotional journey that persists for months or possibly years.
In many instances, as we establish a new framework as ex-spouses and co-parents, we come to trust the nature of those relationships – what they are, not what they once were.
Even with anger and bitterness, responsibilities may be fulfilled. And then, yes, with time – as we come to a place of acceptance with our new realities, and especially if we see that our children are okay – we may let go of some of the typical reactions that divorce brings.
We begin to rebuild. We do better at moving forward.
But what if your “transition” is little more than a spiral downward? What if the attacks and subterfuge are real – and continue for years? Doesn’t that require a transition to a state of battle readiness? A dreadful way to live of course, but when one party continues the guerrilla war, doesn’t the other party owe it to herself or himself to stay safe and to protect the children?
And if you thought it was bad being married to a narcissist, life after divorce isn’t a cake walk…
Sanity Says: We Don’t Want Enemies; We Do Want Safety
I find myself applauding Ms. Eisenhard’s approach, yet I know it to be a slippery slope, at least for some of us. The character disorders that are coming to light in the divorce-related press are very real. If nothing else, learning to observe and assess behaviors that go beyond the usual barbs and bluffs – in seriousness or duration – allows us to prepare ourselves at least in small measure, and just in case.
Information of this sort ought to encourage us to reflect on past behaviors while married – those that show patterns of emotional abuse, neglect, narcissism and so on – furnishing a fuller picture in which to evaluate and understand what is taking place.
As to periodically testing the waters, when your years following divorce are fraught with one skirmish or attack after another – especially when you least expect – testing those waters is like going back for more abuse. Accepting an adversarial relationship – I prefer the term “adversarial” to enemies – may well be in your own best interest, and indirectly, the interests of your children.
Thanks for the shout out!
I agree that protecting oneself is a must, and this is true regardless of the state of the relationship. Boundaries are always important, even among friends. And it stands to reason that if an individual is under continuous attack, it’s not productive to bait the shark.
I like the differentiation between “enemies” and “adversaries.” Even in a more protective situation, exes don’t have to remain engaged in combat. One can always choose not to engage.