I’m always envious of divorced couples who seem to get along well. My current husband and his ex are like that. They sit together at their kids’ activities and have pleasant conversations. I actually like her a lot and we’ve spent holidays and birthdays together.
Then there’s the more common situation where it’s open warfare or at the very least an underlying toxic energy that permeates every conversation and interaction. While it’s certainly better to have a happy relationship with your ex, sometimes despite your best efforts it just won’t happen.
Learning how to deal with the stress of a toxic relationship is imperative for your emotional well-being. And, if you had an experience like me of being in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship the wounds are deep and it takes time and hard work to recover.
Below are 5 tips for healing yourself and managing the relationship:
1. Remember that you’re not married anymore: This seems fairly obvious, but when your ex pushes those buttons, it’s easy to forget that this person is no longer connected to you. Old wounds take time to heal and dysfunctional patterns take time to change. When you feel yourself being pulled down into a nasty conversation take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that you no longer have to engage. As best you can take the emotion out of the situation.
One of the exercises I give to my coaching clients is to objectify their ex and no longer use his name but rather some descriptor. They’ve come up with some pretty interesting ones and it allows them to no longer see their ex as the person to whom they were married but simply a “thing” that must be dealt with.
2. Step back and laugh about it – and him!: Laughter really is the best medicine. Sure when you’re in the heat of an argument it’s not easy but there’s no better way to diffuse a situation than to see the absurdity in your ex’s behavior and comments. Laugh at how silly he really is to be so angry. Laugh at how much better your life is now that you’re away from the nastiness. Picture him as a cartoon character exploding. Find something to laugh about and it will make you feel better immediately.
3. Don’t respond if it makes you feel bad: There’s nothing to say that you must respond to your ex. If it involves the kids yes, but other than that there’s really not much reason to reply or engage. When you do respond, take your time to form your response and position it in a business-like manner and, here’s the important part, with no emotion. Short, sweet and to the point.
You also don’t have to respond immediately. Assign a separate e-mail for your ex so that you choose when to look at it. Allow your ex’s calls to go to voicemail so you can formulate your response. And, if you can’t respond verbally without emotion, then send an e-mail. Take control of how and when you respond.
4. Cut mutual ties: When a couple breaks up it’s hard on friends as they invariably are drawn to one spouse or the other. Sometimes, however, when your friends have children who are friendly with your children, you have no choice but to maintain the connection. This can be difficult if they don’t see how toxic the relationship with your ex is for you.
If associating with these people is causing you more stress than enjoyment, you can allow your children to have playdates, but put some distance between yourself and your friend. Friendships evolve or expire and new ones form with people you’d least expect.
5. Rediscover who you were before you were married: Most likely, you became a different person in your marriage. And, there’s a good chance you didn’t like that person. Take some time to get back to the person you were before you were married. Maybe you left a career you enjoyed or dropped an activity you were passionate about.
Chances are you have a parenting visitation plan that allows you to have some alone time. Instead of being depressed and missing the kids, use it to take a class or do something you used to enjoy. Not only will this make you happier but emotionally stronger. And, by redefining yourself, you’ll be more able to see your toxic ex in a more objective, less emotional manner.
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