Although nearly three years have passed since the judge decreed our marriage to be over, my ex-husband still seems really angry. It’s not constant, but he takes ample opportunity to explain all the ways in which he believes me to be lacking. Nevermind that I finished one degree with honors and am working on a second, or that I landed a prestigious job in a new field, or that I maintain a very close and loving relationship with our two teenish sons.
The numerous inadequacies I exhibited during our marriage have apparently carried forward, and I am allegedly a terrible person, a morally-questionable woman, and a horrible mother.
The occasional barrage of insults is tiresome, to say the least. I’ve been known to lose my cool and respond in kind. Sometimes I’ve probably escalated the war of words, too. But I am slowly learning to disengage–at least most of the time.
Here are 9 strategies I’ve learned for dealing with my ex’s anger:
1. Breathe. First, take a deep breath, hold it for a steady count of ten, and then release it slowly. Second, do it again. And again. Focusing on my breathing helps to alleviate the momentary tension, and it also keeps me from hyperventilating and passing out.
2. Write the wrong. Writing is crucial for me. It may be a private journal entry or a public article or blog post. Sometimes it takes the form of an unsent email or letter that I delete or burn. Writing helps me to focus my own reactive emotions and identify exactly why my ex’s words upset me.
3. Move away from it. Literally, move yourself. A quick walk around the block, or even ten jumping jacks or pushups or crunches, can exert enough energy to calm the frayed nerves. When I’m really agitated, I’ll walk until I think I can’t take another step.
4. Soothe the angry beast. Listen to an ongoing playlist of empowering songs to remind you of all the good things about yourself that your ex can’t or won’t see. Avoid anything super angry or depressing–that will just perpetuate your anger. I like to combine this with exercise and use that momentum to get in an extra workout or two.
5. Get creative. Whether it’s coloring, painting, cooking, writing, music, knitting, whatever–use your own emotion as creative energy. I usually write, but I also sometimes collage. Make something beautiful from something ugly.
6. Call in reinforcements. Call your bestie and tell her everything you’d say to your ex, if you weren’t smarter than that! Get it all out and then move on. Let her tell you about her day, too, and revel in the opportunity to listen to something other than your own problems.
7. Turn it off. Even if you can’t turn your phone off, you can turn off your ex. I keep mine on my “favorites” list so his calls will get through in the middle of the night, in case he has the children with him. I also keep his text messages on “do not disturb” so I don’t even know he has texted until I’m ready to know. Email filters let me route his emails straight to his own folder and out of my inbox.
8. Wash it away. As a mom, the house is rarely as clean as we’d like. Use that energy to make your world shine. Maybe it just takes 15 minutes to pick up the house. Maybe it’s an hour-long scrub of the bathroom. If my house is ever spotless, there’s always weeding to do in the yard.
9. Hug it out. Your ex may be a pain now, but there was once something about him that was worth your time. Your kids are a direct reflection of what was good about your relationship together. Grab them up and spend quality time with them. Go outside and play or snuggle up together and watch a movie. I often marvel at how much my sons physically resemble their dad in certain ways. I can also see the personality traits that come from him. My kids are definitely the best of both of us, and I always feel better after a hug from them.
Whatever your strategy is for dampening your reaction to your ex, keep it away from your kids. Your children don’t need to know the ins-and-outs of your post-marital issues with their other parent. There’s no need to pretend that everything is perfect–they’d see right through that anyway–but using them as your sounding board about their parent’s faults will just foster resentment in your relationship with your kids.
My emotions are mine, neither good nor bad, but how I choose to deal with them (and my ex) is totally within my control. Even when my feelings seem unproductive, I will do my best to turn them into something positive for me.
I don’t have to answer to him anymore.