Breaking up is never easy, and going through a divorce can be more painful than your first bike crash when you were 6. You were getting really good. You were pedaling along beautiful, or so you thought. You felt really confident in your skills, then all of the sudden there is a wooly worm in your path and your whole world seemed to crash down around you. Back then, the pain was from road burn and gravel stuck in your knees, but as an adult it's from a broken heart and a broken family.
If there are kids involved during a breakup, it can be more painful than pulling off that big sticky Band-Aid. You want to be the custodial parent, because you feel like you're the best suited, but your ex thinks he needs to be in charge, and this leads to a big disconnect. Not only disconnect, it can lead just one or both of you being downright mean. This will get you nowhere fast.
When things get nasty, and in a divorce they often do, there is a simple blueprint I used that will make splitting up a so much easier, and you will actually be able to be friends after divorce. I'm not saying this method is foolproof, but if you use these steps, you could end up getting along better than when you were living as a married unit. That's what my experience is like today. My ex and I are great friends; I even get along with his new wife on most of the big parenting issues. If you're dating long distance, learn how to do it right or don't do it.
1. Seek out good support, and I don't mean a bra.
Or a good lawyer, so you can take your ex to the bank. Getting the right support for your mental and emotional health is critical to having good communication and an easier divorce. Loving mothers who are having as much trouble as you are during your divorce may have well-meaning advice to help you through it, but unless your mom is a trained counselor or coach, she's probably not equipped with the knowledge to actually give you the right tools you'll need during your divorce.
It's good to have a great bra and the support of good friends, but pals who are still jaded from their own split are the worst advice givers. Your friends will be there to support you, not your ex, and may say things that are not in the best interest of trusting yourself enough to rebuild a new, better, and different kind of relationship after your divorce.
If you have kids, maintaining a good relationship is important for both of you and the kids. It makes life so much easier to have a pleasant conversation when you're talking about splitting the dentist bill, and if you have a professional to help keep your emotions in check, it will help you have a solid foundation so you can get through the hard conversations and when you're signing those final divorce papers. Dating after divorce, learn how to do it the right way!
2. Don't even think about being friends.
After my divorce, hearing these words from my therapist: "You don't have to be friends, just be friendly," made a tremendous impact in the relationship I had with my ex and his brother. It's okay to keep a little distance. You do not have to be best buddies with your ex. There's no need to have an in-depth conversation about the fact that you're dating, and you like the new man you went out with last week. If you're lining up a date on Saturday night, you can politely ask, "Can we swap days this week? I would love to make dinner plans this weekend."
Keep things simple and friendly. When there are kids involved, giving too much information or fighting in front of them is not an option. You may need to keep your relationship on a business level for a while so you don't get on the bike path of even more emotional turmoil and skinned knees. There is no quick fix Band-Aid that can repair an emotionally charged verbal battle about the fact that your ex is only going to get the kids every other weekend.
If you can remain friendly with your ex when you're picking up your son's backpack from his house, and your kids see that you're getting along, this will build a solid foundation for your new and different relationship. You, your ex, and your children will benefit when you are simply polite to one another. Sometimes it might not be easy, but in the long run, it's worth it. If you are a bad communicator it will make your life more difficult in the single world.
3. Put yourself in their work boots.
Stephen R. Covey's quote from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," speaks volumes when it comes to building a friendship after divorce. Your ex is probably having just as much emotional pain as you are. Splitting up belongings and time with children is never easy for anyone. So if your ex says something nasty, don't take it personally, and remember they're in pain too. Fear is a basic response to an emotional threat, and once again, you don't need to stick around and reward their behavior. If you feel triggered, it's especially important to keep it friendly, quickly leave the situation, and have the discussion later.
4. Bring up your 2-month long vacation when the time is right.
Being respectful and is critical to having open discussions about medical issues about the kids, who is getting the couch, and if you sell your home, who gets the most money. If you're doing the divorce without a lawyer, meeting in a public place is sometimes a good barrier to a big blow-up. But if one of you feels too emotional and can't control yourself, get a mediator. Nothing will ever get solved if either of you are highly dramatic, unless you're in court with a lawyer, then the judge will decide.
If your ex is emotional, they will probably hit some of your buttons, and then the relationship will only have more negative interactions. Having heated yelling matches with each other will lead you in the wrong direction if you want to be on good terms with your ex.
5. Don't bring up the day they smashed a plate on the floor.
Look for the good things in your relationship, no matter how small. Don't rehash the past, instead live in present and look forward to the future. The day your ex finally shows up with a smile on their face, thank them for the good interaction and remind them that you appreciate it, and it's really good for the kids. If you play things nice for a while, you will have a more solid foundation with positive, friendly interactions that will be the basis for your new improved friendship. You can get to know each other slowly in a different light, without fighting, and you might actually have a better relationship now than when you were married. Learn to shift your energy for even better communication.
Pain from divorce takes time to heal, and the better you get along; the faster you can build a new relationship with your ex-mate. You, your friends, and your family will be amazed at the improved extended family unit you have built together, separately.
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