Overplaying character strengths after a breakup is a recipe for disaster.
As a chocolate lover, I'd like to think you can never have too much chocolate. Similarly, I want to say you can never be too good. But I do think you can overplay a strength, particularly with an ex, and get yourself in trouble. It's the same with chocolate, no matter how good it is, there's trouble when you've had too much.
We see this issue discussed much more in organizational articles than on the relationship side of things. In an organization, if you overplay your character strength of decisiveness, you risk alienating your peers by being overpowering. In a relationship, being too decisive can cause an overreliance on your opinions, encouraging dependency from your ex after the divorce.
Your ex may continually beg overtly or subtly over and over for various behaviors in the past that, while very appropriate for a spouse, cross the invisible boundaries you are attempting to establish. Sometimes it's difficult because the request seems like something you "should" do precisely because it taps into one of your strengths.
Unless you're uber-civilized and still super-good friends with your ex, here are eight ways you're being TOO nice after a breakup:
1. You're Helping Him Meet New Women
Perhaps your flirtatious ways and openness to the new are what got you in trouble in the marriage, but they're killer strengths when it comes to dating. And you'd like to share these strengths with your ex. That would be a great idea if your ex was a BFF instead of a former lover.
The potential for becoming ensnared in sexual innuendo or petty jealousy is way too high here. Spread your wings and fly without worrying how your ex is managing the dating scene.
2. You Babysit His Pets
You get a call at 11:30 pm asking you to go give the dog a quick walk because your ex decided to spend the night out. Despite the inconvenience, you do it because that's what a loving, caring person does for the dog they loved these past eight years, and you are a loving, caring person. This is what we call overplaying the caring strength.
3. You're Helping Him Find A New House
Your no-nonsense approach to problem solving, a strength, makes house-hunting a snap. You know your ex is terrible at this type of thing, so you figure there's no harm in lending a hand.
Because I'm sure you have nothing else to do with your time now that you're single, living on less and having more to do around your own place, right?
4. You're Decorating His New Place
In the now-dissolved partnership you know you can use your strength of creativity to help your ex make the new home as comfy and perfect as the home you had together. And how, exactly, is this helping you separate and accept that you are each moving on with your lives?
5. You're STILL Balancing His Checkbook
Prior to their divorce, some people have never balanced a checkbook or paid a bill. Among your strengths are your incredible organizational and analytical abilities making these tasks easy for you.
Instead of taking over, stand by and allow your ex to learn to do these things. Answering a question here or there or making the occasional suggestion is fine, but actually taking care of these tasks—please, stop.
6. You're Helping Him Make Big Purchases
For many, making a big ticket purchase solo is a first post-divorce endeavor. You have natural skills in negotiating and sniffing out deals, strengths which you know your ex lacks. How would it hurt to step in and help?
It would hurt because it's not your car, or house or life. It's all theirs now and you must disengage and allow your ex to learn, if necessary, the hard way.
7. You're Making Choices For Him
Whether it's getting a dog, selling a house or taking a trip to China, don't offer your ex your strength in problem solving or your uncanny ability to know what makes others happy. Do not get involved in making choices that are entirely up to your ex.
You don't want to open the door to your ex repeatedly asking for your input or meddling in your decisions.
8. You're Still Having Sex With Him
If loving others is a character strength for you, that's wonderful. Offering sex to your ex, for whatever reason, is likely overplaying that virtue. There are many excellent reasons not to have sex with your ex—it interferes with moving on and confuses everyone, including you. Stop. Now.
We all have wonderful character strengths. If you're in doubt, take the VIA Survey of Character. We love to play to our strengths and that's awesome, as long as we do it in the right situations. Beware of overplaying those strengths with your ex.
There won't be a gut punch like there is when you've eaten too much chocolate, but you can keep it in check by being nice, but not too nice.
Judith Tutin, PhD, ACC, is a licensed psychologist and certified life coach. She is the author of The Post-Divorce Survival Guide. Tools for Your Journey. Connect with her at drjudithtutin.com where you can request a free coaching call.