In a perfect world, married couples would never divorce, and in a near-perfect world, divorcing and divorced couples would get along amicably. Although many divorcing/divorced couples are able to work together to resolve their differences or to cooperate for the sake of their children, there are many more couples who cannot find a balance and never seem to get along with one another. In family law, spouses that do not get along with each other always reach the same ending – increased legal fees, unnecessary emotional strain, and a rocky future for any children who are caught in the middle. More often than not, the only persons who clearly “win” in such situations are the lawyers who get paid more to “duke it out” in family court.
Just because your ex or soon to be ex-spouse acts with hostility or is making life difficult does not mean you should respond the same way. Here are some non-legal suggestions (that with also benefit you in family court) for getting along with your ex:
Learn to Disengage with Your Ex
Oftentimes, divorcing/divorced parties play unhealthy games with one another. For example, a spouse may take every opportunity to make the other spouse feel guilty for the divorce or to blame the other person for everything that is going wrong in the spouse’s life. Another example is the passive/aggressive game where the other spouse refuses to cooperate by ignoring attempts to communicate. There are many other examples, but regardless of whatever game is being played, every game needs two participants. Stop playing games by learning to disengage. For example, if your spouse ignores your email asking for a time that you should pick up your children from school, do not keep sending emails that go unanswered. Instead, disengage by sending an email that states what time you will pick them up, and stating that if you do not hear back, you will assume the time you set is good.
Set Boundaries with Your Ex
Although some circumstances, like scheduling time with your children, may require flexibility other circumstances, such as mature and productive communication, childcare responsibilities, etc., require clear boundaries. Try to come up with an agreement in writing so that everyone understands their roles and the other party’s expectations.
Examine Your Own Role
It is oftentimes difficult for persons to take ownership for their own shortcomings. A good start to taking responsibility for your role is to stop judging and blaming your ex and to look at yourself from a critical viewpoint to see whether you are contributing to the challenges in your relationship. Are you being too critical of your ex? Are your attempts to communicate coming across as threatening or demeaning? Are you playing the part of the “victim” and empowering your ex to bully you? If you are having trouble figuring out your role, then oftentimes a licensed therapist can help you work towards these answers. When you understand your role in the relationship, you are better able to understand the reason behind other person’s unhealthy coping mechanisms and how to avoid confrontation by walking away from fights, by resisting the urge to criticize, by not acting defensively, and so on.
Unfortunately, learning to get along with your ex does not necessarily mean that your ex will ever appreciate your efforts or that your ex will develop healthier coping mechanisms. However, it does mean that you will be emotionally healthier, that you will set the right example for your children, and, in the worst case scenario, that you will likely be recognized by the family court for choosing the right path in dealing with your ex.