What happens when you mix bleach and vinegar? Kaboom! Explosion!
Another explosive formula: Stay-home-order with your newly divorced ex! Start with a raw, contentious, hurtful divorce.
Sprinkle in bad timing so the angry couple is forced to live together during stay-at-home orders. Extend the quarantine to a few months. Add Ruby, the 10-year-old daughter learning from home, 2 dogs, and Fred, the elderly grandfather – all in the same house.
What happens? Yep. Divorce Fireworks!
In the new world of divorce, there are no rules and no precedents. Sandy, my divorce recovery client, is stuck in the same house with Joshua, her newly divorced “ex”. The judge slammed down the gavel to end their 3-year litigated divorce, and the next day, the stay-at-home quarantine shackled them together until it’s lifted. Joshua’s new condo wasn’t ready for move-in on “divorce final” day, so he must stay in their family home.
Since then, it’s been a page from Dante’s Inferno. They can’t have visitors due to grandfather’s age (80). Ruby (10-year-old) lives on her iPhone but must be disciplined for online learning. The dogs must be walked twice every day with no exceptions. Sandy and Joshua (who detest each other) must share a bathroom and bump into each other in the kitchen. There’s no escape.
Quarantined with Your Ex
How do you cope when you must live with a person you despise?
With no way out (except the run to necessary grocery shopping), it sounds like eternal damnation. You can’t run to the attorney’s office for legal advice. There’s no hiring a babysitter to escape and meet your BFF at your favorite pub for a glass of wine and listen to her rose-colored divorce cheerleading. You can’t invite guests because Fred (grandfather) is quarantined. Except for outdoor exercise and walking the dog, you’re stuck.
What to do?
First, know this is all new territory in divorce recovery. No one has the answer. It’s somehow comforting to know that everyone else is struggling with the agitation, the isolation, and the anxiety. Our former cure for all of those situations is outward escape. We simply changed the outward landscape and the challenge of ambiguity, boredom, fear subsides. Maybe dinner at a great restaurant? Maybe friends at the house? Perhaps taking yourself to the movies?
Going outward to solve stress is no longer an option. We must learn to go inward.
The answers to your stress aren’t “out there” anymore. They’re inside us. The landscape has changed. We must adapt.
For Sandy, I suggested she take some time when she’s alone (that would be at bedtime – the only time she’s alone.) and examine the new landscape in this order:
- Know thyself is critical right now! What do you need to survive? Make a list of what feeds your soul that’s accessible now. Taking care of numero uno (you) is the first step. Books, being outside, playing the piano, meditation, zooming with groups, tv series for you only, conversations with certain friends (Be careful here. High maintenance friendships may need to go on hold when tensions run high at home. Sort your friends carefully and cultivate only those who make your heart sing). What “speaks” to you? Schedule those things that you really want to do into your life, on your calendar. Tell your family that this is your time, and be selfish about it. By the way, it’s a great role model for Sandy’s daughter, Ruby, to see a strong assertive woman.
- Make sacred spots in the house. These rooms, corners of rooms, or even bed areas are private and accessible only to the “owner” unless permission is granted. Honor them, even if the rest of the clan doesn’t honor yours.
- Get a routine and tell the rest of the residents of your intentions. They may not honor your routine. They may mock you and try to sabotage your efforts. Let it go and keep plowing forward. You’ll feel more powerful having tried to stick to a routine.
- Dealing with a despised person, a persona non grata requires mental agility. He’s not going away. Yelling and fighting won’t work. Learn the skill of compartmentalizing or cubby holing. What do you do when that person (in this case, Joshua) begins to eat into your brain and you want to explode? Decide to mentally put him in a cubby hole where you don’t have to deal with him. Immediately leave the room and go directly to your private space, your sacred spot. On the way out of the room, repeat these words to yourself, “I’ll be ok. Of course, I will!”. You actually will be ok! Remember, your brain believes everything you tell it. If you repeat how angry you are, it will increase your inability to cope with his presence. Focus on YOU, not him, in your thoughts. When you get into your private space, scream into pillows if you’re explosive. Write in a journal if calm enough. If you can safely go for a walk, getting outside always helps.
The challenge with frictional people living together is enormous. Never minimize that. Like the oxygen mask on the airplane, make sure your own needs are covered first. Then, concern yourself with the others. As for the “Joshua” in your house, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Brush him off and don’t engage – as best you can. And leave the room. Come back when you have a modicum of control.
As my mother always said, “This, too, shall pass.” It always does, and years from now, you will look back and be proud that you made it through the pandemic with your pride intact.