Even with two young children, I considered my first divorce to be a mere blip on the radar screen. For sure, there were emotional periods where I wallowed in a bit of fantasizing about how wonderful my marriage was – but only until the day my therapist friend became fed up with my whining and told me that what I remembered was just that – a fantasy bearing no actual resemblance to what my marriage really looked like.
My second divorce was an entirely different animal. I had a 14-year-old bonus son, who now at 23 is still one of the brightest lights in my life. Although with this divorce there was nothing to add, divide, or split in half, I still found it to be one of the most painful and saddest experiences I’d had in my entire adult life. At the time, I was teaching and coaching coparents on how to deal with their relationship-ending emotions. Yet, I was feeling completely overwhelmed by my own experience with the emotional stages of divorce, i.e. shock (What the hell just happened?), anger (Who in the hell do you think you are?), depression (I can’t believe this is happening to me!) and bargaining (What can I do to make this go away?). Learning to handle my divorce emotions in a way that protected my child and my sanity was hard work. There were days when I felt good about my effort, but there were far too many when I did not. And then there were those times when the day ended with a prayer for a double-dutch do(over) and a heartfelt promise that I’d do better tomorrow.
It’s been nearly eight years since my divorce, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that no matter how you’ve handled your divorce over the past two hours, two days, two weeks, or two years, there’s no better time to switch it up and do better. No better time to be better. No clue where to start? Well, as Julie Andrews sang in The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”.
Here Are Tips on How to Handle Your Divorce Emotions
Commit to Being Better
To paraphrase, in any good fight, they may forget what you said – but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. During my divorce, I had the kind of feelings I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Anger, hurt, vengefulness – I felt all of it! I never acted on those feelings because, 1) I was always mindful that (figuratively speaking), a strike against my ex was a strike against my child, and 2) I knew I was better than my feelings.
Don’t Excuse Your Own Bad Behavior
Blaming your co-parent for your actions is unhealthy in the short run and self-defeating in the long run. As I was told so many times by my mom, two wrongs don’t make a right. This meant that it was not okay for me to do things I knew to be wrong simply because of the wrong I felt had been done to me. I found spiteful thoughts to be emotionally exhausting at a time when my child most needed my support and attention to the details of his life. One benefit of adulthood is that we have the power of choice, which comes in handy when deciding what time to go to bed, which restaurant to go to, and how we behave when we become angry.
Be Open to the Possibility That Your Relationship Can Change
My ex had checked out of the marriage long before I realized that there was even a problem. By the time he left, he seemed to have found some peace, and with it, a desire for a different relationship – one of co-parents working together. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t there yet (or, for a long time to follow), but I recall him being much kinder to me than I ever thought I could be towards him. Moving through my divorce emotions required coming to accept the reality that relationships change. With a little more time, I was able to accept that the change in our relationship was for the better.
We Can Also Change How We Handle Our Divorce
We can also change how we handle our divorce by:
Aretha Franklin sang “All I’m asking for is a little respect.” When it came to my divorce, I struggled with giving respect after experiencing what I viewed as such disrespectful behavior on his part. I found it easy to see myself as the better person, but only if I ignored the ways that – since the split up – my behavior had become so disrespectful towards him. Co-parenting is tough stuff, and just a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T can go a long way towards helping everybody heal.
A lot of co-parent conflict is rooted in our mean talk towards each other. While a few choice words may seem to be the best option at the time, the truth is they can create a hurt that’s hard to move past and one we never get over. Typically, this hurt builds up until it explodes, and sparks begin to fly. In high-conflict co-parenting relationships, this explosion of hurt can be like screaming ‘FIRE’ in a crowded room. The adults run and the kids get trampled.
Respecting Your Kids
It’s simply not fair to take away your child’s right to not care one little bit about what you’re going through. As parents, we should be helping our kids navigate the fun, quirky, and curious in their world, not asking them to sit with us while we learn to accept our new normal. When my ex-husband moved out, I was alone with my bonus 14-year-old son. During my brief breaks from gloom, I found myself wanting him to hang out with me when I should have been helping him plan HIS weekend. That wasn’t fair to him. Once I stopped trying to make him my BFF, I found my own friends to play with.
Be willing, if necessary, to seek help in finding the core good in you (for me, it was counseling), fall in love with THAT good, and allow it to help you become a person you can respect. Thirst to be THAT person every day. Whether through deep breathing exercises, a peaceful moment with a cup of hot tea and a Panera muffin (my personal favorite), or an early morning run, speak to THAT person before interacting with anyone, especially your co-parent. Work hard to be the type of person you’d like to have as a co-parent.
Moving past my divorce emotions wasn’t easy. During my most painful moments, it was a challenge to do better and be better than I was feeling. Then I’d remember those Sunday mornings when I or my siblings would finally get up the nerve to tell our mom that we didn’t feel like going to church, to which she would always reply, you don’t have to feel like going, you just have to act like you do!
By its definition, successful co-parenting means sometimes acting differently than you’re feeling. When kids get to witness their parents working things out peacefully, it can be the gift that keeps on giving. We may not want to do better than we feel or be better than we feel, but to have a healthy co-parent relationship, we may be required to act like we do.