How does your ex make you angry? "How much time do I have?" you ask. The list is probably detailed, extensive and, quite frankly, repetitive. In fact, the dozen or more daily offenses perpetrated by your ex are most likely duplicated ad nauseam until you feel like screaming, "We've done this! We've been through this! Are you stupid?"
Breaking out of a cycle with an uncooperative ex feels absolutely impossible. Time and again, co-parents complain that their ex talks about them behind their back to the kids, sabotages school meetings, buys tremendous amounts of unnecessary stuff in an attempt to win the children's favor, lets the kids stay up too late, etc.
"He won't ever get it." "She's always been like this." "My ex is stuck and just won't change," you may say. But does this mean that you have to resign yourself to this frustrating and unproductive cycle? The answer is "no" and here's why:
All behavior is a form of communication. When your ex shows up late or arrives right on time, for that matter, he or she is communicating through that action. And this communication isn't one sided because one person's actions usually trigger a reaction from the other person. Like the old saying goes, "It takes two to tango."
Now that may seem unfair and you can rail against it if you want. But while your ex's communication and behaviors may not be your fault, it doesn't mean they're not your problem. Hostile, vengeful communication and passive aggressive or thoughtless behavior hurt your children and your children are your problem -- or at least, they are your responsibility. This means that regardless of the immature, persistent behavior of your ex, it's your duty to change your part of the tango.
Now before you throw up your hands in hopeless dismay, be assured that taking responsibility for changing your behavior and letting go of your ex's behavior (which you can't change) is a powerful, life-altering transformation. You will feel more in control and better about yourself and your divorce situation. And it's also not as difficult as you might think.
The first thing to know is that taking the high road pays off. People who behave in mature, respectful, cooperative ways with their ex (in spite of their ex's poor behavior) consistently find that when the kids grow up they know the score. Children have finely tuned radar, and they ultimately know who tried to buy them off and who was really there for them. From an early age, they're clear that the unkind things one parent said about the other are untrue, and they feel closer to the parent who acted like an adult. The bottom line: It may take some time, but the high road in your divorce is worth it.
The second thing to know is that cyclical behavior can be changed by one person. Ask yourself which part of your behavior in the conflicts with your ex is repetitive. For example, maybe she texts you twelve times a day to complain about something and you take the time to respond to each text. Ask yourself: which part of that can I change? Maybe you could set one time a day to text her back and answer all of her questions then. Or maybe he's consistently late picking up your daughter on his visitation days. Ask yourself: What could I do differently? Maybe you could make the pick-up time earlier than you actually want him to come or perhaps you could drop off your daughter at his house instead of him coming to yours. Or, these suggestions may not work for you -- but it doesn't mean that there isn't something that will work. The trick lies in thinking positively and creatively and not allowing yourself to get stuck in the repetitive cycle.
To that end, work on not getting stuck in negative thoughts, too. Things like, "That will never work," "There's nothing I can do about that," "I've tried that and it didn't work," preclude the positive thinking of change.
Thinking creatively and communicating or behaving differently than you have in the past are empowering principles that can enact permanent, lasting change in your divorce relationship. "Let me try something else," "I'm sure I can figure something out," "That didn't work, but it doesn't mean something else won't -- I'll try again," will turn you around, push you forward, and steer you on that higher road.
One final and very important note: If your ex is physically or psychologically abusive towards you or your children, it's time to get outside help. That's another way to break out of the cycle. Call an abuse hotline, call a therapist, call a friend, call your lawyer, call the police. Abuse of any kind is not okay.
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