Last week a clown walked into my office, decked out in a creepy clown costume, a painted smile and tearfully asked, "My wife and I are already divorced. Is there something I can do to get her the hell out of my life?" The problem was simple -- his marital relationship continued because the marital cord had not been cut. The solution was also simple -- stop behaving in the role of husband.
The expression "cutting the cord" describes a necessary action to take when it's time to end a dependent relationship. It begins at birth when the mother-baby cord is cut. Eighteen years later (or 35), the parent-child cord is cut. When divorce happens, there is a spouse-dependent cord that also needs to be severed, though many people don't know how.
A legal divorce does not automatically terminate the "marital relationship." Yes, on paper it becomes official, but I'm referring to divorced people who behave in some instances like they are still married. I call these behaviors marital cords, or interdependencies, that maintain a terminated marriage beyond the point it should.
Ties are hard to cut because they have been built on years of development and nurturing. They've become a natural way of doing things and turning to other people or resources can feel foreign.
Marital cords consist of a variety of connections shared between a couple. The most common cords people struggle with in the early stages of divorce are: 1. financial, 2. emotional, and sexual.
The Financial Cord
Splitting the assets and debt in a divorce don't always end the financial connection between a couple. This is especially true when there is a continued financial obligation (spousal support, child support, shared asset).
April relied on her ex husband more than she should have. She more than willingly let this aspect of their relationship continue because it made her life easier. When she needed a co-signer, she called Mario. When she was short on cash, he'd lend her money. It wasn't until Mario's fiancé told him to cut her off. She was right. It was time to set a new boundary that would allow both of them to move on.
When you allow yourself (or your ex) to maintain a financial tie, you get in your own way of becoming financially independent. Replacing a spouse's financial role can be done. It may take some time, phone calls, and patience but in the long run it is well worth the effort.
The Emotional Cord
Most people assume that divorced partners dislike each other, therefore would never turn to their ex for emotional support. This isn't always the case. It's actually more common than people realize. When the lines of communication need to continue because of children, business or other reasons, purposeful contact can meander into personal topics.
If you notice that your communication is getting off track, you might consider a more structured way of relaying information about the children. OurFamilyWizard.com does just that. It keeps your communication focused the kids, parenting schedules, activities, child support tracking and more. Taking other proactive measures can keep inappropriate ties where they should be.
The Sexual Cord
It's common for nearly- or newly-divorced couples to find themselves back in the bedroom. The reasons vary from person-to-person and seem to be par for the course during the transitional period.
The problem of maintaining a sexual cord with your ex (beyond the customary "slip-up") comes when there is a negative impact on one or both of your lives. Wendy learned the hard way. She made herself available to her ex husband's late night booty calls because she wanted him back. Making matters worse, the children were aware of Daddy's visits and thought they were back together. One night she told him to come back home and was devastated to hear him tell her no. Instead, he told he was planning to propose to his girlfriend but wanted to remain sex buddies.
Although sex with your ex may provide a temporary relief from sadness (or release of sexual tension), there is a good chance it could do more harm than good. So, the next time you feel a tug at your underpants, push your ex away and remember an important lesson. If you are investing your sexual energy in a relationship that did not work out, you might not be available when a better partner comes along.
A divorce does not necessarily lead to an unhealthy relationship between spouses. Most couples eventually cut all marital cords and develop healthy ties to new relationships. The best way to avoid an interdependent connection with your ex is to stop it before it sets in. This means doing something most people don't want to do -- make a change. While it's certainly a hard thing to do, the sooner you make the change the easier it's going to be.