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Pauline Gaines Headshot

Don't Drink the United Front Kool-Aid

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COUPLE ANGRY
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A few days ago my friend Miranda, who, like me, has a VIP ex-husband and a son with behavioral issues, texted me this:

Please address in your blog. Because, OMG.

Miranda was referring to a text she received from her son's psychiatrist, yet another well-meaning but clueless mental health professional urging her to get on the same page with the ex who thinks she's crazy, stupid, and the source of all their kid's problems.

Over the years, Miranda and I have gotten the same lecture from countless therapists, doctors, teachers and others who believe that any divorce can be made amicable if you just try hard enough.

But the truth is, the "United Front" motto is about as effective as Just Say No and Can't We All Get Along? You will have an easier time finding the Lost City of Atlantis than getting on the same page with someone who won't go anywhere near your page.

Most therapists don't know what to do with a high-conflict divorce. Nothing they learned in graduate school taught them how to manage messily-divorced families. They are freaked out by the level of discord and are praying you will fire them and find another therapist.

But because they are charging you $150 an hour, they feel that they need to say something that sounds expert-y and therapeutic.

Conventional Wisdom directives like the ones in the text message Miranda got -- "uniform expectations between the two homes" and "display support and respect for one another" and be a "co-parenting team" -- are appropriate when dished out to TWO reasonable people.

But that's not your situation! You, the reasonable ex, will not succeed in these fruitless endeavors. You will wear yourself out and feel like an abject failure. You might as well add a couple teaspoons of cyanide to that Kool-Aid.

And, guess what? Feeling like an abject failure will not help your kids the least little bit.

Here's what will help: get in reality. Know that "be a united front" is code for "you're screwed." The good news is that once you accept the fact that you're screwed -- that you will NEVER have an amicable divorce -- you can take the only advisable steps to surviving life with your crazy-making ex:

- Parallel Parenting. This is the opposite of co-parenting. It means that you pick your battles. Don't try to sync up anything unless absolutely necessary. You don't need to agree on discipline techniques. You do need to agree on where to send your kid to school. Different rules for different houses doesn't screw up kids. Never-ending conflict does.

- Do things that nuture and empower you. For me, this means writing and hanging out with friends. As crazy as my post-divorce life has been, I shudder to think how much crazier it would have been had I not started blogging or had such a wonderful assortment of friends and family.

- Keep Your Sense of Humor. Or cultivate one. Not to get all Norman Vincent Peale, but laughter really can change your mood and perspective, at least in the moment. And since you're not going to be able to escape your existential quagmire EVER, you might as well learn to laugh about it.

To my divorced homies: what's the most egregious divorce advice you've ever gotten? And what do you do to manage your unmanageable ex?