Much to my chagrin, just six months ago my ex-husband, Arnold Rabinor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was in the process of completing my book, Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex and Arnie and I had frequently joked about going on a book tour together with our current spouses! When he called to share the news of his diagnosis, he ended our conversation on a light note and said, "I guess we'll have to put off the book tour for now." Both of us knew that pancreatic cancer was deadly. Neither of us knew that within 10 weeks he would be gone.
My book had not yet gone to print, so I had the opportunity to dedicate it to him. Here is an excerpt I would like to share with you:
"Until his untimely death, I counted our relationship as one of the most significant, long term relationships in my life. We divorced in 1983 when our children were eight and twelve, and created a family based in two homes. As co-parents, we shared in the minutae of everyday life as well as the important milestones: we cheered at gymnastics and swim meets, celebrated birthdays and graduations, and, later on, weddings and the birth of grandchildren. Although it wasn't seamless and there were bumps in the road, we remained committed to co-parenting. This commitment shaped my life. May his memory be a blessing and remind you that even if your marriage fails, its possible to keep your family together."
At a recent talk to people contemplating and/or struggling with divorce, I elaborated on the bumps, potholes and roadblocks that often come up in the early phases of befriending your ex after divorce -- sometimes in the later phases as well. I shared with my audience one of my most important messages: Most people know that a good parenting relationship benefits children, but may not be aware that a strong co-parenting relationship benefits parents as well. It's my experience that a parent's love is irreplaceable, and your ex's love and devotion to your children can offer a sanctuary to not only to them -- your children -- but to you as well. Speaking personally, knowing I could rely on my ex to care for our children under any circumstance offered me a sense of safety and security that was crucial to my well-being.
How does this happen? How can you start on the journey of befriending? Here are 10 secret strategies that can help you create a better relationship with your ex:
1. Create a post-it that says, "Children do best when parents get along." Paste it on your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator and the dashboard of your car. Keep it in the front of your mind forever.
2. Create a vision of the new family you want to create. You are no longer married, but can still be a family. Create the new relationship you want. Use your imagination as an ally.
3. Learn to pause. Before talking to your children about your ex, before talking to your ex, before talking about your divorce to anyone, take three deep breaths. Stay away from bad mouthing your ex. It will help you feel better.
4. Practice letting go. Let go of the past. When you find yourself reviewing what went wrong in your marriage, imagine a red light. Befriending your ex is a new beginning.
5. Practice forgiveness. None of us are perfect. It's important to forgive yourself when you do the wrong thing. Or when you remember things you did in the past.
6. Practice gratitude. For example: "Thank you for spending all that time shopping with Jeannie, she loves the dress you bought her for her Sweet 16."
7. Practice appreciation. The two most important words in the English language are "Thank you." Remind yourself to thank your ex for everything. For example: "Thank you for bringing the kids home on time."
8. Change occurs one small step at a time. Take risks. Invite your ex to join you at a parent conference. Ask her to over for Thanksgiving. Offer to bring him groceries if he is ill.
9. When in doubt, take the high road. It will pay off because you will know you have done what's needed.
10. Create new rituals that will keep your new family together. Invite your ex in for a cup of coffee when she is dropping of f the kids or he is picking them up.
Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist, individual and group therapist and workshop leader. She is the author of Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex (2013) and A Starving Madness: Tales of Hunger, Hope and Healing in Psychotherapy (2002). Contact her at www.judithruskayrabinorphd.com