When Molly talked about a peaceful divorce, her words kept echoing in my head.
“Peaceful is not a place that you arrive to and never change after that. It’s continually a process.”
That means co-parenting with your ex is going to be an evolving and changing process that will inevitably mean disagreements. In the early days following separation, those disagreements can be frequent, both you and your ex need to fall into a new rhythm and as you find that rhythm the disagreements may become less frequent. Then something will change, you’ll attempt something new and bang! Here comes an argument. So I asked Molly what she had learned about handling those disagreements. Here’s Molly:
One thing I’ve learned that doesn’t work well is to continue the fight.
So for example, that Thanksgiving, I kept getting on the phone with him and I kept engaging with him. I kept trying to talk him out of it and I kept trying to convince him that it would be better for the kids if he came for Thanksgiving.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from our divorce was that I kept trying to make things different, I kept trying to make him different, I kept engaging in the conflict. I had been raised by parents who were very conflict resolution-oriented. They were involved in some spiritual groups in the 70’s and they would stop our family any time and we’d have to sit down and work out the conflict.
That just didn’t work with my ex. He was much more emotional, really couldn’t talk about his feelings so when we talked about it, the anger just escalated. We even tried to engage in that time-out idea of taking space away but because we lived together, it was so artificial, the time-out would be very short and by the time we got back together to talk, he would be still angry and oftentimes so would I.
I’ve learned over time to let it go.
“Okay, we got in a fight, just let it be and give us some time to cool off. It’ll be better the next time we see each other. If I keep trying to resist and argue my way out of it, it just engages us more and more and more in the conflict.”
That Thanksgiving, I still tried to engage in the conflict. When I saw him the next day at the gym, (I think he probably showed up knowing we would be there with the kids) he was still really mad but I had moved through it.
I constantly reminded myself of what I wanted as opposed to what I was fighting against. It was very clear to me that I wanted to continue to love him, I wanted us to continue to love each other, I wanted to continue to be good friends,. We had this interesting interchange at the gym café and he just kept getting angry. I kept saying,
“I love you and I know this is going to work out. I know we’re going to find a way to make this better.”
It just kept going back and forth. Finally he broke down, crying and we had this tender moment and he was like,
“Great. I’m glad you haven’t lost faith in me.”
So I guess some of my technique is to let it go, don’t engage in this continual battle. I see it in blogs all the time, you get that angry text message or that angry phone message and you want so badly to fight back and to defend yourself and to try to work it out and sometimes it just doesn’t work.
The other thing, too, is a stubborn adherence to my vision of how I wanted it to be, how I felt that no matter how much fighting we did, we would get back to what mattered which was that we still cared about each other, we still loved each other and we still loved our kids.
The Divorce Coach Says
I think what Molly did here that’s so different is that instead of always focusing on the content of the disagreement, she spent time thinking about how her style of handling conflict differed from her ex’s and how that style was in fact, adding to the conflict.
Do you know what your conflict resolution style is? What about your ex’s? Is your style changing? After my divorce and after the death of my father, I came to realize that my own tendency was conflict-avoidance and changing that was the hardest lesson of my divorce.
And again, there is that overarching principle that guides you like a full moon on a dark night. So many women who have successfully negotiated divorce have talked about the difference having such a principle made. Whether it’s deciding you won’t be a victim, or that you will behave with class and dignity or that you want a peaceful divorce, having that guiding principle allows you to step back in moments of tension and to ask if this is what you want? Is this helping you achieve your goal?
Do you have a principle or a mantra that guides you?
Photo credit: 🙂 Ali