Building a Bridge With Your Ex-Spouse
by Michele Germaine
What happens when you interact with your former spouse? Are you angry, fearful, upset and defensive? Or are you centered, focused and neutral?
Are you proactive or reactive? Do you have your business hat on, or are you the scream machine? Are you reminded of your unresolved feelings you are still harboring? Do you find yourself upset the rest of the day after an interaction? Are you worried about the children and wondering how they are going to do with the divorce or breakup? You look ahead and realize you have a job to finish. Raising your children. And this requires a relationship with your former spouse. It is called co-parenting post divorce.
Recent research indicates that divorce itself may not be damaging to children. Rather, the on-going conflict, anger and unresolved feelings that are exhibited by one or both parents create a great deal of distress in children. Especially when they are put in the middle, and witness conflicts and arguments or hear you talk negatively about the other parent.
Doing What's Best For The Children
Unless you have been in an abusive relationship, it is better for the children if both parents participate in the child's life in a cooperative manner. Children can adjust to a variety of living patterns, including living in two homes. The process is more effective if the parents are working together and are focused on the children's healthy development. Parents must put their emotional pain aside while they are coming together to discuss, support and respond to the needs of the children.
You might now be saying, how in the world am I going to talk in a business like manner when I feel like exploding every time I see him? Because of the children you must stretch and force yourself beyond your normal comfort zone. This will require you to work out your pain in the presence of others so you can be with your ex-spouse in a non-reactive business-like manner. In my personal experience it helps to connect with your spiritual self so that you have the strength to come from your heart. The mission is to build a bridge with your ex spouse and raise healthy, secure children. The results are more likely to be:
You will develop greater strength and empower yourself.
You will become truly free. Freedom comes when you know longer react to your former spouse, not when you avoid him/her.
You will heal your pain because as long as you are angry you stay attached.
Your children will develop feelings of stability and will be less likely to feel abandoned.
Children will be less likely to divide their loyalties, or try to meet the social and emotional needs of their parents by trying to replace the parent.
You will be modeling healthy behavior for your children.
Communicating Effectively With Your Ex
Now the question becomes how do I put this into practice? How do I connect and maintain a conflict free, business relationship with my "ex" when my body, heart and mind get triggered into fear, anger and disgust every time I connect. Here are seven strategies to help you reach this goal:
1. Most experts suggest that a signed co-parenting agreement is helpful. Here you would state the intention, the appropriate behavior when coming together and how you will make decisions. It will also state that past marital issues will not be discussed, insults, attacking, blaming will not occur. Other issues in agreement can address, what will happen in an emergency? How you will handle discipline, childcare, doctors, emergency issues etc. The agreement can be periodically evaluated and adjusted to meet the present needs of parents and the children. Both parents should sign this.
2. Depending on the age of your children, structure regular meetings with your former spouse either by phone or in person.
3. Before or after a meeting or phone contact, it is important to process your feelings of anger, frustration and sadness with someone. Seeing or talking to your former spouse can re-stimulate old pain.
4. Consider taking an assertive training course. Do not pit will against one another and engage in power struggles or be competitive with your partner. This is dysfunctional behavior, not assertiveness. Try to negotiate a middle ground by accepting each other's differences of opinion. There is more than one way to meet the needs of your children.
5. Honor your limits and what is reasonable for you to expect yourself to do. Be aware that children of every age will try to manipulate parents into getting what they want.
6. Encourage and be involved with helping your children pick out presents to celebrate the other parent's birthday, holidays, etc. Maintaining a relationship with both parents is in the child highest good.
7. Contact an experienced relationship coach or therapist to help work through problem areas. A third person is at times necessary in moving through emotional blocks and conflicts that may occur.
Building a bridge occurs with one brick at a time. And, the bridge you build will reflect the life you lived. Be patient and loving with yourself as you embark on this journey called co-parenting to raise healthy, secure children. It will require courage, honesty and a connection to your spiritual essence.
© Michele Germain 2007. All Rights Reserved. Michele Germain is author of The Jill Principle: A Woman's Guide to Healing Your Spirit after Divorce or Breakup, has a master's degree in social work from Wayne State University and is licensed as a Clinical Social Worker and Marriage Family Therapist in California. For more information and to sign up for her free newsletter visit www.thejillprinciple.com.