Maintaining a Civil Relationship with Ex

Parent Q&A

  • My 28-year-old daughter, the mother of two children--barely 4 and almost 2-- has separated from her husband. She is angry with him, and with good reason to some extent (they both need better communication skills, but his are terrible), and she'll criticize him when the kids are with us: for example, "Well, he just texted that he's too busy to come see them on his day off!" "He SAID he was going to take care of this, and didn't, as usual!" The children don't appear to pay attention, but I can't believe the 4-year-old isn't picking up on this. However, the last time I visited, neither one seemed unhappy, and so far there's been no noticeable regression.

    My daughter does make genuine efforts to make sure he's included in their lives, while he, usually a loving father, is so hurt and upset that he complains about trivia, and makes excuses not to have the kids 50%. At this point in her life, she wants my approval and sympathy, and doesn't take kindly to unsolicited advice. My daughter lives at a distance and I don't see see her often, although we are emotionally pretty close. I deeply dislike her being negative about their father in front of the kids. I've talked, in a general way, about the subject to her, and she agrees in theory, but seemingly can't resist the verbal jabs. I've also recommended counseling; he's  getting a little, and my daughter says she can't afford it right now. Is there anything else I can do, apart from changing the subject when the children are around? Any good books on the topic?

    Having been a child of divorce, and being at one time a divorced person, I understand both sides of this coin.  Both parties need to get into some good therapy to work on their individual issues and concerns.  You are correct that overtime her comments about their father will make a difference and it won't be good for either parent.  She should look in her area for free counseling, as some of that exist.  There are good divorce books, check out Barnes and Nobles and you can find them.  You might want to tell her that while you get the is hurt, angry, and all the other emotions she is having during this process, that making unkind remarks about their dad will only hurt her relationship with her children in the long run.  If she needs and outlet, she should talk to you or her friends.  In the mean time, she could also look at doing joint counseling with her husband to see if they can put their marriage back together or really make the decision to divorce.  The counselor can assist them to get to a better place.  Good luck.

    Hi - I'm with you.  I hope in time your daughter can stop using harmful language which hurts her kids and their relationship with their father. Recommend Taking the War Out of Our Words by Sharon Strand Ellison.It's a book on non-defensive communication. There are other books on topic. I heard Ellison speak at a political meeting for Sister District workshop on how to speak to folks with differing all applies to families as well. You are right of course - the 4 year old is picking this up. It is not healthy. Their father needs to be more involved rather than less. Good luck. 

    It sounds like they would benefit from an empathy practice - they don't seem to be hearing each other. Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg is a great place to start.

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Dealing with husband's anger about divorce terms

November 2006

After being quite unhappy and badly treated for a long while, I finally filed for divorce from my longtime (20 years) h. He claimed we should stay together for the kids, etc. I agreed that he would buy my value in the house, and I moved out to a rental at the first moment after my temporary support and a 50-50 custody division had been agreed to.

I thought this was going to be amicable because he will finally get the sexual freedom- ie promiscuity- that he had always wanted. However, he has managed to get very angry at me for requesting my half share in the value of the antique furniture and for wanting a slightly higher settlement value due to his successful professional practice.

Do people always get angry during divorces ? I told him I wish to return to work (stopped working after the kids were born) but he seems to see me as some sort of leech despite the fact that his adultery made divorce a necessity rather than a choice. D

Dear D., I am sorry you are experiencing the horrible feeling of rage directed against you; I am divorcing right now and I know (I think) what you are talking about. I, too, left a long-time marriage because I had grown very unhappy in it and felt I had to try to make my way outside the marriage, though I hesitated for fear of hurting our child. My ex is enraged, can't really make eye contact, issues judgemental and poisonous e-mails at regular intervals, is paranoid about me, criticizes me to our child, tries to alienate me from friends we both used to share, grasps at every penny, etc. But mostly he just expresses, through physical and verbal language, rage and bitterness at almost every turn. It is exhausting to try to defend oneself against that.

Mostly I just try to create distance. The difference in my situation is that I was the one who had an affair, which you may find to be a definitive difference. I had hoped that after I supported my ex for a good portion of his adult life he might part from me in a reasonably amicable way, but this is not quite the case. So if you want to talk to someone, contact me through the moderator. I think that it takes a very mature person to acknowledge his role in the break-up and accept it in a non-brutal way, but that is just not the case for many people, I fear. also thought we could be reasonable

Don't know if this has any relevance to your situation, but my husband gets angriest when he is feeling guilty about something. It took me a long time to realize this -- it's so different from how I behave. When I feel guilty about something I've done, I react by trying to be nicer to make up for it, but he's the opposite. So now when he gets mad, I try to think, what did he do that he's feeling bad about? In your case, your husband could be getting angry with you because he feels guilty about having wronged you and your kids. If you try to focus on whatever is good in him, he might be easier to deal with as you go through the divorcing process. Of course he did a bad thing, but you aren't going to get anywhere by harping on it. Tell him he is a good dad; he might start acting more like one. Good luck!

I'm sorry you are going through a difficult divorce. I can't speak to all divorces, but my (one) experience was the same as yours: my first marriage ended because my husband got involved with someone else, but on some level he didn't want to believe he had done anything wrong or there would be any consequences for his actions, so he responded with anger and defensiveness whenever I asked for (or even suggested I might ask for) anything from him in our divorce. It sounds like your husband, like mine, wants to do what he wants to do and not pay any price, and he is shocked that you might stand up for yourself and your needs/rights. My advice to you is get a good lawyer and try to make the whole process as impersonal as possible, though I know that is difficult. Looking back, I responded to my husband's emotional blackmail by backing off instead of sticking to my guns, because I was used to caring about what he thought of me--but the truth is, our marriage was ending and his feelings shouldn't have mattered to me anymore. Your job now is to take care of yourself, not him. I wish you all the best.

Yeah--most people do get angry during a divorce. That's just the way it is. Look out for your rights (and your kids' rights) and don't let him get to you. Get a therapist, coach, lawyer, whatever support it takes to help you stay clear on what you want from the settlement and to keep from letting him manipulate your emotions--otherwise you're going to be sorry down the road --Been there; done that


How to stay civil after breakup

October 2006

My partner and I have just decided to split up after eight years and two kids together. We're not legally married so there will be no divorce. Our couple's counselor will probably help us flesh it all out but I would love to hear other people's stories of successful civil break-ups and what custody arrangements worked or didn't. How do you equitably split finacial responsibilities when you have dad working and mom not with not much cash between them? (Obviously I'm going to go back to FT work). I'm not all that good at civil so if you have any tips on structured ways to suss out who gets the kids when, how to split up money and other complications like that, I'd appreciate it. mama trying to figure it out

First, I applaud you for wanting to work towards a civil divorce. It takes ongoing effort, but it is possible. My ex- and I have been doing so for 12+ years. Here are my thoughts and tips:

-Learn to say a*****e after you have hung up the phone.

-Things may be easier once the focus is on raising the children and not on the relationship between the two of you -Remember, your children are more important than money or things or everything being 'equal'

-We lived our agreement for quite some time before making it legal. This enabled us to flesh it out, and make it a more solid agreement.

-Consider a 50/50 split for both money and time.

-On the $$ front: We created a list of what costs for which we would share equal financial responsibility. In the 12 years, there has only been one thing we added to the list (car insurance for teenage drivers)

-We have a 'money manager model' for handling the finances. Essentially, a checking account in my name only for which we both do direct deposit. I handle most expenses. If he needs to be reimbursed, he tells me the amount and I write a check. We are prety relaxed about $$ and have basic trust.

-As the children have grown, the details of the 50/50 split have changed. From switching every few days, to week-on-week-off, and two-weeks-on-two-weeks-off. We've also changed what day to switch (currently Monday nights) -We have a 'hand-off' discussion when the kids change homes. Mainly, this is to share info about how our children are doing.

-If possible, live close to each other. Definitely have a shared commitment to stay in the same area.

-Be sure to keep each other apprised of any behaviour issues with the kids. My kids know that if they do something wrong, they will discuss it with me and separately with their dad. For really big issues, we have gotten together to address the problem. This is really powerful.

-We are flexible. If one of us has had a business trip and needs to change the schedule, we have always tried to accommodate the other person

-And finally, this is ongoing work. Some times it is easier than other times.
divorce has worked for my family