Maintaining a Civil Relationship with Ex

Parent Q&A

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  • Divorce: Life After?

    (7 replies)

    My spouse and I are heading towards separation and divorce, tremendously sad, but mostly not acrimonious. We have one adult child and another who will be going to college in a year. I'm curious to hear how others fared the first couple of years after separation/divorce. What tips do you have to ward off the sadness/pain/loneliness and eventually find happiness for yourself (and your kids)? Have you remained on friendly terms with your ex and even do things as a "family"? How do you make that happen? Any advice on how to maintain "friendship" throughout the separation/divorce? We both deeply want to remain on good terms, if not for ourselves, most definitely for our children. Thanks!

    Hi there! Recently divorced as of last August. We have a young child in first grade. While it sounds like you won't be coparenting minor children, you might still find "The Co-Parenting Handbook" by Karen Bonnell helpful. It sets the tone for what life will be like post-divorce in terms of having/sharing children together, and the spectrum of options depending on your relationship with your ex. Me and my ex are on friendly terms, so we were able to separate slowly, which was helpful for our child. I also joined a divorce support group after my divorce was finalized, and it was exactly what I needed to heal after my divorce. Check out - they are based on the East Coast but my group has women all over the country. She hosts one for women contemplating divorce, and one group for women who have their divorces finalized, which I have come to learn are two very different stages. Best of luck, divorce is tough, life changing, heartbreaking and painful. However, you may end up, like me, happier on the other end.

    Yes, as many will attest - life can be wonderful after divorce, especially if both of you are able and willing to remain amicable for the sake of your children. Take the time for yourself - pursue dreams and activities that will steer your attention and focus; honor your emotions, but also allow yourself to open up to new people and experiences - the essence of life while we're still alive. There is more than one tree to plant, house to build and relationship to nurture. Most importantly, stay kind to yourself and allow time to work its magic.

    My parents divorced as soon as I finished college and were terrible to each other and it has caused so much tension, just recently they have started to be able to be in the same room. It has made my 20s and now into 30s so painful and I just wanted to reach out and applaud how you and your spouse are prioritizing your children and that will help greatly. I wish you all the best as you discover this new chapter. 

    I think every divorce relationship is different - and what you want to happen, you can make happen as long as you are both on the same page. My son's dad and I have been separated for over 10 years and our relationship has had different phases. We both strongly wanted to be friendly and do family things, keep a real family life alive. We do many - we always attend kid events together, we tag team all the time on parenting tasks, and we have a family dinner every week (we have a teen - I don't know what life will be like after he leaves home). We often socialize with the same people. Sometimes it's easy and painless, but sometimes it's not. As we've been apart longer, we've grown apart. It just happens. If other people enter the picture, all bets are off. I can honestly say that we both put 120% effort in almost every day - we face MANY annoyances and frustrations and we just get over them and wade back in. We don't fight much about parenting, but we irritate each other over minor stuff constantly. It takes massive patience and a very clear vision of what you want. I just forgive and forget many times a week, and so does he. 

    When I first left I was both really sad and really angry. It was brutal bc we had been together for 20+ years. I mourned for probably 2+ years - and gained 30 lbs, drank too much, etc. I advise to really keep an eye on all those lame coping methods, but grief is tricky. At least for me, I was really in survival mode and with a young child. I found that the more I stayed angry, the worse everything was. My emotions, no matter how much I tried to hide them, set the tone for our relationship. We both had many angry exchanges and I was mean - I regret my behavior from that time. Divorce is everyone's fault - the best path is to look inward and work on yourself. I finally got a grip and realized that the nicer and kinder and more generous I was, the more of all those things he could give - and our child was dramatically happier. I lead with that literally every day of my life in interacting with my ex. I try to do more than I need to, always be kind, always reach out, always include, always be generous - every time I let anger or disrespect rule me, it comes straight back to me. 

    You can do it - but it is hard and stays pretty challenging as far as I can tell. I think it's worth it - kids need both parents well into midlife. Everything you do they will pay massive attention to - you're modeling just like you did when they were 5. Think empathetically about your kids and your ex, and yourself ... you can do it.

    I'm very sorry to hear you're heading towards the end of your marriage.  I never post on here but I wanted to share my experience that yes, it is most certainly possible to remain on good terms with your ex after divorce.  I went through a divorce 15 years ago when our child was very young. There was an incredible amount of sadness and some very real anger but after a few years of channeling a lot of patience, humility, acceptance, self-care, compassion, understanding, space, and time (to name a few things that got me through),  I now consider my ex to be one of my best friends.  When we separated we went through about a year of therapy together which in hindsight served as a form of separation planning and commitment to shared values.  We also agreed to prioritize our child and take all the remaining love we had for each other and pour into co-parenting with respect and putting our differences aside to show up for our child.  It was very hard work at times but now we're all one huge blended family.  Just last year I vacationed with my ex and child and my wife and our younger child together and it was really special for all of us.  

    Not trying to give advice, just sharing my experience that I have been able to remain friends with my ex and to be honest it is one of the things in my life I am most proud of.

    I wish you all the best during this time.

    I'm sorry you are in this situation. Even under the best of circumstances, divorce is hard. My divorce was finalized almost exactly a year ago—we had been married for 25 years of 38 years together. My former spouse and I had a long separation leading to divorce. We made the decision to proceed with divorce the spring semester of my younger child's senior year of high school. My older child was two years older and working.

    I am happy to tell you that I am thriving. I started putting support in place long before the divorce occurred (family, friends, and professionals). My former spouse and I agreed to pursue a collaborative divorce process, as I strongly felt I needed the support of a divorce coach (mental health professional) as integral to our divorce team. The coach was essential to my ability to work through the divorce with integrity. While relatively expensive, the process worked well for me and I would not have done it any differently. For one thing, it allowed provisions for the children's support in the divorce agreement (at my insistence) even though they were over 18 (but far from launched) at the time of divorce. I was very lonely and sad at the beginning, but now I am engaged and happy. I have a healthy balance of being alone and being with others in many different contexts. While I have grieved the future we had planned, I've let that go and look forward to charting my future on my terms.

    I had hoped to remain on friendly terms with my former husband. We began the process with the expressed goal of being amicable with and respectful of each other. We discussed what holidays and family events might look like. Unfortunately, my former husband is not able to uphold his end of the agreement. He will barely speak to me, and not in a friendly or comfortable manner. His behavior is untenable, as he asks the children to keep secrets from me, and engages with them only at his convenience. He is unwilling to coordinate with me on holidays and school breaks, leaving the children to choose between us.

    Despite this, I am on good terms with both of my children (the relationships are better than they've been for a long time and improving). I have made it clear that I would never ask them to choose between their father and me. I do not disparage or speak ill of him to them, and I do not initiate conversation about him with them. I also don't sugar coat or ignore his behaviors when they talk about him—rather listen when they need me to listen, validate their feelings, and offer support including therapy if they'd like to engage in it. They see the work I am doing on myself to be in a better place than I was in my marriage. I am appropriately open and honest with them, and they respect me for that (which I am grateful they verbalize). It's a time of impactful personal growth.

    You can only control yourself through this difficult process. While much is studied and written about young children and divorce, little is written about adult children. My former spouse's attorney recommended the book Home Will Never be the Same Again: A Guide for Adult Children of Gray Divorce. I read it and recommend it.

    You can get through this with integrity and move toward a connected and meaningful future.

    Great answers to your post. 
    I would add that often things are going swimmingly until one of you gets a new partner. Sometimes that changes the dynamic. My new husband’s ex was fairly cordial until we got together and now she is ice cold. 
    good luck navigating all of it😬

  • High conflict ex

    (1 reply)

    How do you keep your confidence with an ex who constantly blames you for everything and tries to convince everyone that you are not a good care taker? Everyone who gets to know us eventually sees through the lies. 

    My heart goes out to you as you deal with this toxic ex.

    From your brief description, it sounds as if this person has some sort of psychiatric condition - bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, maybe even psychopathy.

    While there are some good pop psychology books that describe strategies for dealing with individuals with all these types of mental illnesses, it sounds like your situation is so bad that you should seek help from a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible.

    Don't let this a***e get you down.  These malevolent people pick their targets carefully. Don't give him the satisfaction of letting him hurt you.

    Some family courts can require mediation, or even set up a no-contact way of allowing him to visit the children.  You may need a lawyer as well.

    Wishing you all the best.

  • 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.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


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