This article was originally posted on May 18, 2011. Due to its popularity, I thought I’d re-post it.
When hit with divorce some people decide that their life is over. They think that in order to be a good parent, they must make sacrifices. They decide that dating has to wait until the children are grown, or they decide that they must be alone FOREVER.
There are always those people who decide that “all men are scum!” or that “all women are man haters!” While it certainly feels that way as you try to heal the wounds of divorce, those statements are blatantly false. Just because one person hurt you, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a loving man or woman out there who has been hurt just as badly, and would love to find someone like you. Many people are looking for a decent, loving individual, with whom they can build a new life, but instead, they do not allow themselves to seek out a potential mate.
It is called fear, people. Fear holds them back from true happiness. Those who live in fear never get to live life to the fullest. They miss out on the joy life can bring. They miss out on sharing a life with someone wonderful.
We can take our past experiences and let them continue to hurt us, or we could chalk it up to experience and hop right back on that bicycle and try it again. What I think people find through dating, especially when they are a little older and have been through divorce, is that they matter, and that they are more beautiful and desirable than they think they are.
The period following divorce can be a chance to learn about yourself. It can be a time to figure out who you are and what your interests are. You can try people on for size and it will help you find the right one for you. Just because the last one turned out to be the wrong one, that is no reason to give up and hide under the covers. I truly believe that there is someone out there for everyone. Just make sure that you have examined your part in the failed relationship and that you are emotionally healthy and ready for a new relationship before you get deeply involved with a new mate. It will save many headaches later if you get your act together!
I have another take on that whole “sacrificing for the children” belief. I think that when you swear off dating, you are robbing your children of a good example. Here’s why: Since you ended up divorced, that was probably not the best example of a healthy relationship. Did you fight? Was there chemical dependency involved? Was your ex physically and verbally abusive? Children learn by modeling. They observe the relationships they see and it leaves an impression on them. The kind of relationship they witness will be the relationship they seek out in their own lives and they will do so without even knowing they are doing it.
One day, they will choose a significant other and have a relationship just like their parents had. Why? Because this is what a relationship looks like to them. Do you want that? Would it be better to show your children how to date selectively and then hopefully find that special person with whom you can have a healthy, lasting relationship with? What a great model to give them, especially if all of the relationships around them haven’t always been the healthiest! Do this for you, but also for your children, and for that new person you have yet to meet, the one who is just as lonely as you are. You just might surprise yourself and find the right one. I know I have.
Keep in mind that there is another reason to open your heart and mind to love, and all of the possibilities in life. Your ex. While I would never recommend dating just to get back at your ex, I do think the best revenge on an ex is for them to see you blissfully happy and successful in life! Go ahead. Have the last laugh.
This nonsense of the legal community demonizing parents who want a chance to have their day in court, has got to stop. There has been enough of this nonsense in recent years.
Any time a parent has legitimate concerns about the welfare of their children in a shared parenting situation, that parent is demonized, and their life and the lives of the children are put through hell for daring to question the legal community and their effort to bring joint custody everywhere.
In the past, custody determinations were based on what was best for the children. Even though we have family court laws that are based on the “Best Interest of the Child” standard, the courts frequently push the parents to share custody because the legal community has determined that is what is right for parents. It is all based on a gender equality agenda, and there is no consideration really given to the child, when that consideration would throw a monkey wrench in the agenda.
The reason I bring this up is because my youngest son recently moved out, which has given me the custody of my basement back! I am going through the junk that has been acquired over the years and going to do a cosmetic makeover of my entire basement.
The other day, while cleaning, I came across the nonsense bullshit that I had to deal with when I separated from my Mixed Personality Disordered (proven in a psych eval) spouse. I don’t bring this up very often because I no longer allow his mental strangeness to infect my life, and my children have learned exactly who their dad is and what he is all about. It doesn’t mean that they don’t spend time with the man, and it doesn’t mean they don’t love the man, it only means that I do not. There is no reason for me to have anything to do with him. When it comes to him and I, the relationship is toxic to both of us, and I will not engage in the toxicity. I did not want to engage in it back then either, but the court coerced and threatened me when I tried to disengage.
So back to the bullshit I found in my basement. When my husband and I separated, the man did some really freakish things. I knew he was an alcoholic. I knew that he was abusive to me, and the children, for that matter, but I became very concerned when the threatening phone calls came at all hours of the day and night from pay phones near where he lived, and the mysterious letters, and a package that I received in the mail started coming. The man actually stalked me for a summer. It was all very frightening.
He lived an hour away from me, yet, he would show up near my home, in places that did not make sense for him to have driven an hour to, and to be “coincidentally” there at the same time I was.
I received letters implying that I was a lesbian, with flyers from lesbian groups. I one time received a metabolife brochure, after my ex’s girlfriend had told me how fat I was (I weighed 135 at the time). I also received an odd joke printed out, something about a person who is lazy and can’t stand on their own two feet. The package though, that was the kicker. The package had deodorant, mouthwash, tampons, soap, etc., and it contained a note about what a filthy, smelly person I was and included a comment about me at “that time of the month”. I was very frightened to open that package. I seriously thought it might have a bomb in it.
There is much more to this story, and much I can tell you about why there is no doubt in my mind that my ex was behind all of this, but it would take a very long time to tell the story in full. One day I plan to tell this at a training event, but what you need to know now is that I did involve the police. The police did very little. They really did not care about it, or the fact that I was scared, or the fact that I was stalked by my ex husband. They told me flat-out that they could not really do much unless he injured or killed me. Isn’t that comforting? This is what Domestic Violence victims live with all the time, especially if they have children, and are going through family court.
Anyway, in the end, I could not prove that it was him. It might have been his girlfriend, I was told. True, but again, all of this gave me reason to be concerned about my children spending time alone with their dad and/or his girlfriend, but to bring that up in court, no one wanted to allow it, not even my own attorney, who I paid a sizable retainer to be an advocate for my children and I. As a matter of fact, this attorney told me not to include any of this in my affidavit because it would make me look stupid for having chosen such a man to marry.
The problem with not being able to have my day in court on the matter is that my ex’s bad behavior continued, and even got much more disturbing, as time went by. After hundreds of thousands of dollars, and eight years, I finally had to have my day in court anyway. Once I was able to prove my case, I won sole custody, which I should have had all along!
I find it deeply disturbing that family court and the legal community do everything in their power to keep parents from having their day in court and to explain why they should be an exception to the joint custody rule. It creates a hellish childhood for the children in these families, and it prevents the entire family from moving on with their lives and accomplishing their dreams.
We demonize any parent who doesn’t readily embrace joint custody. Why the need for such demonization? We don’t demonize mass murderers, but we will demonize a parent who just wants their children to be safe???
Back in 1993, a man opened fire on the Long Island Rail Road. There were dozens of witnesses. Passengers held him down until police arrived and handcuffed him. There was no question that he did it. Still, he was entitled to his day in court. No one was demonizing him for pleading not guilty and wanting his day in court. No one. He had his trial, represented himself and was found guilty. Justice worked, as it should have.
Why then, do family courts try to deny parents their day in court and to raise questions important to their child’s future? Why does the legal community treat a mass murderer with more respect than they do a parent in family court? It doesn’t make sense and it needs to stop.
And by the way, this is not only happening to parents who experience domestic violence. There are many parents who know that their children will not be taken care of by the other parent for numerous reasons, not only suspect, but know it. They should have a chance to be heard and a chance to present evidence to back up their claims. That is our right here in America. We need to fight for it.
Let’s take the Family Courts back to the rule of law and the role they are really supposed to play, and kick them to the curb on pushing their activist agendas on our lives.
After divorce, some people play the victim. It garners them attention and sympathy from others and helps them explain, in their own mind, that they are not at fault for the divorce.
Oddly enough, even though all US states are no fault divorce states, it doesn’t seem to matter. Fault or no fault, divorce can be deeply wounding to someone’s ego. In order to show the world (and make themselves feel better), they have to portray a false reality that their ex is to blame. They will accuse their ex of having an affair, being mentally ill or turn it around in some other way. They may tell others that they initiated the divorce instead of telling the truth, that it was their ex who initiated.
Typically, these individuals fear being alone and will enter into a new relationship quickly, long before they are ready. They have done nothing to come to terms with the divorce or take the time to heal. They grab hold of the first person who comes along and buys their story. It helps them show the world: Hey, I am OK. See? Someone loves me. That other person had something wrong with them. That’s all. I am not a bad person. See how quickly someone found me?
The new relationship develops during their grieving process about the divorce. These quick rebound relationships can interfere with, and may even halt that grieving process all together. Because they met their new significant other during the grieving process, they may have shared with their new mate how terrible you are, in order to explain their misery. The problem is that they will have to keep this story going for the duration of the relationship. This makes things very confusing to an ex spouse who has to try to co-parent with the person who is trying to keep a storyline going.
The ex spouse will struggle to understand why their child’s parent hates them so and cannot let go of it. If you are the ex who is constantly lied about, you may become defensive. You may also be very hurt and feel guilty about the divorce when you have to watch your children’s parent carry on with so much anger, while you try to take the high road, as they continue to tells lies. You may hope that they will come to terms with the divorce so that your co-parenting relationship will improve. Unfortunately, you cannot make things better because it really is not about you.
This is all about your ex wanting to save face. What does it mean to save face? To put it simply, to preserve one’s dignity. It has to do with how one sees him or herself and how he or she thinks the world sees them. If a person finds divorce to be a highly negative reflection on their worth as a person, and is deeply wounded that their spouse, who promised to love, honor and cherish them no longer loves them, they often cannot see divorce as anything other than an acknowledgment that they are unlovable, and a failure.
As the years go by, you may be shocked at how petty your co-parent is and stunned by their refusal to sit in the same room with you for the children’s extra curricular activities, doctor appointments and even mediation to settle a dispute about the children. Try not obsessing about changing the other parent, and do not make yourself a door mat and try to appease them in an effort to build a better relationship. If the other parent is saving face, nothing that you do will change the situation. It is all about keeping their secrets safe. Avoiding you, and making you out to be the bad guy, is the basis of their new relationship. They will move heaven and earth to keep the story going.
If the avoiding parent starts to repair the relationship with you, their new partner may start to see all of the lies and they cannot risk being exposed. People who live a life based on lies will never risk a second breakup. The first one devastated them. Because they never took pause to heal from that, another rejection would be unbearable. Eventually, the new partner may start to see that the story they have been told does not make sense, and your ex may possibly have to face their biggest fear, but again, you cannot change them, and it is not your responsibility to save them.
So what do you tell your kids when the other parent spreads lies and acts crazy? Tell your kids the truth. Tell them that you would like a better relationship with their mom/dad, and it is not possible right now. Tell them that you do not understand why the other parent acts that way, but that you love them and will always be there for them no matter what. You may also want to tell them that you feel sorry for the other parent’s pain and hope that one day they will find a way to work through it. That is all you have to say. Then you must commit yourself to taking the high road and doing the best job of parenting that you can.
Hostile co-parenting relationships are not helped by seeking revenge or telling the other side what they need to do to make things better. You are the last person they will take advice from. Sometimes the best you can do is keep your own house in order and choose a healthier relationship for yourself, and leave your ex to battle their own demons.
Mediation can be an anxiety and fear producing experience. it is rarely something people look forward to. Many of the first conversations I have with people who are in the process of finding a mediator involve the following language, or something similar:
“Well, _________ says we have to try mediation. It will probably be a very short meeting because we can never agree on anything. I just don’t see him/her saying anything other than, “NO!”. That’s all it ever is.”
Still, they are willing to set up that appointment and come in to mediate, and they are usually very surprised at the outcome.
Rarely does anyone look forward to mediation. Usually, the parties have not spoken in quite some time, and if they have, the conversation quickly escalates into an argument. Nobody wants to embrace conflict. Conflict is unpleasant and something most people do their best to avoid. The thought of sitting down in a room with this person seems unthinkable because of the history of the relationship and because you know this person all too well. You can only think of all the mean and nasty things that other person has ever said to you, and every horrible experience you have been through with them or because of them. Those negative thoughts are why it is easier to ignore the problem, rather than deal with the problem. However, if you don’t deal with the problem, it will not go away. Sometimes when that problem is dropped into the legal process, it will only grow bigger. Legal proceedings are relationship problems on steroids.
If you can look at mediation not as a conflict, but as an opportunity to come to resolution, you can quickly see areas where you and the other person have some common ground. A good mediator will point out areas where the two of you are in agreement from early in the process. You need to remember that mediation is not only anxiety and fear producing for you, but also for the other person. They are not looking forward to the experience either.
Mediation can be a very positive experience and it can change relationships for the better. That doesn’t mean that you are going to repair the relationship. That will sometimes happen, but more often, you can bring closure or a new direction to the relationship. That may be a scary thought, but think of it this way, whatever the relationship is right now, if all it involves in not being on speaking terms, or escalating arguments, it is not working the way it is. Putting an end to the conflict and changing the relationship going forward, can put you on a more positive path, even if that means you walk your path, and they walk a different path.
You can make mediation a positive experience for you, by approaching it in a positive way. Don’t assume the worst. Go about it with no preconceived notions. If you come out without an agreement, you are no worse off than you were before, but remember, you may come out ahead.
Mediation is a confidential process so you can speak openly and not fear any ramifications in court later. As a matter of fact, if the issue is taken into court, and the other party tries to tell the judge that you said, “X, Y or Z” in mediation, the judge will stop any further discussion of what was said in mediation. Go into mediation and say what you need to say. That alone can be quite healing for people.
Some other ways to ensure that mediation is a positive experience for you are to:
1. Make sure you are well rested.
2. Make sure that you will not be hungry. If you schedule around lunch or dinner time, eat before the session if you can. If not, bring a snack. Feel free to take a break if you need to. Mediators will usually do their best to make sure their clients basic needs are met.
3. Come prepared with your idea for resolution. Do not think in terms of what you think the other party may or may not agree to. You may come out very surprised. It happens more often than not. Ask for what you need, but also be prepared to compromise.
4. Consider what the other party is asking for. If you need a moment to think about it, be sure to let the mediator know that. You do not have to agree to something that you do not want to do, but sometimes a knee jerk reaction is to say no, when the reality is, it may be a workable solution.
5. Think about your life going forward, not about the past. Even if the relationship was bad, it may improve when you can agree to move forward after coming to some resolution of the issues that have you entrenched in battle.
6. Don’t think of it in terms of all or nothing. Partial agreements can be very helpful, too. You may be able to resolve some of your issues and that is a step in the right direction. You would be surprised how often an agreement on a small issue starts the ball rolling on bigger issues. Sometimes, people return to mediation after coming out of a first session with a partial agreement. After having some time to reflect on a prior session, people realize that they can return to mediation and work out the rest of the agreement.
7. Keep your discussion positive and use I statements. Try not to place blame. How you got to where you are doesn’t have to interfere with a plan that moves you forward.
8. Consider mediation a new beginning. Even when you do not find resolution, the conversation can help you clarify where the relationship is at. You no longer have to wonder if you will or will not be able to have a productive conversation. Let the experience shape how you will go forward with or without the other party. Sometimes relationships do have to end, but it opens our lives up for new relationships going forward. We can take what we have learned to make better choices in the future.
Mediation offers the opportunity to redefine relationships. It also offers an opportunity to be creative when resolving conflict. When you stay positive and are open to the possibility of what may happen, your experience will serve you well, even if you are not able to come into an agreement.
If you enter into a mediation session with a positive attitude, it will often spill over to the other side of the table. You can have a positive, productive mediation, provided you go in with a positive attitude and are willing to sit down for an open discussion. You may not get everything that you hope to, but in most cases you can both come out winners.
Part of teaching the High Conflict Diversion Program is to help parents learn to have some compassion for their child’s other parent. It is very hard to do, especially when they seem to go out of their way to make your life miserable, but learning to have compassion for them is not really about them. It is about freeing yourself from the wounds of your past and moving into a new future. You may not have control of the court battle, but you can control the future path you travel.
I know that many people enduring any prolonged conflict carry within them a lot of anger, hurt, resentment and pain. Sometimes we lash out at other people because of those feelings and emotions. It isn’t healthy to live life this way for very long. Stress and anger have deep effects on our mental and physical health. Those who continue living in the pain are more likely to repeat these patterns, or get stuck right where they are in life, waiting until something magical frees them. What they do not know is that the key to their freedom is within them. No one else can free you. You have to be willing to learn and grow and move away from that pain and into the freedom of a new life. It takes a willingness, some time, and an active effort to get there.
The following video is an awesome example of how to see people with compassion. You cannot know what is going on within your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or even your ex. We like to believe that we know the inner workings of our ex, and we may understand a great deal about them, but once we are no longer married to that person, we only think we know. Deep down there may be reasons for their behavior or reasons why they cannot move forward with their own life. You may never know what those reasons are. By treating them compassionately, you can start to empathize with them. You do not have to like them. You do not have to help them, but it would serve everyone well, even your children, if you could say, I am going to move away from this bitterness and have a happier life, regardless of what the other parent does. If you don’t know, the best revenge on an ex is to live a happy life. Happiness comes from giving others the benefit of the doubt when they behave badly, seeing your part in any conflicts and taking steps to correct that, and to be the best person that you possibly can. You will be an example for your children and you can teach them compassion by showing them how it is done.
Please watch this fantastic video from Fellowship Bible church in Arkansas. Make it go viral, please!