Now that your divorce is over, everyone can move on with their lives and be happy again. Mmmm… Unfortunately, those who have been through divorce know that it is not quite that easy, especially if you have children with your ex. It is not uncommon for residual anger, frustration and resentment to continue to impact former spouses’ lives long after they’ve signed on the dotted line.
One particular area of contention is time spent with the children. Your ex keeps cancelling their visiting time, or they are letting the children watch TV all day. Many other parents struggle with differences in values or important decisions with regards to the children’s education or health. No matter the conflict trigger, these interactions make it difficult for former spouses to move on and co-parent in the children’s best interests.
In this article, I will be sharing with you the 2 magic questions I use on myself, and with my clients, when faced with post-divorce acrimony. If you ask yourself these questions at the right time, and answer them honestly, you should have no difficulty sticking to your values and taking the high road. As a word of warning, the content of this article is based on the assumption that there are no domestic abuse in the marriage and may not apply in such situations.
Magic Question #1: What Would I Do If We Were Still Married?
Most of the time, couples are full of understanding and compromise during their marriage, especially when things are going well. They tend to be more willing to be flexible and to adapt to the other person’s personality and priorities. One of the common expectations from divorce is that you suddenly won’t have to take into account the other person’s position, and you’ll be free of trying to accommodate them.
But because co-parenting needs to continue to be effective and positive after divorce as well, the effort of considering the other person’s opinion and feelings remains important. Asking yourself what you would do if you were still married requires you to inject a dose of understanding and consideration in your decision-making. It means you are not letting yourself be ruled by the negative feelings you might have towards your ex but instead behaving as the kind and considerate person you truly are. So next time your ex forgets to help the children do their homework, ask yourself how you would have reacted if this had happened if you were still married. You probably still would hvae been upset about it, but I am willing to bet that your position would have been more understanding and accepting than it would be now.
Recognising that nobody is perfect and that you are both doing your best creates more empathy and promotes collaboration. Displaying humanity, tolerance and patience is not only the best way to avoid conflict escalation, it allows you to align to your values and be the better person. It is also a long-term investment in your relationship with your spouse. But most importantly, it is the right thing to do for everyone involved, including your children, who will be learning from seeing their parents modelling respect and acceptance towards each other.
Magic Question #2: Do You Dislike Your Ex More Than You Love Your Children?
You would think this would be a no-brainer but if we look at some behaviours people exhibit during and after divorce, it seems the answer isn’t as obvious as initially thought. Research shows that parental conflict harms children in multiple dimensions of their lives, even when parents manage to sustain positive parent-child relationships. While we all understand this data in principle, it is a whole other matter when you are in the eye of the storm. By asking yourself this simple question, you are keeping yourself in check and ensuring that you are always putting the children’s interests first. So if your ex wants to have the children for an extra day in order to take them on a trip to see their grandparents? Yes, it is annoying. Yes, they could have planned it differently. Yes, it is your right to have the children back when agreed. But yes, as well, it is beneficial to the children to have a special time with their parent and grandparents. The main question is whether the inconvenience and frustration this is causing you is worth depriving your children of this opportunity. Asking yourself whether you dislike your ex more than you love your children will serve as a useful compass when navigating these day-to-day disputes.
The beauty of open-ended questions such as the 2 magic questions above is that they allow us to make our own decisions based on our own principles. No one is telling you what to do and what is best for you and your children. The goal is to shift our perspective and challenge our intentions before deciding how to engage.
Chloe O., The Divorce and Separation Coach
As a CDC Certified Divorce Coach®, I am trained to be non-judgmental and empathetic. My objective is to help you set clear divorce goals and to support you in making decisions based on your desired outcomes. This will allow you to reduce conflict, improve your negotiation and communication skills with your spouse, and come out of the process in a stronger position, ready to start a new chapter of your life.
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