by Kim Johnson
In the midst of getting a divorce, and even after it is final, it’s easy to continue to be pulled into yet another battle with your ex. Often it is inevitable. However, there are some things you can do to lessen the intensity of the negative relationship:
Focus on your children’s welfare
Fights with the other parent hurt your children. Even if you don’t think so, kids know and it puts them in a difficult situation. Don’t comment about the other parent, send messages through them, confide in children about your problems, your finances or, especially, your sex life. They are children, not arbitrators, messengers or counselors. Don’t expect them to take sides in arguments or shore up your self-esteem.
Resolve to step away from your end of the battle
You already know from experience that angry words, threats or even friendly reminders won’t change a thing. Think of it this way: If you jiggle the handle of a locked door and find you can’t open it, how many more times do you jiggle it before giving up? Jiggling doesn’t work. The same is true of your ex’s point of view and behavior. That “door” won’t open by continuing the same approach. You have to find another way.
Realize it is more important to be divorced and done, than to be “right”
Being determined to be “right” or to “win” arguments mostly liked hasn’t gotten you anywhere. In fact, it’s probably immersed you more deeply in the struggle. It doesn’t matter if your ex agrees with you on everything or not. Instead of trying to convince your ex or make them see things your way, understand it gives him or her way too much power. Pick your battles wisely.
Limit conversations to discussing only practical problems and solutions
Don’t get trapped in analyzing your ex’s personality, critiquing his or her life choices, or complaining about current or past behavior. Define the practical problem and focus on engaging your ex in finding realistic solutions.
Identify your “hot buttons” — the issues, attitudes or words that trigger your anger
No doubt you and your ex have learned which button(s) to push on each other, which derails any conversation. This keeps both of you from talking about the problem that really needs to be solved. It’s important to know your own buttons so you can recognize the poke (provocation) when it comes. This can curtail the fight about a problem so you can focus on solving it. It’s also important you recognize your own part in pushing buttons just to get a response. It solves nothing. To be prepared to stop the button pushes, it is helpful to practice ways to handle the invitation from your ex to enter a fight. Try quietly counting the times your ex tries to get you engaged in an argument; meditate on a scripture; pray for strength; or focus on deep breathing. Determine what works best for you and then be ready to do it. Do whatever needs to be done to stay mature and out of the fray. Eventually it will become a habit.
Work to calmly, quietly stay focused on the problem needing a solution
Kindly remind your ex that the kids need both of you to remain peaceful and stick to agreements. This also makes it important to only make agreements you can keep. Offer options. Ask for, and stay open to, your ex’s suggestions. Make sure the agreement is a genuine one. If provoked, go back to finding and practicing ways to avoid reacting.
Give up the idea of absolute fairness being the result of every encounter
Sometimes it’s better to let the ex “win.” (Not all issues are worth fighting about.) Sometimes it’s better to trade: “I’ll give on this, can you give on that?” If it starts to feel out of balance, deal with that issue directly instead of indirectly with another fight about something else.
It may take time to disengage from mutual animosity and you may need help. An experienced therapist can help you uncover the reasons you are staying embattled. Read more about navigating a healthy relationship with your ex here. Once the core issues are identified, you may be able to deal with them more effectively and with less emotion. It isn’t about being friends with your ex. However, it is about finding a way to make solving problems more important than winning.