Q: My ex tells me she is a better parent than I am — a better bookkeeper, housekeeper, driver, and the kids don’t want to come see me because she has a better house. She’s even more desirable; evidently, the guys are at her door. Every day she finds something else to bitch at me about. I thought when you break up all this stops. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A: One would think the fighting would stop when couples finally break up, but it’s usually just the start of the battle. And I believe there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
If she’s finding reasons to talk to you every day — and puts you down while she’s doing it, not to mention reinforcing her desirability — she WANTS to talk to you. I don’t know if the reason is because she still has feelings for you, or it could be that she’s so angry, belittling you feels good. For whatever reason, if the communication is every day and consistently negative, she’s obviously having difficulty severing ties.
This is where you say, “Wait a minute. It’s obvious she hates me. How can you say this is difficult for her?
Break-ups are never simple, and they are rarely cut and dry. Hurt, blame and fault run rampant. Regret is right up there in the forefront. Then you see your former partner getting along just fine without you when it’s tough for you to move forward. All of a sudden everything you — her ex — do, from parenting to the shirt you choose to wear that day, is wrong. Ironically, that’s probably how she felt right before you called it quits. Anger, when analyzed, is often a mask for fear and hurt.
So, what do you do?
First — and this may sound ridiculous — be certain you both want to move on. All that emotion is often just a cover-up for disappointment, and if not explored, the relationship ends when it didn’t have to. This will most likely include the help of a therapist to wade through the drama both of you have created, but if there’s even a smattering of a chance you can put it back together, especially when there are children involved, run, do not walk to the nearest therapist. My sincere suggestion if you choose this path, is to concentrate on the present and the future you wish to create and not spend a lot of time rehashing the hurts of the past. Of course, the past needs to be addressed, but I find the couples that are successful in reconciliation spend their time rehashing the love they have for each other, not their animosity and who did what to whom.
If reconciliation is not in the cards, a therapist, particularly a therapist well versed in mindful co-parenting, can help you learn more effective ways to communicate with each other so your children are not in the middle of your tug of war. This could start out with things like talking only through email — not text — so you have time to think things through before you respond. Plus, putting things in writing offers proof of what was said and eliminates the “I didn’t say that, yes you did, no I didn’t” arguments.
Be proactive. Time does heal wounds, but things can also get worse if not addressed properly. There’s nothing more damaging to a child’s development and stability than their parents badmouthing each other in front of them. “Put your children first.” That’s good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. ©2020 Jann Blackstone Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.