What Did I Ever See in My Ex?
My son thinks his dad can do no wrong. But my ex lies to us all the time. He says he can't pick up our son on Saturday morning because he has to work. When I call his office to offer to drop Danny off, he's not there. It makes me crazy!
My ex is constantly changing her plans and then expects me to change mine. I'm really tired of it. But what can I do? If my ex cancels visitation at the last minute, I can't leave the kids alone.
My ex is big on Facebook and Twitter, and he's all over it with the kids and what they do each weekend, posting photos or reporting: "Here we are at the park" or "Here we are at the zoo." I miss my kids terribly on weekends and this just makes me miss them more. How can I get him to leave the kids out of his Facebook life?
The trailers for the new blockbuster movie looked great and I really wanted to take my son. I couldn't take him to the opening, though, because his dad had him then, so we agreed that we'd go the following weekend. But when he came home from his dad's, he told me they'd already seen it. I was told: "It was great!" I wanted to kill my ex!!! How dare he? My son knew that I was looking forward to seeing the movie with him and then his father pulls the rug out from under our plans. He does this all the time--he constantly undermines the fun things I have planned with our son.
When the kids go to visit their father for the weekend, it's party time. He feeds them junk, lets them stay up all night to watch R-rated movies, and has no regard for their personal hygiene. Late Sunday night, he returns them sick, tired, and dirty. I have a terrible time getting them up for school on Monday.
My ex begged for more visitation time with the kids. Now that he got what he wanted, he doesn't actually take them more often--he thinks that talking to them via Skype counts as a visit! So I still have the child-care duties and he feels like he's fulfilled his paternal duties by video chatting.
When we were married, my husband and I vowed to never look at each other's email. Well, now that he's broken all thoseother vows, I don't think I need to honor this one completely. I changed my password the day he left, but he's never bothered to change his. And while I don't open his emails, I sometimes log onto his account to see if he's read the ones I've sent him. And I read the subject lines. So now I've figured out that he's dating someone and I think he's looking to buy a house. But when I ask him if he's dating someone and thinking of moving, he denies it!
It's bad enough that my teenage daughter is forever on her phone, texting her friends, but on the weekends she spends with me I see her become visibly upset because her mom has texted her about something. Often it's about how much she misses her, and sometimes it's about cleaning her room. I've asked my ex to leave us alone on "my" time, but she just ignores this and calls, texts, or IMs at will.
My ex never bothers to repack my daughter's clothes, schoolwork, games, and other belongings, so we always have a big scene when she returns home and realizes that she's missing things. I'm really tired of buying her new stuff because her dad can't remember to pack them.
My ex really wants our daughter to learn piano and I couldn't care less. He's always calling me to see if she's practicing and it's making me nuts!
SHARING CUSTODY WITH A JERK
Do you find that your ex has no respect for your time or schedule, for the values you've worked so hard to instill in your child, and for the lifestyle you've developed since your divorce or separation? Does your ex sometimes act or respond in immature, inconsiderate, and irresponsible ways? Is he or she, at times, a complete jerk?
If you are raising a child with an uncooperative ex, the scenarios we just listed most likely ring true in some form or another. In fact, if your ex-husband or ex-wife is a true jerk, you can probably add a few outrageous stories of your own. But whether you're dealing with an ex who intentionally tries to manipulate you and your child or one who inadvertently confuses and complicates your life, there is help. This book offers simple yet effective tools and techniques that will help you communicate with your ex. In turn, this will change how your ex reacts and responds to you, regardless of whether he or she is an occasional or a chronic jerk. Instead of fighting and arguing about raising your child, you will soon be discussing and negotiating your child's future.
Using shared custody scenarios throughout this book, we demonstrate how these communication tools and techniques will help you solve problems and bring about change in your relationship with your ex and your child. As we go along, you will be able to substitute the details of your own particular problems into the structures we have set up to decide which course of action is best for you. We revisit the problems mentionedat the beginning of this chapter as they apply in the later chapters, so stick with us.
In this book you'll learn how to listen (as opposed to just waiting for your turn to talk), negotiate (discover win-win alternatives), teach responsibility (to your ex and your child), take responsibility yourself (without taking on the problems of others), and foster cooperation among the three (or more) of you. You'll see that all of these are crucial elements that will ensure that you and your child survive and thrive in the aftermath of your divorce.
LIFE'S MOST IMPORTANT JOB
Raising a child is one of life's most important and difficult tasks, yet most people undertake this enormous job with little or no experience or instruction. In fact, most people have had more instruction in how to drive a car than in how to parent a child or conduct an intimate relationship. How many parents give birth knowing how to teach responsibility to a child or to build self-esteem and instill values in their children in a world that is constantly changing? This is a tremendous responsibility and takes hard work even in an intact family. Then try accomplishing this job--raising a child and negotiating the minute details of that child's future--with an ex-spouse whom you no longer respect and who can be uncooperative and immature and the task can feel Herculean! Not many people would volunteer for a job like this, but your child needs you to raise your hand, step forward, and say, "Yes, I can!"
Study after study on divorce says that your child will turn out okay if you don't ask him or her to choose between you and your ex and if you provide your child with a stable home life. But if you are like most parents in the throes of a divorce, stability might not be your strong suit right now. That's why it is beneficial for you to learn and use specific techniques that will enable you to handle situations with your ex in such a way that your child isn't damaged during this unstable period of your life.
THE SCOPE OF THIS BOOK
This book deals with change. In it we present clear and practical techniques that you can use to make changes in yourself. Most of the time, the changes in your behavior will change your ex's behavior as well. However, if your ex is threatening you or your children with violence, you need to seek professional help. Exes who lose self-control are not just jerks. They have serious problems that the police and other authorities need to know about. Included in this category is constant verbal battering and emotional torment, which can be as damaging and hurtful as broken bones. An ex who engages in these kinds of behaviors is not within the scope of this book.
Nor do we deal with deadbeat moms and dads. We define deadbeats as those parents who physically, emotionally, and/or financially abandon their children. If your ex has run off, there are legal channels to follow. Laws are getting tougher every dayin every state, but it is still difficult to engage a deadbeat, and you have our sympathy.
Finally, you'll find that we present only one person's point of view in each example. We realize that there are two sides to every story (and sometimes three!), but if your ex were willing to discuss your parenting and divorce issues with a therapist or counselor these problems would be on their way to being solved.
This book is for the person who feels that his or her ex won't even acknowledge that there's a problem, for the person who feels very alone in his or her co-parenting situation. We've written it for those of you who are ready and willing to make the changes necessary within yourselves to be effective and resourceful in dealing with the problems that arise from sharing custody with a jerk.
Know, too, that your life will get better after divorce. If you have young children, the physical aspect of parenting will get easier as they get older. And your divorce most likely presents you with an opportunity to reinvent yourself once you move past this trying time.
KEEPING IT IN PERSPECTIVE
Divorces are usually ugly. The basic process of taking everything that was "ours" and dividing it into "yours" and "mine" is a negative action. On a personal level, divorces consist of one of you telling the other that you don't want to be partners anymore.All the plans you made won't happen now. All the sacrifices you made don't count. The vows and promises are broken, and in the middle of your life you have to start over.
Divorce also represents the end of the fantasy of living happily ever after, of having a "normal" family life, of growing old with your spouse. You may now wonder who will love you when you're old or sick and if you will ever meet someone again. You may feel like used goods. And on top of all this, your ex is a jerk!
To keep your ex's behavior in perspective, it's important to realize that everyone is capable of acting like a jerk at times. Your ex, your boss, your neighbor, your parents, and yes, even you possess the necessary ingredients to earn that derogatory title!
In this book, we define a jerk as someone who intentionally fouls up your plans, who doesn't think things through, and who's inconsiderate, either consciously or unconsciously. Jerks lie to you, blame you for things, don't follow through and, in general irritate you. They're selfish, spineless, and sometimes just plain stupid.
There's this guy in my office who's a real jerk. He snaps at everyone and has this condescending attitude, so everyone snaps back at him and avoids him. One day, I decided I wasn't going to play his game anymore. Now, when he asks me a question, I give him a straight answer and ignore his tone of voice or snide comments. I stopped wasting my time thinking up witty put-downs. And you know what? He dropped his tough-guy attitude and now speaks to me normally. He'sstill a jerk with everyone else, but we definitely get along a lot better now.
Admittedly, it's easier to deal with jerks when you have no emotional attachment to them. In all likelihood a coworker doesn't know you intimately and can't use that intimacy against you. But we all deal with jerks every day in every part of our lives. How to deal with them, rather than lamenting the fact that we must deal with them, is the issue.
Many divorced parents feel bogged down with guilt, thinking, Maybe there was something I could have done to avoid this. Others find themselves caught up in blaming their ex for the failed relationship, thinking, She [or he] was the one who caused this.
Wallowing in guilt or blame keeps you stuck in the past, examining and re-examining the details of how you found yourself in this predicament, and prevents you from moving forward and getting on with your life. It's important to be able to look at the divorce in its proper perspective, acknowledging and accepting responsibility for mistakes when it's appropriate and knowing when something's not your fault. Divorce is usually a two-way street--and an unpleasant one at that.
One of the hardest parts for me was admitting that I had been such a bad judge of character in marrying my ex. Howcould I have fallen in love with such a jerk? He's selfish, he doesn't tell the truth, and he runs away from his problems. I didn't think he was this way when we were married, but how could he have changed so much in the short time we've been divorced? I keep going over details in my head, trying to figure out how I was so blind to his faults.
This mother could spend her life trying to figure out whether her ex was a jerk before they married or if he turned into one after they divorced, but why waste her time? She could also spend her time berating herself and putting herself down, but again, where is that going to get her? Ruminating about the past is like trying to drive backward to undo a car accident.
IF IT WALKS LIKE A JERK ...
It took Karen three years before she was able to put into proper perspective the roles that she and her ex had played in the divorce. Much of that time she blamed herself for their divorce and subsequent bad post-marriage relationship. She felt that her aggressiveness about custody arrangements had caused her ex to behave badly. But as the months passed, he became even more distant and uncooperative. Time after time he called to cancel visitation at the last minute or didn't show up at all. He forgot their son's birthday one year and almost never sent gifts or even visited on the major holidays. Recently, Karen had this revelation: "When I tell my friends about my ex's behavior, not one of them sticks up for my ex. You know, thattells me something. If he walks like a jerk and talks like a jerk, chances are, he's a jerk!"
Laura, on the other hand, found herself in the opposite scenario. For years she blamed Harry, her ex, for his emotional distance, lack of cooperation, and "underfunctioning" in both the marriage and the divorce. Not long ago she fell in love and moved in with a new man and had this insight:
I fell in love with Jared because he was the exact opposite of Harry. He actually behaved like an "adult" and didn't rely on me to do everything for him. A few months after we moved in together, though, I realized that I was struggling with him for control, and it suddenly hit me that I have a tendency to "overfunction." I like being the "manager" in a relationship. I feel embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I was part of the problem in my marriage to Harry. When I took control, he backed off, and that contributed to what I perceived as his emotional distance and lack of cooperation.
RESPECT: A CASUALTY OF DIVORCE
At some point in your divorce, you may wonder what you ever saw in your ex. The behaviors you once thought were cute and harmless have now become irritating and unacceptable. That passionate phrase "don't stop; don't stop!" has turned into "oh, please, not that again." Your "one-and-only soul mate" is now "a complete idiot." Your "ideal woman" has become a "conniving bitch." That "hunk of a guy" is now a "stupid bastard."
When a marriage dissolves, respect for your spouse usually diminishes or disappears. Your view of your ex can change dramatically, and you may no longer appreciate his or her opinion, knowledge, and judgment. You also may not trust your ex, especially if he or she has broken the bond of trust through behavior or words. Trust and respect for your ex, which once allowed you, as a couple, to arrive at harmonious agreement, are crucial in negotiating life's daily routine. Without them, even the most serene of us are driven to occasional fury.
I knew our marriage was over when we were in couples counseling and the therapist asked me to pay my husband a compliment and I couldn't think of one, other than he could lift heavy things.
While you may never get to the point where you respect or trust your ex again, acting respectfully (and keeping your eyes open) can go a long way toward creating a healthy divorce.
YOUR HISTORY PLAYS A PART
All people bring to their marriage the entire history of their relationships with their parents, siblings, and peers. Many therapists agree that the marital bed contains six people--you, your spouse, your parents, and your spouse's parents. The theory that we re-create in our marriage what felt familiar to us as children, whether it was healthy or not, is now generally accepted. It's like the old song says: "I want a girl just like the girlwho married dear old Dad." Ted's story about his initial meeting with Sarah and the ensuing impact on his marriage illustrates this very point:
When I met Sarah on a blind date ten years ago, she was forty minutes late and it didn't really bother me. She was all that I was looking for in a woman--beautiful, smart, high-powered, and successful. Everything about her really turned me on. So what if she was late? She always had a good excuse like a traffic jam or a meeting at work. My mother was the same way. As a kid, I was always the last one to get picked up from baseball practice or to arrive at birthday parties. I guess I grew up thinking that women are just always late.
During our marriage, Sarah got a little better, but that was because I watched her very closely. If I saw her sitting down with a magazine at two thirty when she was supposed to pick up Jason, our six-year-old son, at three and he was a half hour away, I'd bring it to her attention. And if we were going out, I'd sometimes tell her that we had to be there at seven thirty instead of eight, so if she started to run late we would still get there on time.
Over the years, though, her lack of regard for other people's schedules really began to bother me. And now that we're divorced, I can't put up with it anymore. She says she'll drop Jason off at one, so I make plans to go to a two o'clock movie, and she shows up at two ten. By that time, we've missed the movie and it's too late to make other plans.Doesn't she realize that her lateness doesn't affect just me anymore; it affects Jason, and sometimes my girlfriend and even our babysitter?
It may sound odd that one of the reasons Ted was attracted to Sarah when they first met was because she was late. As he said, his mother was always late and it was familiar to him. Many marriage counselors agree that when you get married you often choose someone who either has similar qualities to one of your parents or is the polar opposite.
There are hundreds of books and theories on why we're attracted to someone--similarities, opposites, looks, scents, and so on. The adage about opposites attracting is really more about being captivated by people who have traits that you admire, which are often the traits you lack. You're drawn to people who can help you move beyond your own limitations. That's how the organizer and the disorganized end up together.
It's commonly known that people fall in love with someone who they subconsciously believe will help them resolve their childhood conflicts. By trying to fix these conflicts with your spouse you're actually trying to resolve the issues you had or have with your parents. And if you came from a dysfunctional family (and many of us did), your need to heal your childhood pain can result in very dysfunctional adult relationships.
Keep in mind that if you attracted and married a partner who was unable and unwilling to meet your marital needs, you most likely have divorced a partner who is unwilling and unable to meet your divorcing needs.
WHAT'S DONE IS STILL HAPPENING
When you get angry at your ex, only about 10 percent of your anger can be attributed to the current situation. The other 90 percent comes from your past experiences with your ex, as well as those with your parents, caregivers, and other significant people in your past. The current situation has simply triggered your past anger and allowed it to resurface. It's been said that if you're hysterical, the cause is probably historical.
That bears repeating: If you're hysterical, the cause is probably historical. Also, the longer you and your ex were together, the more extensive and rich your history. Each partner often knows precisely which button to push and exactly where to strike to intentionally hurt the other. In a divorce, the need to strike back, where it hurts most, is often present.
TED'S TIME BOMB
Sarah said she'd pick up Jason at six fifteen on Sunday. That was great because I had a date and tickets for a concert that started at seven thirty and Jason wanted to get home in time to watch a show on TV. But when the clock struck seven and I saw Jason take off his coat and turn on the TV, I hit the roof.
Sarah was full of excuses when she showed up at seven fifteen. She couldn't find her cell phone, there was an accident on the highway, and so on. I had heard it all beforeand I called her on it, saying she was inconsiderate, lazy, stupid--you name it. Well, as my anger increased, so did hers, and before I knew it we were swearing at each other. Then I ripped up the concert tickets and threw them on the ground. She stormed off, leaving Jason so confused and frightened that he ran after her crying.
RENEGOTIATING YOUR RELATIONSHIP
At some point, you need to face the fact that your marriage is over. Unfortunately, when children are involved, that doesn't mean that your relationship with your ex is over, too. For the sake of your children, the marital relationship must now change and develop into a parenting relationship. This change, however, is extremely challenging, in part because we get stuck believing that it's the other person's responsibility to make the changes, not ours. Yet change is necessary, and when you're dealing with an uncooperative ex it's likely that if you wait for him or her to change, it will never happen. So let's look at some of the things that might get in the way of seeing the need to make changes in ourselves. Once we begin to recognize that we need to change, we can then learn the techniques or skills that will enable us to deal more effectively with the jerks in our lives.
Among the things that prevent us from seeing a need to change are highly charged emotions such as fear, anger, and jealousy.
Fear : Fear is one of the most basic emotions. Animals sense fear before and beyond most other emotions. Some people believe that fear is the opposite of love in that other emotions, such as anger and jealousy, spring from fear--fear of losing something can make us angry or jealous; fear of injury can make us cautious; fear of not getting what we need can make us aggressive; fear of abandonment can make us clingy and needy. Fear subconsciously causes us to fight for what we need--or hightail it out of there.
Change fills many people with fear and thus prevents us from moving forward because there's a hidden payoff in keeping things the same. Familiar dynamics, even if they are abusive or hurtful, are more comfortable because we know what to expect. On the other hand, change means risking the unknown. And for most of us, fear of the unknown is more powerful than the misery of the current situation. It's the "devil you know is better than the devil you don't know" philosophy. Of course, the problem is that if you want things to be different, you have to change the way you do things. If you do something the same way over and over, you'll get the same results. If you do something the same way over and over and expect different results, you'll go crazy. The key to getting different results, therefore, is to face your fears and change how you do things in the first place.
Anger : Anger makes us feel stubborn and unwilling to change. When we're angry, we dig in our heels and deliberately do the opposite of what we're being asked, even if what we're beingasked is to our ultimate benefit. Instead of clearly seeing what changes we can make to get what we want, we have a tendency to seek revenge. It's easy to allow feelings of rejection, abandonment, and betrayal to turn into anger after your divorce. And it's even easier to allow that anger to cloud your judgment about the need for change.
Jealousy : Jealousy also clouds our judgment. It can cause us to blow things out of proportion, believe things that aren't true, disregard things that are obvious and, in general, overreact. While anger sometimes clouds reality, it usually directs our actions. There's nothing directive about jealousy, however. It's like blowing a gray fog over everything. At times, it's difficult to cut through jealousy and determine whether the problem you're having with your ex is a real issue or not.
Jealousy of one's ex is common. Perhaps your ex has gone on to become successful in business while you're having financial problems. Or your ex has a very attractive new partner and you're not seeing anyone. Maybe your ex is having another baby while your biological clock is ticking away. All of these things can stir up jealous feelings, but it may help to know that it's rarely as great on the other side of the fence as it seems:
I went into a jealous depression when my ex remarried. I didn't want to let our sons attend his wedding and wouldn't buy them suits. I had fantasies about wrapping his wife's bouquet with poison ivy and hoped she'd get eaten by a shark on their honeymoon. We still had some friends incommon, but because I was such a pest about the wedding, asking the details and so on, most of them stopped talking to me. Now it's seven years later and he's divorcing this wife, too. He's got another child, a daughter who's two, and he has to pay to support her as well. I heard that he recently moved into a studio apartment. On the other hand, things have really settled down for me. I was promoted at work and just bought a new house. And our sons, who are now twelve and fourteen, are going away to camp for two months this summer. I'm really looking forward to summer, and I'd choose my life over his any day.
Facing your fear of the unknown, getting over your anger, and looking beyond your jealousy will allow you to leap ahead!
ENDING SELF-DESTRUCTIVE SELF-TALK
In most divorces, your self-esteem takes a big hit and it often takes all you can do to rebuild it. For many, that means finding a good therapist or a self-help group. For others, it may mean starting an exercise or eating plan or getting a new job or going back to school. In any case, rebuilding self-esteem almost always involves doing things differently. While putting off change until tomorrow may be a familiar route, starting now can jump-start your self-esteem and head you in the right direction. As we said before, this book asks you to make a changes that will, in turn, affect your ex's behavior. The first change we want you to be aware of is what we call self-destructive self-talk.
All people talk to themselves. When you're walking down the street, maybe you think, Gee, did I remember to turn off the coffeepot? or, I have to call that new client when I get back to the office. That's self-talk, and it goes on in our heads much of the day. Self-talk can be productive or unproductive. Productive self-talk promotes change. We say to ourselves, I want to get that proposal out at work today, or, I'm not sure I told the babysitter what time I was coming back; I' ll have to call her. Productive self-talk motivates us and can even work as a check-and-balance system.
Self-destructive self-talk, on the other hand, blocks our initiative to change and undermines our belief and confidence in ourselves. The self-destructive messages we send to ourselves often have a basis in the messages we received during childhood and frequently mimic the voices of our parents. I am a total idiot. I can't believe I forgot that, for example, may have originated in a childhood scolding: "What are you, an idiot? You should know better than that!" The unfortunate thing about this type of self-talk is that it diminishes your self-esteem. And when self-esteem is low, you're less likely to try new things, make new friends, and, of course, make changes in your life, including changing your relationship with your ex.
Then I start thinking that maybe I'm not such a great catch, either. After all, why would any man want to get involved with a woman with a two-year-old? Especially one who's so tired all the time. And I feel like I look awful. My house is a mess, and I just want to crawl into a hole with a box of chocolates and pull the hole in with me.
If you want your life to change, it's important that you take steps to eliminate this type of self-talk from your thoughts. To do this, you must first recognize that you speak to yourself this way. Next, you must make a conscious effort to override the self-destructive message with a constructive one. Because human beings can think only one thought at a time, self-destructive self-talk can be overridden by memorizing other, more positive thoughts and repeating those thoughts over and over to replace the negative ones. Here are some typical self-destructive self-talk phrases and suggestions for more positive expressions:
Self-Destructive: I'm a terrible parent. Constructive: I'm a loving, caring, good parent.
Self-Destructive: I'm not very good at this. Constructive: I'm learning to do this better.
Self-Destructive: I can't cope with this. Constructive: I can handle this.
Self-Destructive: My ex was always better at this than me. Constructive: My way is different, and it's just as good.
Self-Destructive: I don't care how others see me. I'm a loser all around!
Constructive: If I put on clean clothes, I will feel better about myself.
If you feel the negative thought trying to creep back in, try saying to that voice, "I appreciate your comments on the situation, but I'm going to listen to this other thought right now." When you become proficient at getting rid of your negative inner voices, you will free yourself for the positive alternatives. Seeing these alternatives promotes change.
Another component that prevents change is the amount of stress you're under at the moment. There are times of crisis in everybody's life, and if you're undergoing a divorce or other major changes in your life, consider yourself in crisis. You may feel lonely, overwhelmed, and even doomed, and like the emotions of fear, anger, and jealousy, these intense feelings can become major obstacles to change.
Crises often seem more manageable and less overwhelming if you think of them as having a beginning, a middle, and an end. By identifying where you are in the "crisis transition," you can more easily see that eventually the crisis will be over. Ask yourself, "When this is over, what do I want?"
Making a list of your post-crisis dreams can help you focus and encourage you to move forward. Maybe you'd like a bigger apartment, more money, a new job. Listing these things can help you clarify that there is life after crisis (and after divorce) and will help you determine how to move forward and change to achieve your goals.
It may also help if, alongside your list of post-crisis goals,you make a list of things that you're grateful for. This "gratitude list" sometimes helps you keep the crisis in perspective, to see that maybe, just maybe, you're not doomed after all. Maybe there is a little light in your life right now, with more to come.
WHEN "I DO" TURNS INTO "I DON'T HAVE TO ANYMORE"
We've all heard the statistics. The fact is that about 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce and, according to the U.S. Census, about 33 percent of our nation's households are headed by single parents. Experts say that 50 to 60 percent of all children will spend some time in a single-parent home.
When a marriage breaks up, the following months and even years can be turbulent for everyone involved. But the dust does eventually settle as new routines and rituals become the norm. For many, though, the problems of creating a new household, dividing the parental responsibilities, and sharing custody feel as though they'll take a lifetime to resolve. It's helpful, and hopeful, to note that no problem is too big to be solved if it is viewed in its proper perspective and broken down into addressable issues.
In the next few chapters, we discuss how to break down complex problems into manageable pieces and how to know what to do and how to do it once you've identified the changes that need to be made. In short, we give you a toolbox full of tools for dealing with your ex in typical confrontations that will invite him or her to respond to you in a more positive and productive way.
JOINT CUSTODY WITH A JERK: RAISING A CHILD WITH AN UNCOOPERATIVE EX. Copyright © 2011 by Julie A. Ross and Judy Corcoran. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.