The post- divorce period is typically a time of mourning the loss of a relationship that at one point felt really right and was expected to last for the rest of life. In many ways it is worse than a death because the possibility of relationship is still present, whereas in death there is an end. Most people pass through a period of depression, fear, hurt, and anger that may last up to a year or more. It takes time to find equilibrium and move on. For some this is not a major transition problem if the marriage is childless or of relatively short duration. The legal end of divorce can be the end of all contact or the relationship can evolve into a close or distant friendship, depending on the choices of the people involved.
With children, however, and the usual parental time-sharing of children, a different sort of parenting relationship has to develop. Sometimes it may be a relief to have the other parent not involved, at other times, even with cooperative co-parents, simply their different styles of parenting as well as gender differences, result in different relationships with their children, causing strong feelings on the part of both parents. At the same time the children are developing their own coping styles, and that can mean difficult transitions for both child and parent. Complicating this picture further is the lack of parental relief for an exhausted and already stressed parent. Either parent can, out of frustration, express open anger at their former spouse within earshot of their children. But children are hurt by hearing negatives about their other parent. They need the love of each parent and need to love each parent. And, the walls have ears when children are in the home and there may be no “safe place” for the exhausted parent to blow off steam about the other parent.
The biggest challenge and most difficult is the end of a marriage where one or both former spouses would prefer to never have contact or ever see the other again, impossible when they have children. Even if a parent feels this way, children create a link between the parents that requires thoughtful consideration about how to relate to the former partner. Your children’s emotional health and your relationship with them in years to come are at stake. Children in all studies weather the disruption of divorce best if their parents work to be respectful and make an effort to support the child’s relationship with the other parent. This may be, as one woman said, “the hardest thing I have ever had to do.” But the gift she gave to her child was the feeling, to quote her daughter, “it’s just a little different, I see my Dad every day, except he doesn’t live here.” Even though this parent found it extremely hard she did such a good job that the child felt no strain. This is certainly an ideal to strive for, but not everyone can manage it.
What can help you?
Exercise every day is important because it is better than any drug for depression and it leads to better moods, period.
Spending just 15 minutes outdoors in a green area and breathing deeply can up lift your feelings.
Write down the positive qualities of the other parent. This may be hard because it is easier to separate if you are only focused on the negative. Remembering the good qualities you once saw in the partner you married. Your focus on those for your children can be helpful.
When your negative voice in your head begins to rant, notice it and choose to go on to something else – work, read a good book, playing a game, anything to change your focus so the voice can’t take over.
The more you practice being respectful and kind to your former partner as you relate as parents, the easier it gets, even for those who have been deeply hurt by the break up.
Peggy Thompson, PhD, is a Collaborative Divorce Coach and post divorce coach, and can be reached at 925-529-9005
photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.