Friendship—over (at least for now).
Kids? Still exist and need two involved and loving parents. So, how do you start transitioning your relationship from one of romantic love… then break-up… hurt, grief, anger and maybe a little hate and resentment for extra spice… to becoming colleagues in the business of raising emotionally healthy and stable children together?
In my last blog, I noted the importance of individual therapy. This helps one through the grieving process and identify relationship patterns that have not worked in your life to consciously make changes for the future. With the right therapist trained in relationship issues, you will have the support you need to move forward as a whole person post-divorce, making you a better Co-Parent (even if your ex is not!). So that is step one. This is very important—do not skip that step—even if you THINK you are fine you need to deal with the death of your marriage and how you are going to work with this person over the next forty plus years. Yes, not just 10–15 years. Children do not magically turn 18 and no longer need the two of you working together. In fact, I would argue that is the time when issues become more complicated and they need you more than ever.
Before you delve into how you are going to work with your former partner, think about you in the workplace. Whether you work as a waiter or a top CEO at a huge company, we have to put on a “professional demeanor” in the workplace. We smile and greet people who are not our favorite colleagues. We avoid yelling at people, slamming doors, using expletives to get our point across, sending nasty emails with attacks on personal attributes of people. Yes, there are some who may behave this way and get away with it for a time, but for the most part, if we behaved this way with our colleagues, we would lose our job.
We bring our “adult” self to work, no matter what might be happening in our personal lives, or we risk losing our income. We leave our “child” self at home. We each have a “child” in us—the one who reacts from pure emotion without utilizing our intellectual and logical capabilities. When we are our most vulnerable selves – scared, angry, hurt or grieving, sometimes the “child” in us comes out—and even may take over briefly. It is natural and not something easy to control. When we are in intimate relationships and our emotions take over, the “child” in us sometimes comes out during a conflict with the other person. You know what I mean… the way we behaved with our ex that no one else saw. We built a pattern together. One that comes out during high-stress levels in the relationship, and now seems to have taken over our every interaction with that person when deep in the middle of the crisis of separating.
Every once in a great while, we may let our “child” self out at work on a particularly frustrating day, or when dealing with an extremely difficult client or customer, but even in those situations, we practice some measure of control over our feelings. Somehow we pull it together, and find ourselves back in our “adult” self, telling co-workers—“Sorry I lost it for a moment—that person really got to me… but I am back on track now.” Unless we are ready to walk out the door Jerry Maguire style—with a full-on child-like temper tantrum, we manage to find our adult self to take back over.
I propose that Co-Parents need to do the same thing. During the initial stages of high levels of anger, grief, stress, and hurt (which for some can continue on for a lifetime), the focus needs to be on taking control of your own emotions and bringing only your “adult” self to the table. The “child” in you can come out when you are working with your therapist or venting to a close friend.
Check back next week for a list of what colleagues do that you should consider implementing with your former partner to create a positive Co-Parenting relationship!