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The 5 Laws of Anger in Divorce and Co-Parenting

OFF-anger

Divorce is Hard, Why Make it Harder On Your Ex or Your Kids?

Always keep your kids smiles in mind when you think about striking out at your co-parent.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m an asshole. It happens. Sometimes I get frustrated with my ex-wife and I mouth off or email her a nastygram. I’m better now. I really don’t hold any ill will towards the woman, except when she does stupid shit. That really hits my fk you button. In general, I’d say I’m over the frustration and anger part of that relationship. I wish I could say I’m over it all together, but with kids… Well, there are always going to be flash points, even in the healthiest and friendliest of co-parenting relationships.

We can be sailing along, nice Summer and all, and boom she says something that can only be taken as passive aggressive. Or maybe it’s just plain offensive. Our recent exchange around scheduling and the AG’s office: What I Fail to Understand about my Ex Wife, for example. She does not trust me. She does not respect me. And she even does things to hurt me. It is fine to couch them as “for the kids” but it’s not about them. It can’t be. It has to be unresolved anger AT ME. Bummer.

You’ve got to process your anger at your ex. There is no way around it. Jumping into a new relationship without resolving your failed marriage is going to only make things worse. You are likely to repeat the same mistakes that led you to divorce in the first place. And you are going to cover up your unresolved anger by trying to transfer or sublimate it with a new relationship. It can’t work. And in my exy’s case, she’s been in her next relationship almost three years, it hasn’t changed her anger and attitude towards me.

If she had spent the time alone, working through the shit, rather than moving on, she might have resolved some of what fked us up in the first place. Of course, that’s none of my business, except that it keeps jumping up and biting me in the ass. What you’re looking for in your co-parenting relationship is a spirit of cooperation in everything. When the vindictive motivations are hidden as self-defense, or “in the best interest of the children” the angry person may feel clear and justified.

1st Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Anger is usually a personal issue. Another person may “trigger” your anger, but if it persists, or if it causes you to act against your own best interests, your anger is actually hurting you. And your unresolved anger hurts everyone around you. Even when you’re happy, you’re not as happy as you could be. And you’ll have doubts when the volatile anger can flare up and wreck your day. That’s a personal issue.

Expressing your anger at your ex-partner, or using anger as some justification of your bad actions will never feel right. In fact, acting in anger will actually create more anger rather than dispel it.

2nd Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Any action taken against your co-parent is about unresolved anger. If you were not angry you’d see that aggression against that person is also aggression against your children. When you strike a blow against your ex the repercussions are felt by your kids. Even if you keep good boundaries, as we do, they can feel the impact of your shitty moves.

3rd Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Child support is an agreement and a contract between you and your co-parent. When they go though tough financial times, you don’t strike out at that. If you were still married you’d work together to make ends meet. If you are feeling entitled, and feel that filing your decree with the AG’s office is “justified” think again. You are acting out of the anger at your ex. You have lost all compassion for the former mate. You would never strike against a willing co-parent who is honest and open with their financial situation. If you do, please pause for a minute. Get some help. You’re anger at your co-parent is causing you to see them as the problem. Reason things out with another person, preferably a professional.

4th Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

The anger you shoot out from yourself, comes back to you 10-fold. I don’t believe in karma. I believe that living with anger, creates an angry life. Showing the angry life to your kids is not the lesson you’d prefer to give them. Discharge your anger however you need to do it (this blog was great for me), but quit firing poison darts at your co-parent. You are liable to hit one of your kids instead.

5th Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

When you are free from anger your happier life, post divorce, can begin.

Always keep your kids smiles in mind when you think about striking out at your co-parent. No matter how justified you feel, it’s really not about them. The anger should not be a legacy you pass on, and you should work to resolve it before moving into another relationship. Sure, romance and getting to know someone might distract you for a while, but eventually your old anger is going to flare up, even at your new partner.

Anger is a great motivator. Anger can dispel and counteract depression. Use it to your advantage. But expressing your anger at your ex-partner, or using anger as some justification of your bad actions will never feel right. In fact, acting in anger will actually create more anger rather than dispel it.

Take charge of your anger. Heal yourself. Move on as a happier, healthier person. It will be better for you and everyone around you.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: i am angry, cc 2015 the author, creative commons usage

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Log Line: Ferris Beuller gets a divorce.

A committed dad at the height of his creative life hits a snag when his wife asks for a divorce. A redemption story of loss, faith, and hope as Vincent comes to terms with what’s important in his life: his two children. He then crafts his life around supporting and loving them. Along the journey, he learns what real happiness looks and feels like.

Could a tv show bring about real change in family law? Give dads a fair shake at being full parents?

If you would like to be an early script reviewer or a pilot test group member, please reach out to me via email here: john.mcelhenney (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy. Blessings.

 

Go Big This Time, Or Go Home: Looking for a Long-Term Relationship

girl in the deep end

 

Several more creative titles came to mind when framing up this post: “She’s Come Undone,” or “Girl In the Deep End of the Pool.” But I needed to remember that this is not a philosophical post, it’s a hardship post. It’s about the harder side of dating, that I had yet to encounter.

She texted me, “Don’t stand me up. I need a drink.”

But I’d already decided a few days ago that she was NOT the one. AND in my current state of mind, anything, anyone, BUT THE ONE, is a waste of time. So why is this so much harder to do than I anticipated?

The hard thing to realize, even if I know it, is that she will not hurt any less tomorrow if I go along with the plan tonight.

She’s nice. She’s pretty. She really really really likes me. (Might be a red flag.) And she just wants to get together again. In response to my “I’m not ready for this relationship right now,” text she pleaded, “Just call me. It’s not going to be hard. It will be a good call.” She was quite convincing about how easy-going she is. And how she understands “people with kids.”

She doesn’t understand at all.

So I paused the train. I attempted to get off without hurting any feelings. But it’s not going to be that easy. And today, Monday, it’s not going that well. She’s had a hard day. She began buzzing my phone about two hours ago. When her “contract” workday ended. I talked to her. And again she confessed to having a really shitty day. Looks like her work might not continue after another two weeks. And in the place where I would feel compassion and outreach for someone, I was wanting to be in a relationship with, I simply felt tired by the exchange. I didn’t want to meet her for a drink. And at this moment… I won’t. But she doesn’t know that yet.

Why is it easier for us to see disaster in another person’s life so much easier than in our own? I was having dinner with a friend last night and it was easy to coach her a bit in the “get the assholes stuff out of your house NOW” vein. And today she’s texting me, “How did it go?” I’m embarrassed to say, I was still embroiled.

I don’t want to be the bad guy. I don’t want to be the hurter. UG. BUT… here’s the point I’m clear on, I’m not going to be in a “relationship” with this woman. We kissed, it was good. We kissed a lot. And I realized I was not interested in her. END OF STORY.

The hard thing to realize, even if I know it, is that she will not hurt any less tomorrow if I go along with the plan tonight. In fact, I know, she will feel worse. Much less me. I don’t want to spend this evening nursing this dying quail of a relationship. I want to move on. I want to go for a walk. I want to think about NEXT. And her kisses don’t sound like a good idea under any circumstances.

While she’s not a drug addict or a mean person, she’s not the right relationship for me. Anything less is compromising.

So how do we extricate ourselves from a person who simply does not want to be extricated? How do we grow the balls to say NO with a firm and loving hand? EVEN when they’ve had a bad day, a hard life, any number of hardships. We still need to say NO. But it hurts.

So I’m going to call her now. I’m going to say no. I’m going to be firm.

Oh fuck, maybe I’ll go for a walk first. Sort my head a bit. Then call her. Tonight and her waiting is nothing compared to the drop of the other shoe. And I need to get myself in a place where I will not compromise. I told my friend, last night, “You need to get clear of this shit.” While she’s not a drug addict or a mean person, she’s not the right relationship for me. Anything less is compromising. And that’s the deal I have with myself today. NO COMPROMISE.

Easy to say, harder to do.

I’ll post an update, but first a walk. A good, long, walk. Alone. (Instead, I bought tickets for a movie and called her from the park near the theater. The story continues here: Obeying the Speed Limits, and The Daily Journey)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*post originally written April 2013

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Collaborative Divorce My Ass!

OFF-header-reading

[This post is a continuation of this thought: You Are Ahead By a Century]

Perhaps the mere fact that my then-wife must’ve been “planning” her exit rather than talking to me in couples therapy about it… I mean, why didn’t she tell our therapist she was thinking about divorce? Why didn’t she tell me, so we could work on that. It seems the whole premise of collaborative is “we’ve worked on it and we agree we’d be better off alone.”

Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

When the other person goes to see a lawyer, WHILE YOU’RE IN COUPLES THERAPY, the idea of collaboration is BS. She was collaborative to the extent that I would agree to her terms and conditions. Other than that, she was sort of taking advantage of my good nature, my conflict aversion, and my willingness to see the best in her.

Was she manipulative? Certainly the divorce was pre-meditated. As in murdering our family in cold blood, BEFORE we had a chance to talk about it in therapy.

See, I asked, point-blank, during a particularly confusing couples session.

“Have you been to see an attorney?”

She looked shocked, embarrassed, and mad all in the same second.

“I have. I’m sorry.”

I should’ve shouted, “Then what the fuck are we doing here, paying $120 an hour to talk about our relationship. You’ve already moved on to your ‘options.’”

What I said was, “Oh, that puts a different spin on things. Now I feel pretty hopeless.”

I did feel hopeless. It’s as if the months leading up to the confession had been a lie. How long ago did you go see a lawyer sweetheart? I mean shouldn’t we have been talking through that idea right here, instead of dropping the revelation on me… Or me having to figure it out and ask you. That’s not how this couple’s therapy is supposed to work.

But something about honesty and letting me know in advance was not in her best interest. And there were minor indications that this might be our fate earlier in the relationship. There were signs that I should’ve walked away from the relationship. But I was infatuated too soon to let go.

It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her.

At the outset of our relationship we started a series of casual lunches. We’d known each other in high school, so in my mind we were just catching up. But early on the tone of the lunches and the texts in between got very flirty. The part she forgot to mention, she was living with a man.

And later in the course of our marriage, when I was having a rough time, she also shared a few lunches with a coworker and a few very deep and connected emails about my depression and her loneliness. Um, that’s called emotional infidelity, folks.

There were other things too. Like when I’d learn two weeks after the fact that she’d gone to lunch with her ex-husband. What? Why not just tell me, like I told her, when my crazy ex called me to have coffee. What was she afraid to tell me about? Why would you withhold that little detail from your discussions, if you are going for 100% honesty and transparency? Well, you wouldn’t.

And yet it was HONESTY that she was killing me on in therapy. Like I was hiding a mistress or late-night drug habit. I couldn’t understand the urgency, when I failed to tell her that I’d gotten a speeding ticket. To her it was as if I’d cheated on her or developed a closet drinking habit.

Week after week in therapy we skipped around about how unreliable I was. How I didn’t do enough chores and it made her too tired for sex. How I was the one with the honesty problem. Maybe it was her projection. I was simply doing my best at minding my own business, sharing what seemed appropriate (like a lunch with my ex-wife) and getting hammered for not being trustworthy. Really?

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up.

The issue I really wanted discussed was why I was unable to convince her to have sex for months at a time. And how that was OKAY with her, but me forgetting to bring home the dry cleaning was a fucking disaster. The crisis seemed manufactured to deflect the deeper issue.

And that’s how things are today. Crisis after crisis is manufactured to illicit some response, to get something she wants. And I’m better at spotting a false alarm these days. I simply don’t respond for the first 3 – 4 text messages. It really is NOT a crisis, it’s just her way of driving the conversation and demanding that I respond to her. It’s as if she were saying, “You’re not responsible if you don’t help take our daughter to the doctor this afternoon, with no notice, and it’s a really big deal, so you should pay attention.”

I’m no longer paying attention to the crisis. I am listening for the message underneath the crisis. You never help with doctor’s appointments. You never help with the kids. Our daughter is in crisis. I’m in crisis. You need to take care of your responsibility.

If I understand this perspective now, that the crisis is her way of controlling the situation, I begin to see how and why her “divorce attorney” revelation was sprung on me. The crisis was created immediately. The imbalance in power was complete. I reeled for months while she planned, strategized, and got me into parenting plan discussions, and financial split discussions, before I was ready to even consider that we were heading towards divorce.

We weren’t “heading” towards divorce. We were divorced, she just hadn’t told me yet. I have taken years to catch up. And today, 6-years later, I’m just starting to put the picture together. She sprung the divorce on me. It was to her advantage NOT to talk about the relationship in the couple’s therapy, she was already planning her escape.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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image: a few good months before the end, the author, creative commons usage

The Good Side of Divorce – Making Things Go Easier

my son's observations of me

Sometimes it takes a 3rd party to show you how good you’ve got it. This weekend a sitter asked my kids to write a simple page about why they like me. Above is my son’s observation. (I’ll share my daughter’s in a later post about fathers and daughters.) A few of the things I am grateful for in my divorce (see it’s not all rant and rave):

  1. We don’t fight (we didn’t, but we still don’t)
  2. We always put the kids first (if I can be flexible and help her, it’s best for the kids. If I get more kid time as a result, so much the better.)
  3. She’s a great mom and I try and recognize that as much as possible. (She’s not just the mother of my children, she’s someone who I still care about deeply. And she has a huge responsibility with the SOP in getting them to school, fed, loved, and cared for. And she rocks it. Regardless of how my anger often blows out on this blog, I don’t…Try not to…let any of it fly her way.)
  4. I have a lot of time to grow myself into a better dad, a better lover (eventually), and a more responsive and expressive human.
  5. My kids and I can get silly for hours at a time. (some of the policing she provided, might not have been necessary. Now we don’t have it. I’m the police, jester, and mediator, all in one.)
  6. When I have my kids I am ON 100%. (Dating and all the crap that goes with finding a new relationship, takes a back seat to my kids. Always. I’m glad we have a 6-month before introducing a GF or BF rule, but I haven’t even gotten close. I’m not looking for “almost’ or “good enough” this next time around. I’m looking for extraordinary.)
  7. She takes the best care of them she can. (I was always amazed at the kid-centered activities she could come up with. She’s better with the school activities. She’s much better with painting and crafts with friends… She’s got a ton of great gifts that she is giving to them as well.)

+++ No buts.

My anger is my own. My kids are a shared resource and responsibility. My ex-y is a wonderful human being who is doing her best in the world.

We’re done, but we’re never DONE. Like it or not, she’s in my life for the duration too. Her eventual BF-to-husband, is merely a matter of time. Dr. Marriage Divorce Counsellor said, “The deciding parent is often a lot more able and willing to move on. They’ve been moving on long before the actual divorce happens.”

How that still makes me sad I don’t know. But she moved on. And the more I support her “what’s next” the better it is going to be for my kids. (It might still hurt, but that’s part of growing into this new world order, and getting on with what is good for me too.)

This blog aside, I keep my shit to myself for the most part. Maybe too much when we were married, to the detriment of my own happiness. But I don’t have to do that now. My anger is my own. My kids are a shared resource and responsibility. My ex-y is a wonderful human being who is doing her best in the world. It is my hope that The Off Parent is more about me and my struggles, joy, and recovery than it is a bitch-fest about her. Sure I can go there. But in the real world, I leave as much of it HERE as possible.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

Get the complete single dad story with John’s new book: Single Dad Seeks (available in all formats)

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Please check out some of my books on AMAZON.