Five Tips to Maintaining a Good, Working Relationship with Your Former Spouse

Psychologists are almost unanimous in agreeing that a critical point forms in a child’s life when her parents divorce.

A bitter divorce—and vengeful relations between the child’s parents afterward—can permanently warp a young person’s ability to sustain social relations with others. Children coming from unhappy divorce backgrounds find it harder to maintain intimacy with others, are often less successful academically and professionally, and are more likely to suffer from depression, alcoholism, and drug abuse.

Staying married “for the sake of the children” is not a valid option because an unhappy marriage can be as destructive to your children as a stormy divorce. However, what you can do for the sake of your children is maintain a cordial—or at least neutral—working relationship with your ex-spouse after your marriage is dissolved. The key to success: avoid criticizing your former partner in front of your kids.

Why public support for your former spouse is essential

Your kids aren’t stupid. In fact, they probably analyze your behavior—and your ex-spouse’s behavior—far more deeply than you would believe.

If you fall into a pattern of criticizing your ex-partner after the divorce, your children will notice. Perhaps they will report your remarks to their other parent, just to see what happens. Even if they keep the matter to themselves, though, they will tend to follow this line of reasoning:

  • Parent A says that Parent B is a bad person.
    Parent A knows I spend a lot of time with Parent B also. If Parent B is so bad, does that mean Parent A doesn’t really love me? Why isn’t Parent A trying to protect me from Parent B?
  • Parent A once was married to Parent B. They were in love.
    If Parent A could fall in love with someone who is a bad person, doesn’t that mean Parent A is a really bad judge of character? Can I really trust anything that Parent A says?

Even if your child is too young to make these connections right away, you can be sure that she will follow this reasoning by the time she enters early adolescence. The key point you need to understand: When you badmouth your ex-spouse, you ultimately hurt your own credibility with your children.

Techniques for controlling your anger

It’s quite possible that your divorce involved personal or financial betrayal that left you seething with rage. You may genuinely believe that your ex is a loathsome human being.

Try to get past it. The divorce ended some aspects of your relationship with your former spouse, but having children together means that you cannot sever all connections between yourselves. You gain nothing by holding on to your resentment—and that resentment can poison your relationship with your children. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge, but the best results will come if you can keep your interactions with your ex unemotional and businesslike.

Here are some tips we have gathered from our clients and relationship professionals about ways to control your bitter feelings about your former spouse:

  • Channel your anger in a more positive direction. There are dozens of techniques available for anger management—ranging from formal meditation and yoga, to invigorating exercise, to housecleaning, to self-expression through art. One tool that has always appealed to us: when you get angry with someone, turn that around to do some good deed for someone else.
  • Avoid face-to-face meetings. Use the phone or e-mail to communicate whenever possible. Talking face-to-face increases the risk of a quarrel.
  • Remember the children you share. Your ex-partner provided half the genetic makeup of your kids. When you say something bad about your ex, you are also insulting your children.
  • Don’t be baited. Your ex knows the comments that are likely to provoke you. Recognize that those remarks are an attempt to control you by making you lose your temper, and refuse to respond to the bait.
  • Find some common ground. Work to find some areas of agreement with your ex-spouse’s decisions. It may be too much to hope that this will lead to mutual respect, but it can lead to a truce between you.

When the ex-spouse just won’t let go

Unfortunately, sometimes former partners are so desperate for attention that they will go beyond acceptable bounds to provoke you. They may defy court orders—including custody and child support obligations—in order to get your attention.

You don’t have to play this game on their terms. Speaks Law Firm represents family law clients throughout the Wilmington, North Carolina area, including New Hanover County, Pender County, Brunswick County, Columbus County, and Robeson County. If your former spouse has crossed over from annoying you to threatening your relationship with your children, pick up the phone right now and call our Wilmington family law firm at 877-593-4233.

R. Clarke Speaks
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Trial Lawyer and Founder of Speaks Law Firm, P.C.