Are you suspicious of your ex? Everything they say seems calculated, manipulative, and inauthentic? You no longer trust them. Whether it was a slow leak, or the trust was shattered abruptly in your marriage, it is now absent.
Now that you have determined that your ex is no longer worthy of your trust as an intimate partner, the marriage relationship has been or will soon be legally severed. Even still, your feelings continue to bubble up, inconveniently, while you heal. They hang around like ghost limbs, slowly dissipating with self-love and time. Have trust in this.
Then there are your children. They deserve the love and attention of two parents, even if imperfect as marriage partners, and individuals. There are exceptions; however, generally, children thrive from the love of two flawed parents. Your attention is what nurtures them. Your cooperation as co-parents reassures them.
Your children have different needs, wishes, and expectations of their parents than your needs as a partner. Your disappointment in your ex is uniquely yours. Your children deserve a separate and distinct relationship with each of you. This can be multi-dimensional, rather than an all good, or all bad relationship.
How Do You Separate Your Feelings About Your Ex From Your Co-Parenting Relationship?
This question is what separates effective co-parenting from toxic co-parenting post-divorce. Until you view the issues with your ex through the lens of an adult intimate partner, you may be at risk of psychologically fusing with your children. Give these questions some thought.
- Do you use “we/us” rather than “I/me”, i.e., “he/she left us” “we want to stay in the house”, “he/she was never there for us” …
- Do you speak on behalf of your children’s feelings, rather than encourage them to speak directly to the other parent (if they can)? “Suzie doesn’t want to spend time with you this weekend”, “Joey didn’t like it when you kept calling/texting him” …
- Do your children seem to feel the same way about your ex (their other parent) that you do? Same feelings of betrayal, hurt, neglect?
- Can your children share positive feelings, memories, or thoughts about your ex with you? Do they only speak of their negative experiences and feelings?
- When your children resist spending time, or phone calls, with your ex, do you leave it up to them to decide, rather than encouraging them and setting appropriate boundaries?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, or more than one, chances are you are allowing your own feelings about your ex to infiltrate your family system, down to the children.
While this may seem intuitively like a protective, loving stance with your children, I can assure you that it is not. This dynamic between divorced parents and children can set up a very toxic environment, and in fact, is what the legal community refers to as “refuse/resist” cases.
There is still time to redirect the course of your future, and that of your children. This is the time to seek support, to learn how to separate your feelings about the marriage from the co-parenting relationship. Your children will thrive when they are free to develop a relationship with each parent, based on their unique experience of you both.