Dealing With The Other Parent

The use of common sense in developing a restructured relationship
with the other parent is essential for your future well-being.

Treat the other parent as you would like to be treated; and yes, even in the face of their sarcasm and critical comments. Try to follow a long-established rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In many cases (obviously this won’t work in all cases), your kindness, consideration and understanding towards the other parent will greatly assist you in your own healing from the breakdown of your relationship.

Your role model of kindness, consideration and understanding
will also greatly benefit your children in their own healing process.

You will want and you need to strive for agreement on decisions with the parent about your children, especially regarding discipline. Although your parenting styles will be different, the overall goal of respecting the other parents’ parenting parameters and styles will help in assuring neither parent is undermining the other parent’s efforts. This effort is for your children, not the other parent.

Being considerate of the other parents’ circumstances through respecting their parenting style will help your children deal with the differences of both households with some continuity.

Continuing anger or bitterness toward the other parent can
injure your children far more than the family court process itself.

You will want to refrain from voicing criticism of the other parent within hearing distance of your children. And, the behaviors you show will be just as important as the words you use. Not making derogatory remarks and behaviors about the other parent within hearing distance of your children is a necessary component in your children’s healing process. This task may be difficult, but it is absolutely necessary for your children to respect both parents. Also, respecting both parents will allow for your children’s continued healthy development. Your children are amazingly resilient and can survive your family reorganization in fairly good shape–if you and the other parent do not make it too difficult for them!

Do not attempt to compete with the other parent
for the affection and loyalty of your children.

Even your very young children will be able to read right through your attempts to compete with the other parent for your children’s love, affection and loyalty. Do not try to fool your children. They know what is going on. Your time with your children is not the time
to check up on the other parent.

Your children should not be used as little spies and should not be pumped for information about the other parent. In many cases children perceive that the parents hate each other. In their mind if they do anything to please one parent, they may invite the outright rejection by the other parent. Your children are already feeling they have lost one parent and are fearful of losing the other. For this reason alone, you need to show respect and support for the other parent (even when it is killing you do to so).

Here are some of the traits and characteristics of mutual respect and support which will demonstrate to your children you are attempting to cooperatively with the other parent:

A. You show a sincere attempt to cooperatively work out parenting plans which give your children frequent and continuing custodial time to both parents, including a willingness to modify the plan based on the needs and desires of your children.

B. You do not use your children in any way to attempt to hurt the other parent (interfere, obstruct or deny custodial time, not paying support or paying support repeatedly late, etc).

C. You consistently reassure your children they can count on both parents.

D. You do not put your children in a position of having to take sides with you or the other parent on any particular issue.

E. You have established a place for your children in your homes (beds, toys, clothes, etc).

F. You do not make derogatory remarks about the other parent within hearing distance of your children; and as best as you can, you do not allow your children to be in the presence of others who are making derogatory remarks about the other parent.

G. You encourage and facilitate your children’s telephonic contact between them and the other parent when they are in your custody.

H. You attempt to exchange information freely with the other parent without arguments, blaming or shaming expressions.

I. You do not try to pump your children for information about the other parent.

Attempting to work cooperatively with the other parent
may be an impossible task (especially in high conflict cases).

If you are in a high conflict case, you have already learned to anticipate trouble when dealing with the other parent. You probably also have learned when you anticipate trouble, you many times work yourself up into a frenzy and become so emotionally charged that no matter how well intentioned you may have been initially, in front of the other parent you find yourself sarcastic, critical and provocative–such is an example of being re-active instead of pro-active.

To become pro-active in your attempts to work cooperatively with the other parent, you will want to learn techniques to calm yourself, learn how to put up healthy boundaries, and learn how the emotions inside of you are not necessarily required to go outside of you. In other cases, you may need to simply learn to tolerate the other parent without any emotional investment whatsoever.

The following are some ideas when dealing with the other parent which may assist you in becoming pro-active and assertive, not reactive and aggressive:

A. Take some slow deep breaths just before encountering the other parent.

B. Be very focused on the physical task (picking up your children, handing the other parent the envelope with information about where you and your children will be spending your vacation, etc.).

C. Continuously clear your mind of any reactionary thoughts or words, stay focused on the physical.

D. Focus your attention on your words and behavior, and learn to emotionally detach from the other parent’s words and behaviors.

E. Make the encounter as brief as humanly possible, staying focused on the physical reason you are there.

F. If the encounter is not going well, and before it turns into a name calling arguing brawl, walk away.

NOTE

If you are there to pick up your children for your custodial time, and if you find you must walk away due to the disintegration of your encounter with the other parent, always take your children with you. If you do not, your children will instinctively take it as your rejection of them.

You will need to understand and accept
your differences with the other parent.

It is a generally accepted rule that only within an environment of acceptance will a positive change occur in a person. This includes the other parent. In an environment of acceptance and understanding; and yes, even appreciation and respect, positive changes can occur within the other parent. Your mission is NOT to change the other parent. Your mission is to provide an environment in which it is safe for the other parent to change without losing face, without embarrassment, and without blaming and shaming words or actions.

During the reorganization process, and especially prior to any court proceedings, it is to your advantage to be consistently understanding, supportive and as encouraging as possible with the other parent. These type of behaviors may confuse the other parent, but they will generally open the doors for changes–positive changes. Learning to get along may have been a significant situation which led to the family separation, but it is never too late to learn (for the next relationship if nothing else).

For your children’s sake, getting along with the other parent must be one of your top priorities.

Most of your problems with the other parent during the reorganization process
will be over actions and reactions resulting from feelings of powerlessness and fearfulness.

When we operate from feelings of powerlessness and fearfulness (both of which will be strongly felt when going through the adversarial family law process), we usually strike out to cause pain to the other party (some sadomasochist way of believing we will feel better if they feel worse). In order to survive the reorganization process, we need to find ways to not strike out to cause pain to the other party, as well as finding ways to protect ourselves from their striking out at us. The following are some ideas and suggestions for ways you can protect yourself:

A. Set and maintain clear concise boundaries.

When we set good boundaries we need to be clear to the other parent about what behaviors are acceptable and which ones are not acceptable. However, if you set clear concise boundaries be prepared to enforce them. Example: If the other parent repeatedly obstructs, interferes or denies your children their custodial time with you, take them to court and lay out the facts and supporting information to the court. This will empower you and clearly show the other parent you will not tolerate their behaviors which hurt the children.

B. Maintain good self-control.

If someone is striking out to cause us pain, causing us pain is how they feel powerful. So, maintaining good self-control is a way to defuse their power (at times, maintaining good self-control will even make them less powerful). Maintaining good self-control specifically means no threats of retaliation and no negative responses such as blaming and shaming statements.

If you find you can not stop yourself from reacting, write only positive responses and notes to the other parent.

C. Make positive and encouraging statements.

As indicated above herein, it is a generally accepted rule that only within an environment of acceptance will a positive change occur in a person. During the reorganization process, and especially prior to any court proceedings, it is to your advantage to be consistently understanding, supportive and as encouraging as possible with the other parent. Learning to get along with the other parent must be one of your top priorities. Not only will you benefit from making positive and encouraging statements to the other parent, your children will benefit too. By facilitating a feeling of importance to the other parent, you will take much of the fight out of them as well.

D. When all else has failed….

When all else has failed, you have done all you humanly can to make peace for the sake of your children, then it may be time to break off all contact not relating to your children. Attempting to back off slowly or trying to remain friendly with a person who is concentrated on making your life a living hell will not work, it will only serve to empower and embolden them. Make all communications via email, regular mail and notes. Protecting your children and yourself from a self-destructive abusive person will need to become your primary focus. When the other parent finds a new relationship
(or has already found a new relationship)

When the other parent finds a new relationship, or already commenced a new relationship which is the cause of the family reorganization, you will probably experience many emotions – from anger to sadness, from jealousy to hurt and pain. Do not panic, these feelings are a natural response to learning the other parent has found new love (yes, even if you are the one who initiated or were the “cause” of the divorce).

When the other parent finds a new relationship it is natural to go inward and ask yourself if you “missed” something. How could someone else find so much joy with the person who has or is bringing you so much hurt, pain and anguish? The pop psychological answer is, “Well, there is someone for every one.” Although reality is much deeper than pop psychological answers, this one may be true.

Everyone has the right to find a successful and fulfilling relationship – yes, even you! However, always keep in mind that if those attributes which caused your family reorganization are not addressed and dealt with at some level, those same attributes will arise in future relationships. So, maybe it would be wiser to spend your time looking at yourself instead of what the other parent is or is not doing.

What attracted you to the other parent,
and what attracted them to you?

What attracted you to the other parent, and what attracted them to you is a very real question, a question to which you hold the answer. I have said the following to most of my clients over the past 30+ years:

“If you do not grow through this process, you will go through it again.”

If we do not find what attracted us to the other parent, how will we know if we are or will be attracted to a similar person in the future? Likewise, if we do not find out why the other parent was attracted to us, how will we know if the same type of person will be attracted to us in the future?

Although individuals may be attracted to different people for different reasons throughout their lives, there does appear to be a common thread. If the other parent is overbearing and controlling, and we do nothing to grow through the process (re-discover our own wants, needs and desires in a relationship and learn to voice those wants, needs and desires), then we will either, A) find ourselves in a relationship with another overbearing and controlling person, or B) rebound into someone who has no confidence in themselves and who is so mild mannered they appear to not have an original thought in their head (just the opposite of the overbearing and controlling person).

Although the attributes which attracted you to the other parent and the attributes which they saw in you may change naturally over time, our basic attributes as adults vary little without some concentrated effort on our part. When you see the other parent in a new, apparently significant intimate relationship, it may be a wake-up call to start checking your own feelings and evaluate the type of new relationship you want and deserve.

Throughout these Booklets you have read the words “family reorganization.” I find when I talk about divorce or a paternity cases where the parents have split up, there is usually some sense of failure. We have a notion in this country that when a relationship ends it is someone’s “fault,” someone did something “wrong.” I have found such is not always the case.

Many couples were never “in love” in the first place, they were friends who just found themselves married one day, or they “loved” the loving relationship, just never “loved” the other person, or… (add a million other reasons for relationships). Are all such relationship failures? Or is the reality of their relationship just catching up with one or both of the partners?

Divorce is not always wrong, just as marriage is not always right. Again, divorce is not always wrong and marriage is not always right. More importantly, going through a divorce or relationship breakup is NOT failure.

Over the years, I have found most of the family court cases which I have been involved in have been the result of one of the parties just wanting to be happy and needing to feel good about themselves again.

Is such a want or desire a failure?

Are those who want to be happy and feel good about themselves again solely responsible for their own unhappiness?

Do couples live in a vacuum?

In reality, it takes to two to make peace and love, it only takes one to fight and destroy the foundation of the relationship.

Personally, I use the words “family reorganization” or “family restructuring” so as to prevent any projection of failure or fault onto the client. It is not a politically correct way of dealing with divorce and family separation, but then I have never been accused of being politically correct.

Now back to the topic at hand, which was: When the other parent finds a new relationship.
How does the other parent’s new relationship really affect you, or does it?

Although some of your actions and reactions during your old relationship may have been bad or just plain not smart, you are not a bad person–just a regular person who made some bad choices. The hardest part of moving on appears to be stuck at–how do I forgive myself?

Maybe you do not need to forgive yourself, maybe you just need to accept the fact your human, you made human mistakes. Learn from the mistakes, grow with them.

When the other parent finds a new relationship it also brings a different kind of closure to your relationship. It is a very graphic way of saying, it’s over–there is no going back now. It helps take the fantasy away that someday things will get better, back to normal, back to how it was in the beginning. It is a reality check for you to move on, to check out your own feelings about a new relationship, and to put in place those things you want, need and deserve within a new relationship. The other parent finding a new relationship closed one door (going back) and now you can concentrate on yourself (going forward).

When the other parent finds a new relationship it can also be freeing to some people. It may be just what you needed to get over some form of guilt or remorse, allowing you to be free to explore the new world you want to create for yourself. You are faced with the reality that no matter what you may have felt in the past, you are no longer responsible, obligated or obliged to worry about the other parent–you are free of any responsibility and obligation for the emotional well-being of the other parent. They have someone new who will now take on any responsibility and obligations for their emotional well-being.

Maybe now you can work on your own emotional well-being?

Maybe now you can work on your own future?

Maybe now you can work on the type of future you want for your children?

Instead of focusing on what did not work in the past, or who was wronged and why, you can now start focusing in on what you want to change about yourself, what you want to remain and what you want to re-enforce.

Remember, you are not a leper, you do have something to give, exchange and share with someone new.

You have just been given the “freedom” to go explore–yourself and your new world.

Remember, the best revenge is to live well, love and be loved, and to experience genuine happiness.