Toss a few kids, a stepmother or second husband, and plenty of strong opinions about the way "things should be" into the mix, and it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll be doing lots of tiptoeing through the tulips.
Even in the most amicable of situations, it can still be weird.
I get along extraordinarily well with my ex, but nevertheless, have my moments.
For instance, our two families will be out to dinner, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, I’ll find myself feeling self-conscious. Do people think David has a harem? Do we just seem like relatives, hanging out? The kids all look like us, or some combination thereof. As I interact with their son (I’m an honorary aunt!), the lines begin to blur….
Who, or rather, what, are we?! I’ve even had some acquaintances ask, artfully or directly, if I still hold a torch for my ex, because I make such an effort to keep him an active part of my life.
What follows are some of the most common, damaging mistakes ex-wives make with their former partners. If you’re a stepmom, take a look and see where your mate seems to be on the scale with his ex-wife. Or hell, ask her yourself for the conversational gambit of your life!
Holding a grudge
We all have our treasured stories, our old war wounds; the ones we repeat over and over inside our heads, bitterly listing the ways we’ve been done wrong. Every time you regurgitate your tale of woe about your ex-husband, you get a little hit of self-righteousness; a flash of indignation; and the pot starts to simmer allover again.
Keeping your resentments alive can feel really good, though people are loathe to admit it. What’s even better is when a new juicy event takes place and now you KNOW the other person has been proven to be a real asshole! You get to feel superior, to pull up the warm blanket of victimhood around your neck, and hunker down.
But think about it, how is doing this REALLY helping you? How does harboring long-standing grievances and resentments ever get you anywhere? You’re the one doing the feeling, you’re the one suffering.
It’s not like I’m suggesting you instantly forgive your ex-, but ask yourself how all this spite is affecting your insides. Wouldn’t you like to do it differently?
Being at the mercy of core issues
Sure, we all love reading about sex, but the second most important volatile issue has got to be money.
When a family dissolves and becomes two separate units, one side is always going to have less. Unfortunately, given the way our culture works, that side is usually the ex-wife’s. Money gets us where it counts: in that core place of fear connected to matters of survival and our power in the world.
If you’re keeping the fires of conflict stoked over issues of money, it actually might not be worth it. Can you attach a dollar figure to your angst? Let’s say every summer you argue with your ex-husband over whether he’ll chip in some extra money for summer activities for your child, and he balks. You end up mad at him for months afterwards, getting a few headaches here and there, snapping at the kids, dreading having to interact with him over the phone. Maybe it ruins a few evenings or weekends.
Put that cumulative stress into a bucket and ask yourself: is all of this worth an argument over (insert dollar amount here_____) bucks?
Trying to win the Better Parent award
This is a close cousin to holding a grudge, but it’s more like a grudge in action, fueled by a sense of competitiveness for a contest that no one’s ever going to win.
You do whatever you can to set him up to fail.
Maybe you withhold information from him, like for sporting events, or having to do with your children’s friends. Maybe you don’t tell him about birthday parties or school events until the last minute so he can’t come (and looks like he doesn’t care, whereas, obviously, you so-o-o do).
Whatever you’re doing, you ARE doing something. You’re trying to show him up, you’re trying to seem you’re doing everything (or okay, mostly) right, and he’s flubbing it up once again. No surprise there, huh? Worst of all, you may find yourself making little digs out loud with your own children. "Well, you were ready to go, it’s your father that’s late. As usual…."
Feel like a hamster on a hamster wheel?
Refusing to mourn
There’s one big reason we’re willing to spend so much of our emotional lives stewing in animosity and it isn’t pretty. Not only does it have to do with ugly-face crying (you know the kind, your face is twisted into something only an Academy-award winning actress would allow), it’s also almost unbearable to experience. Hence, the avoidance.
I’m talking sorrow here; sadness – big, sweeping, aching voids.
I remember one day in the garage, cleaning out paper grocery bags stuffed to the brim with first squiggles; outlines of traced hands from kindergarten; brightly-colored, endearing art projects and first writings.
For some reason, I’d been avoiding this task for years and wasn’t even sure why. As I sat on the floor, sifting through one drawing of "our family" after another, I finally lost it and starting sobbing, – the wracking, snorting kind that makes you feel like you can’t breathe.
Our little family – tall dad, less tall mom, one bigger child, a toddler – we were no more. At least, not as we were in the pictures.
I’d cried about our divorce before, but this was different. No longer was my crying mixed with anger and thoughts of making my ex- wrong. It was just overwhelming grief and sadness; the deep, shredding disappointment of a course of action that was immutable and damaging to all of us.
Sure, we’re human and we’ve all adapted. But to face the truth and sharpness of my tears so fully, wow. It was grueling.
I guess it says something about me that I perhaps stupidly and impulsively called my ex-husband to talk. And it says something about him that he set aside his own habitual grievances to lend a supportive ear and ended up crying himself on the phone.
So what’s left in you to mourn? Are you afraid the pain will have no end? If you fish around inside, do you sense there’s a dam that needs unblocking?
I’ve got four more big mistakes to cover, but this article is getting pretty long as it is, so come back for Part Two, where we’ll cover:
- Denying the what-if fantasies
- Keeping the focus on you and your shit
- Not seeing him for who he is NOW
- Letting lost opportunities pass you by
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved