Are You Volunteering for Madness?

Do you ever find yourself going round and round in circles with your ex over the same situations?

It’s enough to make you want to throw up your hands and shout “Why is this happening to me?”

As much as we don’t want to admit it, sometimes we actually volunteer for this madness.

We put ourselves into situations that cause more stress and craziness from our ex.

Why do we do this?

Some of the reasons that we find ourselves in these situations are because we think we are doing what is “best for the kids”, or we are people pleasers, or we don’t know how to live without drama in our lives, or we think we “should”.

How Little League was Making me Crazy

Let me tell you about a situation where I was clearly volunteering for madness.

My ex-husband is a huge baseball fan.  He is also what you would call a “high-conflict personality”.

We were already divorced by the time my son was old enough to sign up for T-ball.

My ex had been dreaming about this moment from the time my son was born and I thought it would be good for my son to start playing sports, so I signed him up.

It started off okay, but as the years went on, my ex’s behavior became more and more detrimental to my serenity.

But I continued to be the ”baseball mom”.  I would keep on top of when the sign ups were happening, make sure my son had all the necessary paperwork, get him signed up, etc.

My ex would get in fights with the coaches – except when he was a coach, then he would get in fights with the parents and his assistant coaches.

We had to keep moving around to different leagues, because my ex would burn his bridges each season.

But I kept being the “good mom” and the “in charge” one.  I would still keep signing him up if my son wanted to play.

And each year I asked him, and he said “yes”.   I told him he didn’t have to, but since he expressed that he wanted to play I thought it was my duty to make it happen.

Until the nightmare season.  My ex was out of control.  We had numerous fights at the field because he wanted to pull our son out of a game due to the coaching decisions or whatever.

We were fighting all the time – all over baseball!

So, as the next sign up season rolled around I decided I had had enough.  If my son wanted to play and his father wanted him to play, they would have to take control of the situation.

I would no longer volunteer for the madness.  Would I still go to games?  Yes, because I love seeing my son play.  But I was not going to do any of the ground work.

I let my son know this in advance as he was now old enough to understand the whole process and told him he would have to let his father know if he wanted to sign up.

Guess what happened – NOTHING.  No sign ups, no games, no comments from my son about missing out, and most importantly, no more nightmare seasons.

Once I stepped back, the problem disappeared.  My son still plays sports but somehow football doesn’t ignite my ex in the same way.

What I Learned

What I learned from this experience is that sometimes by doing what we think is “best”, we are really just giving away our peace and serenity.

Not only are we living in a nightmare, but we are volunteering to be there.  Take a step back and see what happens.

 

 

Why You Can’t Agree With Your Ex

Most divorces are riddled with conflict.  Even after all of the papers are signed and all of the legal matters have been settled, there is still the matter of trying to co-parent your kids.

Even in “good” divorces, there will still be times when you don’t exactly agree on something and these disagreements can threaten the peace you are trying so hard to establish.

How we have been taught to handle conflict

Do you remember learning about the “fight or flight response” in school?  Fight or flight is our animal instincts taking over.  In addition to an actual chemical response in our bodies, it is also a learned behavior that we can control.

Let’s take a look at these responses individually and see if you can identify your modus operandi when it comes to handling a conflict with your ex (or anyone).

Fight

Fight responses can include the following:

  • Screaming
  • Physical Violence
  • Refusing to Listen
  • Manipulation
  • Sulking

The messages or intentions behind these actions are usually something like:

  • I’m Right / You’re Wrong
  • To blame or punish
  • To threaten
  • I’m OK / You’re Not

The fight response basically is going for the outcome of “I win, you lose”.  When you respond to your ex in this aggressive manner, you may win the battle but it does not help win the war.

These reactions do not bring about a peaceful family situation for your children and that should be your main goal.

Flight

The flight responses include:

  • Sulking
  • Crying
  • Avoiding
  • Pretending it didn’t happen
  • Giving in

The messages or intentions behind these behaviors are:

  • I’m wrong / You’re Right
  • To avoid conflict
  • To maintain peace
  • To let the other person win
  • I’m not Ok / You are OK

These passive behaviors lead to a “I lose, you win” mentality and while you may be able to avoid the argument, this leads to the position of playing the victim.  You will eventually be eaten up with resentments and your sense of self will suffer.

So, if our animal instincts and chemical responses lead us to follow one of these behaviors – what are we to do?

Fortunately for us as humans, we have the capacity to learn new behaviors.  We can even see conflict not as only a negative state of being, but also an opportunity – an opportunity to learn and practice new and creative ways to deal with problems.

Flow

Flow behaviors help us come out of conflict better off than we went in.  They help to create a “I win, you win” outcome while also allowing you to be assertive with your needs.

They are:

  • Discussing the issue
  • Listening to others
  • Explaining our own perspective and needs

The messages or intentions behind these flow behaviors are:

  • There must be a way to solve this
  • To sort out the problem
  • To respect others
  • To make sure everyone is satisfied with the solution
  • I’m OK / You’re OK

So, how do you learn these new behaviors and train ourselves to react with “flow” when dealing with your ex?

The first step is to look at your past behaviors and recognize what your old way of dealing with conflict has been.

When a new situation appears that gives you that pit in your stomach feeling because you know it could lead to conflict (like you need to change the visitation schedule, or you have an issue with what your ex is feeding your children for dinner)– take a moment to work out a game plan.

The game plan should list your needs and perspectives on the situation.  Try to look for reasons that are easy for your ex to agree with.  Like too much fast food could lead to obesity, or your child will learn about a new culture by going on that trip with you.

Next, listen – really listen – without becoming defensive as to why your ex is not agreeing with you.  You should be listening for his interests and perspectives about the situation.

If a solution is not evident at first, try brainstorming creative solutions.  Everyone (even the kids, depending on their age) can come up with 5 possible solutions without worrying about how silly they sound of if they are actually possible.

I bet out of all those possible solutions, you will find that one of those will actually work for everybody and will be a “win/win” solution.

Your Takeaway

What do you do if your ex is firmly stuck in his fight or flight response.  How do you get him to flow?

Just keep trying.  Be a good example.  It may be frustrating at first, but try to stay in the flow and eventually he may follow.  Or he may not.  Either way, you know that you are doing your best and you are changing your behaviors and in the end that will only benefit your children.

 

The 5 Mistakes That Turn a Phone Call With Your Ex Into a Living Nightmare

When you are divorced with children there is no getting out of having to communicate with your ex.  I’m sure sometimes you wish that you never had to speak to him again, but that’s not going to happen – so it’s time to deal with reality.

Today we are going to talk about how to have a productive, civil phone conversation with your ex.  I have found that phone conversations are often more volatile than in person talks.

The phone provides that layer of “safety”.  We are more inclined to say things we wouldn’t say in person – plus we can delude ourselves that our kids are not “hearing” this conversation, so we tend to just let it fly.

Here are 5 common mistakes that we make when having that phone conversation that often leave us either in tears or wanting to pull our hair out.

Angry Dialing

It doesn’t matter what triggers it – your child making an innocent remark about daddy’s new “friend” or that he let them stay up way too late.  The end result is you are steaming mad – steam actually coming out of your ears, your heart racing, your blood pressure sky high.

Your first instinct is to pick up that phone and give him a piece of your mind.  Please don’t.  Nothing good or productive will come of it.

Instead follow the 24 hour rule.  Do not mention it to your ex for 24 hours.  Go outside and pull weeds, punch a pillow, anything but pick up that phone.  If possible have no contact with him during that time.

After the 24 hours, ask yourself “How important is it?”  If you can let it go and move on – do so.  If you still feel the issue needs to be addressed you can now address the real concerns you have without coming off as a screaming banshee.

Accepting an Invitation to a Fight

There will be times when your ex “angry dials” you – there is nothing you can do about that, but you can control your reaction.

I remember once my phone rang and I answered and said “hello”.  What I got in return was nothing but a minute long rant being spewed from the receiver which ended with my ex hanging up.

I literally didn’t even say a word.  I practically had to sit on my hands to keep myself from calling back and asking “what the f# @&?”

Most of the time you won’t be so lucky, the hurting and angry person on the other end of the line wants you to react, to engage in this fight.  This is where the STOP phrases come in handy.  “Sorry you feel that way”, “That’s your opinion”, “Oh”, and “Perhaps you are right”.

The last one is my personal favorite – it kind of stops him in his tracks.  If you just keep repeating these lines in any appropriate combination, one of two things will happen.  He will get frustrated and hang up or he will calm down.

If he hangs up, you can be proud that you did not play a part in escalating this fight.  If he calms down, you can either catch your breath and let the negativity you were barraged with dissipate and continue the conversation or take a small break (say you have to pee or something) if you need to center yourself even more and then continue the conversation.

Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

Your ex has issues (we all do).  There are things you disagree about, things he does differently than you, things he believes that you don’t, maybe a different parenting style.  You couldn’t change him when you were married.  Guess what?  It’s not going to happen now either.

Do yourself a favor and stop trying.  It only frustrates you and destroys your peace of mind.  Unless there is a real danger to your children (in which case you should be seeking legal advice), let it go.

You don’t want to walk around with a bruised forehead from that wall do you?  You no longer have the power to knock it down (you probably never did).  It may come down one day on its own, but it won’t be because of your lectures.

Feeling PHAT

I do not mean that you can’t get into your jeans.  I am talking about your state of mind and making sure none of the following are affecting your good sense and attitude before you pick up the phone.

  • Are you in pain?  Do you have a headache, a stomachache, any ailment?  P can also stand for PMSing.  Either way, it is probably not a good time to try to have a productive conversation.
  • Are you hungry?  This is a big one for me.  If I am hungry I become really cranky and you do not want to be around me until I’ve had some food.
  • Are you angry?  I’m not just talking about being angry with your ex, but are you angry at your boss, the rude driver on the ride home, anybody?
  • Are you tired?  If you are tired it affects your ability to concentrate and to be rational.  A conversation will probably leave you feeling overwhelmed.

So before picking up the phone, check for these feelings and try to correct them beforehand.  If your ex is calling you, do a quick check and if you find something that needs to be corrected, don’t answer – call him back after you have eaten or taken a nap.

Now, I know there will be times when you have to answer (when your kids are with him and it could be an emergency, etc).  If that is the case, do a quick check and if you find a PHAT, take a breath, try to center yourself and pick up the phone.  Just know that you are not at your best.

If possible, once you know it is not an emergency try to put off the conversation until later after you have taken care of you.

Being Mean

I know sometimes it can be tempting to get in our little jabs when we see an opening, but try to resist.  The consequence it has on your relationship with your ex and therefore on the well-being of your children is just not worth it.

So, say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.  This might take a little practice.  It’s ok to rehearse in advance.  Go ahead and talk to yourself in the mirror.  Most of the time it won’t go exactly as planned, but you still will be ahead of the game.

Summary

The most important thing to remember is that while it might take two to tango, you only have control over yourself.  You can only change your way of interacting with your ex.

At first it might seem unfair – you’re trying to be civil and he is continuing to be hostile, etc.  But don’t give up.  Give it some time.  Be proud of yourself for all the changes you are making to create more peace for yourself and your children.

Change what you can control, let go of what you can’t.