One of the biggest challenges you may face when moving beyond divorce is changing how you interact with your Ex if your situation warrants regular communication. Sometimes as you are navigating your new relationship it can be difficult to know when you should speak up and when it’s best to be quiet.
Throughout your marriage chances are both of you have become experts on knowing which button to push to get a certain reaction from the other party. Reactions can vary but typically fall into one of two areas. One will be anger; the other will be avoidance.
Regardless of the reaction the motive typically behind pushing buttons is control. When you allow someone to control how you react it can leave you powerless and a feeling of being used.
What I often see is that a couple will continue the squabbling long after the judge has signed the divorce papers. If this cycle was in your marriage it will continue if YOU allow it.
So Here is Some Tough Love
It takes two to have a fight and one to stop. When you stop reacting in a predictable manner to your buttons being pushed it begins to change the dynamics of the relationship. It doesn’t happen overnight but it will change if you commit to it.
In my marriage I was always the one who backed down from an argument. Not that we didn’t have our nose to nose arguments on occasion but avoidance was my preferred method of dealing with marriage issues. What resulted is that my ex had control over me. When I learned to start standing up for myself the dynamics of the relationship started to change.
And it’s not easy. A friend once told me if Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes. I wanted our post-divorce relationship to be different for the sake of our child.
I had made the decision I was no longer going to argue and I wasn’t going to avoid the argument either. I had also made the commitment I was going to treat him like I wanted to treated. I didn’t want to be yelled at and I didn’t want to be ignored … I wanted to have a calm conversation and resolve the issue at hand.
The first time I applied my new behavior I can honestly say I was shaking like a leaf … but I knew I had to break our pattern.
I waited for his venting over topic au jour to pass while sitting there quietly. When I didn’t respond in my predictable manner he was really confused. He would ask me in anger ‘Are you just going to sit there?’ or ‘What do you have to say for myself?’
I calmly stated that I was waiting for him to finish so that we can discuss the situation calmly. It surprised him and we were actually able to have a brief discussion. It was the first time I had felt strong in dealing with conflict with him. I was empowered.
The secret is to be persistent with the new behavior. Sometimes we would be able to talk relatively calmly and sometimes he would resort to verbal anger. I would either wait it out or there were times when I had to leave the conversation letting him know that we WOULD discuss it later. AND I WOULD make sure that we discussed it when he calmed down; otherwise it’s avoidance.
Like anything else in life the more you practice the easier it becomes. Today I have been divorced many years … rarely am I on the receiving end of my Ex’s anger because he knows today it’s not an effective way of communicating with me. He knows it will be received with silence and the conversation will calmly pick up where we left off after his tantrum has passed.
It is empowering to know that you can change your behavior if you are mindful of your long-term goal of having a calm relationship.