The truth is that your life won’t be the same again, neither will that of your kids. You will not be the same. Many of your relationships will change. It is something you will all survive, but you will be different, things will be different. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
For some, the transition is an easy one, for others it is not. For some, the unpleasantness is over quickly, for others it is not. Today I’m talking to the others for whom it is not.
For me, it’s been a few weeks shy of 10 years since I started down this road. A decade, or 70 years in dog years! 😉
I’ve been talking to a few people lately about some of these issues.
Before you read on – I’m obviously not a counsellor, I’m more of an observer.
Having said that, while I’m speaking from my experience, I am not speaking only about my experience. I’m talking about a number of behaviours, some I have witnessed, some I have experienced over the years, some are the experience of friends, and others are the experiences of acquaintances.
I also want to state that this is not coming from a place of bitterness. This for me is about a desire to help those who have found their world torn apart and then find it difficult to find a friendly face or an understanding person. I am noticing that there is a massive lack of empathy from people on the outside of these situations. It’s absolutely true that until you have lived through it you have little appreciation of how difficult it is. And when I say lived through it – I don’t know of too many people who can say it is all behind them. Most of the people I know who have been through this continue to deal with some ongoing issues. These people are some of the strongest, most deeply hurt, and yet most compassionate people I’ve met.
If this is your story, you probably know by now that you will have to deal with an ex-spouse for a number of years to come, especially if you have children, and it will not always be pleasant. Something my counsellor told me very early on was that whatever your relationship was like before separation, will inform how it continues post separation. So if you were the submissive person with an aggressive demanding partner that dynamic will be what your ex-spouse wishes to continue. If your partner was especially materialistic then that’s really going to kick in when the property division comes up, if they have a like-minded new partner — we’re praying for you!! 😉
If you were the one who carried the burden of certain responsibilities, it is unlikely this will change.
If you were married to a selfish person – that is unlikely to get better – it’s more than likely going to get worse.
If you were married to someone who refused to take responsibility for their actions – guess what – that isn’t going to change either.
If you do attempt to change any of these dynamics – which is wise – and you were the submissive partner to a demanding one, you will be met with opposition. You will be met with an escalation of the behaviour that they used in the past to make you do what they wanted.
I think this is doubly true for those who are coming out of a relationship that was possibly one in which they had little to no “power”. If your spouse used to engage in gas lighting — this behaviour will escalate. Maybe they used the silent treatment, unfortunately this doesn’t escalate instead what I’ve seen happen is the person who used to control you with silence tends now to be quick to reach for verbal abuse. Watch for words and phrases like “unfair”, “selfish”, “I’m disappointed”, “childish”, “toxic”, “rude”, “arrogant”, “tantrum thrower”, be on the look out for the times you are responsible for, or the cause of, their behaviour, watch for the times when they have behaved in an inappropriate way because of you. These are fairly good indications that you are dealing with someone who is trying to manipulate you. You need to understand this and see it for what it is. In some cases the reason this happens is that you are dealing with a person whose reality has turned out to be disappointing compared to the dream they pursued.
They may even attempt to head to the moral high ground above you, and then proceed to lecture you on the appropriate ways to behave in your dealings with them or other situations. Based on what I’ve seen, a controlling person in a marriage will attempt to become more controlling outside of it, this seems to be especially true if they are the one whose actions ended the marriage. They may in some cases literally tell you what words to use when responding to them … you can laugh at this point if you wish but I kid you not … this happens. Expect to be treated as though you are a child. Don’t be surprised if you are told to whom you may speak, whom you may and may not see, you may even be instructed about what you are allowed to speak to your own children about. I’ve even heard of a parent being threatened with a restraining order in a desperate attempt to prevent him having a discussion with his own children. (!!) You may also be instructed by your ex-spouse on the appropriate etiquette required in order to deal with them (your ex-spouse).
Wow… writing that list I’m actually thinking how ridiculous it is that an adult would attempt to treat another like this – unfortunately I’m writing this because it happens.
Be aware that if you do not behave in the way you have been instructed to, they may become even more aggressive and demanding.
At this point it’s always a good idea to take a few moments to review the high ground the person is presently attempting to occupy.
Is the ground they are standing on what you would consider to be high?
Do they meet the standards they are telling you that you need to meet?
The answer is rarely yes, perhaps they are giving you parenting advice yet they are a parent who routinely puts their own needs above those of their child/ren. They may even be the parent who walked out of the family home and away from their child/ren in order to pursue “love” or “happiness”. In that case, unless there has been some drastic turn around in behaviour since that point, maybe you don’t have to respond to the “parenting” tips or take the bait.
Another good question for you to consider is, is there any truth in the accusation?
More often than not this baiting is an attempt to regain a position of dominance or power over you that they believe they have the right to occupy.
You can choose not to rise to this bait and ignore it – which is usually the best option. Yes, you do run the risk of them believing you have seen the error of your ways, but so be it. Hang around they’ll be back to point out more of your failings and shortcomings.
If you choose to confront, be aware that they may, at that point, feel that you are attacking them. This often happens when you contradict a lie with the truth – in which case you may then face some name calling or a barrage from a new partner or a family member or a friend maybe with the name calling thrown in for good measure. This usually means that your response has not been one that allowed them to resume their (self) perceived position of power over you.
As I said, the person is unlikely to change, you will simply need to learn to deal with these issues on a day by day or incident by incident basis.
My advice is:
If it matters with regard to your kids – deal with it. If it’s more like an attack on you personally, move on.
Spend some time working out if it matters or not. Write emails but maybe don’t include the person’s address in the “To” spot, if you do hit reply —delete the address, write your email, save it as a draft, come back to it later.
If you have remarried, and they decide to attack your new spouse – ignore it – no matter how much it hurts – it has nothing to do with them. This type of behaviour is an incredibly good sign that whole “discussion” has derailed, this is definitely not worth responding to. It goes without saying that the same applies if their spouse decides to attack your spouse – take a timeout!
If you choose not to respond — it may be perceived as a victory on their part – my advice is, if it makes them happy for now – great! Let them have it, you don’t need to engage in the point scoring behaviour.
If you are a Christian this is for you. There are a few verses that I would like to bring to your attention and hope that you can lock onto them and hunker down there… for now.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …..
If you are living your days in the light of His presence – you need to remember this. You also need to know that the people who are condemning your actions, your words, your behaviour – are not speaking on His behalf. They may, in fact, be speaking on the behalf of the enemy. The truth is the closer you get to God the more opposition you should expect to face. Not really a comforting thought.
My counsellor of several years ago also suggested that when you are faced with accusations either from your ex-spouse or others, pray through the accusations with God – and then ask Him to reveal His thoughts of you from His word.
I’m pretty sure the first one that will come to mind is – there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus….
And finally, if you are – as a good friend of mine is – as a result of these difficulties, reaching out to encourage others to turn to God and lean on Him, you will face opposition, sometimes from surprising sources.
You should expect that the good you are doing will be met with opposition from the enemy of our souls.
Listen to the people who matter…there are some out there.
More importantly than that listen to the One who knows.. the One who knows your heart, the One who has been with you through it all.
This is my prayer for you, that His is the voice you will hear above all of the others.