We all start a romantic relationship or marriage with the best of intentions and the belief that it will last forever.
It can therefore be very difficult to accept when the de facto relationship or marriage breaks down irretrievably, though it is not uncommon. In 2017, nearly 50,000 divorces were granted in Australia. During the period a couple decides to separate, emotions often run high and it can be a challenging time for everyone involved. When there are children involved, is there a way to engage in wise co-parenting while still furious at your ex? The answer is yes.
The best – and wisest – co-parenting you can do at this difficult time is to put your children first. It won’t be easy or necessarily come naturally, but remember it can be done. Even if you are feeling furious towards your ex and there is conflict between you, understand that a separation will involve going through an emotional cycle – it may feel like a roller-coaster ride – though it will be different for each person. This may help you to eventually realise that these heightened feelings are linked to big changes in your family’s lives and you may even get to a stage where you are able to let them go.
During this process be aware that:
- The person who has initiated the split will have already gone through a range of emotions, but they will have come to the conclusion that a separation is the best way forward.
- Both the initiator and the non-initiator will have intense feelings, but they often experience them at different times.
- The initiator often has the most distress before the separation and the non-initiator often experiences the most distress after the separation.
- Even if the separation or divorce is mutual, you may still experience feelings of hurt, anger, grief and sadness.
- Children often feel distress both before and after the separation.
While it is natural to feel a range of emotions including sadness, anger and grief, it is important to remember that feelings are not facts – you may not always feel this way. Dumping your anger, hate or fury on the other parent will not help your situation. It often only makes it far harder to communicate with the other parent about things that are important and it doesn’t actually help us to feel good about ourselves. Remember, too, that your children will most likely pick up on the conflict and the tensions between you.
If you are feeling furious, it can be helpful to find a constructive way to express your anger such as through exercise, a drama class or writing a journal. Take responsibility for your anger – it is yours – and find ways to burn up the excess energy so you can communicate in a calm, rational manner, allowing you to find solutions to problems more easily. Anger only becomes a problem when we express it in destructive ways. If you’re finding that your anger is not going away, it may be helpful to talk to a trained counsellor at Relationships Australia NSW to get some clarity about what is going on for you.
If your furious emotions stem from experiencing violence in the relationship, it is recommended that you contact either a professional trained counsellor at Relationships Australia NSW or speak to the police.
It may take a bit of practice, but when you are faced with a decision you need to make, or you are talking to your ex about plans for the future, think about the language you use, especially if your children are within earshot.
Remember that what your children will most probably want is to still feel safe, listened to and loved, and language can play a big part in that. Tell them they do not have to take sides, and encourage them to continue to enjoy their childhood. When talking to your children, think about the language you use. It may not be helpful for them to hear their Dad or Mum being referred to as your ex.
Each parent ought to ask himself or herself: Is he a good Dad? Is she a good Mum? If the answer is positive, remember to use language that will help your children feel safe. Learn to say “Your Dad” or “Your Mum”.
During a separation, children can be protected from adults’ tensions when both parents:
- Keep the child out of the middle of their arguments;
- Never ask the child to carry messages to the other parent;
- Don’t ask the child personal questions about the other parent; and
- Make arrangements that suit the child.
Allow the other parent to handle their own reactions and feelings about the separation. Focus on what you can do for yourself and learn to recognise what you can’t control or influence – this is probably one of the best things you can do in wise co-parenting your children.
Try to establish a more business-like relationship with your ex, again for the sake of your kids. You may still feel hurt or furious about your ex’s behaviour, but a business-style relationship can help minimise or calm your response, even if you don’t like their actions or how they talk to you. Think about what you can control and accept that it boils down to your own behaviour, not anyone else’s.
Consider doing a mindfulness course as this can teach you to live in the present moment and help you manage your feelings. As well, Relationships Australia NSW has a Parenting After Separation course to help couples or carers learn more about how they can best support their child through the process of family separation.