What does it take to transition emotionally from spouses to ‘exes’ to co-parents? How can you engage peacefully in the business of raising healthy children with someone you used to be married to with all of that history between you? Rolling back your relationship to a more formal, business-like arrangement might seem impossible, but while it can be a challenging and difficult process, it is do-able. It’s also much better for your children.
While there is no perfect “How To” on this, there are some guidelines that can help you better manage your emotions and then make the shift in your relationship to a more focused, business-like co-parenting arrangement. There are two very important steps you can take personally to set the stage for making this transition. These include: ‘Connecting With Your Feelings’ (about the ending of your marriage, your divorce, your new future, etc) and then ‘Disconnecting Emotionally With Your Ex’. (Read more about these soon in Part 2).
BEFORE you attempt to do either of these however, it’s important to understand WHY your feelings are important and HOW they might be impacting your current relationships (perhaps without you even realizing it)! This is our focus for Part 1 of this article.
Divorcing Parents Have Lots and Lots Of Feelings
As you begin this journey, it’s especially important to consider how the feelings generated by the ending of your marriage are affecting you now. Divorcing parents are quite naturally filled with all kinds of feelings: toward each other, regarding what happened and whose fault it was, in terms of the now lost family future, etc. Some get overwhelmed by these powerful emotions (inevitable bi-products of a failed marriage), while others don’t seem to be experiencing their feelings at all. Wherever you find yourself at the moment, burning high in the emotion department or feeling pretty numb, do know that it is essential to connect with all of your feelings to stay healthy, feel balanced, and to be able to move through and beyond divorce successfully. Left unchecked, your feelings about the situation, the demise of your marital relationship, your future, etc. can seep into and contaminate every interaction between you and your soon-to-be-ex. These can also infiltrate and negatively impact your other relationships—even your parenting relationship with your kids. Here’s why:
Unacknowledged Feelings Don’t Go Away
If you have been wondering why every time you see or even just think about your ‘Ex’ you can feel your blood pressure rising, tears coming to your eyes or a knot in your stomach, you are probably filled up with feelings that you are not fully acknowledging. For some, the opposite is occurring as you may not be feeling overwhelmed with feelings, in fact, you may not be letting yourself feel much of anything at all. This is equally problematic as just because you are not feeling your feelings doesn’t mean you don’t have them—they are in there somewhere! Also, it actually takes energy NOT to feel your feelings (this would explain why divorcing spouses who refer to themselves as ‘numb’ also talk about feeling exhausted!) and parents need every drop of energy they’ve got to do a great job raising their kids.
Consider this: Even though you may not realize you feel defeated, angry or guilty about what has happened, others in your life probably do. In fact, odds are that your unacknowledged feelings are not only impacting your relationships, but are also affecting your energy level, sleep cycle, appetite, and also your decision making. Need proof? Ask your friends or a close family member (or your older kids) about how you have been since your divorce process started or since you found out about the affair, or since whatever it was that marked the beginning of the divorce transition for you. Chances are good that someone has (or several people in your life have) noticed changes in your mood, your outlook, or your way of responding to things that you may not even realize. Their answers and observations might surprise you.
Unexamined feelings can also wreak havoc on each of you, internally. Stomach problems, headaches/migraines, sleeplessness, fatigue, these are just some of the symptoms that can be brought on or exacerbated by unacknowledged feelings. If you are suffering from new ailments and symptoms or an increase in severity of these, it’s always worth considering the possibility that your unexamined feelings are interfering with your health. (Be sure to see your physician first to rule out possible physical causes).
Why the big fuss about feelings?
Divorcing parents are particularly vulnerable to having unacknowledged feelings interfere with individual or family functioning as the demands of raising children can easily distract them from taking time out to reflect on, explore, and talk through what is going on feelings-wise. It’s easy not to make time to do this if the kids need to be packed up for camp, driven to and from soccer practice or toted to the supermarket, again. Yet, so many divorcing parents talk about becoming ‘surprisingly’ short tempered with their kids and not understanding why (because they feel used or rejected or terribly hurt?). Many speak of feeling exhausted all the time even though they may be getting plenty of sleep (perhaps because they feel hopeless, or helpless, or worried about the future?). Or, of suddenly finding themselves acting out of character, such as letting a child get away with behaviors that previously would never have been tolerated (maybe because they feel guilty about selling the house, or skipping summer camp, or cancelling vacation plans and now can’t bare to say “No”?).
So, what can you do to help shift your relationship from formerly married spouses to business partners in child rearing? Stay tuned for Part 2, which focuses on how you can feel more like yourself as you work to CONNECT with all of your feelings around your situation and your divorce, and then work to DISCONNECT emotionally with your Ex.