Don’t Hate Your Ex More Than You Love Your Kids

People split up because they’re not compatible. Sometimes there’s been a breach of trust, and emotions are often in high gear for awhile after a split. You may be approaching, or have already crossed that fine line between love and hate. However, if you share kids with your ex and you care about their long-term well-being, you should stay as far away from that line as possible. In fact, you should sprint in the other direction.

It’s easy to hold a grudge after divorce. In addition to the issues that led to the divorce in the first place, people often find change difficult and scary, which creates more stress. And who better to take out your frustration on than the person you see as responsible for this mess in the first place.

However, the more conflict there is between you and your ex, the greater the likelihood that your children will suffer.

We don’t live in a perfect world, and we’re human, so of course, parents will sometimes disagree. But working effectively and amicably with the other parent significantly increases the chances that your children will thrive after separation.

Can you resent the other parent, but hide it from your children? That’s better than open air combat in front of the children. But you’d be surprised at how perceptive even young children are in sensing strain between parents. They have a sixth sense for detecting it—they know when something’s not right. If you can’t bring yourself to at least respect the other parent and develop a quality and amicable parenting relationship, your kids will sense it.

How might conflict between parents affect children? Essentially, it can cause psychological damage. It increases the risk of anxiety, depression and other psychological issues. And it’s difficult to detect exactly when the children begin to suffer. They often won’t tell you how they feel, and they may be embarrassed to talk to others about it. So their internal strife can go undetected and brew for awhile—until it manifests itself in isolating and negative behavior. Only then will you notice that something’s wrong. And by that time, you’re left with the difficult task of trying to help them dig themselves out of an emotional hole.

What can you do to improve your relationship with the other parent?

Of course, there are circumstances in which it’s hopeless to attempt to co-parent; the hurt is so deep that you don’t think the other spouse would even consider trying to improve your relationship (it takes two), or where there’s a serious untreated substance abuse or mental health issue that stifles rationality.

These hopeless circumstances are rare. The reality is that most people have the opportunity and ability to improve their parenting relationship. But they either believe it’s hopeless, when indeed it’s not. Or they wait indefinitely for the other parent to make the first move.

If you’re in a negative parenting relationship, take the initiative. If you sit around and wait for your ex to go first and do something positive for you, you may be waiting forever. Make the first move. Investment in your relationship with the other parent is an investment in your child’s emotional well-being: Genuinely care, be kind, do something nice, do something helpful.

You may be thinking: I didn’t do those things during my marriage, why should I do it now? Because it’s not about you, it’s about your children. A happy stable parent = healthy, stable kids. And as a bonus, engaging in this type of positive behavior will improve your own mood as well!

If you don’t think you can do it on your own, it may be worth doing some counseling to sort through the issues that are holding you back. Stop replaying the negative stories that you’ve repeated to yourself about your ex. You can’t redo the past, but you can chart a new course for the future.

If there’s any hope at all for progress, why not give it a shot? Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work, but you know that you’ve done everything in your power to remove a barrier to your children’s emotional well-being. And there’s the real possibility that positivity is reciprocated and everyone’s happier going forward, which makes life after divorce much easier for your children.

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