Ask Divorce Coach is Women’s Divorce Coach’s divorce and separation advice column. Have a question? Send it to Cindy here. It’s anonymous!
Dear Divorce Coach,
I have been separated from my husband for three months and he has been a nightmare! He’s constantly sending me volatile texts saying how bad of a person I am and how he wishes we’d never gotten married. It’s very emotionally triggering and I wish I could just get him to stop. We share three kids and need to coordinate their schedules so I can’t completely ignore him. What should I do?
Divorce and separation are hard enough when you are dealing with a cooperative ex, and just plain awful when they are volatile. While I get that you must reply when it concerns the kid’s schedules, you by no means should reply when the texts do not concern your kids. In fact, I urge you to take the high road and don’t reply especially when you are triggered. If you anticipate any custody disputes, you may want to take a screenshot of the texts and then don’t look at them again. Talk to a coach, therapist or friend about the feelings that come up during these interactions so that you don’t stuff your hurt feelings. When you do need to respond to your ex, I highly suggest you use the BIFF method by Bill Eddy. Biff stands for:
It’s understandable that you’d want to blast back at your ex when he’s being unkind, but you need to understand what is at stake if you do. The more hostile parents are to each other during this time, the more it hurts their kids. When two people can’t resolve things on their own, attorneys step in to mediate and correspond and that gets expensive. I wish you the best of luck and hang in there!
Dear Divorce Coach,
My ex-husband and I just finalized our divorce. I didn’t have much contact with his family during the separation which was painful as we’ve had a lovely relationship during our 20-year marriage. I was particularly close to his younger sister. Last week she reached out to me to say that she hopes we can continue a friendship. She lives in another state so we wouldn’t be getting together but it seems she wants to continue to chat on the phone. I feel conflicted as my ex has fewer close relationships than I do and I don’t want to steal away his sister. On the other hand, I really miss her. What’s the etiquette for relationships with your exes family?
– Ex sister-in-law
Dear Ex sister-in-law,
I think it’s very kind that you are considering your exes feelings and how he can be supported. You don’t mention if either you or his sister have kids, but this is definitely a factor in how I would advise you. If you have nieces and nephews (or if you have kids) it makes more sense that you’d maintain a relationship with her. Kids often feel a major sense of loss during divorce and separation and helping them maintain a relationship with your exes family is appropriate. Hopefully, your ex will do the majority of that groundwork but that isn’t a given. Some divorced couples I know continue to attend birthday parties and holiday gatherings with their exes family. This can be a healthy and wonderful thing for their kids.
In terms of a personal relationship with your exes sister, I would follow your initial gut reaction and talk to your ex first. If there is hesitation or outright refusal, honor the boundary. Tell his sister that while you value her and your past relationship that you need to ease off a closer relationship. If he’s fine with you maintaining a closer relationship with her, see if she’ll agree to some ground rules. At a minimum, agree that you will not discuss your ex and his past or current behavior (unless it poses a threat to someone’s safety). Also agree that what you discuss is confidential. If all of this seems daunting or impossible then you might want to reconsider. Think about the dynamics of your past relationship as well. Did most of your conversation revolve around the problems in your marriage? Do you have other things in common that would warrant a continued close relationship? How well does each of you maintain boundaries in relationships?
Loss is a sad and common theme in divorce. Losing another friend to the fallout is difficult. I hope that your other friendships remain strong and thanks for writing in.
Dear Divorce Coach,
My husband of a few years told me during a tearful conversation that he is gay. I feel totally betrayed. While he was honest before we got married about a few short-term relationships with men, he also assured me that our monogamous relationship was what he wanted. We are now getting divorced. My well-meaning friends and family keep making comments about how the rejection is less personal because it’s not about me but about him. I find this infuriating. I don’t want to totally lose it and scare off the people who are trying to support me through this – what should I say to them?
– Just as bad
Dear Just as bad,
I am so sorry you are going through this. No matter what the reason is for a person leaving a marriage, it’s still painful to the one being left. You mention that your friends and family are well-meaning so you already have some recognition that they are not trying to hurt you or make matters worse. I find people will often say whatever they can to help relieve the pain of their loved ones. Unfortunately, these comments don’t always land well and make the receiver feel that they shouldn’t be suffering as much as they are. I can imagine if you dissect what they are really trying to tell you, it would be something like this: I know you are hurting and it’s hard to watch. Maybe you are blaming yourself but if he’s gay then this can’t be your fault. You aren’t being left because there is something wrong with you.” If you can assume this is what someone means when they make that comment, you can reply in kind. Try something like, “Thank you for trying to make me feel better but honestly, that doesn’t help. I still feel an incredible amount of pain over the betrayal and the reason doesn’t make me feel any different about my loss. I really appreciate your support.” You may also come to realize through this that some people are less able to sit with you through your pain. Find a few trusted support people who can.