When I was picking up my son from daycare the other day, one of the teachers asked me how my son’s dad and I have such a great co-parenting relationship. I instantly replied, we just put our son first and foremost. Later I thought to myself, well…we haven’t always had the best co-parenting relationship, and we really thought were putting our son first since the very beginning. I would say for the first 6 months or so, it was very tense. We couldn’t make eye contact or hold a simple conversation without one side getting defensive.
We finally made it to a good place. We didn’t get there from one extraordinary event that happened between us. There wasn’t some big argument that led to changed behavior. So how in the world did the dynamic change between us? How in the world did we get to a good place?
It has been two years since I broke the news to my son’s dad that I wanted a divorce while deployed, classy I know. It was something I had been debating for years and it only took me one month on deployment, out of my usual home-routine to figure out that my relationship was completely doomed and I needed to stop making excuses.
So, I did it. When I got back from deployment, we moved into separate homes. My son’s dad wanted to work things out for a while after. He gripped onto the hundreds of broken pieces of our marriage, standing there with some scotch tape expecting that to just fix everything. I knew it wouldn’t. Only I could understand the depth of the damage, there was no going back.
For a few months, he hung onto the idea that we could possibly get back together. In a way, it was actually sort of a good thing that he had hope because it kept things cordial between us. He was on his best behavior to prove to me that we could work again and that he had changed. What he didn’t realize was that I was in a completely different place than him.
I had just spent the last 2 and a half years of our marriage struggling with the thought of divorce. I went through phases of denial, depression, anger, guilt, isolation and disbelief over and over again. Always going back to denial. Finally, when I deployed, I was able to break that cycle of doom.
I was able to bring a new perspective to my biggest fear, the fear of destroying my son’s life over divorce. Because, well…it’s just a commonly known thing that divorce messes kids up for life, or so I thought.
Instead of just automatically assuming him having two houses was going to be detrimental to his well-being, I considered that maybe there’s more to this than just divorce that could cause damage to him. My son was 2 years old. He likely wasn’t even going to remember his dad and I being together.
If my son wouldn’t even remember us being together, and we could avoid hating each other through divorce and while co-parenting, there’s a very great chance that my son will grow up happy. Besides, I would rather him grow up witnessing two happy parents living separately, than two miserable parents that couldn’t get along or display their love.
So, on that first month of deployment, I hit a point of acceptance. I accepted that my marriage couldn’t be salvaged and I had hope for the future that me, my son and my son’s dad were going to not only be okay, but we were going to be happy.
I had been dealing with a roller coaster of emotions over divorce for YEARS in my head, while my son’s dad on the other hand had not. So, when I told him, he was in complete shock and denial, while I had already accepted it.
After the teacher at daycare asked me how his dad and I have grown to have such a great co-parenting relationship, I sort of had an epiphany; it wasn’t some special formula or piece of advice that got us there, it was time.
People say time heals…in time things get better. It’s sort of true. But to get the answer, you have to think of WHY time heals.
The emotions that come with divorce are similar to a death of a close family member. You must go through a process of grieving to overcome the “loss” of the relationship. The relationship that you thought you would be in for the rest of your life.
As I thought about the stages of grief I remember learning about in high school, (denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance) I didn’t really think those were all inclusive. There are some stages that were missing or needed to be a bit elaborated on.
As I talk about these stages, I want you to consider something…in your divorce, was one of you dead set and the other wasn’t? Is your co-parent relationship failing?
I want you to identify which one of these stages you think you’re in. I also want you to place which stage you think your ex is in.
This is typically the first stage of grief. It’s the first stage because we’re typically unable to handle the reality of what’s going on and our mind naturally puts us into denial to help protect us from feeling overwhelmed.
The shock factor brings us to wonder, is this true? Is it really over? This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening.
This short-lived buffer carries us through the first wave of pain.
This will bring us to feel a lot of sadness and regret. We start to worry that our grief is causing us to abandon our responsibilities to our kids or work, so it makes us feel guilty. The guilt becomes a huge burden on our daily life.
Once the shock phase is over, and start asking the question of how this even happened, we try to fix it. We start to make promises and arrangements to make the situation better, to stop the pain and guilt.
If that bargaining doesn’t seem to be working, it can lead to anger. Anger towards ourselves or our ex. The questions are no longer being expressed in a form of denial, but now they are being expressed in anger; Why? How? Now?
We start to think that things aren’t fair. We develop a sense of suspicion, frustration and become skeptical.
The reaction of anger is actually stemming from a place of fear, our very vulnerable core. But we don’t like to focus on our fears and anxieties, so it then gets redirected and expressed as anger.
This occurs when the reality sets in that the divorce is indeed happening. We get sad. Our sleep pattern and appetite can change. We start to steer clear of other people and find ourselves alone.
We start to fixate on the divorce and all the negatives going on because of it. The fixation leads to day-to-day tasks being unattended to. It can lead to not taking care of ourselves or our kids as well as we normally do.
This is the stage where we’re performing at our absolute lowest.
Then something happens. Either externally or internally. This becomes the spark that ignites us to move from depression towards a more positive place.
We start to think about ways to improve ourselves. We want to become a new person somehow, either externally, internally or both. We now use this to focus on the future, rather than dwelling on the past.
We have finally come to the point where we understand that nothing can change the reality. It doesn’t necessarily mean we think the divorce was okay, but we understand that at this point, there isn’t anything we can do to change it
We start to learn how to move on, we focus on the future and acknowledge the progress we have been making.
Now, which stage are you in? Which stage do you think your ex is in?
I am willing to bet that if your co-parent relationship is failing, you two are in completely different stages of grief.
When I told my him I wanted a divorce, I was very much in the stage of acceptance. He was in shock. I seemed cold and unattached, but I had already spent a very long time working through those stages while I was in my marriage.
He was just starting out at the very first stage. I didn’t understand it at the time, but he was going to need the next 6 months to work through everything in his own way.
These stages don’t necessarily go in this order, and not everyone goes through all the stages. Also, some people can go through this process fast, while others take years. If we get stuck in the stage of depression for too long, it can definitely take longer.
It’s so important to recognize where you are in these stages, and even more important to understand where your ex is. Try to give yourself and your ex some slack. Be patient and let “time heal.” Don’t try to rush through this, because you can revert back to earlier stages if you haven’t fully experienced what you needed to grasp acceptance.
My son’s dad and I are finally in a good place, because we have finally both reached acceptance and have hope for our futures, allowing us to finally put our son first and foremost.