Love your kids more than you hate each other…
There is a famous quote “Don’t think it, ink it” from Mark Victor Hansen which you may be familiar with, however sometimes it serves us best NOT to write and share what we are thinking, straight away…
A client of mine emailed me the other day to tell me how proud she was of herself and the progress she had made in the last year. In particular with the changes she had made with the level of communication with her ex-partner while going through a separation.
She came to me a year ago when her co-parenting relationship and communication with her ‘soon to be ex’ started to affect her children.
She felt that her ex was constantly emailing, messaging, texting, calling or WhatsApping her at all times of the day. She felt anxious when she saw a message or email coming in or when she saw his number calling her phone. Her emotions were on red alert all the time and she always expected the worst. Before she had even read the message, listened to the voicemail or taken the call she was in defence mode and experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety as well. This made her react straight away from some very deep emotions (hurt, anger, frustration, hate and sadness). She ended up messaging back with big words, accusations, blame, shame and lots of criticising and finger pointing. She felt she had a ‘right’ to let him know how she felt. He ‘needed’ to hear it, how he made her feel. Of course, this came to no good. She just got more fired back at her with double force. She was run down, sleep deprived, short tempered with her kids, she’d lost weight, lost her rhythm, lost herself.
That was when she came to me for help: Mette I can’t take this any more. He keeps going at me. My response surprised her; ‘because you allow him to and you DO provoke him with your reaction and the way you respond’. ‘Why can’t I tell him what I feel, why can’t I tell him what he has done to me and our kids, why do I have to pretend I’m OK when I’m not?’. But there IS a middle ground. A way where she feels she is expressing herself, sticking to her values AND respecting the receiver.
We explored lots of things and I will share some of them with you in the hope you can benefit from them as well:
- We can only control ourselves: I understood that she had a need to let him know how she felt. But it really didn’t lead to anything positive, it just made it worse and she felt more vulnerable afterwards. These big emotions made her say and do things that she later realised were not right and nothing to feel proud of – her emotions were controlling how she communicated with her ex. So, she decided to step back when she got a message. To STOP and BREATHE and check in with her emotions. Allow herself to feel them and say them out loud to HERSELF: ‘I am so mad right now – I am so hurt – I can’t believe that xx etc.’ Then tell herself, ‘It’s OK to feel this way, but I don’t want it to hijack what I do or say next’. This made her slow down and think before choosing her next words or actions. CLICK here to read more about ‘Why breathing is a powerful parenting tool’
- Think before acting: we don’t have to accept something that is thrown at us – only when we accept what someone gives us, is it ours. She realised that he could say what he wanted but she had a choice to let it get to her, to receive it or not. She also realised that by replying in the moment of experiencing these big emotions it made her communicate in unhelpful or inappropriate ways. But this ‘need’ to say it or write it down was there straight away. SO, we agreed that she COULD write her thoughts down but not send them. She would write it on a piece of paper and put it to one side. She would compose a text and send it to herself. She would write it in a draft email. She also had a really good friend to whom she sometimes sent her first written response, in order to get advice. Later (an hour, 2 hours or a day) when she had calmed down and reread it she was often mortified about what she was about to send. ‘Wow! I never knew how much damage my emotions were doing when communicating!’ Her friend would offer advice and say, ‘hmm I am not so sure you should accuse him of X or that it’s helpful to call him a Y’.
- Control what you can and let go of the rest: Her main problem was the constant contact in various ways. But she accepted that she could not stop him contacting her. But she could control how he contacted her. She got a new mobile phone and sent him the new number, ‘I got a new phone and can only be contacted here’. She blocked him from her main mobile. And then she could breathe because she didn’t have to go into a panic attack every time a message came in or when her phone rang. She signed up for a free messaging service called Talking Parents, where parents can communicate through a secure electronic messaging system. She sent him the link and said from now on we can email each other ONLY here. Then she blocked his email from her contacts. And she started feeling some level of control and peace.
So her email to me explained that what we explored in the sessions had made her realise that by not allowing her own big emotions to take over she was able to take some of the responsibility for creating a more productive co-parenting relationship with her ex. She felt freer now knowing she did have a choice, and that she could control how and when she dealt with his communications. But she also had to accept that her ex could say what he wanted (it wasn’t up to her to change him or how he behaved) but it WAS up to HER what she did with it and whether she let it affect her. She was in control of her own emotions and actions ONLY. The rest she just had to let go and accept as it is.
More importantly, her relationship with her ex had improved. Still not great, but at a level where they could place focus on what was best for the kids, not on hurting or blaming each other. Where they loved their kids more than they hated each other.
Love your kids more than you hate each other.