Befriending After Divorce Archive

Recently I was on a radio talk show speaking about my new book, Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex. Someone called in and in an irate voice asked: “Befriend your ex? Why? What if you hate your ex? What if your ex hates you? What if you were betrayed and cheated on? What if your ex was verbally abusive to you?”

I paused. I took a deep breath. And I wondered what to say.

I understand how angry people can feel in the midst of a divorce, how vicious they can behave when they feel hated, betrayed and cheated. Because when I got divorced, I shared many of those sentiments. I was angry, hurt, resentful and disappointed, not only with my ex, but with myself. In my mind, I had failed at one of the biggest commitments of my life: marriage.

When I became a parent, I believed I would be there for my children forever. I would do everything possible to create a good environment for them. And I knew that getting divorced would disrupt my childrens’ lives; there was no getting away from that. Although I vowed I would be there forever for them, after divorce I found myself with an ex who I didn’t particularly care for. Who I didn’t want a lot to do with. But I knew that children do better when they have two involved parents. So even though we were divorced, my ex would be in my life forever.

In listening to my irate caller, I was torn about how to respond. Although I understood that his emotional response was normal, I have learned one of the very difficult lessons of divorce: a divorced parent’s responsibilities include not only being the best parent, but keeping the other parent in the loop. This translates into helping your ex be the best parent he or she can be — even though, especially in the beginning of my divorce, I’d have preferred if my ex had moved to Mars.

Helping my ex be the best parent he could be? Let me tell you exactly what that meant.

  • It meant prioritizing my children’s well being. I didn’t have to love or like their father, but I had to respect the significance he had and should have in the rest of their lives.
  • It meant moving over, making room for his way of being.
  • It meant being gentle.
  • It meant letting go of all that happened in our marriage.
  • It meant creating a new relationship centered solely on co-parenting.
  • It meant letting go of old scripts, tapes, internalized messages.

One incident early in my divorce stands out. I’d been divorced about a year when my 13-year-old son had a terrible blow up with his father. My son had been sleeping at my ex’s house and during this fight, came running over to my house, crying. Part of me felt tickled that my son saw how angry his dad was. I might have even felt a sense of vengeful satisfaction; now my ex would have to admit he couldn’t manage his temper — something I’d told him for years!
But another part of me saw how upset my son was, being at odds with his dad. And my intuition led me to help my son and his dad repair their relationship. My words were deliberate:

Zach, just because your dad blew up doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you. He does. He just can get really angry sometimes. And sometimes we all get angry — too angry. It’s not a good thing but he’s your dad and he loves you.

Even though we were divorced, I went to bat for my ex. I tried to hold in my mind the mantra: Children benefit when they have two involved parents. I tried to treat my ex as I would have if we were still married — with compassion and forgiveness. I know it sounds difficult and maybe flies in the face of what you have been led to believe about how to treat someone who has hurt you deeply, but that is what came to me in that moment.

Comforting my son was first on my agenda. Then I called my ex. I invited him over to my house and when he came in, he apologized for losing it. Eventually, I left the room so he and my son could reconcile. Later, my ex thanked me.

And in the many years that passed between that incident and his death just last year, my ex referred back to that moment frequently.

Perhaps that moment was a turning point, because in the decades that followed, my ex went to bat for me in so many profound and significant ways — sometimes concretely, at other times, emotionally: helping me negotiate with a slippery car salesman, helping me straighten out my mother’s finances when she was diagnosed with dementia, comforting me when our daughter moved to California and I felt bereft, and later on, when my second husband was diagnosed with cancer.

So back to the caller, who wanted to know: why befriend someone you can’t stand?

I told him my answer is both simple and complex. Children need two parents. Your ex may have been an unsuitable mate but still can be a good parent. Helping your ex be the best parent he or she can be will benefit your child and ultimately may benefit you as well. Your mandate now is not only to be a good parent, but to help your child have two loving and involved parents. And even though you and your ex may have failed at your marriage, you can succeed now, and build a strong “after-divorce” family.

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10 Secrets to a Friendly Divorce

By Charlotte on February 13, 2013 6:48 AM
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By Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D.

 

Fifty-two year old Rona arrived distraught and tearful to a recent therapy group I run. Her 31-year-old son Joey was getting married. Although he and his father were distant since the divorce decades earlier, and his father had lived across the country for years, Joey had decided he wanted to include his father in the wedding. Rona had been looking forward to this big day, but now she was filled with dread, anticipating feeling awkward, sad and alone.

Rona had been a devoted single parent. Now, she was conflicted. On the one hand, she knew her son’s desire to reunite with his father came from a deep longing. She wanted to honor his request. On the other hand, she hadn’t seen or spoken to her ex since Joey’s college graduation. Warren had left when Joey was young and only rarely and irregularly sent financial support. And now, he was remarried and Rona was not.

 

One group member encouraged her to reach out to Warren. “Invite him for coffee. Tell him you’d like to talk about the wedding.”

 

Another suggested she email him. A third advised Rona to tell Joey that if Warren came, she’d feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, she rejected that last suggestion, knowing putting her son in the middle would be damaging not only to him, but to her relationship with him.

 

Turning to me, Rona asked, “Is it really possible to have a friendly divorce – after all these years?”

 

Rona’s concern is one many boomers share: Is it too late to have a better divorce?

 

Here are 10 strategies that can help you improve relations with your ex no matter how long you’ve been separated. Not all these tactics applied to Rona or will apply to you, so take what you can and leave the rest on the list.

 

Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D.

 

 

1. Think about all the research.

Children do best when parents get along. Your 30 year old is still your child. It doesn’t matter how old your children are. Even children in their 40s and beyond want to feel the love and support of their parents.

 

2. Write a note to yourself.

Make a post-it: “Children do better when parents get along.” Place the post-it on your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator and the dashboard of your car.

 

3. Create a relationship vision.

Think about the kind of relationship you want to create with your ex now. The key word is NOW. You may have gotten divorced years ago and your relationship may be ready for a revision. Our relationships are always changing, and yours may need to be altered, tweaked or adjusted. Be concrete. Use your imagination as your ally.

 

4. Honor the power of the pause.

Before talking to your children about your ex, before talking to your ex, before talking about your divorce to anyone, take three deep breathes and pause. Stay away from bad mouthing your ex. Stay away from getting trapped in your own negativity.

 

5. Practice letting go. 

The past is over. Let it go. When you find yourself reviewing what went wrong in your marriage, or your divorce… picture a red light. You are in charge of your thoughts. And it’s never too late to start over.

 

6. Take baby steps.

Change happens one small step at a time. Imagine inviting your ex out to coffee to talk about creating a better relationship. Imagine emailing your ex.

 

7. Reach out.

Approach your ex in whatever way is easiest for you. Send an email inviting your ex to talk about your relationship. Include her in your Thanksgiving plans. Offer to bring him groceries if he is ill. It’s never too late to create new rituals.

 

8. Practice forgiveness.

If you and your ex have a difficult relationship, be honest. What was your part in the problem? None of us are perfect. Your relationship with your ex was created by both of you. Forgive especially yourself when you do the wrong thing.

 

9. Take the high road.

Be willing to make the first move. It will pay off because you will know you have done what’s needed.

 

10. And above all, remember, it’s never too late to create a better divorce

 

About the Author

Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who runs groups and workshops to help people develop a deeper connection to themselves and to others. She’s the author of Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex (2013) and A Starving Madness: Tales of Hunger, Hope and Healing in Psychotherapy (2002). Contact her at Judithruskayrabinorphd.com.

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Divorced families are often described as disconnected, diminished and cut off, but last week I met an old friend, Brandy, who reminded me that this stereotype is often unfair and inaccurate. Brandy’s story offers the opposite lesson: that while divorce brings with it many losses, it can expand and enrich a family, sometimes in incredible ways.

Twenty years ago, when Brandy married Joel, his active, energetic two year-old son Brian came to live with them.  One morning, late to work and racing to get out of the house, Brandy burst into tears trying to get Brian’s sneakers tied to get him to daycare.  Working full time and juggling their new domestic lives, she and Joel had quickly moved from the romantic stage of their relationship to “Did-ya-dump-the garbage-and-what-are-we-having -for dinner?” How had her life become so overwhelming?

Just then the phone rang. It was Brandy’s mother, Sheila, who lived three flights up in the same apartment building. When Sheila heard Brandy’s plight, she flew downstairs, arrived at Brandy’s and made short work of Brian’s untied shoes. Sheila promptly fell in love with the adorable toddler.

 

At this time, Brian lived with Brandy and Joel during the week, and spent weekends with his biological mother, Lynn. In those early and painful days of divorce, Lynn and Joel had stopped speaking. Feeling loyal to her new husband, Brandy avoided Lynn as well. Later Brandy would admit to feeling threatened by Joel’s ex wife, a beautiful and bohemian actress. True to stereotype, divorce had disconnected and diminished this family.

Slowly, things changed. For a starter, Sheila, a working playwright, realized Brian needed all the adults in his life to get along—and she could play a crucial role. She offered herself as a “bridge” between Brian’s two families, creating her apartment for  pick-ups and drop-offs. Routine, casual meetings with Brian’s mother allowed Sheila and Lynn to bond; soon  Sheila learned that Lynn, who  had lost her mother at an early age, now felt adrift about mothering. Sheila adored mentoring the young and floundering Lynn, professionally as well as in the mothering department.

When Brandy learned of Lynn’s vulnerabilities and saw the bond that had arisen between her mother and Lynn, she began to feel less threatened by her husband’s beautiful ex wife. Feeling more secure, Brandy became curious, and one evening, when Lynn called to discuss the weekend schedule, Brandy found herself lingering on the phone. The two women began a lengthy conversation about their shared interest–Brian.

 

Therapists often talk about the domino effect in family systems— when one person in a family grows, new options emerge for healing the entire system. That’s what happened with Brandy and her family.  Brandy soon realized that if she wanted to get along with her stepson she had to get along with his biological mother. Lynn, for her part, continued to thrive under Sheila’s nurturing. Sheila found the role of “bridge” suited her in ways she could never have imagined. Before long, Sheila, Brandy and Lynn often found themselves putting their heads together to resolve the everyday problems of managing an active two year old who was now living in two homes.

The healing connections spread. Now that Brandy felt comfortable with Lynn, it was easier for her to encourage Joel to reconnect to Brian’s biological mother in positive ways.  Once Joel and Lynn’s relationship thawed, a new and loving expanded family could heal the place in everyone’s hearts that had been torn open by the pain of divorce.

Brian now had four people (Joel, Lynn, Brandy and Sheila) who cared deeply about him. And this had all sorts of practical implications. Most Mother’s Days and many holidays were spent in the company of his father, his biological mother, and his stepmother and her mother too.

What astonished my friend, Brandy was how much she, too, benefited from this expansion. When Joel was in one of his difficult, workaholic phases, it was Lynn who helped Brandy understand him better. When Brandy had a breast biopsy, it was Lynn and Sheila who waited with her for the  results. And in Sheila’s final years, when she was stricken by a series of debilitating illnesses, she was tended not only by her daughter, Brandy, but by Lynn as well. “She was a second mother to me,” Lynn said at Sheila’s memorial service, years later.

This story offers simple but profound lessons. If you are interested in creating a better—not a bitter divorce:

1)   Create a vision of the relationship you want;

2)   Take a first step;

3)   Risk failing and know that failing won’t kill you—and it might make you stronger!

4)     If you fail, create a new vision and start over.

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Greg and Elana are divorced for three years. Greg wants to enroll his gifted thirteen year old son, Alfonso in a special program for musically talented children. His ex wife, Elana, objects: it’s too expensive. Greg and Elana can argue for their separate positions, each accusing the other of being too extravagant or too cheap, too selfish or too unrealistic. Or, they can do what all the research on divorce advises parents to do: Communicate in the spirit of compromise and collaboration.

But as most divorced parents will tell you, communication between exes after divorce is generally challenging. Not only are children overwhelmed by the turmoil of divorce, but one or both parents is apt to experience a host of complicated emotional responses, including sadness, guilt, anger and /or resentment. Learning to manage their emotional responses—in the midst of creating a new life—– is not easy. And creating a new co-parenting relationship with one’s ex  is yet another challenge.

And yet, creating a new relationship with one’s ex is exactly what Judy Rabinor, PhD author of  Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex  recommends.She guides divorcing couples through what she calls the “Befriending” process, helping them process their emotional responses while resolving the myriad of day to day issues divorced parents face. She calls upon divorced parents to create a new family structure honoring co-parenting as a  lifelong responsibility and bond..

In the case of  Greg and Elana, she recommends they take into consideration the unique resources and limitations of each parent. For example, Greg has more financial resources than Elana, Elana has a less stressful job, but shoulders the time consuming burden of caring for her ill father. If they can openly discuss all this, here are some options:

Greg can offer to pay more than his “share” of the cost;

Greg can offer to take responsibility for the travel arrangements for his son;

Greg can abandon the idea of a special program;

Elana can volunteer to contribute the amount she feels comfortable with;

Elana and Greg can find a less expensive program

Alfonso can get an after school job

If  Elana and Greg can keep Rabinor’s  5 C’s in the front of their minds, here’s  how  a conversation might go:

  • Greg COMPASSIONATELY speaks with Elana about their unequal financial situations;
  • . He COMMUNICATES  with the intention of  being generous, calm and caring;.
  •  They both are able to listen to one another and  COLLABORATE;
  • Each are willing to bend and COMPROMISE  to find the best solution for their son;
  • When Alfonso gives his first concert, they will truly  CELEBRATE  his accomplishment together.

A divorced parent  as well as a clinical psychologist Rabinor bring a wealth of  professional and personal experience::

       I’d been married for fifteen years, my daughter was eight and my son twelve,  my marriage was unraveling and my ex and I felt helpless about repairing it. Imagine my surprise when one day, my soon-to-be-ex-husband calmly said to me, “Why should the kids live with you and I get them only on the weekends? Maybe they should live with me during the week and you on the weekends.”
 I was stunned. He argued that as a real estate developer in his own business, who worked at home with a flexible schedule, he was the more available parent than me, a psychologist who worked out of the home with fixed hours. But once I got over my initial panic I realized my soon-to-be ex was serious about co  parenting our children. After a great deal of negotiation, we  arrived at a compromise. Our children would live half the time with him and half the time with me. We were pioneering what has now become a more conventional arrangement for divorcing parents– joint physical custody.
A
t the time I divorced, I could never have imagined we would develop a relationship that would become supportive and comforting, even friendly.  When we first separated and were newly divorced, it wasn’t that way. We were distant, sometimes aloof, often angry and/or wary of one another.  Yet for the most part, we were able to keep the phrase “in the best interest of the children” as our guiding North Star. Together, we celebrated their birthdays, attended school conferences and sat in the bleachers, cheering at  swim meets and gymnastic competitions.  We collaborated with each other to help the children resolve problems with school, homework, friends and our family life.   Eventually, as time went on, we became more trusting and comfortable with each other.  All this occurred over many years, not without many painful moments.

Judith Ruskay Rabinor is the author of  Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes Your Ex.  www.judithruskayrabinorphd.com

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  How and Why Dads Can Befriend Their Ex

In a recent talk I gave to  divorced parents, after I finished speaking about the benefits of creating a friendly divorce, an angry voice called out, “Befriend my ex? You must be kidding! Truly, I’d like to behead her- not befriend her!” You may be asking this question, too:  Befriend someone who cheated on me with my best friend? Who has driven me to financial ruin? Was a flat our liar? My advice is both simple and complex:

    Why Befriend Your Ex? :

  1. All the research on the effects of divorce on children points to the same conclusion: Children do better when parents create a conflict free co-parenting environment. Your children didn’t ask for this divorce-and parenting and co-parenting are not optional. Co-parenting is a responsibility!
  2. A befriended co-parenting relationship means starting over and creating a new relationship that focuses on one thing: parenting. Imagine wiping the slate clean. Work on letting go of the past. Recognize that your ex will be your child’s parent forever, thus in your life forever.
  3. Recognize that your ex is your child’s parent and may offer your child more love and attention than anyone else in this entire world ever will. Not only is it important to be a good parent, but it’s important that you support your ex ‘s relationship with your children.

   How to Befriend Your Ex?: Here are six complex but simple strategies:

1)    Keep your children out of your divorce. Make a commitment  not to badmouth your ex—even if she badmouths you. Remove your children from  your emotional and financial relationship with your ex.  “This isn’t something I feel comfortable talking about with you,” or, “This is something mom and I are working on,” are perfect responses to questions that might trigger your own anger or bitterness.

2)    Anger and bitterness not only damage your children, they damage you. Practice letting go of angry and bitter thoughts.

3)    Forgive yourself when you are imperfect, when you can’t let go.

4)    Even if your ex will not cooperate and continues to badmouth you, your responsibility remains: be the best parent you can during the time you spend with your children. And support your ex when you can, keeping in mind: children do better when they have two parents who love them.

5)    Relationships are always changing. If you are co-parenting, you have opportunities every day to make new overtures. Change begins with one small step. Meet your ex at a parenting conference. Invite your ex to share a birthday celebration or join together for a family holiday. Let your ex know something positive your child said about her.

6)    Take the high road. The only person you can change is yourself. Taking the high road means living as if the world is witnessing your behavior. Be on your best behavior and you will have no regrets.

Are there times when befriending your ex is impossible? Uncalled for?  You bet! If your ex is actively abusing alcohol, drugs or other substances, or, is physically or emotionally abusive to you or your children, befriending is not only impossible it’s unwarranted.  Children should not be raised in an unsafe environment, and you may have to consult a lawyer,  or a mental health professional. As a psychologist I help people face these issues every single day.

 

 

Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D.  is a licensed psychologist, group therapy and workshop leader and  the author of Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex (2013) and A Starving Madness: Tales of Hunger, Hope and Healing in Psychotherapy (2002). Contact her at www.judithruskayrabinorphd.com

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BEFRIENDING YOUR EX AFTER DIVORCE: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex      By Judith Ruskay Rabinor PhD

 

Although a great many books have been written to help soothe a divorcing couple’s wounds and spare their children, the surprising discovery that ex-spouses can have positive, meaningful, and supportive relationships with one another is sorely missing from popular and professional literature. Befriending Your Ex:Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex  helps to fill that gap. Story after story—including the author’s own personal story—reminds the reader that once the tsunami of divorce quiets down, exes can be friends who share a major joy: loving and raising their children.

 

A divorced parent as well as a clinical psychologist who has worked with hundreds of families struggling with the aftermath of divorce, Rabinor bring to this book a wealth of  professional as well as personal experience.  Regarding her own divorce, she writes:

I’d been married for fifteen years, my daughter was eight and my son twelve and my  marriage was unraveling. My ex and I felt helpless about repairing it. Imagine my surprise when one day, my soon-to-be-ex-husband calmly said to me, “Why should the kids live with you and I get them only on the weekends? Maybe they should live with me during the week and you on the weekends.”
The children live with him? I was stunned. He argued that as a real estate developer in his own business, who worked at home with a flexible schedule, he was the more available parent than me, a psychologist who worked out of the home with fixed hours. As he rattled on, I began hyperventilating: my heart was pounding, my hands sweating.    Divorce brings with it a series of losses, and I was absorbing and experiencing this fact in my body.
Once I got over my initial panic I realized my soon-to-be ex was serious about parenting our children after divorce. He truly wanted to co-parent. Hesitantly, I considered his proposal After a great deal of negotiation, my ex and I arrived at a compromise. Our children would live half the time with him and half the time with me. We were pioneering what has now become a more conventional arrangement for divorcing parents– joint physical custody.
A
t the time I divorced, I could never have imagined I would develop a relationship with my ex that would become supportive and comforting, even friendly.  But over time, that is exactly what happened. When we first separated and were newly divorced, it wasn’t that way. We were distant, sometimes aloof, often angry and/or  wary of one another.  Yet for the most part, we were able to keep the phrase “in the best interest of the children” as our guiding North Star. We quickly learned to collaborate around the myriad issues involved in our children’s daily routines. Together, we attended school conferences and sat in the bleachers, cheering at childrens’ swim meets and gymnastic competitions.  We collaborated with each other to help the children resolve problems large and small having to do with school, homework, friends and our family life.  We celebrated their birthdays together and slowly, began to establish new ways of celebrating other holidays. Eventually, as time went on, we became more trusting and comfortable with each other, including new  spouses in family events.  All this occurred over many years, not without many painful moments.

        What I have learned, from my own experience and from counseling and interviewing others, is that that although befriending your ex is complex, it is more satisfying and attainable than you may be aware.

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Much to my chagrin, just six months ago my ex-husband, Arnold Rabinor was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was in the process of completing my book, Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex and Arnie and I had frequently joked about going on a book tour together with our current spouses! When he called to share the news of his diagnosis, he ended our conversation on a light note and said, “I guess we’ll have to put off the book tour for now.” Both of us knew that pancreatic cancer was deadly. Neither of us knew that within 10 weeks he would be gone.

My book had not yet gone to print, so I had the opportunity to dedicate it to him. Here is an excerpt I would like to share with you…Click Here for full article.

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Debunking the stereotypes of the deadbeat ex-husband and the money-grubbing, vindictive ex-wife.

I recently had dinner with three college friends I hadn’t seen in decades, all of us now divorced. Before we knew it, we were talking about our ex-husbands. Ruth casually mentioned she was looking forward to having lunch with her ex-husband. They speak frequently, not only about their two children, now grown, but about old friends and family. Laughingly, she told us they still argue over current events.

Read more at http://goodmenproject.com/marriage-2/ex-spouses-get-a-bad-rap/#tpScPfgufyyQXAMR.99
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A few years ago when I was going through an amicable, uncontested divorce, my friends asked me why it was taking so long. Since we didn’t have children and weren’t using attorneys, they thought the process should be a snap. Well it wasn’t. If you’ve had two plants growing in the same pot for many years the roots as well as the vines will become intertwined. You have two choices: you can dump out the plants and yank them apart, or gently disentangle them so that they will each thrive once they are transplanted in new soil. Separating a couple is no different. When you’ve intertwined your lives for a number of years, let alone a couple of decades, ending it as painlessly as possible is no easy task. Moving a step beyond pain avoidance, it can take some effort to remain friends, but it is well worth it in the long run. You may be asking yourself “If we couldn’t stay married, why in the world would I put any effort into being friends?” There is a new book out by Dr. Judith Ruskay Rabinor that explains why. The book is called Befriending Your Ex after Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids, and Yes, Your Ex, and I, for one, am thrilled that she’s published it. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Rabinor regarding her new book which was published earlier this month…. Click here for full article

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