Negative events don’t have to be respoded to negatively. – Virginia Satir
4 Basic Steps for Dealing with a Difficult Spouse
Stop Wishing Your Spouse Would Change
You have to let go of the expectation or hope that your ex will change. They are not going to become more responsible or a better parent overnight. Once you accept that your ex is a difficult spouse, you can stop reacting to the provoking behavior. You have no control, nor responsibility for your ex’s behavior, and there is no sense in getting angry over things outside of your control. If you let them effect your mood / behavior, they win!
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t guard against provocation. For instance, if your ex keeps sabotaging your time with the kids by ‘forgetting’ some of their items, just keep duplicates of these things at your house. You’ll feel better, the kids will be more at ease and the ex will learn they can’t control your time.
Distance Yourself from the Difficult Behavior
If you and your spouse are cohabiting while waiting to file for divorce, you may not be able to physically distance yourself from their behavior. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t distance yourself emotionally. It may sound silly, but simply coaching yourself to not react to your ex’s provocation helps. Take deep breaths. Observe the situation rather than be a participant. Imagine you are in a plastic bubble. You’re safe, secure and protected in your bubble. While your ex starts to get worked up, watch them through that bubble. This little trick of mental separation can actually keep your central nervous system calm and allow you to think prior to reacting. If all else fails, exit the room or take a drive. Never stay in a physically dangerous situation.
Try to Understand Your Spouse’s Behavior
Sit down and make a list of all your ex’s behaviors, good and bad. Now think about your years and experiences with your spouse. Try to think what may have shaped your ex’s behavior. Does your spouse tend to push people away because they are afraid of being abandoned? Did one of their parents leave the home when your ex was young? This may have a correlation. Anything helps in gaining an insight of why your spouse may have a pattern of behavior, and subsequently the best way to approach and or cope with these patterns constructively.
Create a Coping Strategy
Preparation is the biggest step in being successful. Now that you have made your list, go back and think of your usual reactions to each behavior listed. How have these reactions worked in the past? If one thing has been successful (offering to trade visitation days when your ex says they can’t take the kids, rather than threatening to take them to court) then keep it as a go to strategy. If you see something on the list that never works, ditch it. Promise yourself you won’t go there again and move on.
Separation isn’t about winning, or making the other person suffer, especially when you have children. It is a time to work out effective communication strategies to move forward with the divorce and life. You’ll have to communicate throughout the entire process, and the more effectively you communicate with each other, the less you’ll pay in legal fees, and that’s a good thing.
Contact us if you need help with Dealing with a Difficult Spouse.
For more reading on great divorce personal strategies pick up a copy of The Healthy Divorce, Lois Gold, MSW