My Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Family Dynamic, Post-Divorce
As a twice-divorced divorce lawyer, I’m proud to say that I walk the talk, talk the walk, and every permutation of that phrase. I may be a hard-driving lawyer in divorce proceedings, but I am still a vulnerable human, like most of us.
Also like many of us, I have personally experienced a divorce. Twice. My two marriages may have ended, but I believe in the end, they made me stronger and more understanding as a lawyer. The two marriages couldn’t have been any different. My first husband and I are still friends, and I consider his wife my friend. In fact, I proudly introduce her as my kids' other mom. We are very much still in each other's lives, and we spend quality time together including many celebrations.
What’s the secret to my success? Well, given that my second marriage was toxic and fueled by my ex's alcoholism, it didn’t end nearly as amicably. So, I certainly can’t claim I have all the answers. But I will share with you some of my best advice, and five tips I’ve gathered from some of my many clients who’ve successfully remained friends with their exes.
- Work together as a team
- Don’t criticize or have arguments in front of the kids
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
- Be generous, for the right reasons
- Enlist help, if and when needed
Let me break these tips down a bit further.
1. Teamwork makes the team work!
Your ex and possibly their new mate don’t have to be your best friends. But I think it’s really important, to the extent you can, you work very hard with the parent of your children to be a team. Consider your ex-spouse your equal and acknowledge each other’s strengths and differences. Add resources to your team, as best you can afford. Perhaps it’s a matter of finding the ideal nanny or a counselor who can help keep everyone communicating and connected.
2. Keep criticisms and fights out of sight and ears.
You don’t have to always agree, but have your disagreements away from your kids, whether you’re in an intact marriage, separated, or divorced. Even if your ex is horrible, you shouldn’t ever say that to the children. They’ll figure it out. They can come to whatever conclusion they want about each of you. I feel very strongly about that. You can get your kids therapy, and help them work through the issues to support them.
I remember asking both of my kids, “Have you ever heard me criticize Daddy?” And they said, “No!” And I say, “And you never will! Because you’re half your dad and half me. Even if we disagree, I’m not going to criticize who he is. It’s just not going to happen.” I don’t want my kids to ever feel that their Dad is "less than;" and, for the record, he’s a very good Dad!
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
There will be plenty of conflicts as you navigate life post-divorce, but I encourage you to pick your battles very carefully and don’t worry too much about the little issues. There will always be a need for giving and taking. But I discourage keeping a scorecard. Hold each other accountable, but a little forgiveness can go a long way toward keeping the peace.
4. Always be generous, for the right reasons.
To the extent possible, be as generous with your time and resources as you can be. Divorces can’t always be 50/50. There has to be a give and take, but your goal should be to be openly generous and work as hard as possible to provide balance for the children. Be generous for the right reasons – don’t be generous because you think your ex will be nicer or less angry or will act a certain way. You cannot have any expectations; just do it because you want to. I am proud that my kids have had the best set of divorced parents and circumstances that they could possibly have. I was going to do whatever I could to make their lives seem like they didn’t have divorced parents. That was really important to me.
5. Enlist help, if and when it’s needed or warranted.
Let’s face it, I’m a custody lawyer and I’ve spent decades with clients who are in relationships with their exes where it’s exceedingly unhealthy. Not all marriages are perfect, and certainly, not all divorces will be either. There are instances where there are very serious threats to a spouse’s well-being, whether it’s triggered by drugs or alcoholism or it comes in other forms of domestic abuse. I want everyone to know that abuse is not just physical; abuse can also be emotional and psychological.
If you’re living with an alcoholic or drug abuser, you can find help and support from a trained counselor or therapist who specializes in those matters, or take advantage of groups like Al-non/Alateen (https://al-anon.org/) filled with people just like you who are worried about someone with a drinking problem. These organizations provide group support meetings for free. Similarly, if a spouse is dealing with abuse of any form, there are hotlines and safe spaces to seek out, beyond the obvious of calling the police.
If you or anyone you know are suffering from abuse, text START to 88788, to reach the National Domestic Abuse hotline.
This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on September 21, 2022.