Don’t Explain

Communication in relationships is hard. Even if you love (and maybe still like) the other person it’s challenging to communicate effectively on a day to day basis in a way that doesn’t build and foster resentment. Trying to communicate with someone you don’t live with anymore, don’t love anymore, and don’t even really like much is exponentially more difficult especially after you’ve gone round and about in the court system a couple of times. Unfortunately it’s also often necessary when kids are involved. And there’s no shortage of things you have to communicate about when you’re trying to co-parent.

Recently my ex-husband and I started attending “communications therapy”. It’s been almost three years since the finalization of our divorce and we basically communicate as little as possible. The pattern goes like this: Something happens or is coming up that (legally or logistically) requires us to coordinate or agree in some capacity, I email him, he ignores said email, whatever needs to be handled gets closer, I resend the email or email asking if he’s going to answer, he (finally) responds with as few actual answers as possible. Typically he’ll throw in an insult, snide comment, or ridiculous statement about me as a person or parent and half answer what ever needed to be addressed. If there’s something from his end that needs to be conveyed he usually tells the kids to tell me or talk to me about whatever. This pattern sucks and accomplishes nothing but frustration. On top of that it often puts the kids in the uncomfortable role of go-between.

Even though this communications therapy isn’t something either of us chose or was super excited about, it’s clearly something we can benefit from. I’m a little bit skeptical about how helpful it’ll be, mostly because my ex is very minimal in his participation, but it’s worth a try. And also it’s court ordered so there’s that.

We’ve had three sessions so far.

The emerging theme is that we somehow need to break the cycle of mutual distrust that feeds our dysfunctional communication. The problem is that neither of us is going to take the first step. We’re in a Mexican stand-off. But if nothing changes then…well, nothing changes. The therapist made the suggestion of stripping our communication down to the bare minimum for now. Exchange only the information necessary. Exasperated, I told her that that’s what I’ve been doing. I pulled up our most recent email exchange on my phone to illustrate my point.

“Look”, I said “this is what it is, when, how much, and why it needs to happen.”

At which point she stopped me saying that even the Why is too much right now. We’re not there yet. I was a little baffled. I think it showed on my face. It just makes sense to me to tell why whatever thing that’s going on actually needs attention. It’s part of the basic facts, at least in my mind it is. Why is important! It’s what makes it all make sense.

The therapist continued, saying when I start explaining why he might be thinking “Oh great, here she goes again. Nag nag nag, blah blah blah.” and then he stops hearing what I’m saying. The door of communication is closed. The why, my explanation, she said, might be a trigger for him. It’s part of the cycle that clearly needs to be broken.

This blew my mind a little. Something as basic as that was a trigger? That?!? That’s what gets his panties in a twist?

He didn’t respond but it made perfect sense. Years and years of communication dynamics with this guy who’s now basically a stranger but I still know so well came into focus. I could see it. Explaining. This was a thing that put him on the defense. This?!?

Back when we were dating and first married my ex-husband used to call me “Little Miss Know It All”. He meant it in an entirely endearing, condescending way. He always felt like I was trying to show off how smart I am and how much I know. Ironically I really don’t think I’m all that smart. I’m like Carry from The Incredibles…”Half the time I don’t even know what anyone is talking about.”

I do, however, have a tendency to try to explain myself. Until this therapist pointed it out to me I never even really noticed it. I mean, obviously I’m wordy. Even when I attempt to be succinct it’s a challenge. But I really did think I was just giving him the basics in these emails. Now I catch myself doing it frequently. When talking to my kids’ teachers or the school, in conversation with other parents, in the presentations for my lab class (it’s especially unhelpful in science writing where brevity is paramount), I hear myself giving reasons, almost excuses, telling why for everything. It’s like I feel like I have to justify and defend what I’m saying even when it’s something as basic as calling the school about a sick kid. Now that I notice it it’s driving me a little crazy.

The most ironic thing about this being a factor in our broken communication cycle is that this problem, my habit of explaining myself, was at very least perpetuated by the relationship dynamic of our marriage if not created by it. When dealing with my then husband I often felt the need to explain the why, to make excuses and justify myself to him. It was part of the tiptoeing process that dealing with him often required. The why served a purpose. But now it’s causing problems. Probably it always has, I’m just now able to identify that.

Self-awareness isn’t really my strong suit. I’m at least self aware enough to be aware of that. When I looked at the problem of communicating with my ex I could not say what I was doing wrong. Not because I think I’m so right all the time, but because I really could not tell what my part of the problem was.

Part of me is relieved to know what I can change to improve things and, hopefully, ease some of the discomfort of communicating with my ex-husband. A small par t of me is irritated though. Because I have to change to accommodate him. Again. I’m the one who needs to solve the problem. I need to adapt and change around him…even though he’s probably more of the problem than I am. Why is this on me? Why is it my responsibility to fix the problem? Why am the problem? All the bullshit he deals out and I’m the problem???

I’m not. Not really. But. I’m the one sitting here trying to solve the problem.  My choices are change or don’t. But if nothing changes then Nothing Changes. What’s worth more, digging my heels in on a matter of principal or adapting my communication style to more effectively communicate? To me it’s a slippery slope. A steep downhill with loose gravel. Yes, this one thing is not a big deal. But a lot of little deals equal a big deal. Where is the line? I’m pretty sure it’s written in invisible ink so you can’t see it until you’ve already crossed it.

Relationships are a series of compromises, of changing who you are to accommodate the other person so that you can co-exist and grow together. In a good, healthy relationship both people are actively and continuously changing and it makes things better. But there’s always the risk that this growth, this changing, won’t be balanced and that you will be the one doing the brunt of the leg work. The tough part about navigating a post-divorce relationship (well, one of the many tough parts) is that you already know this isn’t going to be a balanced, healthy relationship. That’s probably how you ended up divorced in the first place. But you are the only person you can change, you are the only one who you have control over, you can only determine your own actions, reactions, and behaviors… if you want something to change in your post-divorce interactions, you have to be the one to make the change happen.

So, here’s to putting on the adult pants (even though you’d prefer not to wear pants). Here’s to self awareness and changing. Here’s to baby steps towards a more functional co-parenting post-divorce relationship.

 

 

A Letter to My Ex-husband’s Friends and Family

Dear Friends and Family of my Ex-Husband,

I probably didn’t get to know you very well even though your cousin/co-worker/long time neighbor’s grandson and I were married for over a decade. Admittedly that’s partially my fault; I’m not very good at making small talk and we really did not have much in common. After the basics of how all my kids were doing really what was left to talk about?

Between that and all the crap that went down and was made known to you (whether it should have been or not) through our long, tumultuous divorce process and the subsequent two years, I can only imagine how you might feel about me now. Some of you might have good reason, others maybe not. I know that part of this mess is my fault, I’ve never tried to deny that nor would I. It takes two to Tango and all that. Yes, I did things that I’m not proud of and should not have (and continue to do so because…well, I’m human and we are messy beings.) but the things that you might have a bee in your bonnet about happened four, no almost five years ago. That’s a pretty long time.Your current opinion of me and my post-divorce life including, maybe even especially, what kind of a mother I am is solely based on what you hear about me from my ex-husband.

Because of this there are some things I’d like you to be aware of, to consider when my name or my children’s situation flits across your social media feed or we come up in conversation.

When your friend/second-cousin-once-removed/nephew talks about not being able to come visit you five states away  this summer because his evil ex-wife sued him for an exorbitant amount of money, you should know that I did not. He was held accountable by the court system for his half of the kids’ school fees, things like the bus and the school sports they participate in, which is specified in our court order and pretty standard in joint custody cases. Basic expenses that most parents pay with out blinking an eye. After saying multiple times that he would pay his share of these directly to the school and failing to do so, I finally paid them. The only way to get repaid for his share of these expenses was to take him back to court. It was a last resort but these are his children too and his responsibility as well as mine.

When my dear ex-husband comments that I am lazy you should know that I do have a job, even a full time one (when I’m not in school full time in attempt to better life for my children and, yes, myself too which, by the way, is why he deems me selfish). I just happen to be lucky enough to get most my work hours in when my kids are with their dad so that I can be with them as much as possible. Just because I don’t work for almost a week at a time doesn’t mean I don’t work. In fact, during the week I don’t have my kids I work quite a lot. And while, yes, I am on “welfare” (if you count a bridge card as welfare) it’s not because I am sitting around trying to extort the system. I made the choice to spend my twenties being a stay-at-home parent instead of developing a career. Because of that I started with an entry level job four years ago when our marriage was ending. It’s hard to support five kids without a career. In fact, before he was paying child support, your friend/family member justified not financially supporting the kids because I’d be able to get federal food assistance to make sure they had food to eat. How’s that for irony?

Lastly, when our lovely shared acquaintance publicly tells all of you that I am “a whore” or “a liar” and that I don’t take care of our children please take a moment to think about said children. Do they seem like under-cared for individuals? Do they not appear to be relatively well adjusted especially considering the upturn their young lives have taken over the past few years? No, they do not and yes because they are. This is because both their father and I care about them and while I can’t comment on what he does to meet their needs, I can assure you that I work hard to give my children everything they need. Everything from counseling to extra curricular activities to help and supervision with their schoolwork.  As far as the other statements regarding my personal character you may have stumbled upon, you should know that the only communication my ex-husband and I have is via e-mail and is about the kids and their needs. Heck, I haven’t even been in a relationship since my marriage. If you really want to know, I can barely find time to date at all (see above paragraphs about work, school, and kids).

When you read or hear something less than favorable about me or about any other ex…anywhere. ever. Please take a brief moment to consider the source. Clearly this person you know (maybe well maybe not) and I did not get along. We had serious relationship and personal problems. That’s why we got divorced. It wasn’t fun for either of us. Consider the source of the information you are getting and take it all with a grain of salt. Remember that there are two sides to every story and three versions of the truth (mine, his, and what really happened). Perspective is everything and everything may not be exactly as it seems from his. Do this small thing for me and I will return the favor. I’ll not judge or condemn based on word of mouth. I’ll refrain from forming an opinion based on the angry rantings of an ex or maybe even at all. What I do hear or think about you and your life, I’ll keep it to myself. I’ll resist the temptation to gloat to my closest friend or mention it in passing to anyone else who cares to listen because, really, it’s not my business. Passing along negativity never helped anyone.

Sincerely,

Me

The Bogart

Urban Dictionary defines the term Bogart as “to keep something all for oneself, thus depriving anyone else of having any.”

Usually it’s used in a drug related context like “Hey Man, quit Bogarting that joint and pass it over here.” Obviously that’s not what’s going on here, though considering my stress level of late….

Someone (he Who Shall Not be Named) tried to Bogart my Mother’s Day. Well, him and his “one true wife” (seriously, that’s what he calls her when he’s emailing me and telling me how super fantastic and really really great this woman is in comparison to me), his PIC (partner in crime), the other pea in his pod of evilness…you get the idea. They tried to steal my Mother’s Day joy.

voldemort

Because, as you may or may not know, I’ve historically had some pretty fucking fantastic Mother’s Days (said very sarcastically).

This year was going to be different though. I talked to the kids ahead of time and impressed on them that they were going to do something for me then got breakfast foods that I knew they could prepare. I’ve also greatly adjusted my expectation for days like Mother’s Day…and my birthday…and Christmas. Not that it doesn’t make me a little sad when my older kids get me nothing (yup, nothing at all) for Christmas and buy their asshole dad (yeah, the one who shall not be named) a football jersey.

It’s a whole different dynamic when you’re the only parent/adult in the house. There’s no one to remind and enable the kids to get or do something for you. Their dad has his One True Wife to go on eBay and order something then collect the money from the kids so they can get him a gift. And great for him. But there’s no one like that around here. I understand and will take steps to remedy that next year (Note to self: hurry up and find a significant other so the kids will get me a freakin birthday present. Must work quickly as said birthday is next month.)

This year all I expected and really wanted was a relaxing day with my kids. Maybe I’d pick them up, take a nap (since I would be coming off a 12 hour night shift), have the brunch they prepared, and we’d watch a movie together (aka they’d watch a movie while I slept on the couch). My daughter, being a girl (and therefor inherently more considerate) and artsy in nature, would probably have made me a gift and I knew my youngest had made me something at Kindergarten. He had mentioned it the week before and was excited for my surprise.

The first fly in my honey of this day of recognition and appreciation came from the ex when I emailed to say I couldn’t pick the kids up right at nine (I get done working at 9a.m.) but I’d be there by 9:30 at the latest. This just was not acceptable to him because he and the little wife had to leave right at nine and, even though our kids are 15, 14, 12, 10, & 5, he would not leave them alone for less than half an hour. He stated that he does not trust me alone at his residence…Umm, yeah, because I really want to go in and have a look around or something. Riiight.

I assured him that I had no interest whatsoever in going in his house, I just wanted to pick up the kids, and it’s a little silly to have someone drive out to get the kids over a twenty minute time difference. No dice. Logic has no effect on that one. He and his wife had to leave precisely by 9:10 at the vary latest and if I couldn’t be there by then I was the one “not abiding by the court order” and (in his mind at least) therefore forfeiting my holiday parenting time. I don’t really think that’s how it worked but I wasn’t going to fight with him over something so stupid.

So I arranged for my parents to pick up the kids but they had to stop by my work and get my van first. Their car only seats 5. Good to go, problem solved. Though now I had no excuse for not getting my own mom a Mother’s Day gift.  I relayed this information to the father of my children and he assured me they would be up since “they already had alarms set to make (Step mom) breakfast.”

At 8:55 Sunday morning (while I was still at work trying to finish up) my daughter called asking when I would be there. Seriously? Ugh. I told her grandma & grandpa were on their way and would be there shortly. I had a chance to look out the window a minute or two later and happened to notice that my van was still in the parking lot. Crap! My parents’ car (which I had seen pull in like ten minutes earlier), however, was not. Turns out my van wouldn’t start so my dad left my mom waiting in my unstarting van for me to finish my shift while he went to pick up the kids from my angry ex.

How do I know he was angry? The two kids who have cell phones had called me a total of five times in ten minutes. I answered the last of these calls at 9:06 and could hear both He Who Shall Not be Named and his One True Wife yelling and screaming about me being late (how irresponsible & selfish I am and so on and so forth). Good times right there!

angry voldemort

My dad got to the ex’s house and picked up the kids less than a minute later. Seriously, he got there at 9:07. My kids had spent the past fifteen minutes at least with their outraged dad yelling and berating anyone and everyone over seven minutes…on Mother’s Day.

Once the kids were picked up things did start to improve. My van started and my mom and I got doughnuts and chocolate milk for everyone. My lovely daughter did indeed make me a painting but when I asked the little guy about the present he made me at school he looked downcast and said “Dad made me give it to (Step mom) because I was at his house this morning.”

What the fuck? Those bitches just Bogarted my Mother’s Day gift. The last kindergarten Mother’s Day gift I will ever get, one that was clearly made for ME…because, you know, I’m the kid’s actual mother. That’s taking asshole to a whole new level right there!

I can’t say I wasn’t more than a little upset about that one but what can you do? I’ll tell you what: take a nap, get pizza, and play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.

Despite the best efforts of some people, I was determined to have some positive, relaxing time with my kids. I guess that’s about as good as it gets.

...annd just for fun.

…annd just for fun.

Hulk Smash!

About this time last year my life was thrown into upheaval. Okay maybe at that point life was already in a tailspin of upheaval, a three year (maybe longer) downward spiral of sheer chaos and overt uncertainty complete with black smoke and projectile debris spewing forth.
Yeah, that sounds about right.
But in early June last year the regular chaos and upheaval of my transitory life took a turn and increased in intensity.
I had filed for divorce at the beginning of March after a few months of getting paperwork figured out and completed. At that point I was doing everything “in Pro Per” or on my own, without a lawyer. I thought that would keep things simple, I thought it would be the cheaper and better way to go.
I thought wrong.
That was one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my adult life.
DIY divorce, NOT a good idea! Sure it might have saved me the money but the price I paid was not worth a few (thousand) dollars. And let me tell you, a few thousand dollars ,while not that significant to everyone, is quite a lot to me.
So it took me months to get my paperwork together and filed, then when I finally did nothing happened. Nothing. I called the county clerk’s office a couple times and got no answers. They tell you they can’t give legal advice and technically they can’t but any advice they do give you is probably be wrong. And then it will come back and bite you in the ass later. The lesson I learned from this is any time someone tells you to do something get their name, write it down, file it somewhere safe. You’ll need it later.
For example, when you’re asked “Why did you put these numbers on the child support formula?” you can respond with “Because so-and-so at the County Clerks office told me I had to put numbers in before I filed a motion for child support.” FYI-you don’t have to fill in the numbers. There’s a whole complex formula used for that. But when you don’t have the name of the clerk who wouldn’t let you file the paperwork without filling in the numbers there’s not much you can do to correct this error.
Anyhow, this was not the rant I was aiming for tonight.

A year ago things finally began to happen in my divorce case and my life went from regular chaos into super stressful battle mode chaos. And then it stayed there…for about eight months at which point the divorce proceedings abruptly ended. The end was not what I wanted, I did not get what I was fighting for. I know I’ve mentioned that before.
I was left with a structure to my life that I hadn’t anticipated and wasn’t prepared for.
It sucked. It still sucks.(I really need to find a better adjective but sucks and sucking really are apt.)
But at some point sucking just becomes the status quo of day to day life and maybe you stop being so acutely aware of how much it sucks and life just goes on in its normal, suckish way.
And then what?
The past three years of my life have passed in a state of basic survival mode with a just do what you have to to get through this and survive attitude. Even though things didn’t go as I had planned and hoped and I have to adjust and deal with the loss of the life I thought I would have, I did survive.
So now what?
I know I have to adjust my expectations.
I’m taking steps to move forward. I’m accomplishing some goals that have sat idle for a long time. I’m even starting to have some fun again and really enjoy life. I’m getting back to the easy going, weird but usually funny person I was. I liked that person, I’m happy to see glimpses of her again.
But, still, underneath all that I am angry. Very, very angry. Like Hulk-Smash angry.

Yeah like that.
I hide it well, at least I really try to, but scratch the surface and there it is. A slow simmering anger that might even border on rage sometimes because of it’s constancy and futility. I’m not really sure what to do with it or how to get away from it. I want to be done with it, to “learn to accept the things I cannot change” or whatever.
I don’t want to be that person at Easter dinner who just can’t stop the bitter quips. That’s not cool.
But how do you stop it?
I run a lot or at least as much as my schedule and sleep deprivation will allow. I’ve been thinking about getting a punching bag. That kind of thing helps me cope with the anger but how does one make it go away?
I’m a fixer; I like to solve problems even challenging ones, heck, especially challenging ones. I don’t like problems with no solutions, I don’t like the kind that you just have to wait out. But that seems to be what this is, another one of life’s waiting games.
Maybe I should channel the Hulk (or Bruce Banner); he should replace Batman as my super hero favorite for a while.
At least Bruce Banner seems to have figured out the secret to dealing with the anger and using it constructively (in a really destructive way).