The Art of Change Skills for Life

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How To Stop An Ex From Further Breaking A Broken Home pt1

December 10, 2008 Dealing with Difficult People Persuasion 1

When there are children involved, divorce is hard on everyone concerned.  In this two part series, I’ll share an email I received about a broken home that continues to break, my thoughts on the subject, and my response to the person, which I’ll conclude on Friday.  

I have an invitation hidden away on one of my older websites associated with my coauthored book Dealing With People You Can’t Stand, for people to post their most pressing interpersonal problems.  Using my disguise of Siggy The Shrink (a character I played back in the late 1980s in my bestselling audio and video programs on How To Deal With Difficult People) I offer to provide what insight I can and to post my favorite questions online.  Last month, I got the following:Dear Siggy,

My children are 8 and 6.  Their mother and I have been divorced for two years now.  She constantly puts me down to them by claiming she doesn’t get enough child support, that I’m a loser, and discussing all aspects of our court order with them.  I have tried to take the high road approach, but I am really fed up with it.  Our court order prevents her from making derogatory comments about me to the girls, but I know she’s not going to stop.  I am worried that they will end up resenting me in the future.  I want to send her a cease and desist letter.  What do you think?

Signed

Mad as Hell and Not Going To Take It Anymore

When I read this, my immediate response was (and is)  to feel sorry for the kids.  Whenever I hear of a failed marriage that leaves children in its wake to cope with the damage, well, it breaks my heart.  I’ve been down that road myself, and it is a significant understatement to say that it was difficult for everyone involved.  Luckily, though the form of the family unit changed, we were able to resolve everything amicably and to grow our relationships as family members anyway.  I can happily say that my ex, my daughter and myself share a bond of love that is now unbroken and unbreakable.  

That marriages don’t make it is a well known fact.  The divorce rate is really high (50% or more?) and the bad feelings last a long time.  This morning, I ate breakfast at a counter in the small Mexican town where we are on vacation.  A big, surly looking guy sat down across from us, to eat alone.  He was wearing a t-shirt with what, at first glance, appeared to be a FedEX logo, but on closer inspection was a play on the logo, with a catch phrase, “HerEX:  When You Absolutely Have To Get Out By Tomorrow”

The temptation and tendency when marriages break up is to assign blame, bolster it with as much evidence as possible, and use it to somehow try and win (though what is won remains a mystery to me)  a single concession from the other party to the divorce:  “I’m right, you’re wrong, and you must pay for it”  or its corollary, “You’re right, I’m wrong, and I must pay for it.”   What a terrible waste of time and energy for all concerned.  With this in my heart, I replied to the message as follows:

Dear Mad,

I’m Rick Kirschner, the man behind Siggy.  I’m not a shrink, but I am a counselor and coach, and have dealt on many occasions with serious emotional disruptions inside of families.  I’m truly sorry to hear about your troubles.   I believe I understand how her talking you down to the kids could make you angry and move you to want to take legal action.  

The risk of such action is that you may simply polarize the situation further.  And you are not alone in your anger.  Your ex is obviously very angry with the situation.  I know that I have no idea what led to the demise of your relationship.  Maybe you think it was her fault, maybe you think it was yours, maybe a combination of both.   I don’t know.  Nor do I know what you mean when you say you’ve tried to take the high road with her.  Perhaps you’ve avoided conflict, tried to ignore the things you are writing to me about.  You say that you know she’s not going to stop making derogatory comments about you to the children, and you could be right.  

But you might also have this wrong.  In my line of work, I call it a limiting assumption.  Unless she has told you, in a calm and rational voice, that she will continue to do something like what she’s been doing, it remains a possibility that something could persuade her to change her mind.   

In fact, a more useful approach to this might be to consider that, since all behavior is purposeful, she may have what she considers great justification for her behavior towards you, which she is running through your kids.  

A more useful approach might be to keep in mind that people repeat themselves when they don’t feel heard and understood, and that whatever went wrong between you, she needs someone to listen really well so she can move through it.  

I’ll share the rest of my letter to ‘Mad’ in the next post.  Meanwhile, I’m eager to hear your comments on broken relationships and the communication consequences effect on all concerned.  

be well,

Rick

 

One Response

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    Beautiful post!

    > people repeat themselves when they don’t feel heard and understood
    How ironic … as I was reading – I kept thinking of Covey’s “Indian Talking Stick” … a technique for empathic listening.

    I agree — there’s a lot to be said for meeting people’s needs and helping them feel heard.

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