At my son's last birthday party, a friend of mine took a video of the kids taking turns hitting the piñata and rushing forward to grab the candy. As most piñatas are, it was chaotic and had the potential to be unsafe. As she watched the video back, she marveled at how my ex handled the scene so well, keeping on top of the rowdy older boys and protecting the younger kids from getting in the way. She was impressed by his attentiveness to all the kids' actions and his tenderness and concern for their safety. Like me, she had her moments of anger at my ex when he chose to leave our marriage, and watching this video allowed her to see him with new eyes.
Within the first year after my marital split, I finally had the distance and peace of mind to reflect upon our relationship. It occurs to me now that a videotape might have been helpful. If we had videos of our interactions with others, what would we see? Would we be proud of our conduct? For example, would I see moments in which I had failed to appreciate my ex's considerate actions because I was so focused on my hurt and anger? Would I notice the moments in which I too had been difficult to live with?
The answers that I arrived at helped me start to see my ex--and myself--in a different light. In fact, they helped me finally abandon my gnawing resentment and paved the way for us to be harmonious co-parents as well as friends.
The breakup wasn't just his fault. Of course, we all know this, right? But accepting it in our hearts is a different thing altogether. My ex's betrayal, his angry outbursts and his decision to walk away made him an easy scapegoat for the divorce. Nevertheless once I finally resigned myself to the fact that we were indeed broken up, I started to see the ways in which our marriage had been difficult for him. This took me looking at myself with new eyes. I admitted to myself the ways in which I was too controlling, too demanding, and too communicative (yes there is such a thing). I realized that I had spent years blaming him for my own unhappiness, when all along I should have been focusing on making myself happy. Seeing his side of the story allowed me to soften towards him and feel more compassionate, which helped me appreciate him more.
I started to view him as my co-parent and not my husband. A friend and I often talk about how we have such unusually high (and often unrealistic) expectations of our spouses that just can't be met. Once my ex was no longer my romantic partner I found myself cutting him slack that I normally cut for my friends and family. I started focusing on his personal and parental strengths instead of rehashing the ways in which he had disappointed me.
Moreover, I started accepting certain behaviors that had driven me nuts when we were together, like running late. Sometimes he drops the kids off late on certain days, and I have adjusted my attitude towards that. I started having him drop the kids off at the gym childcare while I got a jumpstart on my workout. Or if I needed to be somewhere I would offer to pick the kids up at his house. In other words, I started being more flexible with him, and it really improved our relationship.
I tried to avoid falling back into old patterns of behavior with him.
How many times have you said to yourself, "There he or she goes again"? When we have been involved with someone for a long time we build up patterns of behavior and thinking, many of which can be unhealthy. My ex and I have weekly family dinners with our children, which is great for the kids, yet also provides an opportunity for conflict to arise. One night I answered the phone at the end of our dinner because I was looking for childcare while he was out of town. Well, he got mad and made a snarky comment. That one comment elicited in me a whole host of past assumptions: he has always resented me for my social interactions and now he's going to get angry and storm off. I was about to get angry back but then caught myself. Instead of seeing him through that prism of the past, I saw that he was just trying to reach out to me and have some uninterrupted family time. In that instant I was able to see him with new eyes, and it changed my perception of the situation. It took us a few minutes to feel at ease with one another again, but we finally did, and instead of leaving hurt and resentful, he stayed, we played board games with the kids and had a nice time.
In my continued effort to see my ex with new eyes and appreciate the ways in which he contributed positively to our family, I started making lists of them to remind myself. This was especially helpful when I was feeling frustrated because it put my frustration over a single incident into a larger perspective of his better attributes. Certainly it's impossible to move from disdain to appreciation in one fell swoop, but I found that over time my attempts to see my ex from a new perspective did give us the renewed ability to care about each other, as loving co-parents instead of bickering romantic partners.
I'm interested in hearing what you think. Must we continue to resent our ex-spouses? Have you ever found yourself looking at your ex (or old friends or family members) with new eyes? Might you find some small aspect to appreciate about your ex?
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