'The high road has less traffic' is a life philosophy that says you maintain your moral compass, your personal code of ethics, and your values, at all times. Taking the high road means you are able to look yourself in the mirror and be proud of how you acted, or reacted, in light of trying situations. It means that you had an opportunity to respond with equally nasty behavior, and you chose not to. Several people have reached out to me this week with essentially the same question: How do I stay on the high road, when my ex- (or soon to be ex-) is so far off the high road that it's not even funny?
"We have a 'morality clause' in our divorce agreement, but my ex-husband is blatantly ignoring it. He has different women spend the night all the time ... when our children are at his place. How am I supposed to explain what is going on?"
"My ex-wife tells the kids that I am stupid and ignorant, and tells them that if I loved them more, I would pay more in child support."
People start to believe that if other people are taking the low road, then they are completely justified in joining them.
"I know my husband is having an affair, so I am going to spend all of his money. He isn't the only one who should feel fulfilled."
"I think she is having an affair with a supplier at work so I'm going to call the integrity hotline and report it anonymously so she gets fired."
Yes, these are all real situations that people have shared with me about the challenge they have in facing low-road behavior and the normal human condition of wanting to respond similarly.
Does responding negatively in return make it right? I don't think so. Sure, it may make you feel better in the short-term. Revenge can feel therapeutic. Releasing that pressure cooker of anger feels great. Our natural response tends to be, "I'll show him!" or "I'll get even with her." Giving him a taste of his own medicine is justice, right? Letting her see what it feels like levels the playing field, right?
Perhaps in the short-term, but I'm not sure it does in the long term. If there are kids involved, you have to continue to co-parent together. It's much more challenging to co-parent from the perspective of both parents being on the low-road. Furthermore, your kids don't need to witness both parents on the low-road. It's hard enough for them to have to deal with one parent's poor behavior, but to have both parents acting like idiots, makes it even more challenging.
I also argue that you are the one who has to live with the consequences of your low-road behavior. You don't want to be embarrassed by how you responded. Did you do something in the heat of the moment that you now regret? Did you look and act like a lunatic? Being able to stand confident in how you responded to a negative situation is a pretty honorable place to be, and a testament to your character.
"Yes," said one person recently, "I get all that, but at the end of the day, it's like banging my head against the wall over and over again ... I take the high road, and he doesn't. It gets old. It gets frustrating. What am I supposed to do?"
That is such a tough situation to be in, and the only answer I can offer is that two wrongs don't make a right. I know it sounds trivial, elementary and so much easier to say than to put into practice, but it's the best I can offer. You will feel better in the future when you look back and know that you made the best decision for your children to observe. You will feel better in the future when you look back and know that you made the right decision for your character and your reputation.
I know: easier said than done! It's like when my kids ask a question and want a real response, and all I have for them is, "Because I said so, that's why," or "Because I just know ... trust me!"
Help me out here! What response do you give to people who are trying to take the high road, but who are consistently faced with low road actions in response?