Michael is cool
Dear ____________ (Wife),
Nearly each time we attempt to talk about anything, I can sense a growing frustration and uneasiness in the conversation we are about to have.
I have noticed an unwillingness to open up. It seems there is a huge wall that has been built up over the years. There are times where there is such a huge disconnect in our communication that I feel the only thing we talk about these days are the typical conversations about work, kids, or finances, many of which still end in arguments. I miss the times where we used to talk, laugh, and enjoy each other. Believe it or not, I do miss the times when we used to be able to talk about anything and trust each other to talk about the hard stuff.
I know I have broken your trust. I have cut you off in mid-sentence to push my agenda. I have criticized your input on many topics. I have even completely ignored you or made some harsh comments about you as a person because he have disagreed. I regularly undermine your authority with the kids or elevate other’s feedback above your own.
I now recognize that my actions have caused you to hesitate to share much of anything these days. I realize that we can barely even talk about the small stuff without defensiveness getting in the way. I am sorry that I have made you feel that your words do not matter. I am sorry for making you feel that you are not important. I am sorry that I have not allowed you a voice in our family on many occasions.
I apologize for hurting you. I recognize my own selfishness as the cause of much of my behavior. I see where my own mis-trust and fear of losing control of the situation as cause for hurting you. My own hurt, has hurt you. You are the only one I love and care about, yet I have pushed you away.
I know we have a long path ahead of us. I know you do not trust that I will be a different person or that I have changed. That is OK. I will give you all the time you need to trust me again. I know it will be hard for you to open up again, but I hope with my intentional efforts over time, you will allow me back in. I know that we can get back to that point where you can trust me again. I know that one day we may be able to experience the joys of talking about even the hardest of subjects and knowing that we have each other’s back and are there for each other.
I commit to hearing you. I commit to allowing you to share your disagreements without criticizing you. I commit to validating your opinions as equal to mine. I commit to even having conversations where all I do is choose to listen to you and your perspective and recognize that you are not wrong, we are just different (sometimes…very different). Finally, I commit to not pushing you to open up too quickly and allowing you time to heal. We will work things out. Together, we can get back on the same page. Together, we can experience the joy, hope, and love that we used to feel.
Life did not turn out the way you had expected it. You are heart-broken, angry, and for some, maybe even a little relieved that the relationship is over. Your ‘happily ever after’ story has ended in a separation. However difficult, you know you still have to work together with your ex regarding your children. Being a single parent is not easy, and can be down right exhausting at times. It is hard knowing you have less time with your children while also knowing you have ‘no control’ over what happens at the other house. This can be extremely frustrating and anxiety provoking. However, with some help, the co-parenting relationship with your ex may help lighten the load. Remember a few key points when it comes to co-parenting.
1. The relationship ended, not your role as a parent.
Remember that the relationship with your ex is what has ended. You did not leave or abandon your children. Your ex did not necessarily leave nor abandon their children. Whether you like it or not, both of you still have a responsibility to raise your children the best you can. Even though you now have less time with your children, you can still be a powerful influence on their lives for the better. The children will be impacted by this separation, but you can still help provide as much stability as possible during this transition.
2. Your primary focus has to shift.
Before, when you were still a couple, the relationship was supposed to be the priority. Your spouse and kids both demanded your attention to one level or another. Now, your attention is focused on both you and your children and trying to co-parent effectively with your spouse. Your children will struggle through this time for some sense of normality and security. This is now all on you. When you have your children, expect some transitions to be difficult, especially early on into the separation. When you have your children, focus on meeting their needs and let them know that although the other parent is not there, they are still loved and cared for. The children need to know and feel that they are a priority at this time. When the kids are not with you, your focus is now on taking care of you through self-care. If you do not care for you, no one is left to care for your children.
3. You can still co-parent successfully, despite your differences
I get it, you are angry. You likely do not approve of what your ex is doing personally and maybe even with the kids. You may still argue and fight just as much. However, for the sake of the kids, you have to be willing to put your differences aside to focus on the children. Your children will feel the intensity of the conflict and will negatively impact their attempt to make sense of all this change. Be willing to separate the conversations about the kids well-being and the other things related to the legal separation and divorce as two different conversations if at all possible. The kids are not bargaining chips to be dealt with.
4. Never put the kids in the middle
Your children are forced to grow up pretty quickly during these times, they are still children. Allow them to stay children and continue to learn the things they need to be successful adults. Despite your frustration with the situation, do not be tempted to use your children or put them in the middle. Your kids are not spy’s to report what your former spouse is or is not doing. Your children are not the negotiator between you and your ex, even when you feel you cannot talk to them without some kind of conflict. Neither are your children the mail man to deliver or take things from one residence to the other. Let your children continue growing up and let your kids be kids, protect that for them. Do not rob them of that simply because you and your partner do not get along.
5. Say only positive things about your child’s other co-parent
Finally, this is absolutely essential. Your children’s identity is a mixed combination between you and their other parent. Sure, they may not like you or the other parent from time to time. They are angry, too. But saying negative things or ‘trash talking’ the other parent causes the kids to take those personally. I have talked with both children in the midst of this situation and adult children who were thrown into this situation and I often heard them wrestle with the thought of ‘If my mom/dad is __________ (fill-in the blank with the complaint), then I must also be ___________ (fill-in the blank with the complaint). Remember the old saying ‘If you can’t say anything positive, then do not say anything at all’ rings loudly here. Trying to find only positive things (and you might have to get creative here) will help create the stability your children need during this time. Another key point with this idea is not try not to sway their opinion of the other parent. Let them make that connection on their own. I have heard too many times that kids grew tired of the negativity they constantly heard from the one parent and did everything they could to get away to be with the other parent who simply did not say anything negative at all. It is not worth it. Keep your frustrations with your former spouse away from the children.
As you can see, being a single parent can be extremely difficult, but if both parents can put their differences aside and mutually agree to do what is best for their children, you will see tremendous results. Your children will adapt to this change much quicker with more security and comfort knowing that both parents love and care for them just as they had when mom and dad were still together.
You made it! Congratulations! Hopefully you have picked up on a pretty major theme throughout this challenge. In order to make your relationship as strong as it can be, you have to be focused on your partner. Look at their wants/needs, consider how you might be able to meet those needs. Today might possibly be the hardest of all challenges. I know you like to win, but today your challenge is to lose an argument. No matter how big or small of a deal it is, let your partner win this one. I am pretty sure your relationship is more important than anything you are facing. Lose this argument and win in your relationship.
If you enjoyed this 28 Day Challenge, please help spread the word of Marriage Renewed. Each day we post blogs and other articles related to variety of marriage and family related issues. Many of you have already shared some of the challenges this past month. I hope you enjoyed this challenge and are starting to see an improvement in your relationship. If not, we are here to help. We offer relationship coaching if you feel that may be a help. This is not counseling. Rather, our goal during these conversations is to look at your current relationship and discuss some proven skills that will help your relationship reach its potential. More often than not, in just a few conversations you will start to see an immediate difference. No matter how bad or great your relationship is, we all have room for improvement. Even my wife and I have room for growth. I hope you take advantage of this opportunity.
We are reaching the end of the 28 Day Challenge, you are almost there. I am proud of all that you have accomplished and would love to hear about some things that you have experienced this past month. Feel free to message or tag us when you share about your experiences. Today, the challenge is to share a favorite memory. There is something magical about going back in time to see how far you have come. Share some fun and memorable experiences. No matter how rough your relationship may be at the time, it seems to disappear (even if only for a moment) when you share about some of the good ‘ol times. Go ahead, enjoy! Maybe even post a picture to your wall and tag your partner to share the memory with friends and family.
Let’s face it, we like to multi-task. This may be great in work settings or to get things done around the house in a good time, but it never works when your partner is attempting to communicate about something. When they bring up a conversation (no matter how big or small the issue is), be sure to pause the TV, put your phone down, stop doing whatever you are doing and make eye contact with your partner. Give them undivided attention as they share whatever is on their heart. This speaks loud and clear that they are more important than whatever task you were engaged in. They feel important and can see that you care about what they have to say.
A few days ago, you may remember the challenge was to not say anything when your partner is venting. Now that you are getting better at not interrupting or fixing it and instead offering empathy and validation, you are ready to tackle a small issue. Please remember to choose something small to start with. If you bring up a topic that is too big or too emotionally charged, you may end up in an argument and grow discouraged in bringing up issues to be resolved. Here are a few things to remember for this conversation. Delicately bring up the issue and share your perspective in a short and concise manner. Then allow your partner to share their perspective. When both have shared their perspective, be sure to validate their perspective then discuss how you may be able to find some common ground that both feel comfortable with.
Each year the President of the United States gives a State of the Union Address. We should be doing the same thing in our relationship. Do the occasional check in to evaluate the overall health of your relationship. Maybe you have become stagnant in certain area and need to improve in communication, getting on the same page in any number of topics (finances, parenting, sex, in-laws). Maybe you have noticed you are slipping back into your comfort zone and are taking each other for granted. This is a great time to discuss where you are, but most importantly to talk about where you want to be and come up with a plan to get there. Maybe you can take a class on a certain topic, talk to a couples counselor or a marriage mentor. The purpose of this conversation is to make your relationship intentional.
We get stuck in a rut. Day in, Day out we are involved in many of the same ‘ol things. We often get consumed with our next task. It is nice every once in a while to hear something inspiring to encourage us to look beyond our here and now. Inspiration encourages us to improve and reach for goals. So many of us have put our goals on the back burner to the daily mundane tasks. Today, the challenge is to think of some goals that your partner used to have, maybe it was a particular dream to achieve, it might be going back to school, maybe pick up a hobby they have expressed interest in. Offer something inspiring to encourage them to reach for their dreams or further push to reach their potential.
Many arguments start due of tone of voice not necessarily your differences. Most of us can be guilty of jumping in or even interrupting our partner before they complete their thought. The goal of today’s challenge is to not say anything at all. Guys are especially guilty of this because we desperately want to fix things. We often have good intent, but our attempt to solve the problem for our partner sabotages the conversation. What most women want in the moment is for you to shut up and listen. While your partner is talking, your job is to listen for two things. Listen for the ‘message’ that they are trying to say as well as why this ‘message’ is so important. It boils down to these two things content and emotions. The best listeners do not share their perspective or attempt to fix it without first listening for the content of the message and the emotion behind it. This validates what your partner is trying to say.