I found your blog through linkedin.com and it has become a welcome respite from the daily grind. I noticed you have commented on your positive relationship with your former husband from time to time so I am hoping you can help me.
I was divorced four years ago and it was quite a battle. We fought over money, the kids and believe it or not, the dog. I take full ownership for my part in the messy divorce and I wish I could go back in time and do it all over again, but in my defense my ex was equally combative.
The divorce ended in mediation when we ran out of money and there was nothing left to fight over. My lawyer then sued me for unpaid legal bills so now my paycheck is garnished to pay for what amounted to very poor legal services.
My ex and I split custody 50/50 and thus are forced to interact on a regular basis. I have made a real effort to clear the air and improve our relationship, especially in the past year, but I am met with a brick wall. I really want this for the kids, because the tension between their parents is palpable and I know it makes them sad.
How can I mend this broken relationship and enjoy a better rapport with my ex?
-Chris in San Diego
I love your letter because you did not identify whether you were male or female, which allows me to answer your question without assuming gender roles that can impact my advice.
Thank you for emailing with me to give me a little more background. Readers, some salient facts for you:
1. This couple’s divorce four years ago but the process took 20 months
2. There are two children, ages 11 and 14.
3. The dog died during the pendency of the divorce, probably of a broken heart.
4. The writer is in a serious relationship of two years that will likely lead to marriage, because clearly he or she has not learned their lesson. The ex is single.
5. The writer has made several attempts at rapprochement via face-to-face conversations and emails but is met with hostility and a re-hashing of the past.
OK Chris, here’s my advice in a nutshell, followed by some observations because I can’t help myself:
Stop. Just stop.
There is a clear line between efforts to improve a relationship and prostrating yourself like a naughty dog who just got caught going through the garbage. You’ve crossed that line by a mile and now it’s time to figure out how to live with this shitty situation.
It’s no wonder that the majority of letters I get are from people who are still trying to recover from the disease of divorce litigation. The fact is that both you and your former spouse were enthusiastic and willing victims of the system and the attorneys who reside within it, burning up assets and creating vitriol so they can buy another Mercedes and a house at the beach.
I once lost my mind for 8 months and practiced family law. I was horrified when told that the firm had a 12 minute minimum billing requirement, meaning that if you answered your phone and spoke to a client for 30 seconds, you billed them for 12 minutes.
That’s nothing compared to my favorite Portland firm, which has a 24 minute billing minimum and a senior partner who regularly “reviews the file” by glancing at the top page and charging the client over $200 for the privilege.
These are the people who create ads like this one:
I strongly recommend the movie “Divorce Corp.” to all readers: it will open your eyes as to just how fucked up and broken our system is. Google for a link ’cause I’m lazy.
Jesus, sorry for the epic tangent. OK, back to Chris:
Chris, a big part of me (specifically my rear end and batwings) wants to tell you to keep trying, not only for your kids’ sake but also for your own. It is much better living in a world in which we don’t have someone out there who hates our guts. Or so I’ve heard, anyway.
A couple years ago, Mr. Patience and Understanding was advising me to refrain from a certain course of action which I won’t describe here because I ignored his advice and my lawyer tells me I can’t talk about it without violating the restraining order. Anyway, he urged me to take the high road, something he has always done both personally and professionally.
Me? I don’t like the high road if I’m the only one on it. You know what happens to people when they keep taking the high road and others don’t? You end up at the top of a very tall mountain, all alone with your superior ethics and wondering why it’s so damn quiet up there.
Your ex may be jealous of your new relationship or may just be an asshole with zero ability to suck it up and be pleasant for the sake of the children. He or she has had 4 years to get a grip and move on, and yet they continue to foster a nasty environment even when it is clear their behavior is hurtful to their children.
This may be the type of person who will never be able to enjoy a positive “conscious uncoupling,” as the überpretentious Gwyneth Paltrow calls an amicable divorce. I can’t give you advice on how my baby daddy and I made it work, because we made our son the #1 priority when we split up, and obviously that is not the case with your ex. We also never stopped caring about each other, but I think that ship has sailed for you as well.
I’m not saying you should stop being kind and cordial in your interactions with your co-parent or do anything untoward, so please don’t take this blog to mean you are free to burn his or her house down or sign them up for 100 magazine subscriptions.
What I am saying is it’s time for you to give up your campaign to win this person over. You remind me of Anthony Weiner in the weeks leading up to the NYC mayoral election, filled with hope and enthusiasm in the face of abject failure. You’ve done your part to mend fences and now you must throw away your hammer (again, not a literal hammer and not towards your ex’s head) and give up on the project.
You never know: perhaps this person will come around. Even though things seem bleak now, the trial is over but the jury is still out. He or she could decide that living this way is unhealthy for themselves as well as their kids, at which point you can resume your positive attitude and improve your relationship.
But for now, back off and let things be. Your kids will figure things out on their own; kids always do. Someday they will understand you did what you could to make things better but you were faced with an unwilling partner in the dance of divorce.
I wish you luck, and thank you for your letter.