Separation can have a rocky start as emotions are high and the hurt cuts deep. Trying to get through each day when your mind may be racing with thoughts of anger, resentment and rejection about the ex-leaving, tests your strength at civility.
It’s changeover day and you hear your ex’s car pull up outside and you look out the window and see that he has brought his girlfriend along too. Your stomach does a flip, you feel sick and tears sting your eyes. You try to maintain composure in front of the kids as they excitedly grab their bags to head off to dad’s for the weekend.
Negative thoughts rush through your mind of “How could he be so insensitive” and “How could he be so heartless bringing her to my home”. You rip the front door open with unknown strength and your emotions of rage bubble to the surface. “How dare you bring that bitch here”. The words escape your mouth, before your inner voice had the chance to say “now stay calm, you are OK, you can get through this 10min handover” It’s too late, your ex’s girlfriend starts to defend herself, looking to your ex to protect her from such insults. Your ex shouts at you for being so rude and he too blurts out “if anyone is the bitch it is you” The kids look horrified, looking at each parent as insults fly, as though they are at a tennis match seeing who will win the volley. Eventually, your ex says “come on kids, let’s go, get in the car”. Looking back at you, he gives you the look of thunder, thinking how unnecessary your actions were to react like that to create conflict in front of the children. You look at him with anger still fuming, thinking how dare he be so insensitive bringing her here and calling me a bitch in front of the kids.
Everyone is affected by the ordeal that just took place.
The kids are so upset that their parents are fighting. The eldest feels guilty leaving mum who is visibly so upset, and the youngest can’t believe mum was so mean to Dad’s girlfriend.
The girlfriend feels so rejected and insulted as she feels she didn’t provoke that abuse, trying hard to blend into the family unit and create a bond with her partners kids.
Your ex feels so angry that you attacked his girlfriend for no reason, out of spite as revenge for him getting on with his life. He feels your relationship is over so why would you do that and cause an argument in front of the kids?
You are feeling so distraught, your ex already created such pain leaving causing the family breakdown. Your self-worth is rock bottom as you feel rejected and abandoned and he rubs salt into the wound by bringing his girlfriend to handover. He just doesn’t care about hurting his family any more. The family needs to get use to this big change which is hard enough but to bring someone in so soon makes it so much harder.
So many hurt and upset people, most importantly the children.
So, how could this have been prevented?
How can you spare the hurt and pain being endured by this family?
When you are both calm, reflect on the whole incident to truly understand how each person felt in that moment without assigning blame but looking for the fear or hurt behind the action.
Think about it through their eyes, how they felt, actually put yourself in their shoes and have empathy for what they endured.
Understand and empathise with how every single person feels then work out what can change the dynamic of the conflict.
What was the trigger at the onset of the conflict?
It was your reaction to the girlfriend being brought to changeover. This in turn had your ex triggered due to the verbal attack on his girlfriend.
Now if your ex only reflects about how it impacts him, he might think, well I have moved on and so should you. He may think you have to get used to it…. but that can only happen over time when she has healed.
The girlfriend might also think, I have a right to be here, she just has to get use to me being around or conversely the girlfriend might think, I hope I don’t have to put up with that at every changeover.
The kids might think, I hope Dad doesn’t bring his girlfriend next time because it upsets mum.
The problem is, this will keep reoccurring at every changeover if the conflict isn’t resolved.
Do you all want that to occur?
If not, think about giving more time for healing to adjust. It is important for you to say calmly to your ex “I am still emotionally upset about the family breakdown and need more time to get use to the changes, can we just have changeover with just the two of us for the kids’ sake?”
You may even decide to seek some help professionally from a psychologist or counsellor to help gain strategies to cope with the changes.
Do some work on understanding why you felt that way. Was it a feeling of loss of identity as a mother as the girlfriend may be perceived to be taking your place? or loss of the family unit as it morphs into the ex and girlfriend creating the family unit at their home? loss of self-worth?, fear of never being happy again?, fear of uncertainty for your own future?, fear the children may want to live with them permanently?, fear that the kids will love her more?……there is so much work to uncover what the real fear is so that you can heal.
As parents, you need to shift from blame to being the problem solvers making a commitment to fix the coparenting conflict……. for the kids’ sake!
Always ask yourself what action YOU can take to shift the dynamic of the conflict!
Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Conflict Coach, Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, NMAS Mediator and Parenting Coordinator