Everyone knows that after a divorce, you get a temporary pass on certain behaviors – crying in public, eating ice cream for dinner, and treating your ex like crap.
Hold the phone. What was that?
There are CERTAIN behaviors for which you get a pass, and others that are equally unacceptable on Day One or Day Seven Thousand Three Hundred and Two. As uncomfortable as it is to say it on the internet, where it will live forever, treating your ex like crap falls into the latter category.
Last weekend we went over to a friend’s house – we’ll call him Joe. The last time I was in Joe’s house, I was helping move his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s furniture out. The house was, quite frankly, a disaster. There was a layer of dust over everything, the countertops were dirty, and the cat had made it her mission to shed on every horizontal surface. Some vertical surfaces, too. For his part, Joe was just shell-shocked, shambling through the half-empty house. He was one White Russian away from being the Dude. I didn’t know what to expect when he invited us to dinner on Saturday.
When I walked in the door, I almost clapped. The house was clean. The dust and cat hair and air of neglect was gone. Joe had pulled himself together.
During and after a divorce (and by “divorce” I mean any part of the process – the separation, the filing of legal papers, the final hearing), you’re allowed to vent your frustration. Everyone deals with it differently. Gain 30 lbs.? Fine. Lose 30 lbs.? Also fine. Cake for breakfast? Super. Going vegan? Cool. There are about a thousand ways, some better choices than others, to deal with the shock and displacement. Eventually you re-learn, or learn for the first time, how you really want to live and figure out what actually works for your new life. You upgrade from ice cream to spaghetti for dinner. You lose the weight you put on, or buy bigger clothes. You stop drinking so much on the nights you don’t have your kids. And eventually that rough patch fades like a sunburn.
There are other behaviors you don’t get a pass to indulge in, ever, because they create problems that may be too big to overcome. The biggest, the number one, is how you deal your ex. Being verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive to an ex because he/she left you can wreak havoc that will haunt you until the end of your days. The reason for this is simple – unlike the examples above, you can’t take back your words and actions when they relate to another person. Not only can you never take your words back, but the first days and weeks of interaction with your ex will set the tone for the rest of your lives as divorced people.
After Jason left his wife, she used to call him and scream near-incoherent obscenities at him. “YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO MEEEEE!!!!” was a common theme. When she got angry, she would pick up the phone and leave him a nasty voicemail. She made plans for the girls during his parenting time, without asking him. She changed the locks on their house, then decided she didn’t want to keep the house, moved in with her parents, and left a four-foot-high pile of junk behind. In her mind, her actions were totally justified because Jason hurt her feelings and she was going to “hit back” in whatever way she could. What she failed to see is that you lose credibility as a “victim” the second you start swinging with the sole intention of drawing blood.
In those first weeks and months, any chance Jason and his ex had of ever “getting along” was poisoned by these kinds of interactions. To this day, she refuses to speak to him, communicating only by e-mail and text message and through the children. It’s been almost five years.
Intentionally hurtful words and actions don’t fade like a sunburn. They leave scars that may get lighter over time, but never go away.
Be mindful of the cuts you make.
(And if your ex is the one lashing out at you, DO NOT ENGAGE. Repeat. DO NOT ENGAGE. Let the call go to voicemail. Don’t reply to that e-mail. Now would be a good time for a glass of wine. Take some deep breaths.)