Most people’s New Year resolutions, more often than not, focus on diet and exercise. While making healthy changes are always important, one should not forget that our mental well being is just as important to our overall good health. As a divorce practitioner for almost two decades, I have seen how divorce and its aftermath impact a couples’ emotional health. Usually, the effect is none too pretty. Okay, so you have made it through the holidays, but your ex is still driving you nuts. What can you do about it? If you find yourself at this time of year going through a divorce or still feel scarred by a previous one, here are five helpful tips that I hope will make your life a little easier in 2013.
Tip 1: Think About the Good Times
Okay, so you married the guy or the gal. You may have had some kids with him/her as well. There must have been something redeeming about your ex in the past. If you do have children, your child is a constant reminder of something extraordinarily good. Remember, your children are half you and half their other parent, so you have to love him/her for the amazing gift of parenthood no matter what.
In addition, make a list of your top ten memories with your former partner. Perhaps the wedding, a special vacation or your first date. Do this even if you are saying to yourself, “but I hate him/her.” “That S-O-B ruined my life.” Just do it. No one has the power to ruin our lives unless we let them, so don’t let them!
Tip 2: Create Balance
You cannot give your all in one area of your life, say to your children, while ignoring other areas that need your attention. Whenever you allow your life to become out of balance, you feel it emotionally, physically and mentally. This could not be truer than with your interaction with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. Creating balance means taking care of you. Eating right, exercising, making time to interact with people that you love and engaging in activities that bring you joy must be part of your program. Your job should not overrun your life, just as your children should not take up every facet of your day either. Make peace with yourself, for yourself. Also make a schedule for yourself that involves a healthy amount of time for your family, job and self and stick to your plan. If you feel good about yourself, your obnoxious ex’s behavior will not bother you as much. I promise.
Tip 3: Approach a Problem with your Ex differently
Figure out what is the most annoying thing your ex-spouse still does that bothers you to no end. For many of my clients, the toughest issue they have with their former spouse is co-parenting minor children. So that you do not become too overwhelmed, isolate one issue that you feel needs the most improvement. Think about what your children’s father/mother does that sets you off the most. Now think how you respond when he/she sets you off. Obviously, if you could change your spouse’s behavior, you may have stayed married to him/her.
We may not be able to control our spouse, but we can certainly control ourselves. Therefore the next time Suzy or John gets your goat, try acting the opposite of how they expect you to act. Then shock him/her even more by showing them some kindness. I am sure you can remember from past good times something that your ex enjoys. Give or do something for them, “just because.” Once you have calmed the situation down, invite your ex to lunch and make the problem a joint one that requires both of your input to fix. As you know, people are much more likely to stick to an agreement if they themselves co-authored the deal.
If this does not work, invite someone to mediate the issue for the two of you. The person could be a therapist or perhaps a spiritual leader from the religious institution where one of you belongs.
Tip 4: Take Control
As stated in the previous tip, you may not be able to control your ex, but you certainly have control over yourself. You can make a conscious decision not to allow your ex to push your hot buttons. Think about those buttons and picture your response to them in your head. Now picture the same scenario and how you would like to respond when it happens. Better yet, think about what you will do when pushed not to let the experience negatively impact one second of your day. The next time your hot buttons are pushed you can be in control.
Remember, no one can take away your power unless you let them. Choose to remain in control of your destiny in 2013 and do not let anyone stand in the way of your happiness.
P.S. – Once your ex no longer gets a rise out of you, they may find it is no longer fun to push those buttons in the first place.
Tip 5: Keep a Happiness Journal
Before you go to bed at night, write down three things that made you happy during your day. Do not cheat and write something general like “my children and pets made me happy today.” Instead, write about three specific incidences or experiences that brought a smile to your face. Once you get in the habit of making this a ritual before lights out, you will find that your focus during the day shifts to finding happiness. Do not edit your joy. An e-mail from an old friend or a person letting you go ahead of them in the line at the grocery store will surely count if the experience truly made you happy. Your experiences do not have to be lofty or grand. The goal is to look for the positives in your day and put your attention there. Remember, “like attracts like.”
As an added bonus you should try this with your children. While my seven year old daughter does not keep a happiness diary, I do ask her every evening what three things made her the happiest during her day. Her answer to this daily inquiry always serves to boost my own happiness quotient.
Good luck and I wish you much happiness and success in 2013!