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SALT LAKE CITY — You may be divorced, but your relationship with your ex-spouse is far from over. If you have children, you are going to be dealing with that person for the rest of your life, and this relationship is going to get more complicated when one or both of you remarry.
“When you remarry,” says Jeffery Larson, professor at Brigham Young University, “you marry a person and that person’s ex-spouse.” That ex-spouse, like it or not, is going to be a part of your life forever, and it is in the children’s best interest that you all get along.
Getting along is not easy, though. There is resentment and pain from years of hurting each other. Obviously, you don’t like each other — the divorce is proof of that — but the children need all of you.
Experts say children can thrive in spite of divorce if they are allowed a relationship with both parents and if parents and the step-parents can put aside their problems and get along.
It is time to stop fighting
Your first marriage taught you important lessons. It is time to let go of the anger and pain and just hold on to the lessons.
Your children need you to forgive your ex-spouse for past wrongs. This can be difficult, but remember, forgiveness is about healing you. It may help to trust God and the universe that this person was in your life for a perfect reason.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray, Love," said your spouse’s purpose is to “shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, and make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life.”
Your first marriage taught you important lessons. It is time to let go of the anger and pain and just hold on to the lessons. You are a better person for the experience, no matter how painful it was. It is time to start being that better you.
Decide to speak kindly and respectfully about your ex-spouse. It is incredibly damaging to your child’s well-being if you or your new spouse bad-mouth your ex-spouse. It does not encourage your children to take your side, it just rips them in half.
Being stubborn may feel good, especially when you feel right about an issue, but in the end your children lose.
No child should be put in a position to choose between their parents. You must honor your child’s right to love your ex-spouse, even if you don’t. If you can’t say anything nice, keep your mouth shut.
Don’t undermine your ex-spouse’s new marriage. One reason that second marriages often fail is that the ex-spouse will undermine the relationship by conspiring with the children against it. This is not a good way to punish your ex. It will only further damage your kids.
If there are legitimate reasons to be concerned, take legal action, but if not, encourage your children to support your ex’s new relationship. Even if you don’t like the stepparent, your child will benefit from stability in your ex-spouse's life.
Don’t push your ex’s buttons just because you know exactly what they are. Don’t use your unique knowledge of each other’s vulnerabilities to cause further damage. It is in your child’s best interest that your ex-spouse is happy.
Be flexible. Being stubborn may feel good, especially when you feel right about an issue, but in the end your children lose.
Be as easygoing as possible while still following the rules. Divorce decree rules are there for a reason, and for most couples strict adherence makes for a smoother ride. But as often as possible, be willing to compromise.
Kindness is the best policy
Communicate with your ex-spouse. Make sure there is agreement, ahead of time, as far as who does what and when. If you cannot talk in a civilized and mature way, use email or text instead. Do not fight about these issues in front of the kids or they will think they are the problem. This kind of fighting does serious damage to a child's self-esteem.
Every time you pick up or drop off the children, they experience the pain of the divorce all over again. This can be a traumatic moment for a child, so make these exchanges as peaceful and cheerful as possible.
Make visitation exchange a happy experience. Every time you pick up or drop off the children, they experience the pain of the divorce all over again. This can be a traumatic moment for a child, so make these exchanges as peaceful and cheerful as possible.
Encourage contact with your ex-spouse. When the children are with you, encourage them to call their other parent and tell them about their day. Make open communication with their nonresident parent a common occurrence.
Take responsibility for your unhealthy and immature behavior. Look at how you might be contributing to the problems. Are you a difficult ex-spouse? Does your pride get in the way of kindness? Do you get stubborn and want to win, even if it hurts your children? If so, get some help and work on you.
Choose to see your ex-spouse as the same as you. Stop making him or her the bad guy. Choose to see your ex-spouse the way God sees him or her: as a struggling, scared human being doing the best he or she can with what he or she knows at the time, just like you. When you do this, compassion shows up and you start seeing the situation accurately.
If you will work at it, you may even become friends. It happens.
Kimberly Sayer Giles is the founder and president of LDS Life Coaching and www.claritypointcoaching.com and was named one of the Top 20 Advice Gurus in the country by GMA. She is a popular speaker and life coach who resides in Bountiful, Utah.