When my divorce was finalized, something clicked in my brain—and I rejoiced, I will not lie, because I thought the hardest part of this journey was behind me. Note the past tense. I shouldn’t be so cynical. Yet while the heart-dropping fear of court (I don’t know how attorneys do it—once you walk into a courthouse with the weight of your children’s future on your shoulders, there’s just no way to aptly describe the pressure and fear) was over, the pain of living in a house full of unpredictable anger explosions finally given the conclusion it needed—validation from the judge in the form of an explicit ruling guaranteeing the best interests of the children, while also putting in protections to ensure those interests…relief is the least of words to describe it.
What doesn’t stop is the someone who used to be in control all the time, now finding himself without it, continuing to seek control and blending it into new avenues and manipulations to regain it. Luckily for me, there were measures put in place where my ex has to text or email only—so he can’t yell and berate me. (And he wouldn’t now, because his M.O. would have been to do those types of things behind closed doors, and there are no closed doors anymore.) Unluckily he has transformed his vitriol into long and ‘engaging’ emails, or “e-mauls” as another single parent I know calls them. It took me a good year to figure out how to respond, to be brief, to the point, and disengage from accusatory comments as much as possible.
Also, written in the decree is a court order to go to a co-parenting counselor (CC)—a mediator of sorts, a ‘traffic cop’ assisting with the ‘traffic’ of parenting (i.e. pick ups, drop offs, trades in schedule, etc). He uses her as a forum to complain about me; I take the time to get assistance on how to disengage. This works for me, because he cannot directly target me, at least in person, and around the big things, the CC has been helpful—like the dumb and needless blow out about sharing Easter Sunday. To the 11th hour, the ex stirred up drama, until he finally backed down (with her advisement), and at the end of the day, my girls were able to spend some time with both families. Because again, they don’t remember the terror from before, they only see the good side of him now, for the most part (crossing fingers), and they love him and their extended family like all kids do.
So it’s taken three years to get used to this new process. I have learned that “winning” against someone like my ex is not like “winning” or “losing” a football game. To him, it actually might be (earning points by berating me about how I tied up the girls laundry bag for transfer, etc), but to us, “winning” is living a life full of goodness and blessings, love and laughter. To not engage in petty and accusatory comments, because there’s no room for that in my big, loving life now. To show my children that love does not come with a price to pay, that anger is not dangerous, but another healthy feeling among the many, many feelings that we may have as we journey through life.
My fiancé A is still learning this lesson. My sweetheart A wants to swoop in and ‘save’ us in a traditional sense, to protect us, to keep us from harm. He sees this by fighting and he sometimes sees me as ‘weak’ for not fighting. I wish he would understand that engaging and fighting allows my ex to “win.” By spending emotional time on what my ex is thinking or doing—that’s how he wins, because now he is back in our heads, back in my home, taking up emotional space in the home I worked so hard to rebuild without him.
Are the children’s health and/or safety at risk? No? Then a petty battle of words is not worth fighting over. Because you bet your last dollar the moment should I hear something that affects their health and safety, that is the exact second I take action to establish another TRO. (Which is torture by the way—whoever makes commentary that TROs are easy to come by and women lie all the time to get them—they really do not want to face my wrath. It is excruciatingly painful.) Are our personal boundaries and privacy in jeopardy? Then yes, that is a conversation and tone that is worth setting, worth fighting for, and I know how to set and maintain those boundaries, because abusers are always looking for ways to push them. I have lots of experience setting boundaries and the scars to prove it.
I just wish, with all my heart, that when we move forward after divorce, especially the ones who have to deal with abusers and manipulators, that we can know our “new” life is so much better, so much bigger, and to do everything we can to minimize the effect of manipulative, petty, and accusatory comments or actions in our lives. And I pray and hope that my fiancé A learns this lesson too--he says to give him time, that i've had all this time to get used to it, and he needs time and experience and patience. And it's true, it’s not something that can be told, it can only be lived.