Tuesday, July 24, 2007

5 Ways to be Civil

My ex and his ability to spend on his new girlfriend often leave me with no desire to be civil. I could care less that his girlfriend gets a new necklace or studs. I am more interested in sending my kids to a good pre-school or finding the right toy for my autistic son. Differences aside, I need to have some ground for civility because my ex does call or stop by to talk to the kids.

Over the past few months, I have found five ways to maintain civility. I won't be on the friendship boat with my ex anytime soon, but the seas are less turbulent when I keep a modicum of civility about.

1. Give advice on small things when sincerely asked. My ex does not seem to have any eye for detail. The other day, he asked about the nearest ice cream stores in our town. I told him about Baskin Robbins because he likes their shakes, and he could not believe he lived within walking distance of a Baskin Robbins. The store has been in the same location forever, but he just does not pay attention to his surroundings. By answering such a simple question about ice cream stores, I proved I could carry on some for of conversation without being cynical.

2. Do small favors from time to time. The other day my ex called and wanted help locating a business document in his files. I helped him search for a few minutes. He actually said thank you. This is a rare occurrence and meant that my help was acknowledged. I won't do any big favors since he's the one who decided to leave the marriage and in my book has lost the right to use me as a support in his life. I do however believe that small favors can go a long way to being building a base to communicate.

3. Plan the timing and place of where to discuss difficult topics. Since I am still in the process of formal separation, I occasionally need to discuss things like property separation issues. Because this is a painful subject and usually leads to an argument, I plan how and where to have a discussion. This usually helps to at least get my foot in the door on a difficult conversation before the door is slammed on my foot.

4. Don't always focus on who to blame when something goes wrong. About two weeks ago, my ex was playing rough with my kids, and my youngest smashed up his gums and chipped a front tooth. Instead of admonishing my ex for his lack of oversight, I focussed on asking questions about what happened. I was able to get enough detail about the accident to learn that my ex was careless, but more importantly I learned that the accident was minor. A dentist said my youngest son was okay, and I did not get the silent treatment or overprotective mommy label from my ex.

5. Some days, it's best not to say anything. A little more than two months ago, my ex unexpectedly took money that I was planning to use for paying bills. I suspect he gave the money to his girlfriend because he just can't seem to stop spending money on her. Anyway, I had to cut off all communications for a couple days and think about how to talk to him. I can't help him if he eventually spends himself into no money on his girlfriend, but I need to make sure his child support payments are there for the kids' needs. (It takes time to set up payroll garnishment and I need to do keep child support payments coming in the meantime.) A couple days of avoidance gave me time to cool down before opening Pandora's money box again.

Separation or divorce are just messy. It's often a "he said, she said" game with no winner at the end of the day. For me, a little civility just opens the door to the possibility of having a conversation.

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