Friday, July 27, 2007

Don't Ask Me Why the Relationship Failed

Today I was looking at other relationship blogs and searching for something to understand why my ex is only interested in discussing why our relationship failed. I have not found anything yet, but I think his desire to talk about why is his excuse to place blame on me rather than accept his own failure. To understand this, I have to give some background and then explain what I mean.

I won't go into the convoluted and painful story right now about how I discovered my ex cheating on me with a woman who lives in British Columbia (3000 miles away) or how he got lost in Everquest (EQ2) or how he neglected his two young sons. I only know that for two years as we struggled through my ex failing at a business venture and having an autistic son, my ex isolated himself in EQ2 and left me to deal with all the baggage. I worked full time, managed two babies--one who needed significant special care, salvaged my ex's failed business venture, and performed all the daily tasks of living. As intelligent as my ex was, he could not pull himself together and deal with the daily drama of our lives.

After discovering my ex's infidelity and selling his failed business venture, I went through a brief time of wanting to reconcile the relationship. I asked my ex to forget the affair and never contact his girlfriend again. I also tried relationship counseling, but counseling does not work when one party is a chronic liar. My ex continued his affair behind my back and constantly lied to me about everything. I would hear things like "I only slept with her once." or "She will pay me back for the gift I gave her." After digging for evidence for a few weeks and finding more details than I could deal with, I got tired of my ex's stories. He had to go.

Several months later, I occasionally end up asking my ex why he could not accept his role in abandoning his family. It's at this point I hear things like "I did a bad thing., but I can't dwell on the past." Then, I am told I worked too much, paid too much attention to the kids and put too much effort into trying to close down a money pit of a failed business venture. Therefore, it was my fault that the marriage failed.

I should not open the failed relationship can of worms because the response is always the same, but I can't believe my ex's denial. I don't understand how I could be blamed for putting babies first, especially an autistic child. I don't understand how my ex could play Everquest 40 hours a week after working a full-time job and tell me that I should have found time to spend with him. He wore headphones at home and rarely talked to me. I don't understand how my ex expected to close his business venture that cost thousands of dollars a month if certain work was not done or bills were not paid. I ended up doing all the work. Why would my ex blame me for losing focus on the marriage when he left me alone with everything else? I fell like I was set up for failure.

In a failed relationship, each party involved shares some responsibility. In my case, I just did not have the energy to give attention to a relationship when I had so many other competing issues. I also was not about to play Everquest after seeing my ex's addiction. I know my part and painfully acknowledge it. I wish my ex would stop asking why because to me, it just does not matter anymore. I would rather have an acknowledgment of fault and move forward.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Wish My Ex Would Accept My Son's Play Needs

On many occasions I will attempt to talk about my oldest son's autism with my ex. I usually bring up the subject when my ex is not interacting appropriately with my son. One example was my husband's attempt to fly my son around as Superman and lightly bang my son's head into a wall. My son liked his head hitting the wall so much that he walked around after the flying and banged his own head into the walls around my home. It may not seem like a big deal, but he was banging his head repeatedly and doing so pretty hard because he liked the sensation. He was stimulating himself with his head-banging.

I told my ex to change his Superman game with my son so that this game would not encourage head-banging. Well, my ex stopped the game all-together instead of listening to my suggestion about a change because I was "telling him what to do." Unfortunately, I often end up the bad guy with my ex because he sees me as policing his fun. He thinks that my son should be allowed to play like a typical child and not be so constrained or structured in how he plays. This attitude constantly causes me grief.

My autistic son does not understand gray areas like other children. If a game involves something potentially unsafe or a pretend skill such as gently tapping his head or hand on something, he goes right into an unsafe mode of operation. For him, the danger is funny; he actually laughs and will repeat an unsafe activity until redirected. It's difficult to explain to others including my ex that he needs structured and directed play because he looks like (and to some extent talks) like a typical child.

I have not yet found a way to convince my ex that there are many ways to facilitate safe and fun play with my autistic son. The best solution so far has been to go to a park or a restaurant--a place where there is distraction for my ex. I am hoping that as my son gets older, the need for a high degree of facilitated play will decrease. This is probably the only way that my ex will be more accepting of my son.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I Am Not Lying About the Autism

My ex phoned me from Boston today to talk to the kids. He started the conversation with a basic "How are you?" and then asked about the kids. It was a neutral conversation and moved along quickly as we talked about the day's activities--pre-school and art classes. But for some reason, when I said I needed to go because my autistic son was just having a melt-down, my ex said he didn't understand. My ex's denial was back, and he hung up on me rather than listening to what I had to say.

My oldest son is on the autistic spectrum (PDD-NOS), and one challenge he faces is self-regulation. This means that he occasionally does not deal well with change and may cry as a result of the stress he experiences. This evening, my ex was contending that it was unusual for these melt-downs to occur. How would he know? I spend most of my day at home whereas he sees his kids less than 8 hours a week. I know my kids well and would not exaggerate about their health, their needs, or potential issues.

My ex has never accepted my oldest son's autism. As a result, he has always had problems understanding the commitment and lifestyle necessary to raising an autistic child. He spends his limited time with my autistic son doing a limited range of activities. I can't change his attitudes and interactions, but I try not to exaggerate about my son's needs, his progress, or his issues. In fact, my wish is for my ex to make the same commitments I have made.

I often spend too much time thinking about how to convince my ex that my autistic son has special needs and that we need to deal with issues now rather than deny that a problem exists. I occasionally read articles on communication strategy. Sometimes I focus about message delivery (e.g., phone or email). For example, I will send a text message after a bad phone conversation to say we need to continue working together. The amount of effort required to communicate is sometimes just plain tiring. I feel like I am training to be a PR person or a counselor.

Although my ex and I differ about my autistic son's needs, I have tried and will continue to try being consistent about my perspective. Every time I talk to my ex, I don't fabricate issues; I speak about the events I observe. I attempt to share what I have learned from counselors and teachers who have shared their wisdom with me. My ex says he wants to treat my autistic son like a typical child and not be so constrained by rules and structure, but maybe one day he will understand. I have only the future success of my children at heart. When I communicate what I see and understand, I do so as an advocate and not as a control freak mom bent on making my sons into "momma's boys."

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.

A Small Exercise in Civility Goes a Long Way

In my first posting to this blog, I said that "You don't have to like an ex, you just have to be civil." I occasionally forget to practice this advice when I bring up the past--another thing to avoid, but today I followed my advice. My ex called from New York and asked if I could search through his business files for an important document. Instead of telling him I wasn't his secretary or mother, I went ahead and searched through his files.

I really wanted to tell him that our separation means that I am not there for him and that he relinquished his rights to ask for help, but I bit my tongue. I spent a few minutes assisting him because I knew he had no else to help him . It is in these small instances that I can maintain some level of civility and prove that I am capable of being a bigger person than my ex for all his pettiness.

In following this advice, I put money in my relationship bank account and now have a little credit for some future date where I may not be as civil. For example, when I need my ex to pay his share of a future medical expense for one of the kids and he says no way, I have some leverage to convince him to listen to me. A little civility reduces the risk of my ex hanging up the phone. Being civil in little ways builds a bridge to the times when talking is not so easy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Having Trouble Dropping the Past

I am now seven months along in a separation from my ex and unlike being pregnant with a definitive due date, I just can't see the end of arguments about the past. Just today, I found out that my ex posted a picture of his girlfriend on Facebook. (She's a major reason for the separation.) In my humble opinion, this was just plain tacky. But aside from my opinion, my problem is that every time I discover some new thing about him, I end up more hurt. This in turn makes talking about any subject almost impossible. There is no safe topic--not even the weather.

Many negotiation and communication books offer loads of advice on the topic of improving communication between separated and divorced couples. One example of this advice is there is no right or wrong answer to the past. Each person has his or her own why's and how's about how a relationship failed. Many times, a person's opinion just can't be changed. In my case, I would interpret my ex's failure at marriage as his inability to tough out a special needs child and his overwhelming need to be self-important. My ex would say I let the relationship fail because I did not put him above my child. The advice of experts is helpful for self-introspection, but it often takes weeks, months, or years to sink in. As I said in the beginning, I just don't see the end even after seven months.

So in the meantime, I am trying my best to cope. I try to stay neutral when I talk to my ex on the phone. I don't talk negatively about my ex in front of the kids. I attempt to realize that I can't change my ex, even though I have known him for 15 years and he is now a mystery to me. This helps to some degree, but I still get stick in the rut of communicating my feelings and my side of the story, especially when I see hurtful things like the picture of my ex's girlfriend posted on his Facebook page.

Today, in response to my discovery of the girlfriend Facebook posting, I sent my ex an email through Facebook's "Send Message" feature. I sent a message that included the following excerpt,

    "I can not change the outcome of his actions--carpe diem is his mantra. I do however have the power to look after two beautiful children who love unconditionally and bring me joy everyday. I can foster the growth of two young boys into becoming two good men who will put others' needs in the same league as their own needs. I can hope that when my sons become fathers that they understand the word commitment and sacrifice even in the most difficult times.

    Rock on carpe diem. Go on and count the increasing number of virtual friends on Facebook to feel self-important. Talk about "complicated" relationships with people who may only care about you for your money. Take the easy path through life instead of toughing it out and seeing the big picture beyond next month, next year. At the end of the day, kids and family are life's real support and source of strength--the ones who support you, stick with with you and remember you. They are not just a virtual experience."

I did not share the entire email, but my ex got my high-horse attitude, and he even called late at night to tell me he hid the girlfriend's picture so it's no longer public. He was annoyed at my email and bringing up his affair for the umpteenth time.

I hope someday that he grows up enough so that I can find some ground for talking to him again without arguments or hurt feelings. I hope that I can listen to experts and practice their advice. It's just not so easy to start.