Note: I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a counselor. Knowing what we have been through and talking with friends what have also been through this, these are my own personal suggestions for whatever they are worth.
1. Understand her motivation. Stop and think about what is driving your ex-wife's behavior. In the cases I have seen, the ex-wife is angry and bitter that the ex-husband stopped loving her and has, most likely, moved on with his life. NOTE: Understanding is not the same as excusing. There is no justification in the world for nasty behavior, no matter who hurt who. But if you can understand that her behavior is completely based on emotions and hurt, you will be better prepared to cope with it.
2. Deal with your own anger first. Your ex wife can no longer make you love her, but if she can still hurt you or make you angry, she is getting a little sense of victory over you. No matter what she has said, no matter what she has done, you have moved on with your life--why should anything she says about you matter? No matter what she says or does, do not react.
3. You will have to lose some battles to win the war. We've all been there--the ex is bad-mouthing you or your new spouse to the kid(s). It does hurt the kids, but a jealous & spiteful ex-wife generally cares more about hurting the ex-husband than about what she is truly doing to the children. (NOTE: This is not a generalization about ex-wives! Most are probably quite decent people who care a great deal about their children and their well-being. This is only about those who do not that we lucky people get to deal with). It can be really tempting to get angry, to badmouth the ex-wife in return, or to tell the child his/her mother is lying, but as our friend Dave says, you have to lose some battles to win the war. When his ex-wife told his daughters that his present wife , Sue, was horrible and mean, Dave asked them if they had ever known Sue to be anything but nice to them, they had to admit that she hadn't. He didn't tell them the ex-wife was lying to them, but eventually they were old enough to figure it out.
4. Document everything. A 9-1-1 call from a woman saying that her ex-husband is hitting her/kidnapping the kids/abusing the kids/whatever forces the police to respond--they do not have the choice. If that happens, make sure you are the one who is calm & rational. Keep copies of all correspondence with the ex-wife, as well as a log of her irrational behavior (making scenes during dropoffs, showing up at your house unexpectedly, calling you at work, contacting the children during your visitations, etc.) Judges aren't blind and if one of you shows a consistent, rational pattern that one is most likely to be believed in court.
5. Keep all communications brief & to the point. We have all received pages & pages & pages of letters & emails from the exes, everything from long drivel-filled love letters, to big long tirades about parenting choices, to bitter rants about the ex-husband's new "perfect life" and "perfect wife" (my personal favorite), to long tirades about what a terrible person the ex-husband is, to poetry. If it does not directly pertain to something specifically about medical issues, school, drop offs, or something else specifically about the kid(s), do not respond. In every case I've seen, the ex-wife makes a habit of being a martyr, and has learned that blaming others for everything gets sympathy for her and is often a way to control people. Stop responding. Even if you try to be nice, it will get you nowhere & is just acknowledging her behavior. Just stop responding.
6. Meet with the school separately. If you end up in a court battle with your ex-wife, your level of involvement with your child's education will matter. Do not rely on your ex to pass accurate information to you. Know what is happening in your child's life directly.
7. Let go of the past. No matter what happened in your marriage--good, bad, or otherwise--leave it in the past. If the divorce was more than one or two years ago and the ex-wife is still bitter and hostile, the odds are good that things are never going to get better. Our friend Mark has been dealing with this for 13 years, and Dave at least 12 and the hostility from the ex has never abated. Even if you have memories of a kind person, that person no longer exists and nothing you can do can change her--not even agreeing to her requests. She probably doesn't want you to have more time or less time with the children, or in our case one week you'll have too much time and the next week she'll be angry because you don't have enough time, so agreeing to change isn't going to make it better. She only wants to be angry with you. Let her.
8. Don't give in to hate. Let's be honest, a hostile ex-wife can make your life miserable and that is generally what she's after. There is nothing you can do to change your ex-wife's behavior, but you can change your reaction to her behavior. Find other dads going through the same thing, get an attorney who can help protect your rights--including helping you file a restraining order if necessary, find a counselor who handles divorce, be honest with your extended family about what you are going through and create a support system for yourself. While it might feel good to do, don't make it an "I hate my ex wife club." It isn't worth it, it takes a lot of energy to hate someone, and it gives your ex-wife power over you.
To be continued....
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