(real names have been changed or omitted)
"I would just like us to reach a point where we can be friends... you know, I'd really like to be friends and maybe go to dinner occasionally with the kids. I don't see why we can't do that." He told me very casually, sitting beside me.
My body language was one of distance as I shrank back away from him sitting beside me and I hugged the left side of my hard backed plastic chair attempting to put some space between us to my right.
"Friends?! Friends with you?!" I exclaimed.... no longer willing to hold back any more as this had been a continual issue cropping up for months.
"You want to be friends?! You don't treat a friend the way you've treated me and our kids! You don't treat a friend the way you have destroyed our whole family!" I snapped at him gaining momentum to continue, "You ran around on me with multiple women, you now add insult to injury by being so insensitive toward the children as you now have a girlfriend you are telling the kids about and having in the house, you traveled all over the country for "work trips" all the while I was at home doing EVERYTHING while you were NEVER around, you were always gone, you always had "to work", you missed all the doctor appointments the kids had and then suddenly we were getting a divorce and you swoop in and act like some star parent like you are involved and now attend all the appointments when all you've previously been is an absentee dad and a sperm donor... the kids themselves cry you've ruined their lives... not to mention the fact you've put my physical health at risk because you were selfish and caused me to have to go get a full std panel done! Yes, yes, that makes a woman really happy to have to go do that.... and then you want to whine to everyone about how I'm so mean because I can't be your "friend" and go to dinner as a family and how I must be turning the children against you because they vocalize they don't want to be at your house... No, no and no.... You did this. This was all your choice. This is all you... so don't try to continue this innocent facade you've continually tried to paint the past nine months of this process like you are "super dad" because in reality you have decided to continually act like a sorry, sorry sack of shit! And then you want to know why I'm angry and don't want to be friends?"
"Ahem, ummmm..." our son's psychiatrist interjected with a clearing of his throat, slicing the tension in the air of his office. He looked at me and spoke, "I'm glad you got this out and said what you needed to... " he acknowledged understandingly to me, then turned to my estranged spouse with a wary look. "Look..." he began... "Let me say something and this is very, very important what I'm about to tell you... " he paused taking a deep breath... "Do not... Do not ever, ever, ever tell her ever again you want to be friends. Is that clear? Because you may be fine with everything and in a good place but she is dealing with raw emotions and hurting and also hurting for the kids too... You two being friends.... not a good idea, okay? The expectations are too high. No dinners, either. You both need space and time apart. And any communication would best be done by email not phone, text or in person. This relationship needs to be kept strictly professional. Maybe you can have a binder of information you pass back and forth on exchange day.... does that make sense to you? Because we really need to get some distance between you two." he affirmed once again, shooting me a quick look of sympathy as my lower lip began to quiver and I silently cursed it to stop so the tears wouldn't begin.
When we use ugly, accusing, attacking words, it's a sign we are not just angry but truly hurt. We are suffering in a deep quagmire of hurts, injustices and disappointments. We may not just be feeling our own hurts but the hurts of those around us.... especially any hurts our children are experiencing which as a mother are always felt ten fold to our own pain and grief.
It might take months or years to heal from the pain of divorce. For even if you were in a less than great marriage or one that smacked of abuse, you can rest assured it's completely normal to be upset, sad, hurt, disappointed and angry... the reason for this being because we are grieving "what should have been" and what we wished for our marriage and children. Naturally no one marries planning to get divorced.
6 Practical Tips For Healing:
1. Just grieve. Trying to stuff the grief, anger and pain down will only serve to stall healing. It's important to allow yourself to feel the emotions of anger and sadness so you can eventually reach the goal of healing and forgiveness. Some people take longer than others to heal from the pain of divorce and each person is unique in their grief.
2. Explore what it is that is possibly holding you back in the healing process. If you had a spouse who refused to acknowledge that what they've done has been detrimental to the family then it's understandably frustrating and infuriating... its not possible to get closure from them. And if you've felt there has been a lack of closure due to one spouses inability or unwillingness to discuss the dissolution of the marriage, the healing process for you may very well take longer. If you are expecting an apology in order to move on that you never get.... it may be about accepting the fact you may never get what you are desiring. Exploring the reasons why we may be stalled in the stage of anger may be greatly beneficial to us. At the end of the day we truly cannot expect to get healed from the person who hurt us. And a narcissist is not going to feel guilt, shame or regret over hurting us at all. They will always justify their terrible choices and actually blame you. They will never take any personal responsibility for their behavior.
3. If you were unaware your spouse was cheating during the marriage, once you find out it may be comparable to being hit by a Mack truck... despite any existing marital issues perhaps you likely didn't see a betrayal coming and with that we may find ourselves reeling from shock while our spouse has already moved on because they've started their new life within the marriage some time ago... it was just you who didn't get the memo. When this happens the grief may feel one sided. Narcissists don't grieve their relationships when they end. They are also unable to feel any empathy for your grief. It's understandable to feel insult to injury when our hurts may feel overwhelmingly in our face yet the other person appears to be sailing through their new life largely unaffected. This may compound our hurt but also know that this doesn't necessarily mean the other person is 100% healed... they may be squashing and stuffing feelings that will come back later with a vengeance.Try not to focus on where you believe the other person is in their healing process as it will serve no positive purpose.
4. Some people may want to have a post divorce friendship with their ex and others may have zero contact... the choices have a wide spectrum and you have to decide for yourself what is best for you and your personal situation. If there has been physical or emotional abuse in the marriage then it's always best to keep contact to zero or minimum for parenting. Utilizing email, a binder or using a communication app may be beneficial to keeping the lines of communication open regarding any children but no more than needed. It's up to you what type of relationship you are willing or comfortable in having with your ex. People may believe you are not making the right choice going minimal contact but it's your life and your decision and only you know the intricacies of your unique position. At exchanges of the children, soccer games, school plays etc, keeping conversation minimal and polite is always a good rule of thumb no matter how much animosity you may still currently feel for the other person.
5. When there are children involved you may occasionally feel placed in the middle. If your son or daughter is calling you crying that "Daddy is being mean and yelling at me.... come pick me up" and/or your ex is talking to them about their dating life, it's going to pull you in and there will be decisions that have to be made of how to react. A good rule of thumb is to tell your children "I'm sorry you are upset and I see that's really frustrating you. But... you are at Daddy's and I am not able to pick you up. This is something you need to try to talk to Daddy about, tell him how you feel" or "I'm hearing from you it hurts your feelings that he's dating someone. Have you told him how you feel about it?" By encouraging your children to use their speech and express themselves in a healthy manner but also being a soft spot for them to go to from a distance when they are on the other parents turf is a win win for everyone involved.
6. Whatever personal issues your ex and you have between you can be eased when each parent is stepping up and being the parent the children need them to be. Some parents are capable of this and some are not. If one parent is lacking skills and makes a concerted effort to improve and makes wise decisions in not flaunting their dating life in front of the children too soon after the divorce is final when wounds are still fresh... not only do the children benefit from that but the other spouse does also. Because when a mother can see that the father of her children is making good decisions to not inflict further pain upon the kids it does something positive.... it allows her to see him in at least some positive light. At that time she can at say to herself "Okay, he and I may have all this mess between us but at least he IS being a wonderful dad!" This does so much to benefit not just the children but mom's healing because she knows the children are being well cared for and loved. That may very well be the stepping stone she needs to move into a better place and heal. A narcissist however will flaunt and brag about a new relationship even to their children making everyone more upset and ironically if you filed due to betrayal your ex will likely still blame you for the divorce due to you filing... even going so far as to telling the children the divorce is all your fault. The best response to that is discussing how when we are not truthful, when we lie and when we cheat there are consequences to our naughty behaviors and sometimes that is someone filing for divorce on you.
Divorce is hard. It's always a mess of muddied emotions and each person's situation is unique and their own. Being friends may not be possible (and never is with a narcissist) and setting the bar too high may certainly place unrealistic expectations upon us and unnecessary pressure. Post divorce it's not a written rule that friendship is a must or even a preferable goal for exes. What is the goal for divorced parents in particular is one of just being polite as we would any stranger or acquaintance we occasionally see. Keeping things polite and professional will go a long way in instilling healthy boundaries needed in the post divorce relationship. Being too chummy with our ex may even send a mixed message to our children who may think if we are able to be so friendly with one another why did we divorce to begin with? The other extreme in delivering regular doses of bashing in front of the children to our ex which will not only create further strife but land you in court with accusations of alienating behavior.
Taking healing one day at a time and placing whatever amount is necessary of distance between you and your ex will go a long way in getting yourself to a healthy place. We can meditate and pray for God to intervene and help us in the process, having faith we will make it through and reach a place of healing and peace.
Jennifer Gafford is a writer, speaker and divorce coach who helps guide parents through the pain of trying to co-parent with their narcissistic ex, and shares tips for custody and healing. She began her website gracepowerstrength in 2012 and over time her blog and audience grew to over a million views. Jennifer was married for twelve years, has two children and is very well versed in the facts regarding narcissistic abuse and the challenges involved in healing. Today, she shares daily posts and stories on Instagram for thousands of followers regarding npd abuse and believes everyone deserves a life of peace, love and freedom.