How to deal with a provocative ex-spouse
I must admit there were times when, quite frankly I could have throttled my ex-wife. I’m sure, to be fair, she could say the same about me.
From my point of view, it seemed that overnight, the person I’d known and had two children with had been abducted by aliens and replaced by someone else.
Sure, she looked the same, but her attitudes, behaviour and values were not those I recognised. This brought us into conflict around the usual things: finances, access to the children and division of assets.
At first I admit I found myself struggling to my emotions around what I saw as her unreasonable attitudes and behaviour. I found myself getting worked up and stressed. On top of everything else and trying to perform in a very busy job with its own uncertainties I was slowly sinking.
And then, I came across a tool that changed all of that for me almost instantly. It’s called the Choice Map by Marilee Adams and is from her book Change your questions, change your life.
I realised I had a choice. I realised that I had a choice, moment by moment, on everything that impacts on me: circumstances, emotions, thoughts and thus my reactions to other people’s behaviour.
I was allowing myself to adopt a judging mindset. One that looks for blame in myself and others. “What’s wrong with her?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why is this happening? Why, why, why, why?”
The result was my perpetual mood of doom and gloom. Of annoyance with her and most everyone else. I realised my normal optimistic, can-do, sunny and positive temperament was being replaced by a judgmental, reactive, critical and inflexible one.
I was short with everyone, snappy with the kids and quite frankly not much fun to be around. I was adopting defensive and therefore often counter-productive, thinking and behaviours.
Once I realised this I it dawned on me that I could adopt a more open, less judgemental mindset. A mindset more open to learning. So I started to ask a different set of questions.
What mindset am I in – judger or learner?
Is this how I really want to be thinking or feeling?
What would be a positive way of thinking and feeling?
What happens if I don’t change my current thinking?
What might happen if I do change my current thinking?
What’s better for me and what do I want?
Once I’d decided to make that mental switch a whole bunch of other questions help me get to a much better place not only mentally but often factually too.
What’s actually happening here?
What do I want both for myself and others?
What can I learn or take from this?
What assumptions am I making here?
What are the actual facts as opposed to the possible-facts?
What does the other person want?
What might they be thinking and feeling?
What am I responsible for here?
What might be possible and what are my choices?
These types of questions lead to a more thoughtful and solutions-focused mindset. They helped me reduce my angst and stress levels, made me nicer to be around and led to much more progress with my ex-wife over the future arrangements.
By changing myself first, I was perversely more likely to change her attitudes and
It’s like Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
When working with clients we often explore this Choice map model and use the following acronym, ABCD, to remember it.
Aware – am I in judger? Is this working for me?
Breathe – how can I step back and get some perspective?
Curious – what’s really going on with me and others?
Decide – what my decision? What choices can I make?
I hope this helps you.
Anthony Taylor is a mental skills and communication expert and divorce coach. He works with people to emerge stronger, more resilient and with a brighter future. He is passionate about limiting the negative affect divorce can have on children, by supporting the adults. He writes regularly on this topic and more. You can follow him on Facebook, twitter @AntTaylor72 or at his website http://www.anthonytaylorltd.com/
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