A few days ago, a girlfriend called for advice. Matt (her ex) had just called asking her to trade weekends with him. It was the third time he’d asked in just a few weeks. But - she justified - he usually had a decent reason.
I could tell she was unsure about what to do. Part of her wanted to say no. To teach Matt a lesson that he needs to plan ahead and can’t expect her to constantly be available.
Since she’d called for advice, I gave it. It wasn’t just about trading parenting time; Matt had a habit of expecting her to cover for him in other areas as well. And she’d been building up frustration about it for a while. It felt like it was time for her to assert boundaries. I encouraged her to say no. But then she said, “It’s true that if I say no, I’ll stand my ground. But he’ll be really upset and think I’m doing this just to be difficult. I have to co-parent with him for the next 10 years. I don’t think this is the hill I want to die on."
How do you handle the battles that come your way? Are you always fighting them or always giving in? Maybe you fall somewhere in between.
You’re smart to choose your battles carefully. Sometimes giving a little - even when you have good reason not to - means a better working relationship with your ex. But make sure you’re not using the prospect of peace as an excuse to be a doormat. As much as you might not like the conflict, in order to set boundaries and maintain a healthy level of self-respect, you’re going to have to fight some of them.
When you’ve given in in the past, has it actually made your life any easier?
If you’re struggling with how to handle a conflict, try asking yourself:
1. How important is this issue to you? If it’s not a big deal, let it go. But if it really matters to you or is indicative of a larger problem, stand up for your decision.
2. How important is this issue to your ex? If it matters a lot to them but little to you, this might be a good one to give on.
3. What will you potentially be gaining - and losing - if you fight? Think both short and long-term. You might get what you want short-term (e.g. a Saturday night with no kids), but lose out down the road (more hostility from your ex).
4. What will you be sacrificing if you give in? Again, think short and long-term. If saying yes on this issue, no matter how small it seems, would be detrimental to your values, beliefs, or mental health, be firm in your “no” instead.
5. If someone you love was facing this issue, how would you want them to handle it? Sometimes it’s easier to recognize the more logical/wiser decision when you’re not the one who has to make it.
If you’re still struggling with what to do, don’t decide alone. Ask your therapist, lawyer, or religious leader. Each might have a different perspective for you to consider.
Ask your friends too, but be cautious about whose advice you take. It might feel like your new bestie who also just went through a divorce understands what you’re going through better than anyone. But she might also be so jaded from her own situation that she can’t be objective. And your friends are going to be protective of you (maybe also mad at your ex). As my friend last week reminded me, “I appreciate what you’re saying. But you don’t have to deal with him every day.” She was right. Even your most caring friends won’t have to walk in your shoes. But what they might have is a clarity that you don’t. They can see things from 50,000 feet up while you’re on the ground.
So listen to them all. Ask for advice from more than one person and really consider what they say. Then, decide for yourself. No one else will bear the consequences of your choice.
Once you decide, have your words ready in advance. If you’ve given yourself some space to decide how to respond (rather than immediately reacting), you can craft the message you want to send back.
Whether your decision for this particular incident turns out to be right or wrong isn’t really the point.There’ll always be another decision to make. As we often say, divorce is a marathon, not a sprint. Make your decision, convey it clearly, then do your best to move on and spend more of your energy on the things that fill you up.
By the way, if communicating with your ex - about parenting issues or anything else - gives you agita, check out Divorce Scripts. We’ve written scripts you can use for over 40 different divorce situations. Life is too short to stress over your words.