It does not take a clinical psychologist to figure out that Ye is struggling mightily with the loss of his wife and his diminished time with his children. He is feeling threatened by the new boyfriend and his possible relationship with his children. Ye is responding with a mixture of fear and frustration and lashing out. Although these feelings are common, they are not healthy for Ye and his children going forward.
Post-divorce life is almost always an overwhelming time. Adjusting to the heartbreak, developing a sense of self as a single person, doing things on your own, making new friends and other significant challenges are typical.
Seeing your ex move on with a new partner and adjusting to the reality of not seeing your children full-time are two challenges that can be especially painful for a parent.
Many of my post-divorce patients struggle with both of these challenges. A recently divorced mother said to me, “I can’t stand to see my ex’s new girlfriend. They look so happy. It makes me depressed.”
A post-divorce father said, “I don’t want my kids to like their new stepfather. I just can’t fathom that idea for myself.” Another post-divorce mother said, “If his girlfriend thinks my kids are ever going to care for her, she’s going to be sadly disappointed.”
Most parents approach divorce with great trepidation and a feeling of impending doom. They have little or no understanding of what the research literature tells us about the dilemmas they are facing. For example, parents do not know that there is robust science about the best custody arrangement for children. And about the negative consequences of loyalty tests for children. And about the equal importance of mothers and fathers in children’s lives.
►Both parents must make sure their child feels loved, safe and secure. A constant sense of stability is a must.
►No matter how upset or angry parents are, they must not put their children in the middle of their ongoing tension and strife. It is unhealthy for children to be exposed to hostility, blaming, vindictiveness or threats.
►A child must not be forced to pick a favorite or preferred parent. Children naturally want to love both parents equally without interference or impediment. This desire cannot be disrupted by imploring the child to make a choice. Loyalty battles undermine a child’s healthy adjustment.
►A child needs both parents to be actively involved in his or her life. A child’s long-term adjustment is determined by a close relationship with each parent.
►If parents can focus on what is best for their child – rather than on their own needs or on their unresolved grievances – post-divorce issues can be maneuvered more easily.
►Both parents must establish and maintain healthy boundaries for their child’s well-being. Inconsistencies or mixed messages can be disruptive.
Life can be drama free
Life after divorce can be messy and complicated. But these rules of thumb can help a parent find a pathway to a post-divorce family life that is satisfying and drama free.
Ye and Kim and many of my post-divorce patients are struggling with the challenges of forging a new life for themselves and their children. Individual or group therapy can be helpful. Talking with friends and other family members can provide reality checks and guidance. Reading articles and books can be enlightening.