It’s a rare divorce that doesn’t have some long-simmering anger and tension behind it. For most couples, arguments build up and soon enough, you’re one fight away from throwing up your hands and shouting, “I’ve had enough!”
Recently, we asked divorced writers to share the one fight they consider the last straw in their marriages. See what they had to say below.
The Fight About Therapy
Our last fight occurred during marital counseling. Four years later, the topic is both hazy and generally meaningless; what has stuck with me to this day is how the impasse felt so overwhelming in the moment. It was almost as if I had an out-of-body experience, witnessing us both remaining so stubborn: He was frustrated by my impassioned display in front of a third party. I was disgusted by his refusal to try to see my point of view. We reached this pinnacle and could never recover from it, simply because, in the midst of the fight, our verbal and nonverbal cues indicated we lacked any and all respect for one another. The love was gone, and a mere tolerance for one another was only hanging by a thread. For me, the fight was so metaphorical. Hitting our most hopeless point in five years of marriage, while in the company of one of the city’s most renowned marriage counselors, was both ironic and striking.” ― Nicole Lavery
The Fight About Lunch
Money had always been a hot-button issue between my ex and I. She stayed at home with the kids while I worked. What I could not seem to understand was how such a predictable schedule could be so unpredictably expensive. From my midtown office, I could feel our credit card getting heavier with every passing day. We fought about it a lot. It seems so immature in hindsight, but it was the tug finally unraveling a seven-year marriage. ‘How can a lunch for one be that expensive?’ I asked one day. It was not just for her, she also paid for a friend, she said. ‘Who was it?’ I asked. ‘A friend, does it matter?’ That is when I lost it. The conversation quickly disintegrated into accusations and threats, which abruptly ended with us bringing up divorce. She then grabbed her keys, purse and headed out the driveway. The next four months would be a whirlwind of attorney visits, legal briefs, court dates and a few failed attempts to reconcile. If you’re wondering, I finally learned the identity of the ‘friend.’ Sometime later, my kids were talking about mom’s boyfriend’s birthday dinner. I asked where they ate. ‘His favorite restaurant of all time,’ they said. I discovered the truth there: I had an old credit card receipt to prove it.” ― Kyle B.
The Fight About Paris
The Louvre was closed; somehow, that became my fault. I was supposed to look up the hours and had gotten them wrong. My husband and I were in Paris for a long weekend and since he had never been there, he had a list of sights he had to see. Each day felt like a scavenger hunt designed to collect points for some mysterious game I didn’t want to be playing. By the end of the first day, I had blisters on my feet. I wanted to relax in a cafe, sip espresso and people-watch all day. But my husband didn’t drink coffee. And once it was clear he was going to miss the Louvre, he became more inflexible about his list. I followed him from one neighborhood to another, trying to ignore the realization that, after 10 years of marriage, we no longer enjoyed the same things. It was less of an argument, just a sense that there was no ‘us.’ And when you’re in a foreign country, not to mention the most romantic city in the world, that’s a very lonely feeling.” ― Tammy Letherer, author of The Buddha at My Table
The Fight About The Phone
The last big fight in my marriage was about my phone. My husband took it and kept it because it was taking time away from him. I was furious. My whole life was in that phone, of course, and it’s how our kids communicated with me, too. I think, although it was just a phone, it represented something much bigger to me. I could no longer tolerate the attempt to control me in so many ways. I am an educated adult woman who was many things: a wife, mother, worker, lover. It became clear, in that instant, that my husband’s insecurity about our attachment and my disinterest in constantly reassuring him about it would end our 18-year marriage. It’s terribly sad, and there was so much loss on many fronts for us and our children, but when married people don’t grow together, it’s very hard to reconnect, no matter how hard you try.” ― Cherie Morris
The Fight They’d Had 50 Times Before
The last big fight we had before we decided to separate was the same fight we had 50 times before that. We went over the same things as always: ‘I’m always with these kids.’ ‘I am the only one bringing in an income.’ ‘You don’t appreciate me.’ ‘You don’t respect me.’ ‘You’ve changed.’ ‘We have nothing in common anymore.’ ‘Are you cheating on me?’ The problem with our marriage was that we didn’t know how to communicate effectively and we both decided to check out. There was no trust and definitely no respect. The 7-year marriage never had a chance, in my opinion, because it seemed hopeless. There were just too many issues and an unwillingness to get help, both individually and as a couple. I mean real help. We tried marriage counseling, but it touched the tip of the iceberg and I think we both felt it was better to cut our losses early.” ― Jackie Pilossoph, author of the column “Love Essentially,” published in the Chicago Tribune
The Fight About The Blended Family
My wife and I were lying in bed, ready to sleep, when I told her I was going to say goodnight to ‘my girls.’ We were a blended family and my three daughters were all sleeping that night in the same room. When I returned, my wife asked me if I also said goodnight to my oldest daughter, which I responded, ‘Of course I did.’ She screamed at me, ‘If you said goodnight to the oldest, then I am done with you.’ She stormed out of the room to go sleep in another room on the first floor. I knew I couldn’t allow her bad treatment of my oldest daughter, and her treatment of me regarding it, to continue. I knew this last episode was the final straw in many years of unacceptable behavior.” ― Matt Sweetwood, author of Leader of the Pack
The Fight About Spending
My last fight with my ex-husband wasn’t original. It was one we had over and over again: about money. He liked to gamble, lease a car we couldn’t really afford and emulate success through spending. I’m a saver and come from a poor background, and so we could just never relate to each other on finances. Anyone who’s divorced knows that it doesn’t happen overnight and that the fights you have, in most cases, you’ve had over and over again. Money is too important a part of marriage to have completely opposite viewpoints on. And so, just like that, I knew our nearly three-year marriage was over at least six to 12 months before I left.” ― Susie Moore
The Fight About Discipline
During what seemed like a picture-perfect evening, my husband and our two young children sat around the dinner table to share a meal. The kids were enjoying having their daddy home and I was enjoying watching all of them together. Our daughter wanted down, and like most toddlers, she squirmed and twisted until she was able to free herself. Her chair and her plate of food plopped down right along with her. My husband instantly stood up and yelled at our two-year-old, followed by a swift swat. She burst into tears. At first, I was stunned, unable to move. There was a glimmer of a moment when it first happened that I thought he was going to console her and tell her that it was going to be OK. He didn’t. It wasn’t long before the old familiar knot tightened in the pit of my stomach.
If I was honest with myself, I really wasn’t surprised by his reaction. From day one, we had very different ideas about how we would discipline our children. As I was comforting our daughter, I could hear him say, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’ It wasn’t the first time he had yelled at the kids, and I at him for doing so. But that night, that fight, was the last time I saw him as the man that I would spend the rest of my life with.” ― Carol Schaffer
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Listen to my interview with divorce lawyer Tracey Coates to learn why my personal experience informs the professional work I do with you. I will provide support for you at any stage of divorce and help you improve your communication with your spouse for you and your kids. I'm right here! Listen to the interview at this link: bit.ly/2JBAdsL
Do you have a former spouse that continues to make your life miserable after divorce? Do you feel as though there is way too much interaction and she believes it’s too little? Did you get divorced so you didn’t have to deal with her and now it feels like all you do is hear from her? A parenting coordinator helps get through this communication impasse. It’s true that the stress of prior relationships can weigh heavily on all of us. When you share children, especially young children, interaction will likely happen for many years. Learning to manage the communication is vital to supporting what’s best for your kids and what’s good for you too.
How a Parenting Coordinator Helps
A parenting coordinator helps people figure out how to support their kids and communicate with their former spouse. Often, it’s important to sit down with both people, as parents of the children, to figure out what went wrong and where it can get better. In my practice, I have found four critical tools to success for parents where communication is non-existent to extraordinarily high conflict. You can make it better, for you and your kids, by using these practical tips, either with the help of a Parent Coordinator, or by trying to implement them on your own. My experience suggests the higher the level of conflict the more necessary a parenting coordinator may be, but getting started somewhere is better than having things continue as they have. Give it a try and reach out as needed.
Manage Expectations Around Communications
Does your Divorce Agreement set out how to plan for your children? Is there already a method in place to do so? If so, this is a great “jumping off point” for your communication. Although quoting your Agreement can sound formal and off-putting, it may be time to suggest it. Often, my clients do much better when a structure is in place for their communication. They do better when they have a framework for success.
If you Agreement doesn’t talk about how to plan, you likely need to create some Agreement about how things will go. If things have not gone well, it’s likely important to consider talking with your spouse with a Parenting Coordinator as a professional is likely able to create a framework to help you begin talking productively again. If you can’t do that, it’s likely you will need to meet, in person, or by email to work together on how to manage what needs to be decided. Remember, most adults don’t like to be told what they must do and how they must do it. If you are starting the communication, use words like “cooperate” and “strategize” to create a collaborative environment. Find out, from your ex, what they need to make the plans for your kids work.
If often makes sense to build in deadlines around when things are decided, and to build in flexibility too. Sometimes one parents gets first choice, and the next year it shifts to the other parent. Whatever you and your ex decide, make certain there is give and take about how it will occur. This step is about how to approach communication and not the actual plan. However, this step is often most crucial to success. Even if you dislike your ex intensely, you love your children. Figuring out how to negotiate with her is crucial to your success. Instead of spending time thinking it can’t be done, figure out how it can!
Develop A Plan
Next, once you’ve opened a chain of positive communication with your Ex about the need to do better, execute on your plan to do so. This is just the beginning so don’t assume just because you want something, and think it’s right, you will get your way. Remember that it wasn’t always easy to convince your intimate partner about parenting issues and it won’t get easier now. However, if you are willing to listen as much as you speak, in email, and give a little to get a little, you and your children may find success. A good plan is the best way to achieve success and prepare for unexpected bumps in the road too.
The most important part of developing a plan is to begin to create a system for decision making that allows you and your ex a voice in what happens. Again, it’s usually fairest to allow taking turns for important holidays or vacation choosing but do what works for you and for your ex too. Remember that BOTH of you need to feel empowered to be good parents to your children and providing that neutral support by creating a framework to allow it will get you much further than making demands.
Also, and this is crucial to planning, try to avoid multiple issue emails and get rid of texting for plans altogether. Limit your communication about an issue to one chain of emails on a particular topic. It’s easy to stay organized this way and to have documentation about what you have agreed to do too. You can easily create folders in your email to save the various threads and they will be a handy referral when you need to check what was said about a particular issue. Keep in mind, too, that email can be an unforgiving medium. Many of my female clients complain their exes are “mean” in email. In some cases, this is true, but in other cases a direct tone, without any softening words, can seem too demanding and stern. You should deal with your ex as you would a business colleague, that is, be direct but also kind. You do not need to express how you personally feel about her, ever, in email to her. Save those words for therapy!
You will likely need lots of practice with your ex to create the co-parenting relationship you want for you and your kids. This practice happens when you write emails, get the response you hope for, or don’t get that at all. Each communication is an opportunity to learn what works, in general, and in particular for your spouse.
I worked with one couple who seemed at an impasse to plan the yearly calendar. It turned out the mother was overwhelmed by dad sending an excel spreadsheet with calendar suggestions for the entire year. We talked about breaking down the data contained in the spreadsheet to simple lists and, voila, problem solved. Instead of ignoring the info, mom felt she could manage the same material in bite size monthly nuggets. Dad was thrilled and felt he could then plan for the year. Instead of criticizing mom’s aversion to spreadsheets (which he may have internally done), he acted in a way that served him and his kids to get what he and they needed. Mom is much happier too as she doesn’t feel like she’s ignoring critical information.
Inevitably, disagreements will arise. Using your new style of communication, however, you will remember that you do not need to personally criticize the other parent to make your point. Usually, if something can’t be agreed to after three rounds of email, it makes sense to spend a couple hours of mediation so that a parenting coordinator can help figure out if the matter can be resolved. Doing so may save you lots of time and grief in the future too as a new method of approach may be developed in the process.
Don’t Take It Personally
No matter how carefully you choose your words, you may get some unpleasant communication at least occasionally. Remember that you ex isn’t dealing with you in a vacuum and may be having a bad day, month, year for many other reasons. Responding in kind is likely to only escalate conflict so, if you can, don’t respond at all for a period of time. See if a little time allows cooler heads to prevail. Revisit the issue without personal attack and try to get back on track.
In sum, it is possible to manage a situation with even a horrible ex successfully. The key is your mindset towards success and your willingness not to engage, on the same level, as a co-parent who might bring negative energy and intent to your communications. The simple steps above coupled with the help of a parenting coordinator helps to establish open communications. Remember that you bear half of the responsibility for the way the relationship with your ex is managed, for you and your children. You will never control what they think or even say about you, but you can control how you respond and how you communicate directly. Taking the high road may not always feel satisfying in the moment, but keeping your kids from the conflict, and getting support for yourself will reveal success for you and your kids in the long run. It’s a long road when you are co-parenting with an ex, but your kids are worth it. And so is your peace of mind.
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Do you tie yourself in knots with the money you pay your ex? My best coaching advice is right here to help you, right now!
Fighting Over Money You Pay Your Ex
So, what worked, for me, that you might find useful in your transition from married to divorced? The tools that work for me may not be right for you but I do find common threads as I coach my clients. They include:
Read more here...
Practical tips from a practicing divorce coach.
Written and shared with Guyvorce.
How To Avoid Escalating Arguments With Your Ex
Certified Divorce Coach, Parent Coordinator, Lawyer, Yoga Teacher, Divorced Parent