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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it
~Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
At the precipice of divorce one can look back and probably follow a trail that led from courtship to marriage and parenthood, fueled by the desire to connect through warmth, understanding and shared intimacy. This “positive” intimacy engenders love, compassion and trust. Somewhere along the road “positive” intimacy shifted to “negative” intimacy. Motivation is then fueled by disrespect, indifference and mistrust leading to conflict, anger and isolation.
If this is the case, the good news is that looking forward the shape of the relationship can be what you decide to make it. While physical intimacy may be forever gone, psychological intimacy can be freed of prior corruption by restructuring the relationship based on “tasks” required in the new relationship (i.e., parenting). In her book, Mom’s House, Dad’s House,” Isolina Ricci describes the restructured relationship in terms of a business. There are courtesies and formalities that make business relationships work regardless of the personal likes and dislikes of the parties.
Often enough the “formalization” of the relationship can ease the pressures of negative intimacy and lead to a cordial, if not warm, new relationship. Some key factors in the transformation process are:
Be aware of your language. “Jane” or “Joe” replace “honey,” or “dear,” as a step to reinforcing the “formality” stage of the restructure;
Practice “business” courtesies. Mutual respect and a level of social distance lead to greater agreement;
Don’t make assumptions. Ask for clarity;
Build trust by honoring commitments;
Lower personal expectations. If you expect praise or reassurance from your former spouse you will set yourself up for disappointment. Its absence doesn’t devalue who you are – don’t let it;
Be patient with yourself and your former spouse. A new way of relating will feel strange at first. Act “as if,” until its real;
Remember power is achieved through strength of character, not by deflating the character of another. Don’t let being “right,” overpower your life;
Ricci writes that, “Friendship is nice but not necessary.” You can build a working relationship that honors the positive intimacy of the past, the growth and development of your children, and new opportunities for your future.