Radical Coparenting Strategy #2: Leave the Dance Floor

Most divorcing parents I speak with have a story that goes something like this: Our relationship sucks, and it’s the other parent’s fault. If he would just stop doing X, Y, Z, I could be happy.

Sound familiar?

Another comment I can count on when people see my coparent and me getting along is this: Well, YOUR blended family works because YOUR ex-husband is great. But MY ex-husband is crazy.

Spoiler alert: My ex-husband wasn’t always great.

I can understand how people look at us today and see rainbows and unicorns. Seven years post-divorce, my ex-husband, his wife and baby, and our son share meals and holidays and even vacations. We have clear and respectful communication and genuine fun together. (Here we are at our son’s last day of second grade.)

But this is not where we started.

My ex-husband’s role in some very painful events (that I am still grieving and may always grieve) once seemed unforgivable. I was right and he was wrong, and I was going to make sure everyone who crossed my path knew it. I call this my Victim Tango, and I had every step committed to muscle memory.

I had the perfect excuse to stay stuck in my misery indefinitely. And as long as I kept showing up for that same old dance on that well-worn dance floor, my ex-husband stayed relentlessly disappointing, and our dynamic excruciating.

Then one day I entertained the possibility that I had a role in our dance. It was an uncomfortable but also liberating idea. Because if I had a role, I also had authority to transform the dance. What would happen if I stopped playing my part? I set out to find out.

I knew that improving my coparent dynamic would require a complete reboot. Because I had a whole root system of thoughts and behaviors that was feeding my misery. I committed to stop investing in my story of what an epic jerk my ex-husband was. In fact, I did not allow myself or anyone around me to speak badly of him—ever.

Instead, I wanted my attention entirely on what pleased me about my coparent. Because I wanted my day-to-day experience to be one of being pleased. When something happened that hurt or disappointed me, I simply ignored it. And when my coparent did something I could appreciate—ANYTHING I could appreciate—I focused my full attention and appreciation on that.

I started small, with what I’ll call the Gratitude Two-Step: “Thank you for considering my request,” (even if the answer was no). From there, the appreciation started to snowball. “Thank you for showing up on time,” “Thank you for remembering Blankey (our toddler son’s attachment object).” Not big things, but simple moments that worked between us. The more I noticed these appreciations, the more appreciation I found myself genuinely feeling and expressing.

What happened from there was simply alchemical. Within a matter of months, as my coparent basked in the delight of pleasing me, he started SEEKING OUT ways to be helpful—offering extra support I hadn’t thought of or asked for. Support that had never been offered in marriage.

This was the ground upon which we began to rebuild our friendship and parenting collaboration.

What I learned from the Gratitude Two-Step is that the difference between a “crazy” ex and a collaborative one can be bridged with our own attitude, behavior, and stories about what’s happening. When we stop feeding the flames of dissatisfaction, often the fire simply sputters out.

The truth is, it takes 2 to tango (but just 1 to leave the dance floor) {tweet it}

If we don’t like the dance we’re doing, we can simply stop dancing.

I didn’t need my ex to be any less of a jerk to get off that dance floor. All I needed was to take one step, then another, in a new direction. Once I made that choice, our old dynamic had no place to land. Because you can’t tango with someone who has left the building.

The truth is, you don’t need a “great” coparent to cultivate a peaceful and collaborative dynamic with them. You can change your coparent dynamic by changing yourself. No matter who your coparent is or what they have done. {tweet it}

Great coparents are born of great coparenting dynamics. To reboot yours, I suggest starting with the Gratitude Two-Step. When your coparent sees how much fun you’re having on that dance floor, she or he will be far more likely to join you.

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