I have been dating a man for 2 years, I’ll call him Jim. Jim is actively involved in his 7 yr old daughter’s life, which is a quality I find attractive. However, Jim always checks with his ex to see if she needs him to watch their daughter before he will make plans with me. Additionally, he, his daughter and his ex still function as a family. They will go on short vacations, camping, dinners, etc together. When he spends time with his daughter it is always at his ex’s house and he will even stay the night there when his daughter asks him to.
I have tried to be patient with this, thinking it was only temporary (based on comments from him) but I have recently come to realize that he is still acting as a de facto husband. That probably explains why, after 2 years, I have not met his daughter and his ex doesn’t even know I exist.
Eyes Wide Open
Divorce demands balance, an ability to create harmony from chaos, the art of squeezing lemonade from lemons. Like a tightrope walker, forethought and tact are needed else we may trip and fall into the abyss of confusion and frustration.
There are telltale signs in a single father’s behavior that will suggest if he’s worth pursuit or better left alone. The most important of these, arguably, is his relationship with the mother of his children. The rationale is simple, the way he treats her is a clue to how he may one day treat you. There may be no clearer window into the true character of a divorced dad than this one point.
Marriage is an emotional affair, which is a good thing because we’d all remain in a state of perpetual singledom otherwise. But feelings are fickle things and because of this it’s impossible to predict how each man will react to the fallout of divorce. Will he take the familiar path and look at his ex wife as public enemy #1 or a more extraordinary approach as our friend Jim has apparently done?
There are two points to her story that must be called out. First, is not meeting the daughter after two years together. I have previously written on what this says about the father and his views on the partner in particular and the relationship in general. Second is the concealment of their relationship from his ex-wife – again, after two years.
Those details, frankly, lead me to question just how divorced he really is? But whatever the case, her email does surface a legitimate issue worth investigating. What should a good co-parenting relationship look like, and can -or ought – we judge a future partner by the relationship they have with an ex spouse?
The day I left the courthouse – a newly divorced father – I pledged to approach the remodeled relationship with my ex-wife as a business. I held to a doctrine that the more emotional tension between us the more difficult it would be to raise our kids. Eight years later it stands as a wise decision.
The most important step in this was establishing boundaries in how we would communicate and interact. Our contact would become limited to the one thing that endured from our marriage – the children. We wouldn’t socialize, mingle, or associate like friends or acquaintances. We wouldn’t share details of our personal lives or spend time ‘hanging out’. Like your dry cleaner or mechanic, our relationship became transaction oriented and the medium of exchange was the kids.
This matter-of-fact approach has helped curtail the emotional element of co-parenting and has allowed me the mental bandwidth to give the Queen and my kids what they need. Yet perhaps the most valuable side effect with this co-parenting approach is how little I have negatively to say about her. Because we rarely have ‘blow-ups’ there’s no reason to speak of her critically or to make disparaging remarks about her personally. Because I’ve stripped away the emotions there’s little opportunity to become emotional.
A successful co-parenting relationship, one that appropriately reflects the reality of the fragmented marriage, should possess a certain sterility and an acknowledgment that what was is no longer. A divorce relationship comes with edges and trying to color outside those emotional and legal lines opens the door to confusion and resentment within each other, our children, and any future partners.
A co-parenting relationship that is brimming with animosity and bitterness points to the unhealed wounds of someone who hasn’t moved on. Conversely, if those lines become blurred and not reflective of the relationship’s current status, it may signal lingering hopes and unfulfilled longings. The most healthy and effective co-parenting relationships fall somewhere in the middle, possessing an emotional blandness that allows both ex spouses to effectively raise their children without engaging in an emotional tug-of-war. There’s no hatred or longing, only an acceptance of reality, a united focus of the task of raising their children, and a willingness to set aside personal biases to do so, much like the average job.
In truth, Jim has yet to undo the emotional knots of his past. At least not in a way that allows him the necessary slack to mourn the loss of his marriage, heal from the pain, and grow from the lessons taught. Furthermore, this approach to co-parenting does his daughter a grave injustice. It prevents her from coming to grips with the new family reality while she is young enough to suffer the least amount of damage. So long as he and his ex wife engage in their ad hoc family approach, presumably under the veil of the daughter’s benefit, they will stifle her growth, limit their own emotional prosperity, and keep themselves from fully embracing a future partner.
♦ I frequently receive questions from readers, if you have one about relationships, dating, men, divorce, co-parenting, use the contact form at the top of the page, I always respond and may use yours in a future post ♦