Blended Families Part 11: How to Start Dealing with Ex’s
In last week’s post, “Behavior Contracts,” we talked about two tools for more successful and biblical parenting, “behavior contracts” and “think papers.” By the way, both are great tools for any family, not just blended ones.
This week in “How to Start Dealing with Ex’s,” we’ll begin talking about the prickly subject of dealing with ex-spouses. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll discover some things that may improve relationships so you can better co-parent your children and find out how to respond biblically when your ex isn’t willing to work with you. In this post we’ll look at some of the precipitating factors for this kind of conflict and talk about how to start working through the issues.
A Lethal Combination of Guilt, Anger & Bitterness
Dealing with relationships with ex-spouses is often one of the most difficult challenges for a blended family. Although some formerly married couples are able to work out their differences and successfully co-parent their children, many find their attempts filled with conflict.
These conflicts can result in arguments over visitation, rules at each others’ homes, child support, and a host of other issues. Children are often expected to take sides, carry messages back and forth, and report back about what’s going on when they are with the other parent. Children can become casualties in a war that seems to never end.
Depending on who wanted or caused the divorce (at least in the eyes of the other person), ex-spouses can be filled with bitterness or guilt, anger or hurt or any combination.
A person who left may suffer guilt that causes them to continue trying to prove they were right in leaving. This results in constant complaining and criticizing.
The person who’s been sinned against may be angry and begrudge the other any happiness. He or she may hope the other one will finally realize what a huge mistake they made or somehow have to pay for their “crimes.” Their anger may not just be about how they have been hurt, but about how their children have been hurt, too.
Sometimes the conflict began during the former marriage, possibly even going on for years leading up to the divorce. Sometimes conflict comes to the surface when a former mate remarries.
In some cases, the anger, bitterness or guilt drains energy that should be going into a new marriage. In other cases, one spouse may spend a great deal of time and effort trying to appease the former spouse and keep peace at any cost. Both can create problems in a new marriage.
Guilt and anger can both cause problems in relationships with children and step-children. Guild may cause a biological parent to over-indulge their own children and/or be cold and indifferent, even harsh to their step-children.
Anger can be directed at children who want to live with or spend more time with the other parent. Some ex-spouses lay a big dose of guilt on children who start building a relationship with their step-parent.
No matter what combination of guilt, anger, bitterness or jealousy are driving the conflicts, God expects us to do our part to resolve the issues and respond in ways that are pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5.9).
Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matt. 5.23-24).
Where do you start?
It starts with you!
First, get your heart right. No matter how you’ve been sinned against or how often, God intends to use it for good in your life.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8.28-29).
When Joseph was reunited with his brothers after years spent as a slave and in prison because of their sin, he said:
19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Gen. 50)
Do Some Self-Examination
3 Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matt. 7)
Make a list of your own logs. Pray for God’s help, be brutally honest with yourself and Him. To do this effectively, you can’t minimize your part, blame-shift to your ex, or justify your sins.
Some possible logs:
- Have I withheld child support in anger or an attempt to control?
- Have I withheld visitation in an attempt to control or get child support?
- Have I tried to manipulate the children in any way or make them feel guilty?
- Have I bad-mouthed my ex to our children or others?
- Have I been unfairly critical?
- Have I refused to keep my ex in the loop on parenting issues?
- Have I made harassing calls or texts?
- Have I refused to be reasonably flexible?
- Have I refused to ask for or grant forgiveness?
- Have I tried to damage my ex’s new marriage in any way?
- Have I allowed the kids to badmouth my ex or a new spouse?
- Have I pumped the kids for information?
- Have I tried to make my ex look bad to our children?
- Have I blamed all the problems on my ex and refused to take any responsibility?
- Have I neglected to show up for visitation or refused to pick up or return the children on time?
- Have I purposely allowed the children to watch or do things that are not acceptable to my ex?
- Have I refused to pay bills that were ordered by the court?
- Have I failed to keep my word?
- Have I used anger or tears to manipulate?
- Have I lied about my ex in court?
- Have I lied in other situations?
- Have I tried to ruin my ex’s reputation in any way?
- Do I get mad when my children say anything good about about my ex or a new spouse?
- Do I get mad at my parents or others if they are nice to my ex?
- Have I taken my ex back to court without trying to work things out?
- Have I keyed my ex’s car or done anything malicious?
- Did I seek and unbiblical divorce without ever acknowledging it and asking for forgiveness?
- Have I purposely spoiled the kids to make my ex look like the bad guy?
- What other ways have I sinned against my ex?
Once you’ve made a thorough list, ask God to help you prepare your heart to do what He requires as the next step.
Next week in “Blended Families Part 12: Do Your Part to Seek Peace,” we’ll take an honest look at how you can begin seeking reconciliation and peace with your ex-spouse by taking responsibility for the logs on your list.
*Some information in this series was developed from a Bible study by Jeff & Amy Baker.
Some of the subjects I’ll cover in future blogs:
Blended families in the Bible
Damage control—healing the mistakes
Dealing with in-laws and out-laws
Helping your child be part of the “other” blended family
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