Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Demise of the Compromise

No two people think exactly alike, but when you are a highly functioning couple and the heads of a loving household, compromise is not only acceptable, it is a positive force. What you might have thought a dumb idea when single, seems OK because your smiling partner with the flowers in his hand really thinks it makes sense. Years later, if you split, it suddenly becomes obvious that a huge gulf exists between you. With the bond of the couple broken, you start to evaluate your ex’s idea on merit, not because they are your avowed life partner. “Do what’s in the best interest of the kids and put aside personal animosity,” is the common platitude we hear as divorcees. But what happens when you and your ex disagree about “best interests?” Once again, the reality sets in of life after divorce.

When two different people come together to form a couple, they create a powerful force, almost as if a magnet draws them to one another. As love grows, you look forward to spending time together and exploring interests that you share as well as developing new ones. Strength comes from this new combination. Compromise then becomes appealing because it means you are working together as a team for the good of the family. For years, you made choices that you both feel are right. Trouble is, the interest in cooperation fades very quickly once separation, and later, divorce occurs. At that point, one or both of you wants to opt out of the team. Then, you move in separate directions. Afterwards, all that is left are your disparate opinions on a host of issues ranging from life choices to child rearing.

Because divorce is such a massive event, it exposes flaws and magnifies differences in opinions. The veneer of team-think is stripped away. It is very difficult to cooperate, not because you harbor ill will towards your ex, but because you just do not see things the same way as he does. It can be jolting, but you may quickly discover that your former spouse with whom you shared the past five, ten, 15 or even 20 years, has, at best, become somebody that you used to know. The shared experiences evaporate as you turn into distant acquaintances who no longer feel a connection apart from your children. And that is if the post-split relationship is relatively benign. Throw a little acrimony in the mix, and the valid and logical differences in opinion can get buried under a pile of snide remarks and emotional outbursts.

To keep the animosity to a minimum, keep your relationship with your ex as businesslike as possible. Avoid engaging in fights that will exacerbate disagreements between you. I have written many lengthy texts or emails that I never sent because I know they would lead to fighting rather than solutions to pressing issues. If you discover that your ex thrives on discord, take a deep breath, write your thoughts and then delete your reply. Maybe go for a run after a nasty-gram arrives in your inbox. Instead of engaging in battle, focus on the kids and try to do what is best for them, whether or not that means agreeing with the ex. With that focus as a guide, the kids will understand that you are there for them, and that is the most important thing. Over time, you will have less and less contact with your ex husband, and that is usually for the better except in the rare cases where a post-divorce friendship occurs.

The good news is that despite your divorce experience, couple-based compromises do not go extinct. When you find and commit to a new partner, the same, positive force that drove you to work together as a team in your previous marriage will again power your common thinking. Hopefully, you will apply lessons learned from what went wrong before so that your new team is stronger, resilient, trusting and loving. Your new flame may have some dumb ideas, too, but we all do at times. Together, though, you can weed out the bad choices and make the best decisions.


  1. this gives me hope for a future relationship!

  2. One of the many challenges post divorce is successful co-parenting. This is nearly impossible when one former spouse hates the other and allows the children to see this acrimony. Keep the emotions away from your children, they deserve better. Love your children more than you hate your ex.

  3. Putting energy into hating an ex is a thorough waste of time for everyone. The reality is that parents often differ on what is in the best interest of the child. Of course, we all love our kids, but we may clash on how to approach issues. That's where conflicts may arise so it's best to be as businesslike as possible in order to avoid being mired in disagreements.