Q. My ex and I were married for 14 years before he told me he was gay. I had no idea and I was severely shaken—not because he was gay–but because I knew that meant the end of our life as we knew it. Valentine’s Day was our anniversary. We are still quite good friends, albeit bittersweet at times, and I like his partner very much. They do everything they can do to keep me in the loop and co-parent with a vengeance. But, each time Valentine’s Day rolls around I feel such a sense of loss, and I feel terrible that my children’s parents had to break-up. What do you do when a holiday reminds you of your break-up? How do I cope?
A. Your situation has some unique components, but the fact remains true—breaking up, for no matter what reason, on no matter what day, is hard to do–and your children follow your lead. This is not to say that for their benefit you should act like you don’t care or that you should act like you care so much you’re devastated. It means you set an example by openly dealing with it as best you can. You let your kids see you get new hobbies, or go to therapy, or get sober, or reach out to friends, but you set the example for coping. You may falter at times. That’s human, but, you let your kids see you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start over.
You asked how to cope. Reframing—my favorite thing to do when faced with a situation that seems unbearable—may help you to see that there are some very positive things about your situation.
First, all moral judgments aside:
1. Your relationship has changed, but you continue to interact with your children’s father positively. That allows you to problem solve together in the best interest of your children.
2. Your kids witness their parents being kind to one another—that’s far better for their emotional and physical health than witnessing ongoing conflict.
3. Your ex’s new partner supports your co-parenting and all of you strive to keep each other in the loop in regards to schooling, medical, dental, etc.
It sounds as if you are both committed to having the best possible outcome for your children. This is all very good ex-etiquette.
Finally, for the record, I often caution people about getting married on a holiday. Holidays can be filled with lovely family traditions and memories, but if there is a break-up, that holiday can also become a trigger for sadness. Have a lovely Christmas wedding, but get a divorce and Christmas may not be that merry for a while. You have seen it now with Valentine’s Day.
Truth is, if a break-up was difficult, just as the anniversary of a loved one’s passing is a trigger for sadness, your anniversary date could be a difficult day. Many respond to a break-up the same as they would a death and go through the same steps of grief one would go through when dealing with a loved one’s passing:
The five steps are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we’ve lost, but if you are really struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional. Seeking help helps you, of course, but it also offers your children a proactive example for overcoming obstacles. That’s good parenting and good ex-etiquette.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.