Cases like these are the cancer of divorce.
Sometimes I think that the work of experts on divorce is really akin to oncologists who work with cancers of all types. Some are curable, some require intensive treatment and have a good outcome and sometimes the cancer is so aggressive that all you can do is help the patient cope.
It is inevitable –whenever I touch upon almost any subject regarding divorce, whether its child support, money, or what truth is too much truth, I will hear of cases where it is obvious that whatever can be done is simply not enough. Some marriages die a terrible death.
What one disturbed parent can do to children and to an ex that he or she once loved is often hard to believe. It is a sad fact that most kidnappings in the United States occur in the context of divorce – and violence is not uncommon. The courts and the criminal justice system are overwhelmed and not a fine honed tool. Police arrive and sometimes arrest the wrong parent.
Child protection laws sometimes protect, but they are also used by manipulative parents to gain advantage in court by falsely accusing an ex in order to gain leverage over the kids and child support money. Judges are only human, and have too many difficult cases to handle.
My heart breaks for the children that are subject to these horrors. Lying, promiscuity and adultery are, in my opinion, small things in comparison to no food, no electricity, living in shelters and violence (both physical and verbal). The former is how relationships can fall apart in bad ways. The latter is about whether or not the man (or woman) has the sense of duty to make things right even if he (or she) did something terribly wrong.
So often in divorce, people act out. They can be angry and self righteous or sometimes just feel free for the first time in decades and become the adult equivalent to acting out teenagers. Inevitably, the children are injured, not by the divorce itself, but by how it is handled.
So, what can be done?
If you are the healthier spouse, then you are trapped in a story which is largely not of your own making. You have to respond to an ex spouse who just wants to win – and at all costs.
What you do have control over here is your own sanity, and the innocent ears of your precious children. Therapy is really a must. All the outrage must be mobilized productively, and all the hurt and fear needs to be soothed. Children rarely benefit from an angry parent, even if he or she is justified.
You make hundreds of decisions everyday that can impact your kids and, hard as it is to believe, you may have some leverage with your ex if you don’t fall into his traps. For instance, if you are angry and spout off time and again, your home can become a frightening place for your kids.
Or, on the other hand, they may identify with your temper and act out in school as bullies – it happens and I have seen it. And if you are so angry that you provoke a fight in public with your ex, he can use it against you in court to show how “unstable” you are. I have seen this too. You don’t want to give him this kind of power.
A therapist will help you grieve the loss of your marriage and much of what you held dear, including a sense that the world is fair. It all has to go, because children need a stable and realistic parent to help show them the way back to sanity.
When speaking about being realistic, in dealing with a very difficult ex you will need to set limits and still co parent. Not easy. You will have to decide when to hang up the phone on him as things heat up, when to walk away from a toxic situation, and when it is time to call your lawyer or the police.
You are not always going to get it right and under all this pressure, you’re not always going to be a saint. So, when done well, a good relationship with your therapist can help you come back to center. No matter how angry or hurt you may be, your children will always come first. This will be your gift to them.
In malignant situations, therapy is important for your children as well. They need to have a safe place to deal with what they are going through with an adult ally. In addition, your child’s therapist can help you understand how to be a better parent.
On occasion, a talented therapist can counsel the self serving ex spouse and may make some headway. And, if things get dangerous, some therapists find the wherewithal to hold an out of control parent accountable. It is not a perfect solution, but sometimes the cancer of divorce can only be managed, and not really treated.
It is better than nothing.
Ultimately, the children will grow up and come to terms with the trauma they experienced. Some will be hurt forever while others will emerge stronger because of the experience. Here is where a stable, healthy parent can make all the difference. They will ultimately cling to your strength, your stability and your confidence.
Some divorces can truly be like malignant cancer. But if you can give your kids the best of what you have, you are giving them a lot. It is the best medicine that we have.
Author Bio: Mark R. Banschick, M.D. is a diplomat of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology with over 20 years of experience in child and adolescent psychiatry. The Intelligent Divorce course evolved from his work as an expert witness in custody disputes. Dr. Banschick has appeared on the CBS Early Show and has been quoted in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and firstwivesworld.com.
Dr. Mark Banschick’s book, The Intelligent Divorce, is a powerful and inspirational self guided resource that will change your life and the lives of your children.