Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My ex and I divorced about two years ago after years of emotional abuse. We share custody and communicate only by text, as it’s still a toxic relationship with a lot of anger on both sides. I try hard to put the kids first, and we attend school events together mostly drama-free, but it causes me a lot of anxiety.
Our daughter’s birthday party is this weekend. I am not hosting but will be attending. It’s been a tough week with a lot of hostility from my ex and I’m really dreading it. How can I get through and celebrate my kid when I really just want to run away screaming?
— Post Toxic Divorce
DEAR POST TOXIC DIVORCE: I don’t blame you — that sounds so demoralizing.
You do have a few things in your favor though: Precedent is a big one. Your history with the things you attend together is mostly drama-free. Use that to minimize your dread.
And: Your toxic relationship might be open-ended but a birthday party is closed-ended. You just have to bear it for a few hours. Having been through what you’ve been through, you have grounds for full confidence in yourself that you can do this.
And: It’s still a couple of days away. You have time to plan restorative things for before and after the party.
And: your daughter. There’s no better point for you to fix your eyes on to keep your balance.
This is all for just the event. As for the larger picture, it might be helpful to you to talk to a good therapist about strategies for weeks like the one you just went through. There are things you can’t control that will make your life more difficult — that’s just a given. But dreading these things before they happen extends the time they spend bothering you, and that’s a part of any situation you do control. A competent pro can help you find ways to contain these problems. Even if you’ve had help getting to this point, there’s a lot to be said for going in for tuneups as the circumstances evolve.
Re: Divorce: From the child of parents who had a terrible marriage and divorce, thank you for attending family functions with your ex. My mother could not be in the same room with my father (or even hear his name) without being openly hostile, which made all of my life milestones difficult and was one reason I ended up eloping. I understand he was not a good husband to her, but still resent her unmitigated hostility and it has driven a wedge in our relationship. So, it sounds really hard now, but I think that you are doing the best thing for your family.
DEAR MILESTONED: This is lovely support, thank you.
Re: Divorce: My ex tried to kill me, there is a restraining order for now, and he has supervised visits with our child. If our child wants him at his graduation or wedding it becomes complicated for me, not wanting to be in the same area with someone who tried to murder me. Should someone who was abused be expected to suck it up and go to the event with their ex?
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Oh my goodness no. I’m sorry that happened to you.