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Parents   »   It is important to be allowed to mourn and end the romantic relationship

It is important to be allowed to mourn and end the romantic relationship

In order to make a good parenting partnership possible, it is a good idea to end the prior romantic relationship.

This makes it easier to shift the focus and create a new type of partnership that focuses on the needs and feelings of the child, rather than the parents’ own needs and interests.

Moving on can take time

The first step towards a functioning coparenting team is to end your partnership. If you’re shocked, angry, or grieving the divorce, it helps to keep apart what happened to you as a couple from your parenting. The one leaving the relationship may already have disconnected from the romantic relationship. For those experiencing the separation as a shock, the process takes longer.

Processing and grieving a break-up can be a long journey of sorrow. It often goes against the quick ideals of our society. “What, you haven’t moved on yet?” someone may ask after half a year expecting a fun single friend to go out and party with. Mental pain and psychological healing processes can live within us for many years and cannot be rushed. But in the meantime, we need to find a functioning parenting because our child’s life cannot be paused.

Imagine two parallel tracks

To move forward, think of your relationship as two tracks, one for parenting and one for you as a couple. In the couple track, feelings related to your ex as a partner go and in the parenting track, matters concerning your coparent are placed. The two tracks have different communication channels, tones and content. The couple track is the part of the relationship you mourn and process. The parenting track should be kept and developed, and here the thinking brain should rule. It should not be used as an excuse to get at someone who has hurt you or to ruminate on wrongs and betrayals. The parenting team is based on the child’s best interest and should be built around the child. The phrase “when they go low, we go high” sums up an attitude that makes the parenting team strong. Honor to act properly even when your coparent can’t keep it together.

Avoid triggers

To avoid getting stuck in the emotions that come with your relationship, avoiding triggers can help. Obviously, contact with your co-parent is key here. It’s beneficial to create a predictable, neutral, and correct contact.

Well-meaning friends and relatives may want to take your side and confirm how badly you were treated. If you say you understand their concern but that you need to work on loyalty to your coparent, they can understand what kind of support you need.

Anticipating difficult situations can also be helpful. Parties and dinners where you are the only single person can make you feel abandoned. Maybe you want to take a “cooling off period” before you resume that part of your social life.

Children can also trigger these feelings. Children long for their other parent and refuse to cooperate as soon as anything becomes the slightest bit stressful. Because these situations are unavoidable, a saving grace could be to think ahead of time what you are going to say and do. To handle the situation and become less emotionally pressed, you can practice. Use phrases like “I know you miss dad and tomorrow you’ll get to see him and have a nice time. But now I’m going to try to comfort you”. Or “Yes, mom is much better at doing braids. Now you and I have a training camp for that”.

The meaning of forgiveness

Forgiveness is about letting go and leaving the past behind, and instead dedicating your energy to the present and the future. Therefore, to forgive your ex is essentially a selfish process, as it helps you to detach and move on.

Forgiveness may seem practically and desirably to strive for, but it cannot be rushed. Forgiveness requires us to grieve and ruminate on our experiences, so that they no longer hurt or burden us. It is less about actually saying “I forgive you” than about coming to peace with what happened.

Forgiveness does not mean excusing a behavior either. You can forgive, perhaps because you realize that the other person could not do better, was feeling poorly, or was immature, even if you don’t excuse lies, infidelity, or betrayal.

From your child’s perspective, forgiveness is beneficial because it creates calm in you and in your relationship with the other parent. But the process of forgiveness is about your couple relationship and is not decisive for the child. An effective cooperation and functioning communication in the parenting team does not depend on you forgiving each other or excusing each other. Instead, it is about separating parenthood from your couple relationship.

The strength of self forgiveness

Forgiving someone else can be hard, but for some of us it’s hardest to forgive ourselves. It’s common to say and do things in the midst of turmoil that we later regret. Be patient with yourself in this! You are only human and going through a difficult time. Reacting childishly and selfishly when in crisis is human and says nothing about who you are on a deeper level. That doesn’t mean that you will eventually function on the same low level. What’s also important is not the individual things you have said or done, but that you can reflect on them and find strategies to do things differently in the future.

You have a unique relationship with your child

Trust in the fact that the relationship with your child is unique. There is no other relationship where you get as many chances to repair, set things right, apologize, and start over.

Parents are just humans (trying their best!)

Parenting allows us to meet in the tough times and then move forward together. To fall back again. Someone has said that it takes as long to fade someone out of your life as the time you have lived together. Couple relationships rarely end as neatly in practice as they do in theory. End does not always mean completely over. Parents continue to be ICE in their phones and cook and fix the car for each other long after they have moved apart. We call each other when it’s hard and still sleep together even though we have broken up. And if our coparent meets someone new, we suddenly realize that it’s not too late and want to outshine the new one. We rarely talk about how separation processes look like this, but it’s actually normal. But even if the process wavers, you can work to create a stable parent team.

Malin Bergström
Child psychologist