Susan and Randy Montgomery are what the Rev. Roger Coleman calls "faithfully divorced." Their marriage may not have worked out the way they hoped it would, but as ex-spouses they do respect each other and amicably raise their children, even though they no longer all live under one roof.
On the battlefield that is usually divorce, Susan and Randy have worked out a rare truce.Too often, though, ex-spouses continue to hold onto anger and bitterness - the kind of emotional toxic waste that causes side effects in their children for years, and poisons the ex-spouses' lives as well.
In her recent, distressing book "Second Chances," California psychologist Judith Wallerstein reports that many of the children of divorce she studied - all of them now grown - are afraid to enter into intimate relationships themselves. Half of the children studied said that their parents were angry with each other even 10 years after the divorce.
With these and other studies in mind, Salt Lake psychologist Alan S. Mendelsohn offers these tips for divorced parents:
(BU) DON'T SAY NEGATIVE things about your spouse in front of your children.
(BU) DON'T ENCOURAGE your child to agree with you if you're negative about your ex-spouse.
(BU) DON'T PUT YOUR CHILD in "loyalty-bond" situations where he is expected to choose one parent over the other.
Even when children are not involved, however, it's healthy for people to find a way to come to terms with their ex-spouses, say psychologists.
"To the extent that they're not really healed from the experience (of a divorce), they won't be able to do well with a new partner," notes Mendelsohn.
"Most therapists would agree," he says, "that the average healthy person needs a year or two to recover from a divorce. A less healthy person needs even more time." That means no re-marriage during that time, he adds.
"As a psychologist I believe that the loss or break-up of a significant relationship triggers off old childhood feelings of abandonment," he says.
When people form a new relationship before they're healed, adds Mendelsohn, "since they're still needing an excessive amount of nurturing they inappropriately turn the new relationship into a quasi-therapy relationship." What seems to be intimacy is often just the divorced person wanting to unload his problems. But the nurturing only flows in one direction, notes Mendelsohn.
When both ex-spouses have managed to make better lives for themselves after the divorce, the chances for a healthy relationship between the ex-spouses improve, says Salt Lake psychologist Shirley McSharry.
But McSharry sees a lot of clients, most of them women, who feel that they have gotten a bum deal, and who continue to dwell on it.
"What I say to them," says McSharry, "is you have to stop focusing on him and learn to put him aside. You have to say, `I have a whole life to go on with. And whether it's as good as his life is beside the point.' "
"The word forgiveness comes to mind," says Salt Lake psychologist Lynn Johnson. "What helps is to literally forgive your ex-spouse for disappointing you."
Johnson suggests that those people going through a divorce do "grief work," much as a person might do after the death of a loved one. - Elaine Jarvik