Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Revenge - A Dish Best Not Served at All
The title of this article is taken from the Sicilian saying Revenge is a dish best served cold. Aside from all of the moral and philosophical admonitions I could give you about revenge, the most practical reason to let the urge to retaliate against your ex fade from your emotional landscape is that revenge is almost certain to come back to bite you. In the context of high-conflict family difficulties the bite can be quite nasty—reduced time or supervised visitation with your kids, restraining orders, and possibly jail.
In order to succeed at revenge you have to be really clever and really, really patient. You have to be clever enough not to get caught doing something while you are dealing with the court system, and while lawyers and possibly other clever strangers (as well as friends, family members, new spouses, and your children) are watching your ex's back. Then, you have to quiet all of your other emotions—the disappointment, the anger, the urgency to even up the score swiftly—all of which rob you of the most important element of revenge, which is opportunity. In short, too many people know you and your motives, and the frustration of the situation you are in puts you in a bigger mess than you are already in—so don't seek revenge.
Instead of trying to line up all of those planets only to give the other person a shot at going after you again, it might be best to focus on another quote—this one by George Herbert, a fifteenth-century clergyman and poet: Living well is the best revenge. Moving on from a horrible divorce, breakup, or battle over the kids is sometimes all you have to do to irk someone who has gone out of his way to make life miserable for you.
So many people report to me that an ex has ruined their lives. That seems hard to believe. Maybe they have harassed you for a portion of it; maybe they got more than you did out of the divorce or breakup. To permit another person to reduce your life to ruination—well, that's something that you have to participate in. You have to help that happen. You have to make your world so small and monochromatic that one person has the power to destroy it all. If that is so, problems with your ex are the least of what you need to get straightened out.
I am not saying you should settle for something grossly unfair, and I am not saying that you should forfeit a meaningful relationship with your children. Quite the contrary. I think you should do everything you can to show your kids you want to be an important part of their lives, as long as you do it in a way that is not a weak front for really hurting someone who has hurt you, because then you don't have your kids' needs in mind.
Sometimes, it is wise to lay back and see what the simple passage of time does for your predicament. I wish I had a dollar for every parent who was "alienated" from her child by a wicked and malicious parent, only to leave it alone for a while and have the kids come to her and tell her how horrible it was to live without her. There are no guarantees that this will happen in every case, but I have seen it happen often, especially when the alienated parent could point to a history of a loving and caring relationship with the kids before she was rejected.
And remember, laying off is not the same as "giving in" or "giving up." The difference is the difference between forcing opportunity and waiting for opportunity. You can only pull something unwilling to come to you so hard. When that doesn't work, let go and watch. You can always come back and fight; the courts are always there. If you permit yourself to lay back a little, you will often be surprised at how much movement things make on their own.
- Don't follow the co-parent around after an argument, especially if your child is around. There's a good chance you're going to be accused of harassing or stalking.
- Don't call the co-parent repeatedly and hang up the phone. In many states this is considered a crime, and even if it isn't, this behavior is not very gratifying and will probably get you in trouble.
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