Excerpt from “An Unexpected Journey: The Road to Power and Wisdom in Divorced Co-Parenting”
Imagine that you have a given amount of energy to expend in a day–let’s say 1000 units of energy. Knowing that you have a finite amount, you would want to make sure you spend your precious units engaging in actions that had value and effectiveness, actions that “packed a punch.” Right?
To be sure you expend your energy on productive actions or thoughts, you have to look at what you do and do not have control over. If you continually put energy into what you cannot control, you waste precious energy. Even worse, it keeps that energy from going into productive action. When it comes to acting in a way that will contribute to your own well-being and the well-being of your children, why would you want to waste that energy?
It is critical to recognize that you absolutely cannot control another person. You can INFLUENCE others, but you CANNOT CONTROL them. When it comes to your ex, you must accept that you cannot control them. You especially cannot control them if you are telling them or even just thinking about how bad and wrong they are, or if you are telling them or thinking about how they SHOULD be. Think about it. Do you respond well to someone who tells you that you are wrong or bad, or how you SHOULD be? Do you respond well to people who you know are thinking you are bad and wrong, even if they are not voicing it?
There is an exercise that I call “The Table.” Go to a table in your home and look at it for a minute. Now, describe the table in terms of its physical attributes, such as, it is made of wood, it is square or rectangular, it is three feet high, etc. Now ask yourself what you would and wouldn’t expect this table to do. For instance, you would expect this table to stay in the same place unless you move it, right? You would expect that if you put a plate on this table, the table would hold it up. But you would not expect the table to say “Good morning” to you and you would not expect the table to walk into another room.
You may laugh and say how silly, but what is really silly is that in spite of the fact that your ex has never behaved in some certain way, you continually expect them to behave in that certain way, and then get disappointed when they don’t.
Example: Your ex has never been a good listener and does not try to understand your point of view. But, when you talk to them on the phone, you get upset and disappointed that they aren’t listening and understanding your point of view.
Why do you expect people to do what they’ve never done? That’s like looking at the table and being surprised when you say good morning and it doesn’t say good morning back.
Letting go gains us power
When you accept what you cannot control, it may feel like losing power. But in reality, you gain power, because you now have energy to expend on productive actions.
For instance, a parent spends time on the phone with his ex engaged in an argument that goes nowhere. During this argument, the children are in the background, ignored and feeling the stress that this argument is creating. Even though this same parent has the grounded desire to raise a happy and fulfilled child, by engaging in this argument, the parent is working against his own grounded desires. If the parent accepted the fact they cannot change their ex and decided not to engage in the argument, instead turning their attention toward his children, they would be doing much more in the moment to contribute to their children’s overall well-being and happiness.
“Energy Wasting Should Dance”
The fact that you cannot control people means that you cannot make them do what you think they SHOULD do. Let me introduce you to what I call the “Energy Wasting Should Dance.” We humans have a lot of ideas about what others should and should not do. We say things like, “but my ex SHOULD pay more child support because it’s the right thing to do. It’s not OK that they don’t do that! They SHOULD!” OK, maybe they should, but they don’t and you can say that they should to yourself, to them, to your friends, to your child/ren, but repeating it over and over is not going to make them do it, so you are wasting your precious time and energy. If you are saying it over and over to people so that they will see how bad your ex is, you are also wasting your precious time and energy. Does it help anything for others to know how victimized you are or how wrong your ex is?
Be aware of the “Energy Wasting Should Dance.” When you hear yourself using the S word, stop. Remind yourself that your ex is The Table, and that it doesn’t matter what you think they should or should not do. Accept that they do exactly what they do, and ask yourself how you could better use your energy in this moment to achieve your deeply desired goals.
Acceptance and grief
The idea of accepting what you can and cannot control may seem simple, but it is not easy. You may have a difficult time accepting what you cannot control because it may mean accepting something that is very painful, or that you think may have a negative effect on our children. For instance, if you believe that your ex is mentally unstable, but the Court still grants them time with your children, it may be difficult to accept that you cannot control what happens when your children are with them, or the impact that your ex will have on your children over time.
Acceptance is often accompanied by sadness and grief. It is sad when you realize that you do not have control over the things that are nearest and dearest to you. It may sadden you deeply when you realize that you cannot create the kinds of live for your children that you imagined we would.
It is natural to try to turn away from grief, but ultimately, turning away from grief keeps you in a very stuck place. Allowing yourself to feel and move through grief moves us toward a calmer, more grounded place. From this place you can make decisions that are smarter and work more effectively, toward achieving your most cherished desires.