Easier said than done. Demonizing someone with whom we disagree or who has wronged us feels so good. We can look down from our vantage point of being good and right and honorable with justified disdain. And if that person is ending the relationship, it’s so much easier to see him walk out the door if we’ve first diminished and demonized him. Or her. Plus it has the distinct advantage of preventing us from looking at where we might have contributed to the discord. So tempting…
Yet if we have to maintain some sort of relationship in the future because we have children together or that person is a member of our extended family or friendship circle, where does that leave us? Where does it leave the other people we love in common? What is that relationship going to be like for us and those around us?
Instead of seizing on this coping mechanism, consider whether these steps, in the long run, might be a healthier approach:
- Check the impulse. Or at least be aware that demonizing is occurring. Step back from the situation, and try to observe the way an outsider might. Consider writing an objective news article about the trajectory of your relationship. “Jack and Sarah have been married for 18 years and separated one month ago. They have 2 children, ages 15 and 12. Jack maintains that he and Sarah grew apart after the children arrived and now they have little in common. Sarah maintains that Jack was verbally abusive and unsupportive. Both wish to remain active in the children’s lives and avoid allowing the divorce to damage them as much as they are able.” Write your own story as if you were the most objective journalist ever published. Make space for a more distanced view of what’s transpiring as your relationship is being reconfigured.
- Acknowledge your contribution. It’s highly unlikely that you were a perfect partner who never mis-stepped or made mistakes. Relationships, for the most part, aren’t sailing along blissfully one day and hitting a glacier the next that sinks the ship. It may feel like this is exactly what happened and so you review the past, looking for signs you may have missed, or figuring out why you stayed so long, or how you ever got married in the first place. It’s helpful to be as diligent about looking at your own contributions to the demise of the relationship as you are of your partner’s.
- Focus Forward. So much brain drain occurs when looking backward and at the other person. But far more important matters need your attention. Parenting plans have to be developed, support must be calculated and property needs to be allocated. Ruminating on all the ways in which your partner could be classified as evil may feel satisfying but it delays productive problem solving and future planning. Which will ultimately mean more to your life a year from now?
Choose to invest your mental energy where the dividends have long-term impact.
Wishing you wisdom,