“She doesn’t deserve my respect”
Monday, April 28, 2014 at 11:34AM
Essrea Cherin in child custody, ego, ex-spouse, identity, respect

“She took my kids away”

Several years ago a gentleman came to me for help with his ex-wife who had taken his kids away from him, after being completely absent from their lives for 8 years.

When they were two and four years old, she (we’ll call her Diane) took off one day with no warning, not to mention notice.  My client (we’ll call him Andrew,), a working class laborer, instantly became a single father with two small children.  The early years were incredibly challenging but he always managed.  Life evened out and he began to feel good about himself as a father, providing and caring for his kids the best he could.  The three of them found happiness and were very close.

After about seven years as a single father, he met a wonderful woman and they became engaged.  Somehow this news must have made its way to Diane, Andrew still does not know how because he had absolutely no contact with her for these seven years.

It was then that Andrew’s nightmare began.  Diane returned into their lives with a vengeance.  She demanded time with her kids, but Andrew felt protective of them, after all, she had ditched them while he had been a steadfast presence through all the hard times.  Who was she to waltz back in and demand time with her kids whom she had abandoned?

When she had disappeared eight years earlier, she had run off with a man who happened to be quite wealthy.  Andrew was still a blue collar laborer and when she took him to court to sue for custody of the children, his low-cost lawyer was no match for the attorney who represented Diane.  It had not occurred to him that it would make much difference; he was confident that the facts would speak for themselves: what judge could not see clearly that he was the responsible parent, not she? 

She was awarded 50% time with the kids, much to the dismay of Andrew and the kids, who were equally upset at being forced to leave their father and their home.  All three were heartbroken with this turn of events.

About a year later, Diane decided she wanted the kids all the time (Andrew had married his fiancée Ellen at this point).  Again, Diane’s high-priced and -powered attorney was able to somehow convince the judge that Andrew was an unfit father, and he lost custody of his kids completely.  He had been reduced to supervised visitation two days per month.

Anything but respect

His life had been destroyed by this evil woman!  How dare she take his kids away from him after he was the one who was there for them their entire lives?  He was enraged yet also completely defeated, overwhelmed by the feeling of powerlessness.  She was loaded, he had almost nothing, how did he ever stand a chance against her?

He and the kids were thoroughly distraught, having unjustly been torn from each other.  

Then he sought my help.  His goal was crystal clear: he wanted time with his kids back.  Exploding at Diane every time they spoke on the telephone was not getting him any closer to his goal.  

We discussed strategies to help him achieve his goal, but he adamantly refused to give her respect.  “She doesn’t deserve my respect!”  Indeed, she may not have deserved his respect: in her self-centered haze, she had inflicted many painful wounds.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, we tend to withhold the one thing that can help us get closer to achieving our own goals.  We are willing to forgo our stated goals in order to spite the other person.  Go figure: Andrew was unwilling to give Diane even one iota of respect because of how badly she had hurt him (this was his way of getting back at her -- she had destroyed his life, he was going to hurt her right back: there was no way he was going to give her what she wanted), even if it meant no more time with his kids!

“It worked!”

When assessing the costs involved for the options before him, he realized that time with his kids was infinitely more valuable to him than the respect he was refusing to give Diane.    Indeed, there was actually no physical cost in terms of time or money, merely a cost to his ego.  Once he realized that he was actually sabotaging his own efforts to regain time with his kids, he was able to see the absurdity of this unwavering stance.  It was not easy, but with his ‘eyes on the prize’ and some practice together, he determined to give the affirmation that she so desperately craved from him.

From one coaching session to the next, a week later, his entire countenance had shifted.  “It worked!”  He was elated, beaming in a way that I had never experienced before.  For the first time in several years, they were able to have a civil conversation that did not end in slamming down the phone and hanging up on each other.  By carefully tuning in to her identity claims, he did not withhold this time, he was able to acknowledge her for being a loving and caring mother, and whatever else helped to feed her self-esteem.  She responded favorably, giving him the courage to give even more.  She softened.  They were able to hear one another; he was most surprised to find that she actually listened to HIM!  This had never happened before, or at least not since she had disappeared many years ago.

With a few more weeks of coaching, their communication continued to improve.  I heard from him a year later that they had made a new arrangement and were sharing custody, 50/50.

Article originally appeared on Conflict Resolution and Management: Coaching Clients to Harmonious Results (http://www.embracingconflict.com/).
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