The Secret To A Successful Relationship With Your Ex
It’s not often you hear love and respect used in the same sentence as divorce — if you’re anything like the majority of people going through it, acrimony and pain might be more like it.
(Unless, of course, you managed to untie the knot both lovingly and respectfully. If so, that’s awesome. But don’t stop reading here).
If you’re in the midst of a breakup, or are currently navigating a separation or divorce, you’re probably feeling anything but love and respect right now. I know: I’ve been there.
But can things be different?
Sure, the idea of love and respect in even the worst breakup is nice, but let’s be honest: it sounds like a bit of a fairytale. But recently I heard something that made me understand a whole new way to consciously and practically bump up the love and respect over the course of a breakup. In fact, what I learned can help in any relationship situation at all – be that with your spouse, ex, children, parents, work colleague or a new partner.
What I heard both shocked and inspired me. I say shocked me because having been married and being a mama of two, I thought I knew a fair bit about love and respect.
Truth is: I’d only scratched the surface.
What I heard dug so much deeper. And, it made a lot of sense.
I kicked myself: if only I’d known this sooner it would’ve positively impacted my marriage; my separation; the up and down relationship with my ex. The good thing is, I know that now I’ve heard this, it will only help strengthen the beautiful bond I have with my children.
The ‘aha’ moment
To set the scene: I was driving home after delivering my children to their father’s house for the weekend. I switched off the radio and pressed play on a podcast called Recognizing your son’s need for respect by Focus on the Family. (I know, I know. In my only child-free time I resort to schooling myself on better ways to parent!)
I was driving, and listening. Driving, and listening. And, then it happened: one of those eye-popping ‘aha’ moments (made famous by Oprah!).
Now, what I’m about to share is by no means a secret.
If asked, you’d probably say, ‘Oh yes, of course, I know that!’ But knowing and understanding are two sides of a coin! And doing? Well, that’s a whole other thing.
The juicy details…
The University of Washington psychologist John Gottman led a study of 2,000 couples for 20 years. Two decades down the track, he confirmed that his team had identified the two ingredients necessary for a successful marriage. When these ingredients are present the marriage succeeds, and when they’re not, the marriage fails.
Yep, you guessed it: love and respect. Sure, sure, I hear you saying, what’s new. But it’s a little more complicated than it may first appear.
So, what’s the real problem in a relationship?
Best-selling author and Founder and President of Love and Respect Ministries, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs says,
“successful relationships are the ones carried along with a tone of love and respect towards each other while they are dealing with the ‘real’ issues.”
In other words, “it’s our attitude toward each other during those moments of conflict; that really is the key. If you’re going to come across as hostile or contemptuous to the spirit of the other person”, that’s when the other person deflates and suddenly the issue is no longer the issue.
This is where the trouble starts… and can stop.
Enter the ‘Crazy Cycle’!
Did you know that most men fear being disrespected and inadequate more than feeling alone and unloved? True story: Shaunti Feldhahn, a best-selling author, popular speaker and renowned social researcher discovered this during the course of her research.
And guess what? A woman’s biggest fear in a relationship is feeling unloved.
She’s not just talking about romantic relationships, either: this can apply to your ex, co-parent, friend or boss.
So, what’s the issue?
When an issue arises (whether about co-payments, children’s visitation, new partners on the scene, sex etc.), the minute there is a disagreement or one party feels like they have their back up against the wall, a woman will find herself saying something to a man like, ‘You’re never here’, ‘You never spend enough time with the kids’, ‘You don’t make enough money’, etc.
He then feels disrespected and inadequate.
So, what happens next?
A man replies with, ‘You never had time for me’, ‘You never made an effort to look good for me’, ‘I’ve had enough of you – I’m going to the pub with the boys’ etc.
She then feels unloved.
And, bingo! You’re off and racing. You’re now on a downhill black run… spiraling faster and faster…and you can’t get off. It’s called the ‘Crazy Cycle’.
(BTW – it doesn’t matter who started it!)
Both parties disconnect from each other – pretty much for the sole reason of protecting themselves from their own biggest fear.
So, here’s the secret for success…
Women will respond better to a man when they are addressed in a loving way.
Men will become more connected to a woman when they are addressed in a respectful way that makes them feel like they are absolutely enough (i.e. adequate).
Eggerichs says, “If you want to motivate (someone), the way in which you do that is by meeting their need, especially during conflict, and watch what happens. (They) will connect with you.” They will stay engaged and resist the need to withdraw, get aggressive or shut down.
“No man feels a fond feeling of love and affection in his heart toward a woman he thinks despises who he is as a human being any more than a woman is going to respond to a man who is harsh and angry.”
OK, but how am I supposed to respect my ex after what they did?
One very important point to note: Eggerichs is talking about the power of showing love and respect toward the spirit of an individual, not about respecting their bad behavior.
“We do not respect bad behavior; that’s stupid,” he says. “We don’t love unacceptable behavior, but we lovingly and respectfully confront that behavior.”
And here’s how it’s done
Identify when you’re on a ‘Crazy Cycle’: that is, when the issue you are discussing is no longer the issue and you’ve gone down that black hole.
Call an immediate timeout on the conversation: this will help you avoid situations when you say or do something you may regret, or that could harm your case in court. It’s also very important in preventing your children from being exposed to conflict.
Take a moment and recognize the other person’s biggest fear (Is it feeling unloved? Or, is it feeling disrespected and inadequate?).
Re-approach the conversation using some new vocab allowing you to better connect with your ex (or spouse etc).
Choose your words
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it – and it’s time to introduce a whole new vocab to your relationship. Add a few new words or lines into your conversation when addressing an issue and you’ll be way better placed to get the result you want — while keeping your ex happy, to boot.
Eggerichs suggests that women use lines like these when addressing men:
I’m not trying to say this to diss you or dishonor you.
I believe in you more than I think you believe in yourself.
I know you are an honorable man, but for the life of me, I can’t believe why you did that.
I don’t respect what you did, but I respect you.
That conduct is unbecoming of who I really believe you to be. I see so much in you. Can you explain this disconnect here?
I really believe in you, but I don’t understand what’s going on here.
Let’s take a five-minute timeout because I’m too upset right now, and we’re going to come back and visit this respectfully.
And suggests that men use lines like this when addressing women:
I don’t know how to do this loving thing. Please help me know what your heart needs right now.
You know my father didn’t love (if that’s true) and I’m trying to be more loving to you as the mother of my children (or my wife).
I would die for you.
I can’t believe what you did here. How do I do this lovingly?
I don’t know how to be as loving as I ought to be, and I’m struggling with the changes we’re going through within our marriage (or as single parents) but I want you to know that I do love you and respect you as the mother of our children.
I feel horrible as a man who doesn’t know how to love, but I’m so spitting mad, we need to take a timeout.
I want to do the loving thing here, but I don’t know how to do it.
Want to know more? Go ahead and check out these links:
The Language of Love and Respect: Cracking the Communication Code with Your Mate by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
Mother & Son: The Respect Effect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn
For Men Only by Shaunti Feldhahn
“Learn the Two Key Ingredients for Successful Relationships” with Dr. Emerson Eggerichs
I truly hope this blog has planted the seed for new ways to help make the relationship with your spouse, ex or other special people in your life much more positive and successful.
If you’re currently facing the reality of a breakup, separation, divorce, co-parenting journey or are a victim of domestic abuse, download Hello Mojo’s documenting app to help you get everything on the record – information, communication and evidence – so you’re ready for any legal obligations that may arise.
For more support, download my FREE e-book, 5 Separation & Divorce Hacks. It’s packed with helpful tips and advice from those who’ve been right where you are now. It will help you go in the right direction faster, and less painfully.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you incorporate love and respect into conversations with your spouse or ex, and what works best for you. Let me know in the comments below.
You’re doing just fine. Take it one day at a time. And remember, be especially kind to yourself.
Founder | Hello Mojo