“My ex is crazy!” The breakup of any marriage or parenting relationship is painful. But some cases seem to present extraordinary difficulties: battles over custody rights, incessant complaints about the (perceived) activities or attitudes of the ex-spouse, constant harassment or even legal threats can quickly wear on one’s patience and ability to turn the other cheek.
Sadly, such battles with one’s ex can wear on other relationships as well. A second marriage can be taxed emotionally and spiritually by the constant strain of navigating the relationship with the other parent of a current spouse. The stress of court dates and the continuous need for cautious communication can affect the way we deal with other family members, friends, or co-workers. And even when we try to deal honestly and respectfully with a difficult ex, eventually our brokenness and sin will show up somewhere.
How can we navigate such difficult relationships? In conversations with those stung by a jealous or vindictive ex, I have found several helpful themes:
Sin is not ok. Sometimes we feel helpless in the face of vengeful text messages, manipulative dealings through our children, or incessant legal hurdles. It’s important to know that God sees and understands. The psalms are full of such cries: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in miry depths, where there is no foothold” (Psalm 69:1-2).
Another person’s sin does not excuse our own. Humility about our own sinful tendencies helps to avoid the same kind of arrogance that may be driving an ex’s vindictive behavior. Are you prone to angry outbursts? Passive aggressive manipulation? Ask God to forgive and help you overcome such tendencies so that they will not become a barrier to reasonable solutions.
Realize that it may not be about you. It’s hard not to take things personally when you feel like you’re in the crosshairs of someone’s anger. And your history with an ex magnifies these feelings. But the behaviors you’re dealing with may say more about the other person’s issues than your own. It’s common, for example, for a person to become jealous when a former spouse gets remarried. They may not even realize where these feelings come from; perhaps they perceive the new marriage to be a threat to their relationships with children or important friends you shared. Even when the other person is being unreasonable, try to see how their behavior may be driven by insecurities more than personal hostility to you.
Electronic communication and discussion through third parties can present extra opportunities for misunderstanding. Read your emails and texts twice before sending them. Give yourself extra time to respond. Resist the temptation to pass messages along through children or other adults if there’s a way to communicate directly. If you sense hostility from an ex, save your text messages and document your communications so that you can refer to them if you’re ever questioned about your actions or motives. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs,” the Bible advises us (Eph. 4:29). This is good advice.
This is hard. When you’re unjustly hauled into court, when your kids are being used against you--it’s hard to see what God is doing. Sometimes those we deal with simply have evil motives. I’ve seen kids taken unjustly from their parents, and exes who are never brought to justice. But as the cross reminds us, no amount of evil can stop God’s work in us. Can we trust that promise?
We can’t control what other people do, or how they respond to their circumstances. We can guard our own hearts, and pray that God would make us worthy of his calling even in difficult circumstances, and that “by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness” (2 Thess. 1:11). God is faithful, and we can rest in him even in the difficult places in life. May God give you wisdom and grace to endure the challenges of navigating hard relationships in a broken world.