We all know most big conflicts start with something someone said. We are supposed to shield our children from conflict but it is easy to escalate into conflict when there is a breakdown in communication. Why does this happen so frequently between co-parents? Well there are many reason, but I will outline three of the biggest culprits below.
Remember that your kids are always watching and learning from you. That is why is it so important to find ways to draw in the hooks that the other parent can use to trigger you. When you learn to do this, your kids will learn how too, which will serve them big time over the course of their lives.
“I would not have said that if she had not accused me.” “The other parent was rude and I don’t have to put up with that.” “The other parent made me so mad so I could not help myself.”
These statements are simply justifications for losing control and engaging in the conflict. No one can make you say or do anything. What you do is your choice and you alone are responsible for your part in any communication breakdown.
My advice: Learn to detach emotionally from the other parent. Identify your triggers and make a plan of how to respond rather than to react with the other parent. After a relationships ends, it is stands to reason that the other parent will know how to get your goat. Don’t let them. Refuse to engage in negative interchanges. Let the other parent say and do whatever they want, and then take the high road. It is better to be happy than to be right. Stop trying to prove yourself to the other parent and you and the children will be better off.
2. But they are wrong!
A lot of unnecessary arguments occur because parents think that are right and that the other parent needs to be corrected somehow. Even if you really are right, what gives you to right to tell the other parent they are wrong? In my practice, I encourage parents to mind their own business. Stop trying to change, teach or school the other parent. They have the right to be wrong if they want. Accept the fact that the other parent has a right to do thing you do not approve or agree with. Frankly, there are always more than one way of doing things. Many things parents argue about come down to issues that won’t matter very much in the long haul.
My advice: I like to see parents loosen up a little and stop trying to control everything.
Learn to drop the need to prove anything to the other parent. Your relationship is over now. Co-parents do not appreciate being instructed by one another. Live and let live. Any attempt to prove a point to the other parent will likely lead to an argument that will get you nothing in the end but bitterness and grief.
3. I just want!
Many parents in these situation just want more than the other parent will ever give them. What you think is a simple request is something the other finds insulting or out of line. I recently heard a parent plead that he just wanted to talk to the other parent to let them know he did not want anything but the best for the kids. The problem was that the other parent did not care to listen to him or validate his intentions. He was nearly begging her for validation and understanding but she would not provide it. So many arguments escalate because we cannot accept no for an answer. You will not get everything you want. The other parent does not have to indulge you.
My advice: Get over it. Drop some of your wants and accept that “no” means no. Stop trying convince or gain understanding from the other parent. When you finally realize that not getting what you want is not the end of the world, then you can disengage in communication before the escalation begins.
Co-parenting is different from parenting within the context of an intact relationship. After divorce, we have much less influence, if any, with the other parent. Our children will benefit from having two parents who can work together, give / accept legitimate feedback from one another, and admit it when they have gone off course in parenting. However, this type of working relationship can be quickly eroded by criticism, put downs, control and, or chronic boundary invasions in co-parenting. Parents are well advised to stick to positive communication with the other parent so that when something big does need to be discussed in co-parenting, the relationship can withstand the encounter.
Erin Bunnell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent over 20 years working with co-parents in a program that helps reduce conflict, establish appropriate boundaries and protect children from the effects of chronic conflict after divorce or separation. As a divorced parent herself, Erin uses her own co-parenting experiences to help parents heal, cope, and find positive ways to move forward in a high conflict co-parenting relationship. You may reach Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org.