Basic Conflict Resolution for Co-Parents
It's hard enough as a married couple to keep lines of good communication open and flowing. It can seem like an insurmountable problem if you are divorced. Your old ways of nitpicking at each other, anger and frustration will crop up again. After all, if you and your former spouse don't know each other's hot buttons, who does?
If you find yourself in conflict with your co-parent, here are some tips:
You are Divorced Now
You are no longer a couple who is trying to stay together and work on your marital relationship. The focus of your relationship must now shift from being about the two of you to being about two separate individuals doing your best to raise your children in the most amicable, cooperative way possible.
Make a Resolution to Start Fresh
A very effective way to move into a new relationship as co-parents rather than spouses is to give each other a chance to start anew. Give each other a clean slate and an opportunity to build a new and different relationship, leaving past arguments behind you.
You're a role model, and your children are watching you very, very closely. Showing your children that mom and dad can respect each other and resolve conflict respectfully will give them a good foundation for the conflict that arises in their own lives. Demonstrating respect involves a lot of non-verbal communication. Do your best to remain relaxed and focused, use a calm tone of voice and a concerned facial expression when tensions rise.
Don't Put it Off
If conflict arises, meet it head on and deal with it immediately. If you sweep it under the rug, it could add to your stress level and grow from a small issue to a large resentment. If it is a major concern, discuss it in private, away from the children. Be hard on the problem, not on the people. Focus on solutions rather than guilt, shame and blame. Make sure you are listening to your former spouse as you brainstorm for solution. It is tempting to hear everything your ex says as "yadda yadda yadda," so try to listen actively even though it may seem you've heard it all before.
Take the High Road
Once your children are grown, you won't have to parent together any more in terms of caretaking, discipline, school, health issues, etc. and you'll be out of the day-to-day contact which might be challenging you now. But keep an eye toward the future---it will be fun to be grandparents, and it will be easier if you can get along well enough to dance at your child's wedding and not make them choose where the grandkids spend Thanksgiving. If you want your children to have a good relationship with both you AND your former spouse, there will be times when you may have to put your own feelings aside temporarily. Keep in mind that you only have the power to change the things you can, and the rest is just something you'll have to let go.
Homes Sweet Homes
Your children now have two homes. To avoid conflict around custody and visitation schedules, be flexible, prompt and respectful. Also, don't use transfer time to discuss problems. Put agenda items in writing for a meeting later.
There will be many school and sporting events that your children will have that they will want you both to attend. Be on your best behavior at these times and as polite and nice to your former spouse as possible. Even making subtle jabs at each other in front of the kids' friends is humiliating and distracting. And no screwing around with coming late to practice, or skipping it altogether. Let your kids have a childhood.
Ask any adult child of divorce if this is good advice. I know it's tempting to take the low road during your divorce (I am divorced and remarried myself). But the short run rush you get from that biting comment or throwing a monkey wrench into your co-parent's plans is short lived, while the fall out may be permanent. Make your divorce easier on yourself by making it easier for your co-parent, not to mention your kids.
Diana Mercer is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin 2010), and Your Divorce Advisor (Simon & Schuster 2001) and a mediator at Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc.
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