By Karen McMahon
Co-parenting in contentious relationships creates additional challenges above and beyond those discussed in Part 1 of this series, Co-parenting Post Divorce: Tools & Strategies.
Take Off Your Armor and Put Down Your Sword
You may have been fighting for months or years over child support, custody, assets and personal property. Now that the divorce is over, you may feel overly sensitive, tender, suspicious and still defensive. Shifting out of your protective ‘armor’, letting down your defenses and being open to some flexibility within the parameters of your settlement agreement takes a conscious effort. Life is not black and white and the most well thought-out shared parenting plan is bound to run up against real life and the need for give and take.
How Important Is It?
I had a client who finally divorced and found his ex asking to switch a weekend and for a little more time that Sunday night. His response was, “ABSOLUTELY NOT!! THAT IS MY TIME!” With a little inquiry it turned out that the switched weekend had an upside for him and he had no particular plans that would preclude his ex from enjoying part of that Sunday night. However, his perspective was, “she is not going to take advantage of me anymore…” This type of reaction is understandable after a long battle, yet not very productive for creating the best possible expereince for your children or for fostering flexibility and good will with your ex.
This client was tired of being bullied by his ex and giving in on so much during the divorce. He wanted to set boundaries (understandably) but was inadvertently creating steel walls (boundaries are flexible and allow for openness). When he next needed mom to be flexible, his request would be less likely to be greeted with openness. Being cooperative and flexible in co- parenting is best for everyone.
He Didn’t Say What You Heard!
If you found it hard to communicate while married, chances are no one has changed dramatically and communication will continue be difficult. Imagine you have a filter in your ear. It includes your judgement, insecurity, fear and unforgiveness. It is the filter through which you interpret everything that is said to you. For instance, you believe your ex always finds you ‘at fault’. He begins talking to you about a problem, you hear accusation and get defensive, he reacts to your defensiveness and jabs back...and the two of you are off to the races!
Communication Tool: Stop and Clarify
Once your ex talks (especially if you are triggered), reiterate what you heard him say. He can then clarify or confirm. If he needs to clarify, you again reiterate what he said. Once you are in agreement with what he said, you can then respond to his words rather than your interpretation of his words.
Ex says: “There has been a problem with Mary getting to school on time”
You hear: You can’t seem to get Mary to school on time.
Ex clarifys: “That is not what I said. I am pointing out that we need to figure out what the problem is and make sure Mary gets to school on time”
You respond: “Okay, I hear you saying that you want to discuss both the problem and a solution to get Mary to school on time.
Ex says: Exactly
You share: At my house, Mary gets up early and is ready on time. Sometimes she gets distracted.
Ex responds: Are you saying I don’t get her up early enough at my house?
You clarify: That is not at all what I am saying. What I am sharing is that I realize while she rises early, she gets distracted and as a result, we end up running late. I’m curious, what unfolds during her mornings with you?
When you STOP AND CLARIFY what the speaker is saying, you are more likely to be HAVING THE SAME CONVERSATION rather than reacting to YOUR INTERPRETATION of the speaker’s words.
Acceptance: Your Ex Will Continue His/Her Typical Behavior
The issues that moved you toward divorce have not changed with your marital status. If your ex is difficult, if s/he has addictions, control issues, a personality disorder (or two), has anger management issues, is always late or untrustworthy, chances are they are still that way.
When you become angry or frustrated; when you continue to get upset by your ex...NOTICE YOUR PART. They did not change. If they wanted to or could have, (if you wanted to or could have) you might not be divorced. Therein lies the challenge...how do you co-parent with a person you could not ‘partner’ with in marriage?
Accepting how they behave will release an enormous amount of stress and tension. You have to let go of ‘it’s not fair’. This is NOT about accepting unacceptable behavior. You are accepting that there behavior continues to be what it has been. In acceptance, you are now empowered to respond rather than react or act surprised when your ex shows up as he/she usually does.
I could go on...please feel free to add your particular struggle here.
There are many other situations that come up. The key is to step away from the belief that you are a victim of your ex’s behavior and become aware of your options. Open your perspective to what those options are and teach your children through every difficult experience they face; in doing so, you turn every challenge into an opportunity.
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