Most divorces are riddled with conflict. Even after all of the papers are signed and all of the legal matters have been settled, there is still the matter of trying to co-parent your kids.
Even in “good” divorces, there will still be times when you don’t exactly agree on something and these disagreements can threaten the peace you are trying so hard to establish.
How we have been taught to handle conflict
Do you remember learning about the “fight or flight response” in school? Fight or flight is our animal instincts taking over. In addition to an actual chemical response in our bodies, it is also a learned behavior that we can control.
Let’s take a look at these responses individually and see if you can identify your modus operandi when it comes to handling a conflict with your ex (or anyone).
Fight responses can include the following:
- Physical Violence
- Refusing to Listen
The messages or intentions behind these actions are usually something like:
- I’m Right / You’re Wrong
- To blame or punish
- To threaten
- I’m OK / You’re Not
The fight response basically is going for the outcome of “I win, you lose”. When you respond to your ex in this aggressive manner, you may win the battle but it does not help win the war.
These reactions do not bring about a peaceful family situation for your children and that should be your main goal.
The flight responses include:
- Pretending it didn’t happen
- Giving in
The messages or intentions behind these behaviors are:
- I’m wrong / You’re Right
- To avoid conflict
- To maintain peace
- To let the other person win
- I’m not Ok / You are OK
These passive behaviors lead to a “I lose, you win” mentality and while you may be able to avoid the argument, this leads to the position of playing the victim. You will eventually be eaten up with resentments and your sense of self will suffer.
So, if our animal instincts and chemical responses lead us to follow one of these behaviors – what are we to do?
Fortunately for us as humans, we have the capacity to learn new behaviors. We can even see conflict not as only a negative state of being, but also an opportunity – an opportunity to learn and practice new and creative ways to deal with problems.
Flow behaviors help us come out of conflict better off than we went in. They help to create a “I win, you win” outcome while also allowing you to be assertive with your needs.
- Discussing the issue
- Listening to others
- Explaining our own perspective and needs
The messages or intentions behind these flow behaviors are:
- There must be a way to solve this
- To sort out the problem
- To respect others
- To make sure everyone is satisfied with the solution
- I’m OK / You’re OK
So, how do you learn these new behaviors and train ourselves to react with “flow” when dealing with your ex?
The first step is to look at your past behaviors and recognize what your old way of dealing with conflict has been.
When a new situation appears that gives you that pit in your stomach feeling because you know it could lead to conflict (like you need to change the visitation schedule, or you have an issue with what your ex is feeding your children for dinner)– take a moment to work out a game plan.
The game plan should list your needs and perspectives on the situation. Try to look for reasons that are easy for your ex to agree with. Like too much fast food could lead to obesity, or your child will learn about a new culture by going on that trip with you.
Next, listen – really listen – without becoming defensive as to why your ex is not agreeing with you. You should be listening for his interests and perspectives about the situation.
If a solution is not evident at first, try brainstorming creative solutions. Everyone (even the kids, depending on their age) can come up with 5 possible solutions without worrying about how silly they sound of if they are actually possible.
I bet out of all those possible solutions, you will find that one of those will actually work for everybody and will be a “win/win” solution.
What do you do if your ex is firmly stuck in his fight or flight response. How do you get him to flow?
Just keep trying. Be a good example. It may be frustrating at first, but try to stay in the flow and eventually he may follow. Or he may not. Either way, you know that you are doing your best and you are changing your behaviors and in the end that will only benefit your children.