Dealing With Conflict, Getting started

Co-parents Who Feel the Need to “Win” Arguments

A great deal has been written about the fact that when spouses feel compelled to win their arguments with each other, they end up losing their relationship.
(5 min 10 sec read)

Mark Baer
Mark Baer is a lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution consultant.

A great deal has been written about the fact that when spouses feel compelled to win their arguments with each other, they end up losing their relationship, likewise, when co-parents feel the need to win their arguments at all costs, their relationship worsens. According to John Gottman, a world-renowned relationship expert, the key to long-term happy and healthy marriages is not the absence of conflict and disagreements, but the manner in which couples address them. Such couples demonstrate mutual respect and engage in dialogue in order to fully understand each other’s perspectives. Then, they problem-solve, to the extent necessary.

In 2008, Dan Ariely published his New York Times bestseller book titled Predictably Irrational, in which he clearly shows that people’s decision-making tends to be as the title of the book describes.

Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. He does research on the irrational ways people behave by repeatedly and predictably making suboptimal decisions in many aspects of their lives and what could help change some of these patterns. One such pattern is the belief that fighting against each other solves problems. In fact, this is why Dan Ariely was a keynote speaker at the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals’ 12th annual Forum in 2011.

Unless you’re reading this article out of curiosity or to assist others, chances are that you have a child or children with someone to whom you’re no longer married or romantically involved, assuming any such relationship ever existed in the first place. That being said, to what extent did disrespect, a lack of understanding and the need to ‘win’ arguments contribute to the demise of that relationship? Now that you’re no longer married or romantically involved with each other, engaging in such behavior will not be effective with regard to your ongoing co-parenting relationship.

The need to ‘win’ arguments is not conducive to happy marriages, positive family dynamics, or interpersonal relationships of any type and it does nothing to build mutual understanding. As has long been said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Along those lines, the following is a quote from an article titled The Importance of Relationships in Negotiation by Jeswald Salacuse that was published by Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation on November 9, 2017:

“People tend to respond to others’ actions with similar actions, research in the social sciences has found. If others cooperate with us and treat us with respect, we tend to respond in kind.”

Now, allow me to share the following quote from John Keith, the 2017-2018 chair of the Los Angeles Lawyer Editorial Board from the From The Chair column in the October 17, 2017 edition of Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine:

“It is axiomatic that, as attorneys, we have a duty to advocate for our clients’ interests zealously within the bounds of the law. It is inherent in our role that we fight other peoples’ battles, but this duty encourages us to identify with our clients and view their battles as our own.”

In other words, attorneys are gladiators who are brought on to effectuate a ‘win’ for their clients. In fact, on April 27, 2016, at the Beverly Hills Bar Association’s program titled Tips from the Legends, Stephen A. Kolodny referred to himself as a gladiator. Moreover, on March 27, 2016, a family law attorney addressed her colleagues as “fellow warriors” on a family law listserv, in which I am a member.

If that’s how attorneys see themselves and view their role, then you need to consider whether that’s really what you need. Was your inability to fight your own battles a reason why your marriage or romantic relationship with each other ended, or did that lead to or otherwise reflect the breakdown of that relationship? Keep in mind that while that relationship may be over, you are still both parents to the child(ren) you had together. While that may not be a romantic relationship, it is a relationship nonetheless – a co-parenting relationship.

Like it or not, if there are children of the relationship (regardless of their age), the family still exists after the romantic relationship ends. The manner in which you end a relationship determines whether your family will be functional or dysfunctional from that day forward.

While it may or may not register with people who have children together that they are tied together for life by virtue of those children, they don’t typically seem to realize that “the manner in which you end” that relationship most certainly involves how you choose to address any conflicts and disputes you have with each other. Although such conflicts and disputes may exist, that doesn’t mean that you’re in battle with each other, should commence battle with each other, or should continue an existing battle. 

I’ve long been involved in a “lawyers-only” business networking group and have yet to receive any referrals from any of the members who aren’t  themselves mediators. And, my experience isn’t specific to me. I’ve spoken with many mediators who have since left that networking group for the exact same reason.

During a recent conversation I had with a very dear psychologist friend of mine, she explained that the problem isn’t that I’m not clearly describing what it is that I do, but that my approach doesn’t make sense to them. Nothing I do or say will change that reality because not all beliefs are fact-based, regardless of how sincerely held they may be. I need to consider how their belief system led them to their career of choice. It’s irrational for me to believe that people who sincerely believe that they’re helping their clients solve problems by fighting their battles as professional warriors and gladiators will agree with, let alone understand, my approach.

Self reflection is paramount. Now, let me ask you this, to what extent has your decision-making with regard to your choice of process, approach, and selection of professionals been predictably irrational?

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