One way to finding peace in our co-parenting is by examining our emotions. Our emotions are indicators of unmet needs.
Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, points out we tend to express our needs indirectly through the use of evaluations, interpretations, and images. A person may say to a partner “I feel like you never understand me.” This is an indirect expression of a need to be understood. But what the partner most likely hears is a criticism of their disinterest, ineptitude or incompetency. When someone hears anything that sounds like criticism, the normal reaction is to go into the self-defense mode. Defensiveness erects a barricade that shuts down communication and understanding. The more a self-centered coParent can directly connect feelings with needs and articulate them, the easier it will be to take control over fulfilling those needs, especially when interacting with the other parent.
Unfortunately our culture does not put much emphasis on pinpointing our emotions and expressing them precisely. We rely on words like “angry” and “mad” to cover a long list of more specific emotions. Your first task is to examine the abstract ball of emotional reactions and pare it down the specific emotions you are feeling. You may wish to consult the more extensive list in Rosenberg’s book that lists emotions we feel when our needs are met and the emotions we feel when our needs are not met.
Examine the thoughts you have in connection with specific emotions. What thoughts, positive and negative, do these emotions evoke? Try to be as specific as possible and write down your thoughts. Be careful to identify an actual feeling and not just an opinion that is not actually a feeling. It is common to say “I feel that…” as a description of what we are thinking. That is actually an opinion. Try to identify your specific emotions without saying “I feel that …” Compare the following:
“I feel that you are irresponsible as a parent.”
“I feel overwhelmed with carrying so much of the load.”
The first statement is an opinion. It will be received by the coParent as a criticism. The second statement is the identification of a feeling that the parent is having – being “overwhelmed.” The final step is to take an overview and evaluate your thoughts.
What is not being taken care of? What do you wish you had more of? These are the needs you want to satisfy.
“I am overwhelmed.”
“I am tired and frustrated.”
“I need more help.”
“I need more resources.”
Once the needs are identified, then you can set goals for problem-solving. Your need for more help and more resources is the problem you can work to solve.