Conflict is inevitable. Conflict escalation is not
I’ve had joint custody of my son since he was 4. If you’re a coParent like me, you’ve probably noticed just how fertile an area it is for conflict. From disagreement, accusations and blame to guilt trips, insults and worse, the seeds of a heated exchange or a lingering dissatisfaction can sprout at any moment.
It took me many years to see these occasions as opportunities, but once I did, it transformed me. That in turn, significantly, changed my relationship with my ex (and my now teenage son!) for the better. But I guess you’re wondering, ‘opportunities for what?’. The missing piece to it all was Verbal Aikido.
Verbal Aikido is an art and a practice that focuses on the development of centered expression, neutral listening, and harmonious relations. CoParenting is just one of those relationships that give us so many opportunities to practice these skills!
How often have verbal attacks made you react with resistance, by either fight (justification/counter-attack) or flight (retreat/submission)? Even if you “win” in such an exchange, you can bet there’ll be revenge waiting for you around the next corner.
Next time you feel yourself taking offense at your ex’s attitude take a moment to center yourself. Create the necessary space for you to feel comfortable again and from there take another moment to deepen your understanding of what’s going on… without judgment. Try a sincere “What do you mean?”, “I’m listening” or “What would you prefer?”. Soon enough you’ll find that you’ve created an opening.
As the “attacker” is often expecting resistance, this opening can considerably destabilize them. Here’s where it can go two ways: kick them when they’re down and you can expect vengeance with a capital V, or propose a relationship builder – something with a “we” in it – and you’ll feel the de-escalation.
In essence, it’s three steps: I focus on me (my well-being), I focus on you (how you see things) and then I focus on us (where we can connect). It does take practice, but instead of resisting what we take as a verbal attack, we learn to develop the reflexes to protect ourselves and our attacker! Do it enough, and people start to find it pointless attacking you because they can no longer have a hold on you or dominate.
It took me a while, but I’m now grateful for my ex’s attitude, because without it, I may never have discovered Verbal Aikido, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to share it with so many others, and see young and old empowered to manage conflict.