Meeting your own enemies of emotions during the co-parenting journey? You are not alone. Let’s take a look at how to manage the roller coaster. Many separating parents blame each other for problems and think that the other parent is the enemy. This solves nothing, even if you are right. The causes of what is called intractable conflict have been studied. Those causes are the enemy, not the other parent:
- Emotional reactivity. Parents who have been in a romantic relationship that has deteriorated to the point of separating usually have a history of reacting with strong negative emotions to one another. Often, those reactions are justified by what actually happened. Those reactions might be fear, anger, loathing, contempt and hurt. All of those feelings are part of the intimate relationship, but need to be kept out of the co-parenting relationship.
Antidote: Practice detaching and not reacting. Take a breather before deciding on an action. Reject the invitation into the old dramas and arguments that are likely to turn out the way they always have.
- Feeling superior. There are three simple truths: most children have a favorite parent; one of the parents is more skilled at parenting than the other parent in most families; even the best of parents make mistakes and have faults. This last truth is interesting because it turns out to be good for children. By practicing life with parents and siblings, children learn that people make mistakes in relationships. They also learn to tolerate some traits that they do not like and are irritating.
Antidote: Be happy that your child has someone with whom to practice tolerance. Remember that children do better in the long run with two parents rather than one. Use problems between the child and the other parent to teach your child skills that will be helpful throughout their lives.
- Inferential thinking. We make sense of our world by making inferences. We see someone smile at us, and we infer they are friendly. Our child is hanging her head, and we infer that something is wrong. By making sense of our world, we can decide what to do. However, inferences are guesses, and guesses can be wrong.
Antidote: Information sharing procedures will help a great deal. The more information you have, the less you have to guess. Ask! If you infer something negative, ask the other parent about it. If you are right, you just have a problem to solve; if you are wrong, you find out.
- Loose ends. All parental separations have “loose ends.” Those can be unresolved conflicts, questions about what really happened and so on. The problem with focusing on loose ends is that you are facing the wrong direction. You are looking backwards, into the past, instead of forward, to the future, which is what matters.
Antidote: Accept that there are and will always be loose ends. You may never figure out why the dream failed, and you certainly will never figure out whose fault it was. Blaming the other parent or yourself is just another way of staying stuck in those loose ends.
- Being “right.” There is no more formidable enemy in human relations then being right. When two people disagree and both believe that they are right, they have two choices: to try to win or to solve the problem. Although they rarely work, “winning” strategies include escalating, bullying, making the same arguments over and over, “case building” by getting experts, articles or asking others, and litigation in courts.
Antidote: The issue is what to do when two people disagree and both think they are “right.” The first step is always to present a case supporting your position and listening to the case the other person presents. One might be more persuasive than the other, and it is wise to change your mind at times, when appropriate.
From COPARENTING TRAINING WORKBOOK For Separating or Separated Parents by Kenneth H. Waldron, PhD and Allan R. Koritzinsky, Esq.