Does the mere sound of your ex’s voice ignite a flood of emotions from somewhere so deep inside of you, you can’t even account for your response? Does your throat constrict, chest pound, stomach churn, blood boil or head swirl within seconds of an attempt at a conversation? Do you lose control of your capacity to respond like the intelligent person you know you are each time you engage? Would you like to change all that? You are not alone. The good news is: with a clear intention to change, mindfulness, and a plan of action, you can.
By the time a marriage has reached its end stage you have cached an entire set of assumptions about the other person’s intentions; few will be positive. In your divorce fantasy, you no doubt imagined that once the marriage was over, the power struggles that led to the fights that eroded your marriage would, like your marriage, be over. If you struggled with conflict resolution in your marriage and were unable to reach an amicable resolution using a divorce coach and or a mediator , the fears that drove your litigious divorce process will have deepened the divide.
Ideally you’d never have to speak again. End of story. Done! But, let’s face it, if you share children, you are going to have to communicate to co-parent effectively. There is no way around the ongoing need to talk about: child-sharing schedules, extra-curricular expenditures, holiday scheduling, the health or illness, educational concerns or goals of each child. That’s the short list. That’s if everything is going just swimmingly! Then there’s the much longer list of concerns that can lead to conflict: relocation of a spouse, remarriage, family blending, grief around the loss of a loved one you’ve disconnected with, bullying, delinquency, a newly discovered special need of your child, job loss, or other complex, sometimes life altering concerns. Don’t assume your children turn 18 and it’s over. There will be graduations, weddings, funerals, grandchildren and so much more. You are united for this lifetime. Even then it’s not over, the memories you help generate in this lifetime, will last for many more.
So what can you do?
Here are 5 Successful Strategies to help you claim control of your emotions and behavior when life calls upon you to communicate through conflict with your ex.
1. Set Your Intention
No one is in charge of how we feel or behave. If you give that power away you will be angry, but it should be with yourself. All change begins with an awareness of the problem and then a clear intention to change the way you deal with the problem in the future. Don’t expect perfection of yourself, but do take responsibility for, and learn from, your mistakes. How do you do that? Separate the person from the problem. You may find it helpful to journal your conflict. What issues are continually arising? How do you feel in that moment, and how do you feel after a cooling off period? What would you like to feel like, and what one step can you take to move from reation to reasoned response next time?
2. Set Your Expectations
The gap between what we hope for and what is, can be a painful chasm. Lower your expectations of your ex and raise your expectations of yourself. Not because I think that’s “fair” or that I’m trying to test or punish you, but because you can’t control his temper, his lateness, his rage or belligerent behavior, but you can stay in your own integrity and control how you will choose to respond to his behavior. Forgive the past, focus on creating a future rich with possibilities and you will begin to see things quite differently.
3. Set Your Boundaries
It’s important to decide before you are in conflict which issues you are willing to be flexible about and where you draw the line in the sand. Trust me, you do not want to show up for every argument! Dealing with a difficult ex requires that you be clear and firm about when, where and if you will even have ‘that’ conversation. Everything is not negotiable, that’s why you have an agreement, but life has unforeseen circumstances, that’s why you are willing to be flexible. Once your ex finally realizes that you cannot be bullied, pressured, shamed or otherwise manipulated into an argument as a way of resolving important issues you will have set the stage for healthy change and a sustainable outcome.
4. Change Your Behavior
Ask yourself: am I being assumptive? What is the heart of the issue? Ask yourself to listen without interruption. You may need to check in that you’ve got it before you respond. Notice how much more relieved and in control you feel when your exchanges do not result in conflict? Notice how you accomplished the best result, and do it again. Keep verbal exchanges to a minimum and out of earshot of the children, you will have less to regret. Allow calls to go to voicemail if you do not have privacy or the skills yet to manage your responses in the moment. Keep your emails focused on resolving concerns and avoid language that shames or blames the messenger. Be brief and clear. You can always say more, good luck retracting what you said. Notice your own behavior, don’t worry about theirs.
5. Practice Change Behavior
Are you in the habit of reacting right away to whatever your ex has to say to or about you? Now that you’ve decided you’d like to change, reset your expectations, clarified boundaries and practiced noticing your own emotional responses to conflict, it’s time to start practicing new behavior until it’s just the way you respond to conflict. In the early stages limit face to face discussions, communicating in the face of conflict is just plain hard. Take time to respond and do so in writing. Carefully consider the impact your words may have and ask yourself: “will this still be important next week, next month, next year, or will time just take care of this?” Allow your concerns or reply to a concern to simmer. Go do something you love doing before you come back and then review, edit and then if you really must, send. Sometimes the simple act of writing out your response without is enough to clarify and simplify the issue. A little time may give you an opportunity to consider more options and easily resolve it. If you are caught up unexpectedly in verbal conflict, bow out as soon as you notice where this is going and simply state: “It’s important to me to deal with this with a clear calm head, I’m going to give this some serious thought and get back to you by____” and frame a time. Then follow up by doing exactly what you said you would do. Stay in your integrity.
It not easy to change the way you communicate, especially when there is history of conflict that was severe enough to dissolve your marriage. When you assume responsibility for, and take control of, the way you respond to conflict with your ex, you will feel empowered and inspired to work through the important issues that affect your children and their well being. You will build your own conflict resolution skills, save time and energy, be less stressed and physically affected by your ex and in the process free yourself from the negative mindset sustained conflict creates. You are making room in your body and your life to thrive. Don’t you think you and your children are worth it?
Other useful links:
- Collaborating: win/win
- Compromising: win some/lose some
- Accommodating: lose/win
- Competing: win/lose
- Avoiding: no winners/no losers