How can I reduce our adult conflicts?
It’s no surprise that parents’ conflicts after a separation can hurt their children, regardless of age. Anger and disappointment lie heavy over the entire parent-child relationship. Can we do something to lessen the parental conflicts or must we just accept the arguing and bad atmosphere? What concrete steps can we as parents take to reduce parental conflicts and prevent new ones from arising?
Why do we get so angry?
If you’re feeling betrayed, hurt or angry at your co-parent following a separation, it can be especially difficult to shift focus from the infected adult relationship to how the conflict is affecting your child. It’s hard to be rational when you’re angry. Our emotions take the lead over reasoning and logic and can influence our muscles and behavior before we can stop ourselves. But with all the anger and fighting, you’re still investing energy in each other. If you cool down the infected contact, you’ll free up energy for both your child and yourselves. It’s important to dampen the parental conflict for the sake of your children!
What can I do to reduce conflict?
It’s important to recognize that even if I have been part of the conflict in the past (maybe I even started it sometimes?), I can now choose to act differently and not contribute more aggression. It’s also worth considering why I react so strongly in my relationship with my co-parent. That’s an important and great first step. You can also try doing one of the following.
Try to accept the situation as it is
This can be tough. Maybe you’ve been left and had your heart broken. At the same time you have to help when the kids are with the coparent, even though less time with the kids is the last thing you want. It’s a difficult situation. When we say “try to accept” it doesn’t mean you have to like what’s happening – but you accept that it is what it is instead of fighting against it*. Acceptance frees up energy and you can spend more time making it as good as possible for you and the kids (and maybe even the coparent eventually as your cooperation hopefully works better).
*If your parent is subjecting you or your child to threats, violence, or other crimes, it is important that you immediately seek help from the police and social services.
Establish a neutral communication
Separations can be tough, but it’s important to remember that occasional arguments are normal and don’t necessarily have a lasting effect on your children. The more intense the conflict between you is, the more important it is to establish a neutral form of communication that creates distance and can help cool the situation down. Neutral communication means communicating in a way that doesn’t add to the already heated atmosphere.
Think of your coparent as a “colleague”
Sometimes it helps to think of the coparent as a colleague at work, with whom you share responsibility. Then it’s obvious to greet each other, answer when the other calls, and assume that the coparent, like yourself, wants the best and is working towards the same goal. Even if it feels awkward at first and a bit strained, it might be good to stick to the “professional relationship” instead of falling into old patterns that lead to arguments.
Restrain from revenge
Anger can lead to using your children as a weapon against the other parent. Revenge can become more important than the wellbeing of the children. Perhaps you disregard agreements to pick them up at a certain time or plan activities in the other parent’s week. This creates confusion and disappointment for the children and anger for the other parent. The purpose of this disrespectful behaviour might be to add fuel to the conflict, and if you respond with anger you have given your coparent what they wanted. If you can stay neutral and not feed into the behaviour, then the chances of it dying down increase. Behaviour is reinforced when it is rewarded. Again, think of your new relationship as “co-workers”!
Talk to your child
Children need help understanding these types of situations, but the balance between explaining and speaking ill of the other parent is difficult. You may confirm that the parent is angry with you and that it contributes to them being late or not showing up. The child needs to hear that they themselves are not to blame for the strained relationship and may need support in being able to tell you how they feel, both for you and their other parent. Acknowledge that you see your child’s vulnerability in the conflicts between you. When you talk to your child, it will help you understand how you can ease the situation and protect your child. If you cannot concretely help your child to avoid those things they suffer or are scared of, you can empower them in how they can protect themselves.
If conflicts still arise
Remember that your efforts for change are never in vain for the child! Children notice when you are trying and it takes time to change patterns. To move forward, you can do this:
- Try to minimize contact with your co-parent for a while and use the Varannan Vecka app to keep all communication about your child in one place. This will help to alleviate the stress of everyday life and help you avoid more verbal disagreements that can easily escalate.
- Let the handovers take place at the preschool or at school to avoid meeting each other. On weekends and holidays, you can use the help of relatives.
- Never bad-mouth your coparent in front of your child, but try to use moderate words to explain your difficulties.
- Look closely at how the child is affected (here is your strongest motivation). What does the child see, hear, and feel? How can it be safeguarded?
- Don’t encourage your child’s conflict with their other parent, but empower them to speak up.
- Practice speaking positively about what the co-parent does well: “Mom is really good at cheering you on when you play basketball.”
- If your coparent is having difficulty keeping agreements, the child needs to be able to talk about the insecurity it creates.
- Think ahead to when your child is older and will be having their graduation party, even though it’s far in the future. How do you want your coparent relationship to look like then? What can you do to make it happen?
- Take care of yourself! What do you need to feel good and safe? Do more of that and shift your focus to the things that fill your energy!
One more thing…
….relationships are something you do, not something you have. It takes time and energy to break old patterns and create new ones. If you do what you can from your side, to minimize the number of parental conflicts, you have put your child first in one of the most meaningful ways for the child!