Divorce is a stressful process. There are battles—custody, among many others—which take negative emotions to new heights. Managing conflict in divorce is tricky. One wrong turn and you’re headed down resentment road. It’s natural to get frustrated even while trying to be calm and cool.
When a marriage ends, you have to make so many adjustments to your life, big and small. Both you and your Ex will find yourselves feeling both confused and angry. With children involved, it becomes vital that you keep conflicts at a minimum. But when they do happen, the way you deal with these conflicts with your Ex is one of the biggest things that can impact your child’s wellbeing and it’s one thing about your divorce that’s fully in your control.
When you and your Ex work together as a team to resolve your problems, it’s reassuring for your children, particularly when you do so with a positive attitude.
Below are some ways you can manage your emotions and avoid conflicts during your divorce.
Get rid of all the negative emotions
Before you and your Ex sit down to discuss the logistics of how and when you’ll end your marriage, you have to let go of negative thoughts and emotions. Let go of all your past grievances and issues, including feelings of sadness, guilt, fear, or anything else that might make it harder to discuss things at hand effectively.
If you are feeling angry, write it down. But don’t get into a shouting match. It won’t get you anywhere. Find ways to release your pent-up emotions. Try going for a run or working out at the gym. This will help you get through tough talks and makes it easier to get your point across.
It’s wise that you take a flexible approach if your Ex wants to change how you coparent your children. This is the only way you’ll be able to cope with the arrangements. Chances are that you might have to make changes to your schedule or ask for a favor if you have a busy day at work. If your new partner wants to spend time with you and your children, those are boundaries you might also want to talk to your Ex about.
Look at the big picture
When you are in the middle of negotiating your divorce settlement, it’s easy to lose perspective and get caught up in a whirlwind of emotions. There is going to be a sense of urgency in everything. You must relax, though, and try to look at the big picture.
The best way to do so is to envision your future. How would you want it to look like 10 to 20 years from now? Would you still want to be stuck in this emotional turmoil and feel resentful toward your Ex? Or would you rather want to be at peace and have moved on with your life? If you’re a parent, think about how you would want your children’s future to look like too. These are the questions you should ask yourself, and then do your best to get through the stress of managing conflict in divorce.
Work on your listening skills
Learning how to listen is something that will help you tremendously in the long run. After a few years, when you look back, you won’t feel resentment because both of you took the time to listen to what the other person has to say. If you constantly interrupt each other and are adamant about having the last word, you can never truly end your conflict.
You need to be patient and listen to what others have to say. Rather than thinking about the perfect come back, listen to your Ex’s words and try to understand what they want. Consider the possibility that you might have failed to listen to him* in the past. By being a good listener, you are going to boost your communication skills and develop an understanding of someone else’s perspective.
Although a short-term and structured process, mediation could assist you and your Ex with any financial and coparenting issues you may have. You’d bring someone along—a professional, a close friend, or a family member—who could sit with you both and help you reach an agreement. Later on, your attorneys would review that agreement.
In some states, when the parents are unable to agree on parenting time or custody, mediation becomes a requirement. The agreements are filed with the court and later on translated into court orders. There are different forms of mediation. The most common one being the facilitative mediation. In this method, a neutral third person helps the couple arrive at an agreement by exploring common interests and then generating options. The mediator is not responsible for making the decisions. Rather, they facilitate the couple, leaving the decision up to both partners.
Get coparent counseling
When parents separate or get divorced, issues regarding parenting are bound to arise. A mental health professional or coach who specializes in this area could assist parents in improving their communication skills. They can help you find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate conflicts, including how to handle after-school activities, changing the parenting plan, taking a child to the doctor, or tackling the entry of a stepparent. This helps parents in resolving some of the pain, guilt, or grief of ending a relationship. You are not the first ones dealing with conflict as coparents. Find out best practices and get support for both of you and your children.
Use “I” messages frequently
Normally when your Ex is venting, be it in a normal conversation or an angry argument, your first instinct would be to shout at them. Rather, take a moment to assess and understand. When you are ready to answer, respond with an “I” message to communicate your emotions and needs.
No matter what your conflict is, there are many ways you can use the “I” messages. You can say:
I feel heartbroken when you blame me for everything that went wrong with our marriage.
I feel sad when you tell the children I am not a good mother.
When you communicate how you feel to your Ex and provide them with a solution while using the word “we,” you can play a key role in improving communication and reducing the feelings of resentment.
Talk with facts
One of the common reasons divorced couples argue so much and struggle with managing conflict in divorce is that rather than talking with facts, they allow their anger and emotions to get the better of them. When you allow your emotions to rule your rational thinking, it could go on forever. You and your Ex could end up in a constant loop of anger and resentment.
To resolve emotional conflicts, start talking with facts. Even if you are talking about something as serious and potentially heated as your children’s visitation rights, stick to the facts so you can have a civilized and rational discussion.
Resolving conflicts is a two-person job. Once both you and your Ex realize that you must work together, talk, and listen, only then can you be successful at being civil with each other and coparenting effectively.
Since 2012, SAS for Women is entirely dedicated to the unexpected challenges women face while considering a divorce and navigating the divorce experience and its confusing afterward. SAS offers women six FREE months of email coaching, action plans, checklists and support strategies for you, and your future. Join our tribe and stay connected.
*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.