After a high-conflict divorce, some couples can just walk away from their marriages and never see each other again unless they choose to; knowing that there's nothing left tying them together. But that's not the case when children are involved, especially when there are court appointed (or other co-parenting) arrangements that must take place. Statistics on this topic vary, however some researchers have estimated that 15-30% of divorces are high conflict. While some couples in high conflict situations use everything within their power to maintain some form of self-control, so they may to interact with each other in a peaceful and responsible manner, it is oftentimes near impossible for many.
Divorcing couples who experience explosiveness, or outbursts of anger, manipulation, and controlling behavior can be overwhelmed when facing each other. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), dealing with the anger from family members or friends is much different than dealing with the anger from someone who is a stranger, due to ongoing interactions. Psychologists recommend avoidance of such interactions that lead to anger. So how does this work in a co-parenting situation? Below are some ways to co-parent after a high conflict divorce so that you may find peace.
Practice Peace or Practice Stress
In an article written by Linda Esposito, LCSW titled Seven Ways to Co-Parent Peacefully After High Conflict Divorce, couples have two options when dealing with former spouses and co-parenting issues—either peacefully, or stressfully. This may be more challenging for some than for others depending upon the level of conflict the ex-spouses produce when interacting together. The reaction to a spouse’s outburst of anger, control, or manipulation is one’s own responsibility. It is possible to develop ways to control reactions by utilizing the following tips:
Be More Mindful
Being more mindful of what to focus on in the present moment can help develop self-awareness and self-control. Learning to focus on the here and now will help in a few areas, including:
- Ignoring past arguments and conflicts. So as to not relive the same emotions repeatedly.
- Recognizing responses that are emotion-driven versus of sound mind.
- Avoiding reactions that are in the heat of the moment, as emotions don’t align with logical thinking, but focus on satisfying current emotional urges.
Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, indicates in her article, 5 Steps for Managing Your Emotional Triggers, that it’s important to recognize an emotional reaction in the moment. This should take place as soon as it begins to appear in the body. In other words, according to neuroscientist Antonio Damacio, one’s breathing rate, tension in the muscles, and blood flow produce feelings of pressure that cause emotions to rise. It’s at that point that one should stop and ask why those feelings are as such, as well as identifying the emotions. He also points out that if one doesn’t recognize said feelings, it will not be possible for change to occur.
Try Not to Judge
Although it is very easy to judge a former spouse, especially when there are justifiable reasons to do so, Dr. Esposito advises against it. She believes that describing the situation, rather than judging it, will disarm judgment patterns. Not only does this reduce hostile environments that are typically associated with judgment and casting blame, but a logical description of a spouse’s behavior is better understood in court than aimlessly casting judgment and making allegations without them being substantiated.
Learn to Deal with Anger
Anger, also referred to as a dysregulated emotion, is considered a root causes of highly-aroused, negative emotions that interfere with a person’s ability to act appropriately or think clearly. Chronic anger, according to Esposito, is what leads to the arousal of negatee emotions. This leads to judgment, which leads to overblown emotional actions and expressions that eventually increase conflict.
Having bouts of anger can make it very difficult to engage in co-parenting arrangements. However, if one begins to take notice of personal outbursts, and learns to better control reactions to the ex-spouse's behavior (along with describing the activities instead) it will eventually defuse the anger, and co-parenting will be much easier to face.
Be in Expectancy of Impulsive Behavior
When anticipating an ex-spouse’s impulsive behavior, one can choose to respond to it in an irrational, emotional way or in a calm and sound way. Since most high-conflict divorces involve triggers and predictable communication patterns, it's much easier to avoid inflammatory language and deeds in an effort to avoid a toxic cycle, according to Esposito. One’s own role in defusing this type of atmosphere involves controlling reactions to impulsive, emotional behaviors, and verbal assaults.
According to Esposito, identifying an ex-spouse’s normal trigger statements, and anticipating when they will occur, gives some time to think of an alternative, healthier way to react and respond to such statements. Coming up with calmer, respectful, alternative responses can be used to de-escalate the tension. Then, the bouts with conflicts will be significantly reduced.
Minimize Visits to Family Court
Believe it or not, family court is not always the best solution when it comes to ironing out solutions for children. According to Joan B. Kelly, "Family court is adversarial and enhances the process that puts parents against one another, it polarizes each spouses deficiencies and discourages communication among parents and your thoughts towards the needs of the children during the critical time of change and increased upheaval.”
Again, it's the alternative actions to outburst and out of control emotions that reduce tension and normal anticipated reactions during high-conflict situations.
Make the Necessary Sacrifices to Improve Outcomes
One’s co-parenting role may require some sacrifices to reduce some of the consequences that are associated with the never-ending battle of highly conflicted environments.
One may choose to sacrifice the well-being of the children by having the courts "dictate custodial and co-parenting arrangements, commuting more frequently for custodial exchanges or not seeing your children as frequently as you'd like to or you can simply learn alternative techniques that result in rational less negative outcomes”, says Esposito.
Implementing a Personal Care Plan
Implementing a personal care plan can not only nourish the mind, body, and spirit, but it'll also help in being better prepared to deal with highly conflicted situations, and to respond to them in a more rational—calm manner, as opposed to adding more fuel to the fire.
Basically, if one understands and acknowledges his or her role in contributing to a high-conflict relationship with an ex-spouse, then it’s possible to develop strategies to defuse such encounters by using alternative actions. As a result, one’s overall co-parenting responsibilities will be easier to face and the children will have a much more pleasant experience when both parents are present and working together.