Coparent Academy Podcast

#110 - Effective Conflict Management

June 03, 2024 Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore
#110 - Effective Conflict Management
Coparent Academy Podcast
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Coparent Academy Podcast
#110 - Effective Conflict Management
Jun 03, 2024
Linda VanValkenburg and Ron Gore

Conflict in coparenting isn't inherently a bad thing—if managed right, it can actually strengthen your partnership. This episode is about turning unhealthy conflict into productive communication.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To take our Conflict Resolution course, visit https://coparentacademy.com/courses/active-conflict-resolution/

Show Notes Transcript

Conflict in coparenting isn't inherently a bad thing—if managed right, it can actually strengthen your partnership. This episode is about turning unhealthy conflict into productive communication.

Thanks for listening!  If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email us at podcast@coparentacademy.com.  To take our Conflict Resolution course, visit https://coparentacademy.com/courses/active-conflict-resolution/

Speaker 1:

Welcome everybody. Today is my first solo Co-Parenting Academy podcast and I have to admit I'm a little nervous. Having Linda here has been just phenomenal for me in terms of my confidence and also the information that she provides, and so it's a little daunting to think about going forward without her on a routine basis, although I know that we'll have her from time to time. Although I know that we'll have her from time to time. I previously promised that I would let you know by June 3rd, 2024, which, if you're listening from the future, that is what today is. As this is being published, I promised that I would let you know what my thoughts were going forward with the podcast. I'm not trying to be too precious about it. It isn't like this is a podcast that millions of people listen to. I get that but it is important to me and I think it provides important information for families as well. So I do want to try to keep it going and we'll see how it works. Hopefully you still find benefit from it. These next several weeks. I'm going to continue what Linda and I started, which is to provide some of the material that we have in the required four-hour course that we are debuting next month at the Oklahoma Bar Association annual meeting. After that, my plan is to take some materials that I find helpful for me and to go through them with you to sort of break down what I thought was extremely helpful in them, some lessons that I learned from them. It may be some things that you expect, it may be unexpected, but it all will relate to co -parenting.

Speaker 1:

The first topic that I intend to cover after we finish up with this additional material from the four-hour course is effective discipline. This is a huge topic for lots of different reasons. One reason is that when you have the houses separate, each parent for the first time in a while, is being responsible for the discipline in their own home. You may have adapted to your partner's discipline style because it was easier to go along, to get along. You may not have, you may expect your partner to continue with the kind of discipline that they used in the home when you were together and that may not be a reasonable expectation for you to have. So there's a lot of conflict that arises, especially at the beginning of the separation stage, depending on the developmental stage, especially when we're talking about discipline. Also, we know that parents right after the separation, for even up to the first year or so, can have sort of their worst parenting that they will tend to have. They're just so overwhelmed and oftentimes the quality of discipline suffers. So we'll get into all of these issues and more as we go through a series on discipline. I'll bring in some materials that we can discuss, some books that have been helpful to me, so, for example, how to Talk so Kids Listen and how to Listen so Kids Talk, and some other materials as well.

Speaker 1:

Today, continuing on with the four-hour course material, I'm going to talk about conflict management and dispute resolution. We have an entire course on this in our Co-Parenting Academy, so I'm just going to hit some highlights. The first thing to understand is that conflict is not inherently bad. The word has a bad ring to it just because of how we think about conflict, but really, if you practice effective conflict management, conflict can be incredibly productive. It can let your co-parent know what it is that is concerning you, something that you're unhappy with.

Speaker 1:

There's a quote I really like. It says that unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments. That's often what we're dealing with with co-parenting conflict. Now for sure, there are some disagreements that you just can't get past. You may have some definitive positions on things that may be moral, religious, just different ways of viewing the world, and the two views will never really be able to work together well. It may be part of the reason why the divorce or the separation occurred in the first place. So this is not a Pollyanna view that all conflicts can be resolved through effective conflict management, that nothing will ever have to be litigated. That's not what I'm saying at all. What I am saying is we can reduce litigation, we can reduce resentment, we can reduce difficulty fighting that happens in front of the children or within the children's perception by having better conflict management.

Speaker 1:

The most efficient way to resolve disagreements early is to actually avoid them in the first place. One of the best ways to do that is to establish appropriate boundaries, just really right from the start. And that gets back to this quote that unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments. Establishing boundaries is this process of setting up really clear guidelines, setting up rules expressing your expectations so that everyone knows you're not sitting there resenting that your co-parent did this certain thing that you never told them, you didn't want them to do. You may have spent your entire relationship sort of eating your frustration at their behavior and it may be this one certain thing and because you never told them, you never actually dealt with it, they never actually knew that this was something that was really frustrating to you, even if you think that they should have known. So the first step in proper conflict management is discussing and setting effective boundaries. All right, these boundaries are going to help you manage expectations, going to help reduce conflict, going to help have more cooperative and respectful co-parenting. You both need to feel heard, you both need to be understood, and the work of setting boundaries, while sometimes uncomfortable, is the first step in trying to make that happen. Now you can use your absolute best efforts to set proper boundaries. Even so, life just happens. Sometimes minor misunderstandings can blow up into conflict, even if you both kind of had the best of intentions, but your ship's passing in the night when conflict actually does occur. This is the conflict management strategy that we recommend that you use.

Speaker 1:

The first step is to figure out what's upsetting you and why. Sometimes you think you're upset or frustrated about this one particular thing, but it's not that. This may be a very minor issue that you're upset about. Maybe your co parents late for five or ten minutes. I know you're sitting at the exchange in a parking lot at a gas station for an extra five minutes. Is that really the end of the world? Maybe it's going to make you late for some sort of concert or event or school function. Maybe it's going to make you late for work and that does have really serious implications for you, potentially, depending on what it is. But very often you're upset about waiting five minutes in the parking lot, not because of the five minutes. It's because of what the five minutes represents, of the five minutes. It's because of what the five minutes represents. So part of thinking about what's upsetting you and why is getting really to the heart of what you're upset about. Now, once you think you know what that is, do this next step?

Speaker 1:

The next step is to think about what else could be true. When you think about what else could be true, you're thinking to yourself well, they're five minutes late. My gut reaction is they just didn't care. They don't care about my time, they don't respect me, they're just laughing it up while I'm sitting here in the parking lot and they know I have to get somewhere. But maybe that's not what's true.

Speaker 1:

What may be true is that maybe your child did something completely unexpected, as kids sometimes do, that made him five minutes late or her five minutes late. Maybe there's an accident, completely unavoidable accident. I mean. If you live in a place like we do here in the Tulsa County area, then traffic is pretty predictable. I mean, it's the rare circumstance where it doesn't take me 15 minutes door to door from my house to my office. I could do that 100 times, and 99 out of 100 times, maybe even 100, given the distribution, I'm going to make it exactly the same time every time. So maybe there was some completely unexpected traffic incident. Maybe there was some unexpected car issue. There's a whole panoply of things, any of which could have been the reason why your co-parent was five minutes late, and none of which have anything to do with their lack of respect for you.

Speaker 1:

So, as you go through the process of thinking, what else could be true really, what you're doing is you're giving yourself a reality check, making sure that you are properly assessing what you're bringing to the table your emotions, your underlying resentments, your biased view of the history of the relationship and you're also giving your co-parent the benefit of the doubt. Is it possible that they are just treating you with complete disrespect? Yeah, and for some of the relationships that I know that you may have. It may be more than possible. It may be probable, but it's never certain. You may feel it's certain, but really it isn't. What else does giving your co-parent the benefit of the doubt do? Well, it's actually good for you. When we show grace, when we show forgiveness to others, it actually has a positive physiological response in ourselves. We feel better. Our body rewards us physiologically for showing kindness and forgiveness to others. So the process of actually, in good faith, thinking about what else could be true will start to calm you down. Also, if you can carry that sense of grace that you're practicing and think about what else could be true into your initial communications with your co-parent about the situation, it may help de-escalate them.

Speaker 1:

Imagine what they may be thinking. Let's assume that they're not evil. I know that many of us believe that our ex is a narcissist and that it just doesn't matter. They're going to do what they're going to do. They don't care about you. They don't have any legitimate feelings about the situation. Let's assume for the moment that that's not the case. Let's assume that your co-parent is sitting there thinking oh man, I'm running five minutes late. I know that my co-parent is going to be so frustrated they're going to be upset with me. They're going to think that I'm being disrespectful. I'm really not being disrespectful about it. It was a complete accident and now I know what I have to walk into.

Speaker 1:

So now your co-parent who's late is building up defensiveness. If you start the conversation with them from a place of resentment, frustration and anger and they're at a place of defensiveness because they're anticipating what's coming, then what's the likelihood that that conflict is going to start off in a helpful way? How's that conversation going to go? Probably not as well as if you're coming at it from a position of grace. Now, should they be defensive? Is that an appropriate response from them? No, it's not. But they're not perfect and neither are you. So the goal is for you both to bring your A game, for your both to be as healthy and cooperative a co-parent as possible. So from your perspective, on your end of things, that means coming at them with some grace, having thought about what else might be true.

Speaker 1:

You may find out that your first gut reaction was exactly right. Your co-parent may have been rude and inconsiderate, didn't care at all for your needs or for your feelings, and, assuming that your co-parent didn't let you know as soon as they found out that they were running late. They could have done a better job. For sure. That's not great. The preference would be for your co-parent to have built in extra time in case there was an issue and also to have let you know immediately if there's any hint of a delay. So they may already be doing a few things that you wish they would do better. That's why the next step is let's think about what you need, right?

Speaker 1:

The next step is to think about what you need. So what do you need in this case? Do you need your co-parent to give you this statement that they respect you and that they really messed up because they were late, and do you want them to grovel an apology? No, you hopefully don't want that. You want them to be on time next time. You want them to let you know. You want them to let you know as soon as possible if there is an issue Now, if you have tightness in your schedule that they don't know about, and if this has happened maybe more than once, you know if your co-parent has been late, maybe a couple times, then maybe what you say is you know, I know you don't know this, but my schedule is really tight on these pickups, on these transitions, and you've been late a couple of times and I understand that things happen.

Speaker 1:

But what I'd like to do to give ourselves some cushion, you know, maybe, if I know I have to be somewhere 30 minutes after the transfer and it takes 30 minutes from the time of the transfer to get there. Maybe we need to move the transfer up 10 minutes. There are different possible solutions that you may come up with that would be able to meet your needs. So do the work in good faith of thinking what is it that I need, what would help me and my co-parent and, most importantly, my child in this situation? And then state that to your co-parent, let them know, and when you let them know, make sure that you're not coming in too hot. You use the Gottman technique from John Gottman, from the Gottman Institute, of a soft startup. Make sure that you're not coming in hot and heavy, that you're not coming in with anger, frustration, disappointment in your voice or in your words. Do what you can to acknowledge the difficulty, to acknowledge their efforts and then to let them know what the restrictions are, that you're feeling and what you need.

Speaker 1:

Once you let your co-parent know what you need, it's time to wait and for them to give you a timely response. Now remember they don't have to respond in a way that you like. It may not be the case that they feel that they can meet your need, even acting in good faith. If that's the case, it's time to consider their response and take action. Maybe there's an alternative that you can come up with. Maybe, depending on what the situation is. Maybe there is no good alternative. Maybe something structural needs to change and you can't agree with your co-parent, even in good faith, on what the change is.

Speaker 1:

Then it's time to seek some help. Maybe a co-parenting counselor could assist. Maybe your relationship with your co-parent could be helped by using a parenting coordinator. So a parenting coordinator is an attorney or a therapist typically, who is authorized by the court to make decisions or recommendations within the bounds of the court order. They're typically not allowed to change the court order, but they are able to work with the parents and maybe make some changes to help things run a little bit more smoothly and maybe keep the case from being litigated again, and often a parenting coordinator isn't just going to make decisions or recommendations. They can help you potentially essentially mediate the situation and come up with some new possibilities. Ultimately, if none of that works, then you still have litigation as an option.

Speaker 1:

But consider this If you have done everything within your power to communicate effectively, to follow this conflict management strategy, to act with grace, to have soft openers, to not throw out hatred, hostility, resentment in your tone or in your words, then when it does come to litigation, you're going to have the ability to demonstrate to the court that you've done everything you could on your side to be a good co-parent. If it turns out that your co-parent has not reciprocated their best efforts, then the court can see that as well, and if it comes to a decision of which one of these two people is acting in the children's best interest, then it's going to be you in that circumstance. So having this approach that we're discussing not only will tend to reduce negative conflict, it'll tend to promote positive boundaries, positive conflict. It'll reduce arguments, reduce hostility, it'll model for your children how to handle conflict and, if you have to go to litigation, it'll be your best evidence that you're in the right.

Speaker 1:

So why practice effective conflict management? Well, because it's best for everybody. It's best for you, your co-parent, your co-parenting relationship and, most importantly, it's good for your child. A child who sees their parents working together, even in times of difficulty, in a cooperative way, in their best interest, is going to feel a sense of security and safety, knowing that, no matter what comes up, both of my parents, even when they're in different households, are going to be working together for me, different households are going to be working together for me, and that's a great feeling for a child to have. Thank you everybody. I hope this information was helpful to you and I'll see you next week.