It can feel really hard when you and the other parent don’t see eye to eye, no matter the size of the conflict. Without changing the approach to how you and the other parent navigate conflict you may find that you end up spinning in the same issues over and over again. Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist and his current work has been focused on “unlearning what we know – and relearning a new way of thinking and doing”. If we apply this to managing conflict within our co-parenting…what do you need to unlearn?
We’ve helped hundreds of families navigate conflict and relearn new ways of communicating. You may want to save these tips and use them when you just can’t seem to get on the same page as the other parent.
Is it more important that I’m right or that this issue gets resolved?
First things first, ask yourself is it more important that I am right or that this issue gets resolved? When emotions are heightened and children are the topic. Remind yourself, “this isn’t about the other parent, this is about our child.” Using a fresh lens – and remembering that this is about your child – have a conversation with the other parent and use some of the following questions;
- Help me understand more about __________.
- I hear ________ is important to you. Would you be willing to hear my perspective as well?
- I’m curious to hear more about what is most important to you about this.
- Can you tell me a little more about your concerns?
Seek more clarity and understanding.
Another option is working to seek more clarity and understanding of the other person’s perspective. Understanding perspectives does not mean we agree with the other person, it means we take the time to better understand what they think and feel. Once, we allow the space for this, we open room for conversation instead of conflict. When we get stuck and rigid – this is conflict. When we listen and problem solve – this is conversation.
Ask open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions can be really helpful in these situations. Open-ended questions are helpful- as they allow everyone to share their perspective and help to limit defensiveness behaviors. Try some of the questions below to help navigate conversations.
- What would agreement look like for you in this experience?
- What can I do to help make this conversation more balanced with both our perspectives?
- How do you see we can resolve this so we make sure we are prioritizing the kids?
If this still feels a bit overwhelming and that you could use a bit more support when helping to establish thresholds check out our Parenting from Two Homes Course. We have an entire module dedicated to navigating conflict.
Bring in a neutral.
Sometimes bringing in a neutral can be helpful. A neutral mediates the conversation and can share their professional expertise in a certain area, if applicable.
- If the issue is school-related- go to the teacher-together
- If the issue is sports-related- go to the coach-together
- If the issue is medically related- go to the child’s physician-together
- If the issue is emotional or related to well being- go to the child’s counselor-together
Take some space.
Take some SPACE: Mutually decide that if the issue is not time-sensitive you can take some space and time to cool down. This is where we can find some brain space to SEE the other person’s perspective and also listen to OURSELVES and why we may be activating defensive about a topic. Make sure to define when you will come back to the conversation (example: tomorrow at 4 PM we will call each other) this helps not leave things “hanging”- or open-ended. Provide concrete structure around when you will return and re-engage in problem-solving.
Once you connect after 24 hours use these tools to increase the likelihood your conversation will be more productive;
- Use “I” statements instead of “you” – “I hear your perspective, I feel frustrated”
- Deal in facts and empathy – “I hear this is a big deal for you, it would be really scary to not know what happened at the doctors visit when Sam broke her arm” – the pediatrician stated they will call us asap with x-ray results”
- Commit to listening to one another – REALLY listening – seeking to understand and not to respond or react.
- Refrain from using “never” or “always” or “should” – these are generalizations and can put others on the defensive.
Here is where you can relearn and track how it goes:
MONITOR the outcome
CAPTURE the data on how it went
REFLECT on what went well and what could have gone better
PLAN on how you can set the tone for the next time you and the other parent aren’t on the same page.
This will demonstrate to your children that conflict is ok as long as it remains healthy and gets resolved in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
Whichever tool you choose to focus on, or start with. Being mindful of defensiveness behaviors in our communication can be super helpful in learning to navigate conflict.
If you see these behaviors creep in – convincing, explaining, justifying, and interrupting – just be aware. Don’t judge yourself, that’s not helpful. But BE AWARE and ask yourself, I wonder what it is that I am defensive of right now? JUST this awareness can help you move through a place of defensiveness and into a space of more openness and flexibility. TRY it! It’s fascinating to notice these behaviors in ourselves. Set aside judgment and shame and step towards understanding, self-compassion, and awareness. You are doing great.
Need more? Parenting from Two Homes provides 6 modules of helpful, evidence-based skills and tools for navigating co-parenting.
Want to learn more about relearning? Think Again