The eight steps to a healthier post-divorce relationship will help you manage conflict effectively and develop a workable parenting partnership. You have the power to make positive changes that will benefit not only you and your co-parenting relationship, but also your child’s well being. You can adopt the practical skills necessary to deal with conflict effectively, and you can make changes in the way you handle conflict.
Step One: Making a Commitment to Care. By committing to care, you will give your child the gift of love, continued contact with both parents and a happier childhood. Choose to do whatever it takes to improve the long-term well-being of your child. If you are willing to make a commitment to your child you will be placing him or her on the first step to long-term well-being. Avoid any conflict in your child’s presence and learn and practice new techniques for handling situations that cause problems. You have to decide if you want to alter the pattern of tension that surrounds your child and interferes with his or her happiness. No one can do it for you.
Step Two: Allowing My Child to Love Both Parents. Don’t place your child in situations where they are forced to choose one parent over the other. When this happens your child feels like he/she is in a tug of war between two battling parents and may believe they have to choose sides, thus preventing him/her from loving both parents. Instead, show acceptance of your child’s two homes. Keep some clothes and personal items at each home, and make sure you create a space for child in each home. This shows that your child is a permanent residence in each home, not just a visitor or a guest.
Step Three: Changing my Long-Term Role. This step challenges you to create a new co-parenting relationship with the other parent or to hold on to the past marital relationship. The cost of holding on to the past relationship can eat away at your health and self-esteem. It may also create significant stress for your child. In order to thrive, it is necessary to let go of the old relationship. Grieve over the loss of your relationship and mourn the loss of your lifestyle, shared intimacy, economic security and the dream of a perfect family life.
Step Four: Choosing my Personal Path: One of the healthiest ways to survive is to let go of the old role and emotions associated with our past partnership and begin your new role as co-parents. Ask yourself, are you ready to move on by making the co-parenting relationship better or are you choosing to keep it bitter? The path you choose will significantly affect your child’s emotional future. Letting go of the old relationship allows you to emotionally disengage and realign your relationship from former partner to co-parent. It is essential that you see your former partner as only your child’s other parent.
Step Five: Managing my Own Anger. Anger has many methods of destruction, but it also has the potential to be constructive. Anger can provide motivation, help you overcome obstacles and propel you to reach greater achievements, including deciding not to fight, which in turn creates a better and more nurturing environment for your child. Identify the triggers in your relationship with your co-parent that cause you the most frustration. Find appropriate ways to cope when your buttons are pushed. Do something active to channel your anger such as walking, gardening or exercising
Step Six: Taking Control of Conflict: Practice effective communication skills. Control your tone of voice, body language and choice of words. Learn reflective listening and the use of “I-Statements”. Remember you can start an argument as well as stop one from developing. Focus on your child’s needs and keep yourself and your child out of the crossfire.
Step Seven: Negotiating Agreements. You and your co-parent will bring differing opinions and perceptions into a discussion of decisions requiring a solution. Continuing the conflict prevents you and your coparent from finding a solution. Don’t adopt the mindset of a “winner takes all”. Instead declare yourself a winner by solving problems in a way that meets your child’s best interests.
Step Eight: Co-parenting is Forever. Finally, recognize that co-parenting is forever. Keeping the relationship between your child and both parents positive during and after the separation is of primary importance. Dedicate yourself to giving your child the gift of a strong co-parenting relationship.
For additional information on the eight steps to effective co-parenting, refer to the book “Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: A Parent Guide to Effective Co-Parenting by Boyan and Termini.
Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC