According to a recent study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, “interparental conflict adversely affects children’s emotional, behavioral, social, academic, and intergenerational relationship development.” It comes as no surprise that, when stressful life events, such as divorce or separation are added into the mix, managing interparental conflict can become an even more difficult task. Grounded in existing research, the strategies below can help navigate and even improve interparental conflict, especially when families experience divorce or separation.
Resolving conflict necessitates a great deal of self-control, empathy and perspective-taking ability. It certainly is not easy, but the following guidelines can better prepare you to resolve conflict in a healthy way. (Source: The Counseling & Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin)
Try not to overreact to difficult situations. By remaining calm it is more likely that others will consider your viewpoint.
Express feelings in words, not actions. If you start to feel so angry or upset that you feel you may lose control, take a “time out” and do something to help yourself feel calm: take a walk, do some deep breathing, play with the dog, write in your journal- whatever works for you.
Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on.
Deal with only one issue at a time. Don’t introduce other topics until each is fully discussed. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
No hitting below the belt. Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
Avoid accusations. Accusations will lead others to focus on defending themselves rather than on understanding you. Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
Try not to generalize. Avoid words like “never” or “always.” Such generalizations are usually inaccurate and will heighten tensions.
Avoid make believe. Exaggerating or inventing a complaint – or your feelings about it – will prevent the real issues from surfacing. Stick with the facts and your honest feelings.
Don’t stockpile. Storing up lots of grievances and hurt feelings over time is counterproductive. It’s almost impossible to deal with numerous old problems for which recollections may differ. Try to deal with problems as they arise.
Avoid clamming up. Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result. However, if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed or shutting down, you may need to take a break from the discussion. Just let your partner know you will return to the conversation as soon as you are able and then don’t forget to follow-up.
Establish common ground rules. You may even want to ask your partner-in-conflict to read and discuss this information with you. When both people accept positive common ground rules for managing a conflict, resolution becomes much more likely.
References & Sources
Harold, G. T., & Sellers, R. (2018). Annual research review: Interparental conflict and youth psychopathology: An evidence review and practice focused update. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 59(4), 374-402.
High Conflict Institute
The Counseling & Mental Health Center at The University of Texas at Austin
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