Conflict Resolution for Coparents
For most coparents, conflict is inevitable. Learning tools for successful conflict resolution is one of the cornerstones to building a healthy coparenting relationship. All relationships experience some conflict. The fact that you don’t always get along with your coparent doesn’t mean you’re failing. It’s how you deal with the fight that matters.
One thing is always true about humans: different people deal with things in different ways. I’ve collected a number of strategies for dealing with conflict here, but think of this list as a smorgasbord rather than an instruction manual. These aren’t step by step commands, it’s just a buffet for you to sample and take what works.
Address conflict early. The longer an issue sits, the harder it will be to deal with. As resentment builds, it becomes harder and harder to resolve the underlying issue. The other side of that coin is that the longer behavior goes on, the harder it is to change. Something can become a habit after only a few times. If your coparent does something to make you angry, talk about it immediately. Time will only make you more angry and them more resistant to change.
Remove the Child. Don’t let your child see you get angry at your coparent. Especially don’t let them see you nasty or out of control. Remove the child from the situation if that is a possibility so you can continue an adult conversation with only adults present. Otherwise, table the argument until a more appropriate time.
Remove Yourself. Physically leaving a stressful situation can give you the time and perspective you need to process an argument and cool down. Don’t use this as an excuse to avoid the issue for long, but a little time to cool down can let you address the issue with a clear head.
Get a Different Perspective. Ever seen a photo of your city or town taken from a helicopter? Ordinary landmarks that you see everyday suddenly become strange and foreign. The same goes for conflict. It’a hard. It’s really hard. But if you can get a different perspective on your conflict, you may see that the reality is nothing like what you imagined.
For some people, that change in perspective comes from a physical change. We talked about getting away from the conflict earlier, and that’s a great first step. Going somewhere out of the ordinary can help too. If you always go to Starbucks, try Dunkin’ Doughnuts instead. Take a different route home from work. Walk the dog in the park across town. Listen to music instead of talk radio in the car. Listen to a different genre of music at home. Anything that gets you out of your ordinary routine can help you see with new eyes and may give your conflict a whole new look.
Body Language Speaks Loudly. Nonverbal communication is a tremendously important part of how we say what’s on our mind. The problem is that body language may say something that we’re feeling, but trying to keep to ourselves. If you’re angry with your coparent, the words you use are only part of what you’re saying. No matter how nicely you talk, your coparent may still feel attacked if you sit with your arms crossed and eyes bulging while they talk. Getting your body under control is just as important as your brain.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” Nelson Mandela. Conflict is a part of life. Conflict with your coparent is no different. But using these strategies can help you address the conflict and find a way past it. Do that before it breeds resentment and starts to poison you.