Ending parental conflict -
Learning the skills that lead to more harmonious co-parenting and healthier conflict resolution
Coming on to the same page and learning to work together better generally involves quite a bit of very adult mature management of our emotions. As co-parents, there's just so much to be worked out to keep working towards better communication for both partners and with the children.
Every challenge in the family is compromised when parents struggle to communicate well together. But, conversely, one problem after another can be effectively worked with in a way that considers everyone's feelings and needs when parents communicate compassionately and effectively.
Anger tends to give people an over-inflated sense of being entitled to express that which they believe to be the truth. Yet expressing those thoughts and feelings needs to be carefully managed and executed to avoid hurting our partner and to protect our children from the insecurities it can cause them. We need safe outlets for our painful emotions, and we need to learn that expressing these upsets in the heat of the moment isn't usually a very safe thing to do as it's rarely a balanced perspective. When in the stress response the brain’s job is to scan for threats and our thinking becomes very black and white and lacks the complexity and ability to be compassionate or considerate or sensitive.
Every family member deserves to feel seen, heard, understood and cared for. Which is all about being committed to truly listening to all sides and finding ways of working well together to find agreeable solutions. In emotionally dysfunctional families, the most painful emotions tend to be either repressed or expressed destructively and aggressively. Both repression and verbal aggression (including harsh criticisms) compromise the bonds, the trust, the open lines of communication and ultimately the love in close relationships. As adults parenting our children, we have a huge responsibility to learn to communicate differently. It's our responsibility to our children and their children to break the cycles of emotional repression and the patterns of communication that lack empathy and sensitivity.
In this video Genevieve answers a question by a mother who often gets into arguments with her husband around their different approaches to difficulties with the children.
Listen to the Audio Version of this video
Guidelines for couples or co-parents to maintain in resolving differences and conflicts.
Feeling heard and cared for is energizing and empowering, whereas criticism is discouraging and tends to evoke defensiveness.
- It helps to begin tricky conversations by aiming to create common ground through empathizing, or affirming that these issues are difficult and stressful for you both, by affirming that you both want what's best for the child, by reassuring that you believe you can work together to find solutions.
- Organizing a specific time and space to talk and be heard tends to result in more constructive communication for both parties.
- The more charged the topic can be, the more important it is to negotiate guidelines that maintain emotional safety.
- To set up safety guidelines, both parties can express what they need to feel safe to express their thoughts and feelings, then work together to write out agreements both parties are willing to agree to.
- Weave into the agreement permission for either party to negotiate a pause when they start to feel overwhelmed or triggered, a word or hand gesture or both.
- Include in the agreements that both parties avoid labelling, black and white statements that start with "you always" or "you never".
- Avoid stating the other's intentions or emotions, but instead ask open questions like "in these situations, what do you feel?" or "it seems that what I just said was upsetting, what are you feeling about what I just stated?"
- Aim to hear, understand, reflect and acknowledge each other's perspectives even when you don't agree, this meets needs to feel heard and increases cooperation.
Strategies to reduce parental conflict
This is the audio that covers the written material in the article Ending Parental Conflict. It's one hour 15 minutes long, but will take you through many of the basics of recognising unhealthy conflict and committing to incorporate the healthier commuication skills which maintain more emotional safety. I recommend some basic guidelines to discuss and come to agreements around. Then writing down those agreements and reading them out before tackling difficult topics. I also talk about the impacts of parental conflict on children.
Download Audio (click the three dots)
This article covers:
Committing to more compassionate communication. The differences between healthy and unhealthy conflict. The impacts on children; when is it healthy modelling and when does it impact negatively. The communication skills which invite connection and cooperation. What drives hurtful communication? Creating common ground to diffuse conflict. Talk about how you talk. Emotional self-regulation skills. The risks of anger creating an over-inflated sense of being entitled to tell the "truth". Creating agreements to maintain emotional safety during tricky discussions.
Communication that’s toxic for children to be exposed to can include shaming, sarcasm, mocking, withholding, yelling, contempt, name-calling, labelling, lying, being unwilling to admit wrongdoings or show remorse and stonewalling. Verbal aggression, whether directed at the child or from one parent to the other can be highly distressing and cause a lot of insecurity in children. When it’s frequent and unresolved and not repaired the child is left in a nearly constant state of insecurity not knowing if or when it will happen again.
Parental conflict is harmful to children when it’s intense and frequent. When children witness or overhear arguments that become heated and hostile including verbal insults and shouting, this can cause children to be insecure. Children become anxious when exposed to parents being verbally or physically aggressive including throwing and breaking things; when parents withdraw and become non-responsive instead of negotiating a boundary or give each other the silent treatment; when children live with the fear of their parents separating or one of them leaving. Conflicts relating to the child or parenting style can be particularly stressful for children as they naturally tend to blame themselves and feel responsible for their parent’s happiness. Read the full article.
Organizing an active listening partnership with another adult
The advice in this article can be applied to set up listening sessions with another adult or with your partner. Click here to read the full article.
In this article, Genevieve talks about the importance of having our listening needs met and how to go about organizing this with another adult.
- Every parent needs space with another warmly caring and patient adult who is willing to listen without judgment.
- It can be very helpful to have someone that you can talk through a difficult issue before tackling it with your partner.
- This can provide a space where the other person has more capacity to listen, empathise and acknowledge you, thereby allowing a healthy outlet and more space to process your thoughts and feelings.
- Having your needs to be heard and understood met can help you reach the place of being able to identify some of the underlying triggers; core beliefs and unresolved feelings that the issue is evoking.
- As your needs to feel seen, heard and understood are met, this can reduce the sense of urgency and pressure to have these needs met by your partner, which in turn increases the possibility of your needs being met.
- Having your listening needs met also tends to increase a parent's capacity to provide this level of patient, empathic listening and emotional support to their child when they are upset.
Listen to Genevieve's Audios on the importance of parents feeling heard and how to get those needs met
Meeting Listening needs Audio Part I
Meeting Listening needs Audio Part II
Other supportive membership resources
Audio: Parenting when overwhelmed
Audio: Developing a regular meditation practice (also search meditation in search box)
Group: Lots of relevant videos, articles and discussions in the Peaceful Partnering Group
Group: More helpful relevant resources; videos, articles and discussions in the Self-Healing Group
Research: Some helpful research articles relating to children's reactions to parental separation and divorce.
What does active reflective listening look like?
Impatient Listening: We tend to ...
- Cut in and talk over the other, convinced that we have the gist of the problem.
- Do some housework or fiddle with something at the same time. Attention is divided.
- Give messages that we want the problem to be solved or fixed as quickly as possible, and impatiently give advice or ask questions that express our need to move on.
- Evaluate who is in the right and who’s in the wrong and aim to “help” the speaker see how they’re contributing to the problem, and may even show more sympathy for the person your speaker is having difficulty with.
- Give unsolicited advice: “what I think you need to do is … “, “have you tried …. “, “what I would do in your situation is …. “, “why haven’t you ….. “.
- Invalidate their feelings by minimizing their situation or comparing with others; “at least your children still talk to you, all I get from my kids are grunts at best”, or “but it’s important to focus on what is working well”, or “at least you’re lucky enough to be a stay at home mum and don’t have to juggle going out to work as well”.
- Neglect to speak to or acknowledge speaker’s feelings relating to the problem, by not giving any reassurance that we care and understand, or by reflecting only our understanding of the problem rather than the feelings they’ve shown; “I hear your kids never do what they’re told and are really rebellious”.
Active Listening: We tend to ...
- Actually listen to their perspective with the intention of showing them understanding and emotional support.
- Show through your body language, tone of voice and reflections that you’re giving your full attention. Aim to show the other that you are taking their problem seriously.
- Aim to sensitively hear and reflect the underlying feelings and unmet needs that the other is showing, not just the actual problem being expressed; “I hear how frustrating this is, you need more cooperation”.
- Aim to listen and respond without judgement or evaluation, knowing that if the speaker feels evaluated it adds extra stress and pressure to a situation and can increase rather than decrease any feelings of stuckness and resentment.
- Trusting that the speaker feelings truly heard, understood and empathized with gives them permission to show and share more of their raw feelings and that this is the most constructive help we can give.
- Give verbal and non-verbal feedback that we care and are inviting the speaker to get it all off their chest without feeling rushed. “hmm”, “yes I get it”, “I hear how very upsetting it is for you when you ask your kids to help and they fight among themselves about whose turn it is”, nodding our head, caring eyes and facial expressions.
- Aim to acknowledge their feelings knowing that it’s important that they feel heard and understood without competing, comparing or encouraging them to look at the bright side. Truly listening with empathy allows the speaker deeply explore their feelings in a safe space, it allows them to offload frustrations and work through a valuable emotional process that can lead to greater peace, clarity and insights, or at least a little less conflicted.