You can only control your own actions…

You can only control you…

When we feel caught in conflict, it is quite normal to have a sense that there is nothing we can do from our side to change things.  A sense of helplessness may set in, and, depending on our approach, we may easily be triggered and naturally inclined to retaliate, try reason, close down or something else.

If we are generally capable of getting on well with others in different environments and contexts, we are left asking why this cannot be the case in relation to our former partner, particularly when we know a smoother relationship would benefit our children.  In conflicted family situations, it is possible to be constructive, even in the face of another’s unreasonableness.

We could try…

Being inquisitive.

Think about the type of cycles of conflict that arise, what triggers them and if there are any patterns. Write this down. Write down how you behave in this cycle, and how your ex-partner behaves. What do you notice? What could you do to try a different approach? For example, if your tendency is to avoid conflict and avoid responding altogether, how about instead trying a BIFF response – brief, informative, firm and fair.

Accept that you can’t control others’ actions.

Whether they seem entirely unreasonable or completely outrageous, we are unlikely to be able to change the other person’s viewpoint. Accepting this and not reacting out of frustration of exasperation can help; instead, trying to be inquisitive.  Why is our ex-partner taking this stance?  By sticking to our own core values and role modelling appropriate responses (particularly for our child’s sake), we will better preserve our own well-being, as well as our child’s.

Putting some space between the trigger and your reaction.

For example, a visualisation such as a traffic light can help bring some perspective and ability/time to reflect. 

  • If you are triggered, notice it and stop for a moment.  Take some breaths and recognise that you are going to use the traffic light approach. 
  • Next, think. Keep your child’s longer-term needs in mind. Challenge yourself to consider how you would respond if you were in a business environment, or dealing with a friend. When your child is older, what would you like them to say about the way you’ve dealt with the situation? Think about your child’s needs, as opposed to your own before moving forward. 
  • Take some more slow breaths. Imagine you are in slow motion and clear your head.  Only now should you act. If you don’t feel you can respond in a way in which you feel comfortable, explain you will require a little time before doing so.

Another idea can be to take the issue and approach it from multiple perspectives.

  • How do I think my children feel?
  • How do I feel?
  • How does I think my ex-partner feels?
  • What would a good but relatively impartial friend say about my position?
  • Can I come up with a list of potential compromises, so that it isn’t either (A) my preferred outcome or (B) my ex-partner’s proposed outcome.

These are a couple of practical exercises that can give you time to slow things down and ultimately respond in a sense-checked type way.