You Don't Have to Attend Every Argument You're Invited to
Eight ways to stop fighting during a difficult divorce.
Posted Mar 02, 2021
How (and why) to avoid conflict during separation and divorce
Pam and Stuart had a Collaborative Divorce meeting scheduled with their two attorneys, financial specialist, and divorce coach (me). Neither Pam nor Stuart had completed the tasks that they had agreed to at the last meeting two weeks ago.
They had agreed to gather the information about unpaid tax bills from the last five years. They agreed to bring the results of the house appraisal and realtors’ reports. They wanted to negotiate the division of their collectibles but did not put together the list they had agreed to.
Instead, they bickered throughout the meeting. They argued about who was supposed to do these tasks. They argued about who said what about the other parent to the children, who was going to call the insurance agent, and where “someone” had put their baby books. Despite our efforts to redirect them, the bickering continued.
After an hour, when all of us were frustrated at the lack of progress and tired of the clients’ bickering, we simply ended the meeting. Once again, we asked them to commit to the tasks and gathering the information we needed to move forward in their divorce. We scheduled another meeting for two weeks from now.
People are overwhelmed with emotions during divorce, and often the emotions are simply hemorrhaging, spilling out all the time, all over the place. Of course, Pam and Stuart (and many other divorcing spouses) are struggling with raw emotions, anger, guilt, fear, and grief. These are normal emotions when going through a life crisis such as divorce. However, these emotions hijack their thinking brains. Pam and Stuart can’t take in the information they need, they can’t think clearly enough to make rational decisions, and they can’t bear the ending of their hopes and dreams. They can’t focus or concentrate. Their emotions are getting in the way of their daily life, work, sleep, parenting.
Yet this is the time most people try to negotiate a divorce. When they are least able to do it.
There are a lot of reasons that managing conflict is essential:
- We know from the research that conflict damages children. They know if you are in conflict, they sense it; they have amazing radar detection. Conflict forces them to worry about you, and whether you will still be able to take care of them. Sometimes kids step in to console a parent, or to carry the anxieties that you carry. Sometimes kids think they have to take sides. None of this is healthy. Deep down, you know this already.
- Conflict undermines your co-parenting relationship if you have kids. It undermines the trust, respect, and goodwill that you need to parent your children well.
- Conflict hurts your own mental health. Anger, fear, and bitterness drop you into a fog in which you can’t function the way you used to or want to. You are shocked that your spouse, the person you once loved, is behaving in ways you never would have predicted. You may even be shocked at your own behavior, at the words that come out of your mouth. There is an Amish saying: “Bitterness corrodes the container it’s in.” You are that container.
- Arguing in front of professionals is expensive. It eats up valuable time, delays your divorce, and makes the whole process miserable. Pick your battles; fighting over coat hangers is a waste of time. If you really can’t be in the same room with your spouse, let your attorneys speak for you.
So, how do you stop the arguing and conflict?
Here are eight ways to manage, control or stop the fighting.
1. Focus on the future. Rehashing old arguments just causes pain, costs money and hurts your kids. If you couldn’t resolve the arguments in the marriage, you’ll never resolve the old fights now. Apologies and forgiveness might soften the tone if you are able. But, really, let go of the past. Envision the future. Think about how you’d like your life to look in a year, two years, five years. View this as an opportunity to build the life you want. And this is important: remind yourself to let go of that over which you have no control.
2. Communicate with your spouse (or ex) in writing. Use texting for logistics, email for substantive issues. Keep the tone neutral, and stick to the point. Arguing in text messages is truly pointless. Limit yourself to one email a day, with a clear subject line. If necessary, try to get help with communication from a divorce coach, or co-parent counseling. Bill Eddy prescribes a technique for reviewing your text or email BEFORE you hit send: BIFF. Ask yourself if your message is Brief, Informative, Firm, and Friendly. Use this as a standard before you send an inflammatory email.
3. Stay off social media and/or check your privacy settings. If your STBX sees a photo of you with your new partner this could set up a crisis. Social media during a divorce causes more crises than you would think. And when you see your friends' “wonderful life” photos, it can depress you, even if you know that social media “friends” aren’t true friendships.
4. Choose a non-court process such as mediation or Collaborative Divorce. Look for win-win solutions, think outside the box. (LINK) Most people divorce without a trial because they settle “on the courthouse steps.” But those divorces are costly, take longer, and leave one of you as the winner and the other as the loser. Then one of you (the one who ‘loses”) will continue to try to take the other to court, in a nasty and destructive revolving door.
5. Be patient. Unwinding a marriage takes some time. So do it thoughtfully, be informed before making decisions that you might regret later. Be patient with yourself and compassionate for your spouse who is also suffering. Divorce is 95% emotional, and it doesn’t end when the legal part is over.
6. If you have kids, avoid transferring the kids face-to-face. Kids are most vulnerable to your emotional state and arguments then. It is a bad time to try to have a conversation with your STBX on the front steps with your kids making the transition from one parent to the other. Just say “Hi,” and “Have a nice day.” Everything else should be in writing, see #2 above.
7. Remind yourself that you love your kids more than you dislike your STBX. Keep your kids front and center. Focus on their well-being, and enjoy your time with them. Remember that your kids pay the price when your anger leaks out.
8. Take care of yourself. Find healthy outlets for your emotions. Get support from adult friends, family, or a therapist. Don’t turn to your kids for emotional support. Stay healthy, since stress affects your immune system, and this is a terrible time to get sick. Get the sleep you need, eat a healthy diet, and stay away from alcohol or drugs. Take a walk every day if you can.
If you are able to manage your emotions and reduce the arguing, your divorce will go more smoothly and you will heal more quickly. So, don’t take the bait if your ex provokes you. Tell yourself: This will pass more quickly if I don’t add fuel to the fire.
Be flexible, and your ex will be more willing to be flexible too.
Keep your agreements.
Do you wonder what your STBX is telling the kids? Talk to your kids about your ex the same way you want him/her to talk about you.
Do what you can to build goodwill and trust, even if your spouse or ex doesn’t reciprocate. It’s the right thing to do. Your kids will thank you later.
© Ann Buscho, Ph.D. 2021