Co-Parenting Conflict Resolution Techniques
Co-parenting relationships should never be defined by conflict, but even the best of partnerships can experience rough patches from time to time. That can be especially true when adjusting to big changes, like when you're still acclimating to your new co-parenting routine. And even well-established partnerships can be momentarily upended if new developments throw a family's regular routine into flux.
But your co-parenting relationship is only in danger of being defined by conflict if that conflict is left to fester. Unaddressed conflict can dig its way deep into a co-parenting relationship, reemerging weeks or months later to complicate otherwise simple disagreements that are completely unrelated to the conflict's origin. It can also destroy trust, which is a key attribute for successful shared parenting.
Once conflict is allowed to damage a co-parenting partnership, it can be much harder to get back to a place where effective conflict resolution is possible. Which is why it's important for co-parents to be proactive in building a working relationship that prioritises trust and cooperation.
Building a base for successful conflict resolution
The first steps for successful conflict resolution happen before any conflict actually occurs. The approach we have to conflict is heavily influenced by how we regard the other person involved in the conflict and how we feel about our relationship with them. Trying to resolve conflict from a place of mistrust and bad blood is going to be monumentally more difficult than resolving conflict from a place of trust and cooperation.
How do you think about your co-parenting?
Overcoming conflict is made easier when co-parents define their relationship as a team with a mutual goal. A high-conflict divorce may lead parents to begin their co-parenting relationship with a 'me versus you' mentality, and making the switch to a more cooperative stance often requires an emotional 180° with which many parents struggle. But making that switch is absolutely essential.
One simple and concrete step that co-parents can take to reframe their mindset is by making sure that the vocabulary they are using to talk and think about their shared parenting focuses on positivity and cooperation. Review this list of 6 essential terms for co-parenting to get started.
Co-parents can also update their mindset by thinking seriously about their priorities for their shared parenting. For most parents, that list will likely include goals focused on the health and happiness of their children.
Those types of goals are more easily achieved when co-parents recognise that the other's success adds to their own. One co-parent's actions to raise children in a safe and supportive environment do not take away from the other co-parent's efforts to do the same. Quite the opposite!
Approaching co-parenting with this realisation can help foster a supportive environment where problem-solving is about finding cooperative solutions, rather than a matter of winners versus losers.
Trust is an essential part of any working relationship, but it can also be one of the trickiest to rebuild after it's been damaged. Open and honest co-parenting communication can go a long way in rebuilding, and then maintaining, trust between co-parents after a divorce or separation.
Focus on building a solid foundation of consistency, reliability, and predictability. Volatile interactions that leave co-parents constantly wondering how the next encounter will proceed are counterproductive to building trust. For co-parents, that means focusing on behaviours like updating each other with important information in a timely manner, strictly following the parenting schedule, and providing expense details and reimbursements consistently.
In order to successfully resolve conflict, communication between co-parents must be healthy. The communication troubles experienced when co-parents were together will not magically disappear once they begin their co-parenting. So it's vital that co-parents not only recognise their bad habits when it comes to communicating but that they also actively work toward correcting those tendencies.
Whether you struggle with passive-aggressiveness, need to work on your co-parenting patience, or could use some help with being overly defensive, an honest assessment of the state of your communication strategies is an essential first step toward creating a relationship that can handle conflict resolution.
Co-parenting conflict resolution
Every co-parenting relationship is unique, but most can benefit from the following techniques when trying to resolve conflict. However, these techniques are not suitable for situations where the health and safety of children or parents are put into question. In those situations, consult a legal professional in your area for assistance.
A time and place for apologies
Placing blame is very rarely an effective technique for putting conflict to rest. But its counterpart, admitting fault, can be crucial for resolving conflict stemming from co-parenting mishaps and mistakes. If you make a mistake or mishandle a situation, apologising promptly and sincerely can cut the legs out from under any brewing conflict.
When on the receiving end of an apology, it's also important to take the apology at face value and quell any urge to punish your co-parent for their mistake. Retaliation and holding grudges will be detrimental to you, not to mention your children, in the long run.
Seek solutions, not punishments
Retaliation and punishments only beget more of the same. As a result, co-parents can quickly get sucked into a circle of petty tit-for-tat tactics if one or both don't take the chance to break the cycle. Plus, a state of mind that is prioritising the punishment of a co-parent cannot be simultaneously prioritising the health and happiness of children.
Instead, work on your commitment to finding cooperative solutions to conflict. Don’t approach conflict as an opportunity to get to the bottom of who is to blame for what. Instead, think of it as a situation that requires the two of you to work together to solve.
Let’s use issues with parenting time changeovers as an example. It can be tempting to frame the issue as: “You need to stop dropping the ball with changeovers.”
But that framing doesn’t provide any constructive momentum to correct the problem.
In lieu of that, find alternatives that prioritise finding a solution, such as: “We need to figure out a new system that will keep our changeovers on schedule and consistent.”
Approaching conflict as an opportunity to improve and recommit to your co-parenting efforts, rather than a flaw-finding free-for-all, may not be easy. But it will be far more effective in the long run for achieving the true goal of raising children in a supportive and healthy environment.
Be open to other possibilities
When in the midst of conflict, it's all too easy to get tunnel vision. Convinced that they know the best way forward, co-parents who succumb to tunnel vision will refuse to consider possible alternatives or compromises. Sadly enough, closing themselves to other possibilities, whether consciously or not, makes it easier for co-parents to paint the other as ridiculous or unable to see reason.
For conflict resolution, however, it's paramount to resist becoming narrow-minded to possible solutions. Very rarely is there only ever one solution to a problem. If you find yourself baulking at the thought of other solutions or compromises being presented by your co-parent, then it's a good time to take a deeper look into your true motivations for resisting alternatives.
Relieve stress and take your time
In order to approach conflict resolution with a cooperative mindset, co-parents need to be able to actively practice empathy with each other. Stress and anger, emotions commonly experienced during conflict, aren't really conducive to that approach, however.
To counteract those strong emotions, parents should know which stress-relieving methods work for them. Whether your preferred method is meditation, exercise, or simply sitting with a hot drink on a comfy couch, practising stress relief during conflict is not only good for your blood pressure. It also gives you a chance to consider your approach rather than simply reacting.
Build a framework for common sources of conflict
If there's an area of your co-parenting that simply isn't working, it will likely become a regular source of disagreements and conflict. Once you've identified a common source of miscommunication, work together with your co-parent to build a framework for approaching those conversations or issues.
When trying to get those problem areas on track, a detailed, step-by-step approach will likely be helpful in the beginning. A rigid structure to certain conversations, like parenting time modification requests, can always be adapted and relaxed as you and your co-parent become comfortable and confident in those interactions. But getting to that place of comfort requires consistency and predictability of interactions, and a clear framework for approaching those topics can help you and your co-parent rebuild and maintain trust.
Conflict resolution between co-parents is easier if there is already a strong base of cooperation in the relationship. These techniques can be great first steps to get co-parents to that point:
- Prioritise positive thinking about your co-parenting relationship
- Use a vocabulary that redefines your co-parenting as teamwork
- Focus on open and honest communication about your children
- Be honest about the areas of your communication that could use a little TLC
When in conflict with your co-parent, the following steps can help you take the right approach:
- Know the appropriate time to apologise, and know when to graciously accept an apology as well.
- Focus on finding solutions to situations, rather than getting to the bottom of who is to blame for what.
- Remain open-minded to alternative solutions to problems.
- Take the time to relieve stress when in conflict, so you’re responses to conflict can be thoughtful, rather than just reactions.
- Identify common sources of conflict and work with your co-parent to build a strong framework for communication about those situations.