Living in a divorce situation or in a broken relationship where kids are involved isn't easy for anyone. Most of the time, there are bad feelings involved, tension, stress and agitation after a breakup -- and your kids can be affected. Conflict resolution is a tough process, but in the end your kids will be better off for it. Sometimes keeping your kids out of conflict means that you have to walk away rather than stand and fight -- especially when your ex wants to fight. However, if your primary concern is the emotional health of your kids, you'll have to learn to deal with conflict in a healthy manner.
If you are struggling in a conflict situation with your ex, do everything you can to get to the bottom of the conflict and resolve it through talking or mediation. If the issue is an ongoing one that requires legal intervention or protections (such as a custody issue, allegations of abuse or neglect, theft, or other legal disputes), make sure the appropriate authorities are notified when you have to interact with your ex. Even if it's difficult to remove yourself from the situation, taking the "high road" will spare your kids heartache. Remember, they love you and your ex equally and it's very difficult for them to see you fight.
Here are some tips to resolving conflict with your ex so it doesn't affect the kids:
- Walk away. This is easier said than done, of course, and it will require you to be the bigger person and leave a fight that you may be justified in. However, your kids don't need to see you arguing with your ex. Kids are smarter and more astute than you realize. They will learn how to resolve conflict by how they see you acting. They will also see your ex's behavior and how things play out. If you want your kids to learn how to manage conflict in their own lives, show them how to walk away even if the other person still wants to fight.
- Seek help. Sometimes, even when you have the best of intentions, the other person just won't let it go. If you find that you cannot interact with your ex without a fight, ask someone to come with you when you have to meet up. If you need to speak by phone, record your phone calls in case there's a dispute in the future. (Note: In some states you are required by law to notify the other party that you are recording them.) Talk to a professional who specializes in conflict resolution and get some tips on how to stay in control in a fight.
- Stick to neutral locations. If you have to interact with your ex, it's best to keep things off of your "turf" and his. Things are less likely to escalate in public. Take your kids somewhere they like to be, where people tend to gather. This could be a restaurant or coffee shop, a mall or bookstore. Show up a little early and buy your kids a little treat, like some French fries, and keep a smile on your face. They don't need to know there's tension. If things flare up, you'll have the buffer of having a lot of people around.
- Stay calm. If nothing else, stay calm. If there's a reason why you're not in a position to walk away, you'll have to work to keep your emotions in check. Watch your words. Speak calmly and don't rise to any fights or respond to mean or hurtful words your ex may try to use. Remember, your kids are watching -- and learning.