Managing a high-conflict co-parent is a skill that can be learned, not aa goal that seems impossible to reach! It can be challenging, but it's a skill worth mastering. Understanding how to communicate effectively with a co-parent who seemingly thrives on conflict, can make your interactions less stressful and more productive. In this blog post, we'll explore some strategies to help you navigate these turbulent waters.
1. Stay Cool, Calm, and Collected
One of the most important principles when dealing with high-conflict individuals is to maintain your own emotional composure. Recognize your triggers! I can't tell you how important it is to understand when and how your co-parent gets you heated. This will allow you to recognize and limit being triggered. High-conflict people often feed off the emotions of others, so staying calm can prevent the situation from escalating. Take deep breaths, maintain good posture, and remember that their behavior is a reflection of their issues, not yours!
2. Active Listening Will Be Your Best Friend
Practice active listening by giving the person your full attention. Let them speak without interruption, and when it's your turn to respond, paraphrase what they've said to ensure you understand their perspective. This demonstrates respect and can defuse tension.
3. Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries
High-conflict individuals may have a tendency to push boundaries, so it's essential to establish and maintain your own. Clearly communicate your limits and stick to them. Be firm but respectful when doing so, and avoid engaging in their attempts to drag you into their conflict. Dorcy loves "I" statements for how effective they are at better getting across feelings. When expressing your own thoughts and feelings, use "I" statements to take ownership of your perspective. For example, say "I feel uncomfortable when..." instead of "You make me feel uncomfortable when...". This approach can prevent them from feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
4. Empathize and Validate... Yes, We Know It Sounds Hard
Even if you disagree with their viewpoint, try to empathize with their feelings and validate their emotions. That is their perception, after-all. Acknowledging their perspective, without necessarily agreeing, can help de-escalate the situation and show that you're willing to consider their point of view (even if you aren't...).
5. Avoid Blame and Accusations
High-conflict people often respond poorly to accusations or blame. Instead of saying, "You're always causing problems," try saying, "I've noticed some challenges in our interactions, and I'd like to find a way to work together more smoothly." This approach is less confrontational and more likely to lead to a productive discussion.
6. Focus on Solutions & Support
Shift the conversation towards problem-solving rather than dwelling on the conflict itself. Ask open-ended questions that encourage brainstorming for solutions, which can help redirect their energy toward a more positive outcome. More importantly, make sure YOU learn how to deal with THEM! Most parents assume that if their co-parent doesn't want to engage in joint support, like a class, therapy, coaching - that all is lost. This couldn't be further from the truth. We help many parents learn how to mitigate conflict in their co-parenting relationship ad save their sanity by teaching them the skills and tools they need to master the art of co-parenting with a high-conflict person. It is all about how you control yourself, your actions, emotions, that will make all the difference.
...Communicating with a high-conflict person can be challenging, but it's not impossible. If you'd like to truly master this skill, consider investing in the interpersonal support of a co-parenting coach, or our renowned Conscious Parenting online course (use code BLOG10WK for 10% off). Our coaches are highly skilled at helping you navigate the treacherous waters of your co-parenting dynamic, and our courses are robust with information for support at your fingertips. Contact our team to learn more. And remember that your goal is not to change them but to manage the situation and protect your own well-being.