You know the drill.
You have to negotiate logistics around something that’s not covered in your separation or divorce agreement and you dread having to engage in conversation. The anticipation alone gives you a stomachache and ruins everything else you have to do that day. It never goes smoothly. He pushes your buttons intentionally sometimes with behavior and words he knows irk you. Other times the simple fact that he’s living his life with ease and not struggling like you are with this new life arrangement kicks up myriad unpleasant emotions.
How did you go from being married to this person to not being able to decide who picks up the kids from soccer practice without igniting such ugly emotions?
Whatever circumstances precipitated your divorce, if your life remains enmeshed with shared kids, business, or any other comingled factor, you will still have to communicate. In some more contentious situations, a divorced couple only corresponds through their legal team, but we can’t all afford to amass such weighty attorney fees. We have to figure out a way to exchange necessary information without getting caught up in damaging stress states.
Unfortunately, I can’t change the history of events, I can’t make your ex a nicer, more compassionate person and there’s no way for me to guarantee your ex will not make choices in conversation that push your buttons. You’re the only person in the room you can control, so I’m going to help you understand what’s happening inside of you during these testy communication moments and give you some tips for reducing their intensity and their negative impact on your own mind and body.
First, it’s important for you to know more about who is actually showing up to these conversations. Yes – it’s you and your ex, but what is it about your individual temperament and disposition that informs your thoughts, feelings, decisions, and words during these heated exchanges? You certainly don’t have these unharmonious urges with the guy who sells you coffee in the morning, right? Let’s look at what’s brought to the surface within you during these unsettling interactions. The more you understand them, the more you’ll be able to control them.
Your reactions to triggering people and situations arise from three internal aspects:
Let’s start by looking at your nature. According to the Five Archetypes of Chinese Medicine, we are all born with a primary way we engage when we’re in stressful situations. There are five of these primary ways. Take a peek through the list below and see if you can identify which way you tend to react when you are most deeply impacted by a challenging situation with your ex.
You may identify with more than one of the response types above, but we typically have a primary way we interact when our foundation of resilience is low and we experience a severe stress trigger. If you’re not sure which is yours, pay close attention to your reactive states for the next week and see if you notice a pattern.
The next element that influences how you communicate in challenging times is your personal life experience. Every situation you’ve faced from childhood to now has taught you lessons. Some were overt, but others were subconscious. They all inform your belief about what is right, what works in social interactions and what doesn’t. Your experiences have taught you how you think people “should” behave and have created a certain sense of legitimacy and rightful action that aligns with how you carry yourself and what you expect of others. We can become triggered when people behave in ways that go against what we’ve come to believe over the years to be decent and civilized.
Finally, the context of the moment will influence how you react. By context I mean everything from whether you remembered to eat breakfast to the amount of traffic that morning to the exact details of what was said in the unfriendly exchange with your ex. Your resolve to stay balanced in the face of conflict is impacted by your physical state as well as your ability to self-regulate emotionally when your buttons are pushed.
Now that you see how much complexity goes into your own reaction to one heated moment, keep in mind that when you engage in a heated discussion with your ex, all of his, or her factors are intersecting with yours. When two people who are still healing and are likely getting by with an impaired emotional immune system at the moment attempt to negotiate a problem, it’s not likely to go well. However, if you arm yourself with the awareness of what’s going on underneath the upset, you have a much better chance of being less affected.
So, what can you do to fortify yourself in the face of future potentially challenging conversations? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Remember, your ability to remain strong through these stressful interactions hinges on self-awareness and self-control. Develop a healthy routine that works for you and stick to it. You’ll start to focus more on living your best life than on managing dysfunctional communication and behavior.
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