The Leaver and the Left

There is a concept in separation and divorce in which there is often a disparity between where each party are emotionally in relation to the separation.

While some couples come to the decision together, in many cases one party has already made the decision to leave long before they’ve told the other. They are referred to as ‘the leaver’. This can cause a great deal of frustration for the person who is being left.

As you will see from the inserted graphic, the leaver is ahead at every stage. By the time they are making new plans and coming to terms with their life ahead, the left is only just finding out. This in itself can cause a great deal of conflict.

What happens then is the grief cycle for the left, which the leaver has already had time to come to terms with, is only just beginning. For the leaver, there are heightened emotions, often denial and sometimes still trying to save the relationship. This is discussed in full in the parenting after separation course.

The message I encourage separating parents to understand is to have an understanding that you are each on the same path but at different stages. You will ultimately both come to a place of acceptance, however, if you can respect that each of you is at different stages, this will go smoother.

Consider the graphic and where you are now.

Were you the leaver or the left?

Where is your co-parent at on this scale?

What do you think life looks for them now?

What do you think they experienced at various stages?

This is just some food for thought. You may not come up with all the answers you need right away. Processing relationship grief and loss is an individual journey and can take time. You will come through this in the end.

As always, I’m here to help. You can contact me via the contact form on this site or at parentingafterseparation.com.au

Post-Separation Friendships – the path to achieving the unthinkable.

Post-separation friendships are becoming more common. All too frequently though, they are met with disbelief or a level of scepticism – ‘this would never work for me’. Maybe it wouldn’t but it likely could have.

Perhaps the most dominant myth is that if you could be friends after separation, you could have stayed together. The reality, however, is that relationships end for a vast number of reasons.

I was listening to the famed researcher, Brene Brown recently when she was talking about her research and what it meant to feel belonging’. It made me reflect on how this impacts separating couples.

Brene points out that belonging (family and intimate connections) are part of our DNA. This is where most people start their relationships or at least form the strongest part of them. When, or if, that is lost, the opposite which is felt is a sense of ‘fitting in’. Of trying to be who your partner wants you to be and not being true to yourself. When fitting in becomes the accepted version of you, it’s usually the beginning of the end.

If there was one single learning in personal development post-separation, it’s this: Learn to love who you are and let go of the rest. Let go of judgment. Let go of fitting in. And don’t accept anything into your life which is not helping you to move in a positive forward direction.

So how do you get there? There are some common traits which you will find in couples who can maintain a friendship with their former partners.

They embrace change

You separated for a reason; whatever that was. What has to now happen is that move on freely and happily with your life. The two of you chose this new path so you could create a better life for yourselves.

In pre-mediation work, I hear from clients their frustrations about what their former partner did or didn’t do, that caused the relationship to breakdown. While this conversation plays an important and necessary part of the mediation process, it also needs to eventually become something of the past and not remain in your present.

An often forgotten part of that process is accepting the new status quo. This is about accepting all the new challenges ahead of you and taking responsibility for your new personal path. If you can do this, you will prevent the blame game and bitterness which vexes so many couples after separation

The dynamic has now changed and amicable post-separation couples can embrace this as a positive, new step forward.

They undertake self-development work

Self-development work is very much an individual journey and may involve a whole variety of modalities. Counselling, coaching, meditation or even a new healthy daily or weekly practice such as yoga or going to the gym. It may even be a new, healthier diet regime.

Whatever it is, it’s important that you choose this for yourself as part of who you are – not who you were once fitting in to be. This is your time to shine and to find the path in life for yourself.

You and your former partner will be happy to watch each other grow into the new, happier or healthier version of you. Your children will benefit from this too.

They embrace new relationships

Separating couples who are capable of an amicable separation will be happy when their former partner moves on. Just because it didn’t work for the two of you doesn’t mean you can’t each try again. And you should!

Part of this process is, of course, accepting that your children will have new significant other people in their lives. Despite popular opinion, this isn’t as much about who that person is, but rather is about your self-confidence and relationship with your children.

They seek solutions, not conflict

Probably the biggest myth of amicable separations is that it’s easy. It’s not. It takes work. And lots of it. However, separating couples dedicated to this path will choose to seek solutions that work for everyone, not another battle or argument to win. “

Being solution-focused comes with a skillset of asking genuine and open questions. It’s an approach of ‘how can we resolve this?’ not ‘how can I get what I want?’.

Solutions don’t always come easily. They can require you to be flexible and to let go of specific outcomes. Usually, in separating couples they require a child-focused approach and to include their interests as well as your own. Sometimes they take trial and error or seeking external help or advice. The underlying sentiment must always be to find a resolution.

This is a period of growth. Of change. And new beginnings. It will bring you resilience, peace of mind and the capacity to self-reflect.

If you’re one of the people doing the heavy-lifting to make a post-separation relationship healthy, thank you! I congratulate you and your co-parent. Please keep speaking up about your experiences – warts and all! Those of us who have travelled the path before you know it’s not always easy. It’s most frequently unscripted. The rule book doesn’t yet exist. But with passive persistence, we know you will get there.

Need help? Contact Jasmin

The Struggle of Parallel Parenting

The struggle of parallel parenting is real! Parallel parenting is the term given to a style of parenting that is adopted by some parents, most frequently when there is a high level of conflict and a low level of communication. What it means in practical terms is that each of you will parent differently.

VERY differently.

When we talk about this struggle it does not necessarily apply to all. For many families, this is the best approach for the least amount of conflict and it can work extremely well. However, for some, it presents frequent challenges.

There may be one set of rules in your house, and another in the other parents home. While it would be conveniently easy to say what goes on there is none of your business, it’s also quite difficult to accept this when you feel the children aren’t being cared for as you’d wish.

There is a saying that’s appropriate here and it always comes to mind for me when helping parents through these frustrations.

Your level of happiness is determined by the difference between your expectations and reality

Having an expectation that things are going to change can be fraught with disappointment. I’m not suggesting you lower your standards or those you wish for your children, but sometimes it’s beneficial to take stock of what’s within your power and what’s not. Then work out what, or how, you might be able to influence a different outcome, and let go of everything else.

The most common issues arising for those who parallel parent are:

  • Child bedtimes or other routines.
  • Activities, or lack of
  • Attention to homework or after school activities.
  • Decisions affecting the children made without consultation.

Parallel parenting can be a challenge for one, if not both of you. When conflict is high there is a tendency for at least one parent to be quite opposed to any suggestion or routine which is adopted in the other home.

But all is not lost. There are some simple steps you can apply that will help make this path smoother.

Minimise the opportunities for conflict

This may be through minimising time spent in each others company, especially at handovers or when the children are present. It does not have to mean eliminating it altogether unless you feel that is absolutely necessary. It is helpful for the children to see you together at times, and being courteous to each other in the presence – if that is at all possible. If it’s not possible, keep contact minimal and courteous.

Communication Skills

Communication Book

A common tool is for the parents to use a handover book to communicate important things about the children. This may be about changes in pick up, school uniforms, planned holidays or other occasions.

Try a communication app

There are many parent communication apps on the market today. In some cases, you can employ the services for a third-party mediator to monitor your communication or to call upon if you need help.

Our Family Wizard and Parenting Apart two common applications you might wish to try. Otherwise, try google for parenting apps.

Choosing your battles

This is quite a big subject however with every conflict if you consider a few key questions it can help to prioritise where this sits in the hierarchy of matters to focus on.

  1. What will the children lose or benefit from in relation to resolving this conflict?
  2. How important is it to resolve this right now?
  3. Are my assumptions or thoughts about this outcome (the outcome you want) legitimate?
  4. What will be the follow-on impact of pursuing this?
  5. How successful is my approach likely to be?
  6. Is there another way to approach this?
  7. Is this something I can let slide?

Parallel parenting can be hard, however, it is manageable if you both can remain child-focused. Think of it as solving a puzzle. How can I piece this together so it makes more sense and is less frustrating?

Need help? Contact Jasmin directly or via Facebook

Communicating With A High Conflict Co-Parent

Much of what I write about  relates to helping people co-parent in the best possible way. When both parties are willing, the transition to successful co-parenting can eventually be smooth even when some conflict is present. Usually we find that when the parents can remain child focused there is a rationale applied and a common sense, workable solution eventually arises through coaching.

So what happens when one parent is high conflict?

Well, conflict is what happens ! No matter how calm, passive or unaffected you try to be, conflict will eventually escalate when one parent is hell bent on seeking their sense of revenge or justice. Ultimately you are bullied into submission and compliance, or you self implode. Sometimes both.

I’m not one for internet diagnosis of people, however there are some common themes in high conflict people. Most notably, narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. If you’re dealing with one of these people the chances are you already know the signs and symptoms. In short, NPD people are self centred and consider themselves blameless while they project all the relationship problems onto their target. In doing this they take no responsibility whatsoever. Borderlines tend to be prone to acute bouts of expressed anger and self destruction.

Both of these personality disorders make for very difficult co-parenting arrangements. They seek out conflict rather than seek to resolve it.

Strategies

The hardest part of co-parenting with a high conflict personality is the attachment you must have with them due to your children. However, no one should be subject to continual (or even short term) abuse.

In short, communicating with high conflict co-parents is extremely hard. However, there are ways in which you can minimise the outfall and impact upon yourself. There are some standout do’s and don’ts with communicating with high conflict co-parents.

Bill Eddy is a renowned therapist and lawyer who has working in the separation and family mediation space. He has done extensive work and research with high conflict personalities and I’ve adapted what I have learned here from Bill, along with experience from helping with strategies for dealing with high conflict co-parents.

Don’t

  • try and tell them they are a high conflict personality. This will enrage them and they will become extremely defensive, as is their pattern.
  • engage them in their agenda of conflict or confrontation, particularly verbal. In fact actively avoid it at all costs.
  • never apologise as they take this as your guilt.
  • don’t lay blame or accuse them as they will become defensive.
  • take their criticisms to heart. They are a reflection of them, not you.  

Do

  • Keep in mind that high conflict people are quite predictable. Learn their patterns in order to preempt their strike.
  • Keep communication to the written format or use a mediator, lawyer or other professional to screen and filter what is being said. The high conflict person loves and audience as long as they can lay blame. However they want to be seen as the ‘good’ person so they will do their best to be reasonable with an audience they may be judged by.
  • If you are writing to (or otherwise communicating with) a high conflict person, try and formulate your narrative in a way that does not cause them to be defensive. (This includes laying blame or accusing them of something.)
  • Try and eliminate the word “YOU” from written communication. Instead of “you are making this harder than it should be” try “this is harder than it should be”. Or, instead of “the problem you don’t understand is” becomes “there is a problem here and I’d like to share my views.”
  • Keep solution focused and future focused (high conflict people love to live in the past). No matter how much they try and drag you back to the historical argument, you need to keep the focus on resolution.  
  • Seek help for yourself and create a self care routine. High conflict people have a way of stripping you of your self worth and it’s important you do as much as you can to minimise that.

Recovery

Healing from the trauma of a narcissistic or borderline personality disordered partner or ex-partner can be a long, slow process. You’ve been unfairly shrouded in a sense of shame and guilt that has undoubtedly become pervasive in your thinking. This kind of abuse alters your brain chemistry and the wiring becomes out of alignment with what is considered normal function. You become unable to think clearly, unable to regulate emotions and are over sensitive to fears or threats.

The antidote to this is being able to re-write your story. To immerse yourself with those who demonstrate love, respect and understanding. To spend time doing things you love and things that bring you joy and happiness – even for short moments. As you heal, you will be able to create for yourself a life with a strong sense of belonging. Always reach out if you need support.

5 Good Reasons To Be Quiet In Conflict

Being quiet in conflict is a challenge but if you master this art in communication you may learn a very valuable tool

Getting involved in an argument is rarely beneficial. However, sometimes there are matters which need to be discussed in which emotions become elevated. The natural position for most people is to push back against those they are opposed to. I certainly get the sentiment, however here’s an alternative that you might like to employ.

The following is an adaptation from a blog I wrote several years ago. It still rings true today.

#1  — You can’t listen while you’re talking

Listening is so much more than hearing words. It’s an observation of intent, mannerisms, inflection and emotion that are all being bought into the conversation. Learning through observation is a far better tool that having to prove your point of view.

#2 — You may not be right

Unimaginable, I know but both of you can’t be right. Perhaps you can leave room for the fact that maybe it’s not you this time.  And if you are right, then it will prove itself in time so be patient. A point about avoiding conflict that I would like to make here is that even if you are right, so what? Apart from ego, does it really help you to prove you are right? 

#3 — You can learn a lot from listening

Giving someone space to speak can be really powerful for both of you to avoid conflict.  You can both learn from this experience and I often find that people can resolve their own issues, just by being heard. And there is a gift here for you if you watch for it, but you may get a sense of what it is that is frustrating them if you give them space.  It’s better to understand than need to be understood.

#4 — You will create space for compassion

This one is a favorite of mine.  If you can be silent enough to hear someone else’s story and to view the world through their eyes you will start to see that their path and their experiences were different to yours. You don’t have to agree with their version but compassion opens the door to understanding.

#5 — It gives you time to think instead of react

Really, if you can start to handle this one your communication problems will be a thing of the past, and all because you were quiet for a while.  Often we will retort with a comment that we might later regret or realise not to be based on anything other than our own hurt. So we project our own pain instead of hearing someone else’s.  If we allow time to absorb what the other has said and then come up with a rational response it will make things way smoother for both of you.

The art of being quiet in conflict is communication skills, but it’s rooted in a willingness to resolve the issue in front of you. Always keep the children in focus. Their love for you both is greater than any argument.

Need help? Try our Parenting After Separation courses here