Conflict is natural
Conflict is a part of life with which we all have to deal at different times and in different ways. Arguments and disputes in life mostly follow a natural progression towards eventual resolution although maybe we deal with the associated conflict in different ways according to our preferences and skills. In most relationship breakdowns conflict is a significant feature and can be intense for a long period of time but typically declining as each person comes to terms in their own way with what has happened. In separation and divorce, particularly where there are children, the potential for damage due to conflict can be a source of concern to those directly involved and to those around them who can see and hear the impact.
Conflict in relationship breakdown
People have to deal with all the emotional factors of the loss of the relationship, such as grief, anger, blame, guilt, and at the same time make major decisions and practical adjustments to enable life to carry on for themselves and for any children. Conflict thrives in such a demanding setting. In addition the legal process of divorce and separation remains essentially an adversarial method arguing the position of one against the other to reach resolution. At its worst by discouraging direct communication between the parties it escalates the conflict and consolidates positions feeding on exchanges through solicitors. Some people want this and are looking for vindication and retribution but can still be taken aback by the ensuing conflict that seems to run out of control. Many from the start see intense conflict as stressful and dangerous to health and well-being and therefore want to limit its effects.
When conflict is damaging
All the research shows that conflict inhibits the adjustment of children to their parents’ separation. Accepting that conflict is inevitable, how parents handle it is the crucial factor in helping their child to cope and move forward. Seeing or hearing the conflict between their parents, particularly if this includes physical or verbal violence, frightens children and can be very damaging. Keep children out of the middle of your conflict is a message that is repeated by children, parents and professionals alike.
Parents report that coping with conflict as well as everything else reduces their time and energy to support and care for their children as well as they would want, just at a time when they can see that their children need them most. Expectation of meeting conflict can result in parents avoiding any communication adding to any existing mistrust and misunderstanding. This can reach a point that some even consider some way of keeping one parent out of the picture altogether.
Dealing with conflict
If you think conflict is playing too great a part in your life you could consider how you might do things a little differently. There are inevitably issues between you in separation and divorce that may take some time to resolve but meanwhile
Conflict and mediation
- if you are angry try to contain it and not let it spill out everywhere – if friendliness is out of the question you can try and be civil
- think what it is that is making you angry and put it in the form of an “I” message rather than “you” – “When you are late bringing the children back I feel really worried that there has been an accident or something” “If I don’t see the children mid-week I feel like I am losing touch with them”
- try to avoid name- calling and blaming
- consider whether there is room for an apology or compromise on some occasions
- consider counselling to provide personal support if you are struggling
As a family mediation service we work to resolve issues in situations where there can be any degree of conflict ongoing. On the whole, people use mediation because they disagree not because they agree! In mediation people progress through a decision-making process that should by its nature reduce the conflict; if the impact of conflict in itself is causing concern then the issue can be specifically addressed during the course of the mediation, for example exploring how it is generated and how it can be avoided or minimised. How each family handles situations will differ according to its needs. Communication is often an issue – too little can cause conflict as can too much. Because mediation works with both parties and does not seek to assign blame it can be much more effective than other approaches at resolving conflict.
We do work in some family situations where dealing with conflict is the only topic and can help the parties reach an agreed form of working or living together which both can see as acceptable, reasonable and fair.