Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions: 7 Tips for Being a Better...

Since it is the first of the new year, I will join the chorus with some New Year's Resolutions for divorced or separated parents and others. Following these tips should help you behave better, have better discussions and keep the peace.

The holidays can be a tough time for families, whether together or divided. There are many activities, financial obligations and a feeling that everything should be wonderful, but that things might not work out well. When families are together, there can be problems with conflicting events and expectations from both sides of the family. In a post-divorce situation, the stress tends to be magnified. The same conflicts, plus others, can occur. Usually, families operate under a standardized, somewhat arbitrary schedule for time with the children. Many times, the parents encounter difficulties in juggling school activities, parties, shopping, family gatherings, and travel. We are a little past the immediate danger of some of the worst arguments, but it never hurts to plan ahead.

Here is a list of seven tips to help you be a better ex-spouse/parent/grandparent/or significant other. Hint: you can actually use these any time of the year when you are dealing with family issues.

1. Listen and think before speaking. Listen to your child or the ex-spouse or whoever the discussion is with. Pause and think about what you are going to say and what effect it may have. Try not to react in anger, even when justifiably provoked. Listening demonstrates respect, which doesn't hurt when you are negotiating a personal issue. Think carefully about the words you choose. They can make a huge difference. Labeling someone an idiot or stupid or something worse will make it harder to get a concession from them.

2. Pause and take a deep breath to diffuse anger. You don't have to go on autopilot to engage in a discussion. Doing so will likely lead you into an argument where you and the other party simply fall into a pattern of quick, angry reactions to each other. If you pause, the other party may continue speaking and that may not be bad. Sometimes, as we know, people just want to vent, to get something off their chest. Letting the other party speak may go a long way to resolving the problem.

3. Put yourself in the other person's position. This may be hard to do as an argument starts to heat up, but you can do it if you pause, take a deep breath and think before you speak. With only a small amount of effort, you can probably put yourself in the other person's place and try to understand what he or she wants and why. That effort may enable you to figure out a way to resolve the issue without getting into a huge argument. Play the devil's advocate with yourself. Consider how you would feel if the other person requested what you are wanting. Think through what you are saying and what the consequences may be. Think of the damage you can cause by recklessly pursuing an argument. You may technically be right, but that may not be the best position to take. If you insist on following the letter of the law (the exact wording of the order, for example), that may preclude you from getting a break from the other party later on when you want to do something a little outside the rules.

4. Don't take things personally. That's often a tough one. If you're in a "discussion" with your ex, it's natural to take things personally. One way to help avoid that is to plan ahead, anticipate arguments and be prepared for how an angry response may be delivered by your ex. You don't have to stoop to his or her level. While it may be very satisfying in one sense to get angry and engage in a big argument, in the long run it is harmful. Keep in mind the fact that you will probably continue to have some relationship with the other person for the rest of your life. If you take time to anticipate what may be said, you can avoid a quick, angry response.

5. Try out the other person's suggestion. Sometimes the other party is right and sometimes their ideas are as good as yours, although it may be hard to admit it. For example, if the other parent wants to split the cost of a tutor, maybe you should try it out. Don't just defend your power, authority or turf. Give their suggestion a try. Maybe you'll find that it's not such a bad idea. If you try it and it is a bad idea, it will be harder for your ex to defend the next time such an issues arises. If the idea works, great!

6. Put each situation in context. Think about the big picture. It may be better to concede some small stuff to keep the peace or to encourage your ex to be accomodating for you later on something else. Not all issues are equally important. Exchanging weekends, or changing the pick up or return times a little bit, should not be a big battle. Resist the urge to bring in other issues when the discussion could be about just one small issue.

7. Seek common ground. Be able to compromise. It is rare for one person to always be right or solely have the best ideas. Think about what you and the other party have in common. For example, you may disagree about which after-school activities a child should be in, but you may be able to work to an agreement by remembering (and discussing) what goals you both have for the child. If you start from a broader policy or value statement, such as encouraging music education because studies show it can lead to higher IQs, then you can change the focus to finding the best program available under the time and financial limitations that may exist. Starting from, or going to, common ground can help the parties find answers they can both live with.

It is true that it may not be entirely satisfying to be a peacemaker. The adrenaline rush from a fierce argument can be wonderful, especially if you skillfully tear the other person apart with your clever words. In the long run, however, the damage done may cause major problems that seriously outweigh the enjoyment of winning an argument. These are just a few of the actions you can use to help you avoid getting into destructive arguments and help you become a better parent, ex-spouse, etc. ...

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