Sunday, November 2, 2008

Acting Your Age -- Bad Tricks That Will Lead to Conflict

Sometimes, it's easier to act like a child than it is to accept adult responsibilities. Sometimes it's more fun to act like a child. Usually, it doesn't help resolve your family law issues. Sometimes we subconsciously continue to act like little kids because it's the way we dealt with conflict in the past. The methods are not always effective, especially when measured against the goal of peacefully resolving marital problems, but they require little or no thinking or planning and they will almost always lead to a reaction.

Here are some things that you should seriously avoid. These are DON'Ts. They make a difficult, stressful situation worse and they may prevent you from meeting your needs. Think back to when you were a kid. Which of these techniques did you use to annoy your sister or brother? How do you think your spouse feels when you do these things to him or her?

1. Hiding toys from someone. One kid hiding toys from a brother or sister is not at all unusual. It may be payback for something else or it could be from jealousy. Things are often hidden and held hostage to encourage some other action by a party in order to get the item back. That behavior happens all the time in divorces.

2. Getting the last word in an argument. Very common with children, especially as pre-teens and teens. Some kids develop that as a habit and they continue to practice it in marriages, which can lead to bad problems. It gets worse in a divorce.

3. Instigate a conflict, then claim to be the victim. We all have seen this happen. A younger child hits an older one who retaliates. The younger one then starts crying and an adult ends up disciplining the older one for picking on the younger one. That technique also works in divorces and can be very irritating to the initial victim who is punished.

4. Insist on taking away something your sibling wants. Sometimes, it doesn't matter what the kids are fighting over. They both claim they want the same thing and it becomes a contest of wills. Ever see that with married or divorcing couples? I have, plenty of times.

5. "I'm hungry/bored." Young children are naturally focused on themselves, their comfort and their needs. As they get older, they start being bored. Adults do the same things as they withdraw from relationships, or avoid a close relationship with a spouse. Being self-absorbed may feel somewhat comfortable, but it makes it hard for an adult to really understand their spouse or other family members. Lacking insight into others or empathy for their feelings makes it hard for adults to maintain good relationships.

6. "You're mean." Young children not only blame others for their problems, but they will make a broad assertion about how bad the other child is. Many adults continue to do that throughout their lives.

7. "That's not fair. " This is a common complaint among children. As children mature, their arguments may grow more sophisticated, but they still come back to the subjective standard of fairness. Obviously, what is clearly fair from the perspective of one person may seem very unfair to another person looking at the same situation, but from a different perspective. Many adults going through a divorce become very frustrated because the process and the results don't seem fair to them. Actually, what often happens is that the situation seems unfair to both parties at the same time, because fair is subjective.

How many of these sound familiar? Most people use most or all of the techniques as kids and some continue the tricks as adults. The results are usually unsatisfactory for adults. Situations are more complex and often more is at stake.

What to do? Here are some ideas.

  • At the outset, spend time to think about your goals so that you decide what's important to you. Don't waste time on irrelevant or insignificant things.
  • Think before you act or speak. How will your words or actions affect your spouse and how will s/he react? Try to anticipate the consequences.
  • Get counseling to help you through the difficult emotional times.
  • Talk to your attorney and follow the attorney's advice, even if it's not what you were hoping to hear.
  • Try to consider the issues like a business transaction.
  • Put yourself in your spouse's position and try to understand how s/he feels.
  • Think long term. Consider the future consequences of a course of action. Don't base your decision solely on what is expected to happen immediately. Look at the long term effects of different actions.

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