How to Make Good Decisions when Negotiations with the Ex Get Heated
We've all heard the saying: 'There's two sides to every story'.
If you're co-parenting with an Ex, there's likely more than 'two sides' to every story or situation. You've got your current partner's input PLUS the kid's side of the story too! For those of us who live in complex blended families there are a whole lot of opinions and requests to contend with…maybe even a few demands.
When a decision needs to be made, it's easy to get overwhelmed…and confused. How do you stay true to your own values and remain focused on what's best for the kids when everyone around you is weighing in with their own judgements and beliefs?
I know from experience, that making a good and sound decision is tough — especially in the heat of the moment.
Blindsided and Overwhelmed
When my daughter Annika turned 12, my Ex had a major mindset shift…he believed that the time that she spent with me and my family needed to be radically reduced. We still don't know the reason for his attitude shift. For the previous 10 years we'd been peacefully co-parenting with a 50/50 schedule that seemed to be working for everyone.
But suddenly it all changed.
My Ex requested a meeting with me — alone.
When I showed up, he wasn't alone. He brought our daughter with him. He positioned her in front of me and instructed her: "Tell your mom what you want". Annika stared at the floor, nervous and upset.
He continued to prompt her until she said flatly, "I want to live at my dad's house now".
I was blindsided and overcome with emotion. My daughter and I had a close relationship, yet in this moment she wasn't even able look me in the eye. I couldn't understand why she'd make such a request.
My Ex went on and on about how this would be the best thing for Annika and that if I really loved her I'd agree to the new arrangement. That was his 'side of the story'. He believed my daughter didn't need to spend time with me.
Even in my confusion I tried to assess the situation, but my emotions seemed to override reality. I was stunned, hurt, concerned and confused. At this point it seemed that I'd been stripped of any authority to even make a decision — as if my opinion didn't matter and I was simply expected to go along with the plan.
It was a horrible moment of feeling overwhelmed and powerless. My own child was being used to pressure me into a scheduling change that would rob me of my relationship with her.
I found myself emotionally blindsided. I was unable to stand up and fight for the right decision. I failed myself and my daughter. This meeting eventually led to a painful battle in the family courts that lasted three long years.
But maybe things could've been different.
Easy Wrong Turns
Stepfamily expert Patricia Papernow says that it's common for step-couples to make 'easy wrong turns'. Simply put, these are mistakes that we tend to inadvertently make when navigating the complexities of blended family life — they're the pitfalls we don't see coming.
When faced with a tough situation, indecision or lack of awareness is an area where many of us struggle. Myself included.
I've learned a lot since that fateful meeting with my Ex — about myself and about how we can all make better decisions in the heat of the moment. Those times we might be feeling emotionally overwhelmed and powerless.
Here are 3 things you can do when everyone else's 'side of the story' has blindsided you and you're feeling indecisive or paralyzed.
Push Pause on Pressure
In hindsight, I should have never engaged in a conversation with my Ex about the schedule in front of our daughter. I could have evaded the pressure by saying that I needed some time to think about it. Because my emotions were high, I wasn't thinking clearly. I felt trapped and unable to respond well.
Anytime you find yourself in a situation where you're not thinking clearly or feel pressured into making a decision…
…it's time to Push Pause.
Excuse yourself from the conversation, even if it's to escape to the bathroom to calm down and allow your emotions to level off. It's absolutely okay to insist on rescheduling for a later time to continue the discussion. This gives you an opportunity to process through all the possible options and consult with a trusted friend, coach or lawyer about the matter at hand.
Don't allow yourself to be pressured into making decisions on the spot and don't allow your kids to be involved in issues that need to be worked out between the adults.
Here's something you can say to your child if they've been put in the middle and are inappropriately trying to influence your decision:
"Listen honey, your dad/mom and I are the ones who will be making these kinds of decisions because we're the adults. You don't need to worry about it because we are capable of choosing what's best for you".
Examine Your Emotions
Take some time to process through your emotions.
Beware of making any decisions based on fear or guilt. We all experience anger, disappointment and frustration when navigating decisions with an Ex — this is normal. It isn't okay for anyone (including your kids) to use fear or guilt to influence or manipulate your decisions.
I was fearful that my daughter would resent me if I didn't agree to the new schedule and I just didn't want to rock the boat or deal with conflict. I was also fearful of my Ex's explosive temper. Since then, I've learned that making decisions based on fear is NEVER a good thing.
As it turns out, my Ex was systematically and intentionally alienating my daughter from me. He was deceiving and manipulating Annika. Emotional and psychological abuse was underlying this entire situation.
I wish that I had waited. I could have worked through my emotions, talked things over with Mike and made a decision based on what was best for Annika, rather than allowing my fears to take over. This could've lead to a better decision and our family might have avoided years of pain.
Don't avoid or ignore your emotions, even if they're painful. Your emotions need to be examined and expressed before making important decisions. Your decisions should be based on your values. When you're able to process through the heightened emotions and truly decide what you believe is best for your child, that's when the right choice will emerge.
Protect Your Rights and Your Kids
To avoid conflict and difficult situations with your Ex, you'll want to have a clearly defined and specific parenting plan on file with the court. Now that you and your Ex are living separate lives, you can't always know where their at emotionally or what will trigger a negative change in attitude. Verbal agreements often backfire and can leave you and your kids vulnerable.
We learned all this the hard way.
To reduce disputes and avoid being blindsided, a parenting plan is a must. It will protect your parental rights and provide a standard of decision making when disagreements arise…and they will.
If your kids are being put in the middle or used to manipulate decisions, I would consider getting them into counseling. Providing a neutral, third-party resource (even a school counselor) is often an effective way to help kids work through their own emotions without them having to worry about hurting either of their parents. This will also help to release kids from parental allegiances they may feel stuck in.
It was a caring counselor that helped my daughter make sense of what was going on so that she could eventually stand up for what she really wanted.
If you and your Ex are struggling to make important decisions or if you're feeling manipulated and pressured to comply with their demands, mediation is a great option. Do whatever it takes to protect your parental rights and advocate for your children.
It's Complicated…but it isn't Hopeless
Our experience is somewhat extreme, but decision making is a reality we all live with — big ones and smaller ones. Negotiations with an Ex can quickly get complicated and emotionally overwhelming. But you don't have to be pressured or manipulated into making a decision in the heat of the moment.
Avoid making an 'easy wrong turn' by pushing pause on the pressure and examining your emotions every time you're faced with a decision. In doing this, you'll be setting a healthy boundary and protecting your parental rights.
You can make good and sound decisions based on your values and what's best for the kids, even when there's 'more than two sides to the story'. Hold onto hope and reach out for help when you need it!
QUESTION: How can you respond differently when faced with making decisions and negotiating with your Ex? Leave a comment below…