Avoid the blow up – use empathy effectively

We've all been there – the dreaded blow up! Let me paint the picture for you. It's Saturday afternoon and you're out for coffee with a friend when you receive a message from your co-parent. They have just sent through an expense that you weren’t aware of ... and it's more than $300! Oh boy, it's on again!

Instantly, your heart rate elevates and your mind is racing. To top it all off, you're no longer present with your friend - you’re a million miles away stewing on all of the other similar stresses you co-parent created that you had forgotten about. To put is simply, you're done! Coffee over! 

Before I get into how you can handle this differently, I do want to outline that is this is a pretty common reaction between separated parents. Depending on where you are in your separation journey, don't be too hard on yourself. The good news is there are a few simple steps you can take to set moments like these on a completely different path and reduce conflict and stress, because, let's face it, they aren't going away any time soon.

Monkey See, Monkey Don't

Your heart racing, blood boiling and brain kicking into overdrive is very normal. This part of your brain is known as the monkey brain and it is exactly what it sounds like! Your brain is jumping around like crazy. Before first-world problems, like not having enough charging cables for the kids' iPods, we actually had real problems like running out of food and creatures trying to turn us into their food! Now it's far less about literal ‘fight’ or ‘flight’, but our brains still call on the same processes to handle moments when we feel threatened. Fear is a core emotional reaction that drives a lot of decisions in the brain, so the faster we can try and distance ourselves from this reaction, the better.

Being a little more Dapper

Getting out of monkey brain (it's sometimes called toddler brain or lizard brain) and back to rational brain is key to getting a moment like this back on track. Our rational brain is where we can regulate and observe our emotions. Here we can make calculated, rational decisions, and if we're going back to our example of the dreaded text message, we can avoid instantly shooting back a text like "I'm not paying that!!" or the emoji fall back of "🖕🏻". 

So what should you do? To break this into logical steps with our specific text message scenario there are a couple of quick things you could do:

  1. Step back, literally put that phone down! No good response ever took 0.003 of a second to craft. Trust me, I've tried.

  2. Observe yourself for a moment. Take a breath. What is going on around you? Have you been ranting to your friend about how terrible your co-parent has been over the last few weeks (which isn't a bad thing, support is important)? If you have, I'm going to say that it's probably heavily influencing your reaction right now. Can you identify your emotions? Are you feeling fearful, frustrated, disappointed, angry? Whatever emotions they are, observe them, label them, but don't grab hold of them. We don't want them hanging around right now.

  3. Now here is the tricky part, empathise. Remember for a moment that your co-parent is a person too. OK, a person that knows exactly what buttons to press to set you off but regardless, still a person. Try and put yourself in their position for a moment and speculate why they did what they did. Maybe they forgot that you weren't sharing that particular cost? Or maybe they assumed you would want to contribute. Try to keep the reasoning logical. Try not to think there was malice behind it.

  4. Find the right space to respond because your coffee catch up isn't it. Again trust me, I've tried. Remember your friend sitting in front of you? Probably with a slightly cold coffee by now. They need you to plan your next step but not actually do it. Otherwise you won't be present with them, you'll be elsewhere. Agree on when you will respond to the message. It will most likely be "when I get home so I can sit down and respond thoughtfully." Let your friend know too, they'll appreciate that, and it's a pact to keep you from digressing. Not responding immediately can be extremely helpful in this moment, it gives you time to think and it also sets the precedent with your co-parent that you are not at their beck and call.

Control the Controllable's

Let's be honest, we all love a little control in our lives but separation is one of the most difficult situations to try and gain full control over. Trust me I've tried 😂. It's all about remaining focused on the kids and honing your negotiation skills. There's no strong-handing here.

Getting into the habit of enacting a process like this will help you stay in the space where you feel in control, and less like a plane screaming "MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY" as you spiral towards the earth with a bunch of innocent bystanders on board; more often than not your friends and family, and sometimes your kids.

"Phew", I hear you say, "thank goodness I've got Divvito".