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How to resolve conflict -- not just avoid it

Family conflicts are never fun -- and they take on an added dimension of difficulty when they're between separated or divorced parents.

It's important, however, that you don't try to avoid conflicts instead of resolving them when they arise. Doing that can set you, your ex-spouse and your children up for bigger problems later.

What's the problem with avoiding conflict?

Avoiding conflict is great -- as long as you aren't trying to stuff the conflicts into an emotional closet where they aren't visible. Doing that isn't really avoiding anything. It's just putting things off to another day. During that time, the conflict can actually get worse. Assumptions can be made, children may sense the presence of unresolved issues (and act out because of them) and communication can grind to a halt. It's hard to talk when there are a lot of things you have to talk around.

How do you handle a conflict as peacefully as possible?

Once you realize that stuffing your feelings about an issue isn't going to help, you have to address the problem. It's scary, especially when you and the other person no longer function well as a team, but necessary. Keep these tips in mind as you start:

  • Remember that this is a time for negotiation -- not yelling. Keep your tone calm, devoid of sarcasm and choose your words as carefully as possible.
  • Try to avoid assumptions. If you think your ex is being sarcastic or snide, ask if that's his or her intention. It's possible that he or she doesn't realize how something sounds.
  • Ask your ex what he or she wants. The answer might surprise you! At the very least, it lets you know how far apart you are on any given dispute.
  • Listen to your ex's thoughts and ideas -- even if you've heard it all before. Sometimes, just feeling like an opinion has been given due consideration is enough to encourage an ex to meet in the middle.

Not every dispute with your ex is going to be easily resolved -- and some exes may be determined to escalate things no matter how hard you try. When that happens, you may have to seek intervention. Try to work it out with a counselor or mediator if you can. If that fails, you can always petition the family court for a decision.

Source: Our Family Wizard, "Why Avoiding Conflict Isn't the Same as Resolving It," accessed April 20, 2018

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