In my experience, the most bitter post-separation relationships started out harmlessly enough – guarded but functional.
However, at some point the taking of pot shots at each other led to passive-aggressive emails and terse voice mails.
Pretty soon things had escalated to the point where a simple text message on a very pedestrian subject instantly provoked white-hot rage. Sequential text messages with plenty of capital letters and exclamation points quickly became the norm.
What this means is that, though you and your partner decided to separate, you are still in a relationship. It is just a negative relationship, where positive emotion (love) has been replaced by negative emotion (hate, or similar).
I have written in my prior Blogs about managing that sort of conflict, and the importance of eradicating the negativity that bleeds into day-to-day life when conflict of that magnitude is eating away at us.
But it all comes down to one thing – don’t sweat the small stuff.
Yes, I hear you say, that is easy to say, but much harder to put into practice. And it is hard to do.
But if you can do it, you are breaking the cycle of conflict, and returning to communication on your terms. In so doing, you are consciously saying ‘no’ to having conflict as a daily fixture in your life, and choosing not to let a relationship that you decided not to have in your life, creep back in.
Not sweating the small stuff involves the following thinking:-
- Let it go – Is the subject on which you are engaged in heated communique important? If nothing turns on it, why are you investing emotional energy in it? If you find yourself saying “But it is the principle”, stop. That probably means that it does not matter enough to let it be part of your day. Instead, let it go. Pick your battles in future – give attention only to those things which are worth that investment. Anything that does not meet this threshold does not get a response.
- Accept the limitations – There is a ‘history’ between you and your former spouse or co-parent. That history, unique to you both, means that you are not dealing with each other at arm’s length. Instead, a myriad of past actions and events are the filters through which you both look upon the same subject. The consequence of this dynamic is that you are not approaching a situation with the objectivity which is present in other communications – instead, all of your experiences, and your personal and subjective views and feelings about those experiences, are present in your reactions and decision-making (and sometimes even sub-consciously). This means that you will probably never be able to convince each other of your respective positions. After all, if you could not agree on a subject when you were in a relationship, it is a tall order to achieve post-separation agreement on the same subject.
- Agree to disagree – No matter who is ‘right’, there will likely be no concessions. Recognise this dynamic, and accept that you can’t change it. If no matter how well-reasoned your argument, and no matter how much evidence you have in support of your contention, your spouse will never be able to countenance your point of view, why bother? To perpetuate the dialogue is only to make you both more unwilling to concede, and therefore, each more frustrated. Accept it for what it is – and agree to disagree on topics which you have assessed fall into category 1 above.
- Don’t get dragged back in – As much as you may not take any pleasure from conflict, it may be a different experience on the other side of the phone. That person may thrive on it – indeed, it may be keeping you in a ‘relationship’ with them. If you are not going to engage in perpetuating that conflict, they will try to pull you back in. Conflict junkies are not getting their drug of choice if you are not buying into the crossfire. They will escalate the conflict, hitting below the belt to prompt a response from you. Be strong. Don’t give them what they want.
- Forget the fear of losing – The hard part of these rules is that ‘letting go’ comes across as ‘losing’. Not so. If you don’t really care what your opponent thinks of you, who cares? Refer yourself back to points 2 and 3 above – because of your ‘history’, you are not going to change that person’s view of you merely by winning a point in an argument (and even if you did ‘win’ the point, that person would likely never acknowledge that). So, as the Florence and The Machine song lyrics go, you’re not giving up, you’re just giving in. There is an important difference – you are the one making that choice, and you are therefore controlling the engagement (and consequently, the disengagement).
If you can manage to follow these rules (at least most of the time), limiting communication only to that which is necessary, and not being provoked into battle over stuff that does not matter, then you are decluttering your life. In doing so, you are not allowing yourself to limp along in a ‘negative’ relationship, and you are giving yourself the best chance of happiness beyond separation.