High levels of parental conflict have consistently been shown to be among the most destructive factors in both intact and divorced families. Currently, we have an epidemic of children caught up in the chaos and turmoil of parental conflict. Studies show that in the United States, on average, 50% of all marriages will fail, and that out of those that fail, 30% will become high conflict divorces. Unfortunately, the conflict doesn’t end when the divorce is final, and this leaves the children of these high conflict relationships at risk in many areas of their life: emotionally, physically, educationally and financially.
Children involved in high conflict divorce are trapped between two parents who have lost their perspective on the most important piece of the divorce equation: their children. The children feel stressed out, confused, guilty, and have no sense of safety. They are asked to choose between parents, and are frequently given way too much information to assimilate. It is not the child’s role to be involved on any level during the divorce. Children need at least one parent who is able to create an environment that allows them to feel safe and nurtured no matter what is going on in the parent’s life. If divorces at risk for high conflict are identified at an early stage, parents can be referred to programs that will teach them how to reduce conflict, increasing the chances for a positive outcome.
Conflict consists of five basic aspects: fear, money, control, revenge and substance abuse or some other form of psychopathology. These five aspects rarely stand alone, and are often intertwined with one another. Before moving towards resolution of the high conflict cycle, the cause of the conflict must be identified. Once we understand what the conflict is about, we can then implement strategies to remove it. Disengagement is the first step. Finding ways to disengage is often one of the hardest – and the most critical – things to do. If marital conflict is carried into the post-separation world, the parent never moves on. Basic rules for disengagement need to be established early. A small sampling of disengagement guidelines consists of:
can be adjusted to reflect fewer exchanges. These methods can help greatly in the reduction of contact, and thus the opportunity for conflict.
Many people find that they may need some help with parenting due to new challenges that arise from the divorce. Parenting classes may be of great help at this time. One of the best is Redirecting Children’s Behavior. These classes are available throughout the country and the model used has been taught for over thirty years. It is critical that parents take time to educate themselves in parenting skills and the discovery of deeper ways of connecting with the children.
After Disengagement, Parallel Parenting is the next step to removing parents from conflict (Please see sidebar below, “Parallel Parenting Involves…”).This means, for example, that each parent takes care of their house with their own sets of rules and traditions. When the children are with Mom, she may have one set of rules. With Dad, there may be a different set of rules. Children are very capable of dealing with two sets of rules.
People often remain in con?ict because they are, in some way, attached to it – either because it has become a habit, or because the fear of life without the distraction of the con?ict is scary. That is to say, it’s easier to stay with something we know simply because of its familiarity, as opposed to transitioning to something we’re unfamiliar with. Giving up the conflict frequently means that the marriage is really over. The phrase, “It takes two to tango” is apt, here. BUT…If one parent simply changes their way of thinking and acting, the con?ict almost always ends. There may also be the desire to move on, even if this desire rests with only one parent. Again – all it takes is just one parent to change the cycle of conflict. Once this parent begins to set boundaries, the dynamics of the relationship change, and the con?ict begins to cease. A new way of thinking must be engaged for a life free of those issues that caused the divorce in the first place.
Parallel Parenting Involves:
“Mom’s House” and “Dad’s House” – Different Rules!
Create A Safe Haven
Honorable Mention in the Law Student Category2002 James Boskey ADR Writing Competition. The competition is Sponsored by the ABA Section of Dispute Resolution and the Association for Conflict Resolution.Introduction I....By Edward R. Ergenzinger, Jr.