Why Some Parents Stay Engaged in the Conflict

Parents who are in conflict over the children often are told by court professionals that they need to learn to get along with each other because it is best for the children. But, what if one of the parents cannot get along with the other parent, no matter how many classes they take, or how many coparenting counseling sessions they participate in?

I have learned that it is often one of the parents who does not want to let go of the other parent for a variety of reasons. One of the definitions for conflictual coparenting that I use includes the statement that “one or both of the parents cannot or will not let go of the conflict.”  To read these definitions, click on this link.

One or both of the parents are addicted to the conflict

There are numerous reasons for a parent to have difficulty letting go, but here is a big, reason for one or both parents to stay engaged with each other, Conflict creates an adrenaline addiction for one or both of the parents.  Often one of the parents has become addicted to the interactions they are having with the other parent for one reason for another. A parent may be afraid to be alone because they cannot handle the emotionally emptiness they feel when the house is empty and the children are with the other parent. Perhaps one parent in not busy enough during the time the children are away from them, and they experience terrible feelings of emptiness or being scared. That is an emotional dip that is so frightening for some parents they must reach out and interact with the other parent or the children in order to avoid that deep drop in adrenaline.  The interaction creates a reaction, and it raises the energy up to normal or above normal. This makes that parent feel better and they attempt to recreate it whenever they start to dip below that emotional vulnerability level.  Staying engaged allows them to avoid feeling those icky feelings again.

Constant interactions creates anxiety and conflict:

Interacting on a daily or weekly basis allows one or both parents to stay engaged with each other creating conflict too. Since there is a lot of energy in conflict, the energy creates an addiction between the two parents. Additionally, whenever parents interact with each other they generate more energy, usually negative energy but any kind of energy creates an adrenaline high.

We have also found that every time a parent hears the other parent’s voice or sees their face, (which would be any visual and verbal interaction) including communication through email, text, telephone calls, face to face, through the children or other professionals (i.e. attorneys, therapists, parent coordinators…) it takes both parents approximately 72 hours to calm down from every interaction.

Disengage rather than try to get along

So instead of learning to get along, it is better to learn to disengage. One of the best ways to do this is to stop as much interaction with each other as possible if every interaction creates conflict or anxiety. When parents are having constant contact with each other and constantly communicating, they do not have a chance to calm down. If they keep talking to each other, it is “light are on-but no one is home” for the children.

Instead of trying to learn new ways to get along, or new ways to get the other parent to work with you, take a giant time out from failing to coparent and just stop talking to the other parent as often.  Take a break!  Do your communicating in writing. Write only if necessary, learn to Parallel Parent instead. Once you learn to calm down, you will be better focused on your children and if the other parent is attempting to keep you engaged in the conflict, you can think clearer and figure new ways to respond that don’t trigger conflict. Take a coparenting course to learn how to disengage from the conflict and get closer to the children, by going to http://www.parentsinconflict.com/lessons and selecting a course that will give you skills and concepts to help you stop the craziness and adrenaline addiction.

©Deena L. Stacer, Ph.D.    All rights reserved, March 2012

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