Conflict theory encompasses the idea that people struggle to reconcile conflicting ideals such a theory is readily apparent in the process of divorce. Core themes of conflict theory reflect divorce proceedings. Couples negotiate and bargain how to split possessions, but can also show aggression and appeasement to coerce each other. Divorce can also follow the stages of conflict in conflict theory. Understanding this theory can lead to increased awareness of the divorce process and how to go about it with less chaos.
Conflict theory proposes stages that manifest themselves during divorce. First, the Prior Conditions Stage reflects events that lead up to the divorce. These conditions can include financial issues, marital discord or infidelity. Next, in the Frustration/Awareness Stage, one or both people in the couple become upset by the prior conditions. The third stage, Active Conflict, moves the couple from dissatisfaction and frustration to the attempt of both parties to “win.” Couples may be able to show conflict amicably, or they may be aggressive. The couple begins to resolve their issues in the Accommodation/Solution Stage. The final stage, the Follow-up/Aftermath Stage, may see a rehashing of the conflict or the existence of grudges, and facilitates new rules for the couple in divorce.
Conflict resolution simply concludes a conflict and ends in consensus in divorce it signals an agreement between a couple as to how their affairs will be handled. Consensus is either a simple knowledge of extant issues or being on the same page. The latter form of consensus is more conducive to successful conflict resolution. For couples going through a divorce, agreement happens through deliberation and communication, allowing both parties to see things the same way. If the couple decides to forego winning as the ultimate goal, they are better able to reach real conflict resolution.
Negotiation and Bargaining
Negotiation and bargaining represent another method leading to resolution and plays a significant role in divorce. This form of problem solving relies on a couple’s structure and dynamic. Witt states that the power and influence of the two people plays a role and can change how a divorce proceeds. For instance, the partner who makes more money may have more sway over the proceedings, but the caregiving partner, especially if children are involved, may use his or her status to influence how money is divided.
Aggression and Appeasement
Aggression and appeasement is a form of interaction between two people going through divorce and has the capacity to be positive or negative. Starting arguments or intending to harm the other partner is considered aggression. Any aggression that happens is followed by appeasement, in which the other partner plays out the couple’s power dynamic or admits guilt. For example, in divorce, this process can manifest as one partner threatening to take the kids and not grant custody if the other partner does not give up enough money.
The Secrets to Minimizing Conflict During Divorce
Before the Divorce Process
If the inciting incident leading to your decision to file for divorce is something like infidelity or domestic violence, a high-conflict divorce may be unavoidable. However, in a case where you and your spouse have simply grown apart over time, you may have more control over how you bring up the subject of divorce. If you are planning to tell your spouse that you want a divorce, you should be prepared for them to be surprised, and allow them time to process what you have said. Try to focus not on what they have done to harm the relationship, but on how both of your actions have contributed to the current state of your marriage. Listen to their concerns whenever possible, but be willing to step away from the conversation and return at a later time if emotions are starting to overwhelm one or both of you.
If your spouse tells you they want a divorce, make an effort to listen and understand their perspective. The way you respond can have a ripple effect throughout the rest of your divorce process. If you can commit to a cooperative approach, you can save yourself time, stress, and hardship in the long run. On the other hand, if you shut down or start to engage in retaliatory behaviors aimed at harming your spouse, such as dissipating your marital assets or trying to turn your kids against your spouse, you will likely make the process much more difficult, and your behavior may detract from the outcomes you desire related to decisions involving the division of property and the allocation of parental responsibility and parenting time.
During the Divorce Process
As you begin the process of working toward your divorce settlement, you can reduce conflict by remaining open to approaches that enable cooperation between you and your spouse. Many couples are able to reach an agreement on most or all aspects of their divorce through negotiation, resulting in an uncontested divorce that only requires the court’s involvement to approve of the consensus you have already reached. For other couples, a trained mediator can serve as a neutral third party who helps keep discussions on track and ensures that each spouse has the opportunity to voice their perspective and provide input in all decisions. Either of these options can help you avoid the stress, costs, and public conflict of a long, drawn-out trial.
Regardless of your approach, it is important to know what your priorities are so that you can clearly express what you want and need. Perhaps your primary goal is to maintain financial stability after your divorce or to keep control over certain assets. Alternatively, you may be focused on the best interests of your children above all else, which can pave the way for cooperation with your spouse if he or she shares the same goal. Once you have established your priorities, try to express your perspective with calm, rational, fact-based communication, as this is often more effective than emotional arguments that may only serve as reminders of pain.
As negotiations proceed, look for opportunities for compromise. Rather than trying to gain the upper hand on every issue, be open to giving ground on things that are not as important to you so that you can push harder for the things that are. By listening to your spouse and making an effort to understand his or her needs, you may even be able to arrive at solutions that benefit both of you without requiring either of you to give up more than you are comfortable with.
After the Divorce Process
After your divorce is finalized, you still have an important responsibility to follow the terms of your legally binding divorce decree or judgment. If you have been ordered to pay child support or spousal support, you should make every effort to do so on time and in the full amount. You should also honor the terms of the division of property as well as the agreements about child custody and visitation. Repeated failure to follow the terms of your divorce can create hardship for your ex, who may file a petition for enforcement that could result in legal and financial consequences for you. You may even be found in contempt of court, with possible penalties including fines and jail time.
If you believe that the terms of your divorce decree should no longer apply due to a change in your personal or financial circumstances, you should not simply stop following them. Instead, you should take the necessary steps to pursue a modification in court to establish a more appropriate divorce order. If you have maintained constructive communication with your ex, you may even be able to agree upon a fair modification together and obtain the court’s approval, rather than engaging in a contested courtroom battle.
Divorce may not be something anyone wants to deal with, but those who fail to make a plan and take positive actions to manage the situation often do so to their own detriment. With the right strategy and behavior before, during, and after your divorce, and with the guidance of a skilled attorney, you can make your divorce easier for yourself, your ex, your children, and everyone else involved.
1. Create a Safe Space for Conversation
Give some thought as to where you should have your conversation. Sometimes this can make all the difference during a disagreement or argument. When together, find a quiet, private, and comfortable spot where you can be alone. In-person conversations are recommended as you can read body language; however, we understand that sometimes that’s not an option. If you’re apart from one another, try to approach the issue via phone call rather than text or email. Tone of voice is important in conversation and sometimes this can be misinterpreted when it is typed out and not verbal.
2. Understand the Other Perspective
No matter how heated your discussion becomes, try to take yourself out of the situation and look at the issue from the other perspective. Put yourself in the position of your spouse or ex-spouse. Believe me, I completely understand how difficult this can be especially during separation and divorce. I encourage my clients to consider the other person’s feelings as they work toward a compromise and resolution.
3. Allow Self-Reflection
Even though we may not want to admit it, sometimes we’re the ones at fault. It’s easy to get caught up in an argument and not remember how it started. This is a great opportunity to self-reflect. We need to take care of ourselves first and sometimes that translates into conflict resolution as well. Admit your mistakes and explain what you can do better in the future. Acknowledge that no one is perfect and that includes you.
4. Choose Your Battles
Choosing your battles in conflict can be difficult, but it has benefits. In the moment, sometimes every battle seems worth it. Well, 20 minutes later, you might change your mind and it may not seem worth it anymore. While disagreements can be healthy in a relationship, they certainly don’t have to be a common occurrence. Know what type of issue deserves a conversation and what type of issue is a pass. However, don’t let conflict bottle up to the point that you feel like you’re going to explode. Find the balance and prioritize your battles.
5. Respond Intentionally
It’s important to handle conflict with intention and respond with purpose. Take time to formulate your thoughts. When you feel yourself getting heated, take a deep breath, close your eyes, and count to 10 before responding. These intentional response steps have helped me in various types of disagreement, argument, or dispute.
6. Avoid Judgmental Language
Your words matter and they will be remembered. Use your voice with care and kindness, even when frustrated. Be curious as to why your partner feels the way they feel or does what they do. Ask them to elaborate by prompting questions that encourage answers. Phrases like “help me understand…” will be more meaningful in conflict resolution than judgmental phrases like “you always…”
7. Stick to the Issue at Hand
Determine the underlying issue and focus on it. Many conflicts arise from a symptom of the real problem. Figure out the actual issue that’s controlling what is being said and stick with it. Sometimes, one issue that sparks conflict snowballs into several more issues that had nothing to do with the initial conflict. Discuss one topic at a time. Don’t let old problems or previous disputes reenter your new conversation.
8. Grant Grace and Forgiveness
No matter how strong and loving your relationship is, conflict is unavoidable. It will come and when it does, allow yourself to give grace and forgiveness. These gifts are the protectors of a healthy relationship and allow mindfulness and understanding. Grant yourself and your partner grace and forgiveness in abundance.
9. Find Common Ground
Disputes typically begin because you or your partner care about something. Maybe it’s your children, your career, your friendships, your house, your pets, your favorite TV show… the list can go on and on. As you work toward a resolution, try to find common ground. For instance, if my ex-husband and I have an argument over an issue with our children, we’ll work to resolve that issue. We know that our common ground is that we both love our children and want what’s best for them. Sometimes, there is no right or wrong and we have to agree to disagree. We do this because we know that’s what is best for our two children. We are committed to being good co-parents and we respect the other as a parenting partner.
10. Know When to Take a Time-Out
If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, maybe you need to take a break. Conflict resolution can be difficult. It’s often emotionally draining and can result in a plethora of feelings. There is nothing wrong with saying you need a few minutes to yourself to gather your thoughts. The same goes for your partner if they need a time-out. Allow yourselves to recuperate and know what is best for your mental health.
There are many ways to handle conflict and it’s important to choose a method that encompasses care and compassion. Through healthy conflict resolution, you and your spouse can come to a positive and mindful solution. Conflict is often an opportunity to dive deeper into your relationship. You don’t have to fear it or avoid it. Rather, view conflict as a way to better understand each other and strengthen your relationship.
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