What you put out is what you get back…we hear this saying throughout our lives. Parents utilize it to instill positive behavior in their children, gurus utilize it to summarize the power of manifestation, songwriters use it because…well because its catchy. While the expression is a household staple, we sometimes forget just how applicable it is. In my line of work, it is a daily mantra that I provide to parents.
When moving through high-conflict cases, I must remember and remind that the influence of narrative on communication should never be underestimated. Narrative takes shape through the gathering of emotion-based beliefs. Focusing on surface level issues (custodial plans, child support calculations, division of assets), parents stray from what drives their core conflict and reaffirm position. In turn, these positions encourage the belief of hopelessness in finding resolution without conflict. As a result, it can be a trying feat for co-parents to work up the courage to address core issues as this requires a high degree of vulnerability on both sides of the fence.
Being vulnerable with concerns can be difficult in and of itself, the task is considerably more challenging when the fear of statements turning into evidence is present. This fear is the driver for position-based thinking. When people are fretting over whether what they say is going to be used against them, they often disengage from active listening. Without feeling heard, parents are usually not too keen to let go of their positions.
Thankfully, the realm of mediation provides a few tools to navigate out of this cycle. Reframing is by far my favorite tool to utilize. Reframing is a combination of acknowledgement and reflecting, with an emphasis on addressing core, rather than surface, level issues. When it comes to co-parent mediation, general core issues pertain to acknowledgment, boundaries, active listening, and a willingness to work toward solution despite having an opposing viewpoint on the topic. Surface level issues are generally difficult to navigate toward solution until core issues are addressed.
With reframing, a parent can not only show they are engaged but also display a comprehension of their respective co-parents concern. This comprehension also doubles as acknowledgment. Acknowledgment, when coupled with reframing, permits the belief that the co-parent is showing empathy. Empathy is what allows for positions to diminish, as positions act as a shield when a co-parent does not feel safe in communication.
We always have a choice when it comes to taking action with potential conflict: will our actions allow beliefs to dictate dialogue or will they permit an openness to dialogue shaping new beliefs? I say when in doubt rely upon science, and science would suggest that with any action there is an equal and opposite reaction.