When you are locked in a conflict with someone else, it makes sense to seek support from other people. However, it is important to consider who will best meet the needs of you and any children involved. Growing a network of people who can support you by providing a listening ear, encouragement, practical help and a reminder to take time to enjoy life, will help you manage the stresses and changes that separation brings. Some people in your life might want to help but might, in reality, prevent you moving forward if they respond to your distress in any of the following ways:
- Blaming the other person
- Convincing you you’re blameless and there’s nothing you can do
- Thinking they can fix it for you
- Urging you to go to Court to force the other person to do things your way
- Reinforcing your feelings of unfairness and resentment
- Spending most of the time discussing the problem
- Advising you what to do or say
- Attempting to take charge of your life
- Gossiping, to rally others to your cause
- Speaking critically to the other person on your behalf
- Helping you plot revenge
- Disappearing or judging you when the going gets rough.
Psychologist, Lawyer and Mediator, Bill Eddy calls these behaviours, Negative Advocacy because, whilst well-intentioned, they can do more harm than good, as you and the other person are not being encouraged to move forward in the dispute. Support which focuses on what’s wrong with the other person and doesn’t encourage creative solutions can be an obstacle preventing you from seeking assistance from those who could help you find common ground and build a resolution that works for both sides.
It’s worth remembering, that if someone in your life is being helpfully unhelpful they usually mean well, and want to show loyalty and support but just haven’t enough experience of successfully resolving this type of situation to realise they are not helping you move forward.
Support from people with the following skills can help you navigate through conflict and change, at the very least, and contain and protect you from the worst aspects of another person’s distressing behaviour. Bill Eddy calls such supporters Positive Advocates because they:
- Help you understand the other person’s perspective
- Let you look at what you can do now, and how to plan ahead, rather than just react
- Explain ways to think around a problem, without trying to fix it for you
- Help you gain information on your legal rights, responsibilities, and options
- Schedule mutually convenient times to discuss the issue
- Respect your time and priorities, and expect you to respect theirs
- Help you find the right resources to reach the best decisions
- Remain consistent and professional, and are equipped to stay with you for the duration.
Also bear in mind, if you rely solely on one person for support, they may find it hard to meet your needs and become less effective. If they are family members who are also professional helpers, they won’t necessarily be able to react in an objective way. For that reason, many professionals stick to a no friends or family rule. Seeking independent professional help when you need it can help you fill the gaps in your support network.
Experts on child welfare agree, it is never appropriate to ask or encourage your children to support you against another family member. This leads to conflicted loyalty which can have long term negative effects on their mental wellbeing and approach to relationships. If you have concerns your child is caught in the middle of a conflict, then seek independent professional help – advice for yourself and support for them.