When someone is ‘difficult’ there are usually reasons behind the behaviour, perhaps not fully understood by the individual themselves. When feeling hurt and frustrated it’s very tempting to assign labels, because placing blame on someone else, justifies our own actions and, in the short term, makes us feel more in control. Unfortunately, this can only magnify and worsen an already difficult situation. This is especially problematic in a family break-up where children are involved because unless there are unmanageable safety risks, a relationship between parents will need to continue. Blame never moves anyone towards resolution and always prolongs a dispute, to the detriment of all.
Being on the receiving end of a label feels as if the other person simply doesn’t care enough to listen and really hear, and it can be tempting to reciprocate in kind. A labelling competition then results, wasting time and energy, which could have been better spent working on the problem – or even simply doing something entirely different.
Mediators recommend separating the person from the behaviour. This doesn’t mean you need to put up with bad behaviour, nor take responsibility for how others behave. However, stepping back and thinking about the boundaries you need for yourself, as well as how you choose to respond can help you to:
- Remember what’s been successful in the past to secure a desired response
- Look for alternative ideas
- Enlist support when feeling overwhelmed
- Set a good behaviour example, especially if children are involved
- Protect your own feelings and restore positivity
- Remain open minded, improve communication, and be receptive to responses
- Actively listen, so the other party feels heard, rather than blamed.
Have you noticed how different it feels when someone makes an effort to really listen and understand and how it makes you more willing to be respectful and helpful in return? This is one of the key elements of Mediation, by creating a safe space for each side to feel heard and shifting the focus to moving forward, both sides are helped to talk about what might improve things instead of remaining stuck on past behaviours or actions.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe talking to the other person in mediation, I offer Time to Talk Conflict Coaching, an opportunity to help you reflect and talk through ways to best help you manage your own immediate reactions to a situation and think about what you can do to make things better for yourself.
For separated parents who acknowledge their conflicting behaviours have become a habit and want to find new ways to work together, I offer Parenting Coordination.
Mediators do not give advice, but can explain where to get help and what is available. Should you feel professional and expert advice on handling particular types of behaviour would be helpful the Family Resources pages on this site has information and organisations which may be able to help you.