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When a couple breaks up it sends shockwaves through their family. Families can avoid and calm the shockwaves of the breakup earthquake in many ways. Here are some tips:
- Manage your emotions. Talking about unresolved problems can be emotionally upsetting. At the same time, it is possible to manage your own emotions by anticipating upsetting moments and preparing for them. One of the best ways to help you stay calm is to memorize a short encouraging statement such as: Sometimes it takes a while and agreement is usually reached.
- Don’t take it personally. Personal attacks are not about you. They are about the person making the attack who isn’t able to manage their emotions. You don’t have to defend or prove yourself. You are already ok as a person. You can disagree about the past – reaching an agreement about the future is what matters.
- Make proposals. It helps to think flexibly and prepare two proposals for each issue you disagree about. This will help you not to get stuck in all or nothing thinking. Any concern about the past can be turned into a proposal about the future.
- Respond to proposals with Yes, No or I’ll think about it. This saves arguing about the proposal itself, since what really matters is finding an agreement. You can ask questions about a proposal for greater understanding and to picture how it would look if you both agreed.
- If you disagree just pause and say, I do not agree to that, and focus on making a new proposal yourself.
- Don’t interrupt when the other person is speaking. Instead make notes to remind yourself of any ideas that pop up while he or she is talking. Then you can raise them when you speak.
- Treat everyone with respect. This means no raising your voice, insults, sarcasm, pointing fingers or judgments. These behaviours will trigger a defensive response in the other person. It is more productive when both of you stay calm and rational. Then you can both focus on solving the problems.
- Speak only for yourself. Use I statements. These are sentences that start with I prefer, I suggest, I have another idea or I feel. Avoid starting sentences with You, such as You always or You never. You statements trigger defensiveness in the other person which will make it much harder to reach agreement.
- Check yourself. From time to time ask yourself if you are using the skills set out in tips 1-8. It’s easy to forget in the middle of discussing problems or upsetting issues.
- Get help. If you have trouble consistently using these skills yourselves, consider Mediation or Collaborative Divorce. These are two options that help families keep their integrity, manage their conflicts and give them control of their decisions. Specially trained lawyers and other professionals help families restructure. They help couples find positive and practical ways to solve their family’s problems and protect what matters most to them, such as their children, property and finances.
With the right support and skills, families can calm and reduce the damages of a breakup earthquake and support the healthy development of their children.