The Art of Change Skills for Life

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How To Stop An Ex from Further Breaking A Broken Home pt2

December 12, 2008 Dealing with Difficult People Persuasion 3

This is part two of a two part series.  Please read the previous post in order to pick up where I left off.  

There’s something I learned about parenting many years ago that might actually apply to her childish behavior.   It has to do with consequences, of which there are two kinds:  Natural, and Logical.  Natural consequences are the inevitable results of our actions.  Block a moving vehicle with your body, and the natural consequence to you is it will run you down.  The natural consequence to the vehicle is it will make a mess of it at best, and damage it at worst.  Of course, the string of consequences goes on, but I think you get my point. 

(cont’d)

Logical consequences, on the other hand, are imposed results.  If you do X, I’ll do Y.  If you do A, I’ll do B.  When you tell a child, or a person acting like a child, what they can expect as a result of their actions, you are telling them about a consequence of their action.  If you then do what you say you will do, they learn to respect your word about those consequences.  This is very different than a punitive response to something you don’t like, which has the form of, “Because you did X, I’m going to do Y.”  The problem with punitive reactions is they don’t provide people with an opportunity to change.  They do, however, give people a reason to resent you, rebel against you, and polarize the situation against you further.  And in your case, I’d hate to see things get worse for your kids.  

That in mind, I think if I were in your shoes, I might tell her that while what she’s saying to the kids about me may be just fine with her, I think it’s bad for the kids, and therefore it is unacceptable to me.   I might further tell her that I assume she is doing what she is doing for what she considers to be a good reason, and that I’d prefer if she told me the reason to help make sense of her behavior.  I would then listen to her with every ounce of patience, insight and understanding I could muster, without contradicting her, or demanding anything, or even making suggestions.  I would hear her out.  If she slowed down, or stopped talking, I would say, “Anything else?  Tell me all of it.  I’m listening.”  

Once she was done telling me her reasons, I would say them back to her so she knew she’d been heard and understood.  I would ask, “Have I understood you?  Is that all of it?”  I would do this, realizing that it might take a few such conversations to hear it all.  But at least she’d be saying it to me instead of dumping it on the kids.  And sometimes, giving people a safe place to vent is enough to get them through their emotional reactions to a situation they hate, let them get caught up with life, as it is, ir order to think more clearly about what comes next.

If this wasn’t enough to change what was going on, I would then apply the logical consequence to the situation.   I would repeat my opinion that talking their father down to them is bad for the kids, and that it is completely unacceptable to me, something for which I have zero tolerance.  And i would then offer her a choice.  I would tell her that, “If you stop venting to the kids about me and honor your agreement with the court, then we can put this behind us.  If you continue talking me down to the kids in violation of the court order, I will go to the court system and take legal action against you.  If you stop for awhile, and then start again, I will immediately go to the court system.  I don’t want to put you through that.  But you will put yourself through that if you persist in violating the court agreement.  Your fate regarding this is now completely up to you.  You make the choice.  You can count on me to do exactly what I’ve said here.  No more chances, so consider what is in your best interest and the best interests of the children before you decide.”  

I would then leave this decision to her. If she were to choose to talk it out, I would do an excellent job of listening.  I wouldn’t argue, wouldn’t try to change her mind, wouldn’t try to defend myself at all.  Like lancing a boil, or sucking poison out of a snake bite, I would be drawing out rather than pushing back.  That’s my best answer based on what you’ve told me. 

And that’s it for this week.  Comments? I’d like to hear them?  Feedback?  Love to hear from you.  Here’s to a great weekend of positive change, persuasive interactions and no difficult behavior anywhere (hey, it could happen!) 

be well
Rick

 

3 Responses

  1. J.D. Meier says:

    I like the empathic listening!

    It sounds like the key to the logical consequences working is having a credible threat that the other person cares about. For the sake of example, let’s say the legal action threat’s ineffective because they think the legal system’s ineffective … What are three other potential threats that work?

    • @J.D. Meier,

      Yes, I suppose that’s one way of thinking about it. But rather than framing it as a threat, I prefer framing it as a result of a choice, and the choice is up to the other person. And in this case, the legal system isn’t the only possible outcome. Another is having screwed up kids who hate their mom once they are old enough to figure out the truth about their dad. Another is a legal tug of war, which no matter how it turns out could be expensive and nasty. (Dealing with the ineffective legal system itself becomes the result of making the wrong choice.) And the third (you asked for three) could be as simple as this. “I think you are a good person. If you want our kids to grow up healthy, you’ll set a good example for them of the kind of person you’d like them to be. If you want our kids to grow up angry, feeling victimized and blaming others, you can keep doing what you’re doing and set a lousy example. Obviously, it’s up to you. But the kids are going to be effected by your choices, so I hope you choose wisely.”

      Thanks for the comment, I like the way you dig deeper!
      best wishes,
      Rick

  2. kate jackson says:

    Rick,

    I just re-read this post from December. Not only is it applicable to where i am with my husband, but it is precisely what I have done in my work as an elected official in the region. Over four months and three meetings of a regional policy group, we have talked out the consequences of one city’s choice on the project, reviewed the facts, asked questions, offered alternatives, asked for other possibilities, asked the larger group to modify its response for the one loner, and finally and clearly, in a public meeting laid out the choice being made and the consequences of that choice vis a vis the project. ta da, a local news article… which i’ve sent separately, and an email i wrote responding to one from the other party. who says local policy is not about building long term relationships!?
    now I’ll go back and go deeper about the personal situation…

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