By keeping agreements in divorcing families it is possible to repair trust between parents.
Most parents considering divorce have lost the ability to communicate effectively, goodwill is
gone and trust obliterated.
Creating a financial settlement and parenting plan is needed but difficult without these three essential elements: Communication, goodwill and trust. Collaborative professionals and mediators can help parents learn or remember to let the other person know what is important, listen carefully, and make agreements that are clear and specific.
Jessica and Dwayne (not their real names) had three children, two careers and two dogs. Early in their marriage they both cared for the kids and dogs. They worked well together, juggling their schedules and the needs of little children, They felt like a team.
Ten years later and after many illnesses and financial reversals their experience of working on the same team was eroded. They avoided conflict, grew apart and couldn’t make decisions together. Often to avoid a blowup or being bullied into something they “agreed,” “yeah,yeah, yeah.” Of course they didn’t really agree and did not keep the agreements. Eventually they began a divorce process.
Now they both are frustrated, feel isolated, and hopeless. They miss the days of being on a team with their children.
They no longer believe that the other parent will keep any agreements made now. “ Why bother?”
Fortunately, with the help of your Collaborative team you can look forward and rebuild trust in the following ways:
If you say “YES” it means:
- You can agree to things you can live with.
- The agreement is specific and possibly time limited. For example, “We agree to leave the children alone in our homes for 1 hour without adult supervision. When they are older ____age we will revisit this.”
- A “yes” agreement also includes when and how the agreement will be reviewed
You can say “MAYBE,” which means:
“I will think about it, research it, etc., and will get back to you _________ with my decision” by a specific time and date.
When you say “NO” it means:
“This doesn’t make sense to me,” or “This doesn’t work for me.”
Ideally you explain why it may not solve a problem, or be best for the kids or yourself.
You may also suggest other ways to approach the topic or solve the problem.
Once an agreement is reached:
Be very specific. This is essential to a successful agreement that you can both honor. Keeping your agreements rebuilds trust. That’s why it is so important to only agree when you believe you can keep the agreement.
Write it down carefully – don’t rely on your memory.
Stress and memory don’t work well together!
If you forget or break the agreement, CONTACT the other parent and apologize.
Parenting by agreement going forward will be the new normal.
Elizabeth Salin, MFT, is a psychotherapist and Collaborative Divorce Coach in Marin and the Bat Area.
Photo credit: Ann Buscho, Ph.D.