Introduction and Purpose. In a different Blog Series on this site, specifically Blog #8 of the Skill Building Series, we highlighted the importance of being able to understand the perspective of others. This is the ability to step outside of your current situation and see yourself, your co-parent and your children objectively. It is also the skill to understand how your perspective differs from others in your situation. This is not easy to do, because in a family with separated parents, most people experience a good deal of anger, frustration, hurt, fear and often guilt. When people get emotional like this, they tend to get self-centered and see things only from their own perspective. It is only when we are content and at peace with ourself that we have an easier time looking at a situation from another person’s perspective. In order to have a functioning co-parenting relationship, you need to develop this skill (e.g., having a broader perspective on your relationship with the other divorced parent), even if it is in the midst of strong mixed emotions. Now you know the purpose of this Blog Series.
- In Blog 1, we give you a Roadmap.
- In Blog 2, we will start with a practice and exercises found in studies to help people develop the skill of developing perspective. After being introduced to this study, hopefully you will approach the required tasks with curiosity and interest and learn the necessary skills.
- In Blog 3, we will move to slightly more challenging exercises, focusing on developing imaginary perspectives from your children.
- In Blog 4, we will provide exercises to develop a realistic understanding of some of your children’s current perspectives.
- In Blog 5, we will begin addressing the examination of yourself in your family.
- In Blog 6, we will move to the more challenging task of understanding the perspective of your co-parent. We will be referring to your co-parent as your Co-Parenting Partner, or for short, your CPP.
- In Blog 7, we will present the five tasks that CPPs must accomplish for a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Context and perspective. We want to introduce ways to get an objective perspective on yourself, your CPP and your children. Somewhere between 20% and 30% of separated parents have a fairly amicable relationship. One of the reasons is that they have skills, including the ability to see the perspective of each another and of the children. This means that somewhere around 70% of separated parents struggle with one another, some moderately and others severely. This Blog Series is designed for that 70%.
Keep these percentages in mind. If you struggle with these skills in your co-parenting relationship, you are normal. A divorce is a unique human experience and triggers unique problems that more than one-half of the people in your situation encounter. When people do not have children together, they can just walk away from each other, even with bitter memories. However, having children together forces separated parents to continue to be in a relationship with one another. Building the skill of being able to get a broader perspective on your situation will help you move into that 30% amicable group!
Skill building begins. You might think of learning this skill as similar to learning a new language. When learning a new language, you learn some vocabulary and grammar, but in order to retain that knowledge, you have to use the language in practice. Gaining perspective not only involves learning some new words and techniques, but also must be practiced in order to retain the knowledge. As with learning a language, practice at first will seem awkward, possibly a little embarrassing, but fairly quickly, it becomes increasingly natural. At some point, you even begin to think in the language. Similarly, if you do the exercises, we will be suggesting that over time, you will become increasingly able to take the perspective of your CPP and even begin to think in terms resonating with your CPP. You will be able to modify your behavior when you interact with your CPP and children because you will understand their perspective in new and different situations.
The payoff. The payoff for this effort will be the ability to reduce suffering in your family, including your own suffering, and increase the positive experience of family life for you and your children. This will be true even if your co-parent makes no change in his or her behavior. There is also a bonus! This skill, also like learning a new language, can be very useful not only in your family but also in every part of your life in which you interact with other people.
We are immediately drawn towards others who we perceive as empathic and compassionate. Empathy comes from being able to see the perspective of another person.
Skill building starts with homework. As with learning a new language, there is some required homework. The homework for this first Blog is simply to make a list of people where you need to learn more about their perspectives. Certainly, this list will include your CPP and your children, but you might have friends, extended family members or even professionals (e.g., a co-parenting counselor who saw both of you) whose perspectives might be very helpful. In business, they call this process doing a 360 (i.e. based on a circle having 360 degrees), that is looking at a situation from many different perspectives. You might even have a relationship with extended family members of your CPP that might have an interesting perspective.
A quick fix to get a perspective. We want to suggest a way to “master” this skill building process with proficiency as quickly as possible: Be curious! Yes, that’s it. Be curious. Rather than thinking that you know what is going on and that your perspective is the right one, be curious and wonder what your situation looks like from one or more different perspectives. If you find that doing so changes your perspective, that is perfect. And, that is the point. Our perspective should be objective, but the only way to reach an objective perspective is to look at a situation from many different angles. You have probably heard the joke about three blind men trying to say what an elephant is like: one touches the tail and says the elephant is like a snake; the second touches the leg and says that the elephant is like a tree; and the third touches the trunk and says the elephant is like a giant worm. Be curious and go beyond your limited perspective!