In Blogs #1 and #2, of this Series, we made the point that part of being human is the desire to be “right” and to win. This is true in any contest. In tennis for example, a player might be excited to be right when predicting the direction the opponent would run. Being right and winning are important, including in conflict contests, when people disagree.
While this is an important human characteristic that often serves people well, as we point out in Blog #2, it can sometimes be a path that goes nowhere and can be very self-defeating. The difference between divorced and separated parents who get along with each other, and those who do not, is not because the ones who get along do not like to be right and win. The difference is in how they define winning.
The key is how to define winning.
Sarah and Bob are separated parents. They were happily married for the first few years, but then began the nasty arguing. It started with little arguments about how one of them was treating the other one, and continued with minor disagreements about how to handle money and even chores around their apartment. They each wanted to win their arguments, which meant proving that they were right.
As these arguments expanded, because they were unable to resolve them, the desire to win shifted to proving that their differing opinions were right and that the other person was wrong. Over time, it got worse. Each person insisted they were better than the other person, accusing the other person of being a jerk, or worse. Most of those arguments included a lot of degrading comments about each other, walking off without anything solved and not talking for days at a time. Unfortunately, they had children, making the situation even more complicated. They were as unable to resolve disagreements about the children as their other disagreements.
One day, Sarah found someone “better” than Bob, who agreed with her that Bob was the jerk. Sarah and Bob had a messy divorce. Even after the divorce, they hardly ever talked and were still trying to win when dealing with each other. They continued to argue through their children, and both of them tried to be their children’s favorite parent. This was all done to prove that he or she was really better than the other parent and that the other parent really was a jerk. These parents will likely be trying to win their arguments with one another while on their deathbeds.
Dick and Mary were also happily married for the first few years and also had children. They discovered differences that were problems, but generally resolved those differences. Mary’s career led to her needing to move to a nearby big city, and Dick liked his small business and did not want to move. They both wanted to win. Mary wanted Dick to sell his business and move, to prove that she was more important than his work, and Dick wanted Mary to give up her career and stay to prove that he was more important than her career. Neither one of them gave in, and they divorced.
Dick stayed, and Mary moved, but they both wanted to win at raising their children well, in spite of being disappointed (even bitter) about the end of their marriage. They were respectful of one another and cooperated in sharing the children, helping the children succeed in school, and being involved together with the children in their activities. This meant talking with one another often, being flexible with a custody schedule, being together at activities and school meetings and coming to agreements on how to raise the children. In order to win at parenting, they kept their bad feelings about the marriage failure to themselves.
Sarah and Bob and Dick and Mary all wanted to win. They simply defined winning differently.
Sarah and Bob were trying to win a battle of egos – who was the better person and who was the jerk; who was right and who was wrong. Dick and Mary accepted the end of their marriage with bitter and sad feelings, but decided (together) to win the Parenting Game. The results in both cases were predictable. Sarah and Bob paid the price with troubled children, a miserable family experience and never won anything. All they could do was be smug and still think that they were better than each other. Dick and Mary lost their marriage and were deeply sad, but recovered, remarried and had successful happy children.
Who won? You decide.