This Blog is the first in a Series focusing on the skills needed to avoid or escape from destructive divorce conflict. These skills are directed to separated parents who must continue to have a parenting relationship after the separation. Most people caught in divorce conflict would like to escape and move on with their lives, but all too often blame the other parent for the conflict. As a result, they make themselves helpless. If it is the other person’s fault, then there is nothing a person can do to stop it. However, there are steps a person can take to escape divorce conflict, even when the other person continues to engage in conflict-causing behavior. In this Series, we will identify ten Skills and provide information on how to learn these skills. These skills are likely to have other positive effects, because they apply to all human relationships.
The first skill that we present involves the ability to have healthy reactions to criticism. Criticism comes in many flavors. Sometimes a criticism is very direct (“you are such an a**hole”), sometimes they are a bit subtler (“If you loved the kids, you would be on time”) and sometimes there are no words involved at all (just a sneer and rolling of the eyes). Some criticisms are implied, but not directly communicated, such as when you greet the other parson and he/she ignores you. The implication is the criticism that you do not deserve the respect of a polite response. In divorce conflict, these criticisms often provoke angry responses, like defensive behavior, angry criticisms of the other person, or similar odd behavior, such as ignoring the other person.
The root of all these inappropriate responses is in taking criticisms personally.
Do not take criticisms personally. This is not a trick of the mind or a pretend, because criticisms really are not personal. It is a commentary about the person doing the criticism, not you. Much of the time, it is the way the other person is handling, or in this case, mishandling their emotions- by saying things or doing things that are immature and/or nonsense.
There is no rational connection between loving children and being on time. A sneer and a rolling of the eyes is an ineffective way of dealing with hurt or anger. Most criticisms are a poor way of identifying a problem because they do not suggest a solution. Criticisms define the person making the criticism, not the person being criticized, and therefore, they are not personal.
It takes practice to get used to not taking criticisms personally, but when you do, you find that you escape the negative reactions to them. In fact, in most cases, you do not need to respond at all, although some response might be polite. For example, in response to the “you are such an a**hole” comment, you might respond: “I am truly sorry that you think that”. Sometimes a polite smile will be sufficient. What is not called for is to use this information as a defensive response (“You are just proving how immature you are”). Get it now?
Some criticisms have some useful information, so it is worth listening, even though you are not taking it personally.
Here is a twist. Some criticisms have some useful information, so it is worth listening, even though you are not taking it personally. For example, “If you loved the children, you wouldn’t be late. The children were really upset.” Here, you would not take the criticism personally, but there is useful information about the children. You might respond, “Thank you for telling me this. I will talk with the children about it.” In another example, “You are such an a**hole for telling your sister that I am a liar.” If it is true that you told your sister this, this is useful information. You might respond, “You are right. Neither one of us should be saying bad things about each other to other people. I am sorry and will try to correct this with my sister.” Here, the response is to the useful information only, because you did not take the name-calling personally.
In short, a useful skill to avoid or escape divorce conflict is to not take criticisms personally, but to listen carefully and respectfully to the criticism in case it contains useful information. There are not many advantages to a divorce, but one is not having to defend yourself any longer.
Skills take practice in order to become good at them, so practice and be patient, even if you slip at times.