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3 Ways to Overcome Triggers in Co-Parenting

Overcome co-parenting triggers and build a healthy shared parenting relationship. 

Jay Skibbens Co-Parenting Coach

There’s nothing much worse than “that” feeling. You know the one I’m talking about, when you see your co-parent’s name flash on your phone and immediately your mind goes to that place. That place of ‘What is it going to be this time? How are they going to ruin my day?’ That’s what it feels like to be triggered by your co-parent. But it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. I will explain what triggers are, give you examples, and lay out three ways to effectively handle them.

Woman holding phone

A trigger means that you are experiencing past pain in the present moment

The tough part about triggers is that they can feel disproportionately big compared to what’s actually happening. That’s why your palms can sweat, your heart can race, and you feel a tightness in your chest just by seeing your co-parent’s name pop up.

It feels that way, especially when the wound you have from them isn’t fully healed. It’s like when you pick a scab too soon and the blood rushes to the surface all over again. And when that wound has reopened, we react with a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. At that point, we are in no condition to have a productive, healthy conversation. That’s the cycle we stay in, which causes stress, frustration, and wasted energy.

In order to break out of that cycle, we can’t just turn off our emotions. We must create a new cycle for our brains to work through. Because it is impossible to turn off our emotions, it’s important to acknowledge them, work through them, and create a new path to travel. The effect our emotions have on us, and our kids, cannot be overstated, so here are three ways to manage your triggers effectively.

Man on computer

To create a new cycle, I want to share a way of journaling with you called “new cycle journaling”

In this way of journaling, the key is to dump out the negative stories and emotions that you’re holding onto and replace them with gratitude and acknowledgment. This isn’t a sometimes thing, this is a daily practice.

First, write down the negative emotions or negative stories you are telling yourself. When they are trapped in your head, your imagination runs wild, and everything turns into a worst-case scenario. That’s why, when their name pops up on your phone, your mind goes to the worst possible reason for them to be texting you. If you don’t get those ideas out of your head, they stay and they get worse.

Spend 10 to 15 minutes writing those negative thoughts and ideas out. After that, write down two things you are grateful for and two things you can acknowledge you do well. Once this becomes a daily habit, you have truly created a new cycle for your brain to think through, and you will start to break that worst-case scenario cycle.

If you and your co-parent use a co-parenting communication service like TalkingParents, this is a great place to keep your new cycle journaling. TalkingParents offers the Personal Journal feature, which allows you to take private notes for yourself, without sharing them with your co-parent. Learn more about how it works.

New cycle journaling is proactive work, but what do you do in the moment?

You need to have two anchor statements: one to say to yourself in the moment and one to say to your co-parent. An anchor statement helps keep you rooted where you are, so you are not swept away into the sea of their words, opinions, and projections.

An anchor statement to yourself sounds like, “What they’re saying or doing has nothing to do with me, so it does not determine my outcome. I can choose what I do next.” A statement like this will allow you to stay present and realize that your co-parent’s words and actions are a projection of their emotions and perspective. It’s not your responsibility to carry those for them anymore.

An anchor statement to your co-parent sounds like, “Ok, I hear you, and I know what works for me. I will do what works for me.” This allows you to let them know you aren’t blowing them off, while also standing firm in your own convictions. It’s not your responsibility to cave to the other person’s wishes. You’re allowed to have your own way of doing things. These anchor statements will allow you to stay in the moment and not get swept away.

Daughter kissing mother on the cheek

Finally, you need to create a vision for your future that does not include your co-parent or depend on them

One of the traps that co-parents can fall into is having the “we” mentality after their split. “We” need to be on the same page. “We” need to make sure we’re on time and always have the kid’s best interest in mind. The truth of the matter is that you split up for a reason. Your “we” wasn’t working and holding onto that idea will only make things harder as a co-parent.

The key to handling your triggers is realizing that your outcomes are no longer dependent on your co-parent. Sit down and be intentional with your thoughts. What do you want the future to look like? To feel like? How can you make those things a reality without waiting or depending on your co-parent? You have a life to build now. Waiting on them will only hold you back.

Once you have mastered these three areas, you won’t be triggered nearly as much. When your co-parent’s name pops up on your phone, it won’t send you into chaos if you’ve already worked through those emotions, your anchor statements are ready, and you’re focused on your future. Then, your co-parent will become what they need to become. Your partner in raising your kids. Nothing more, nothing less.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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