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Is your ex-spouse ticking you off? Grab a sandwich
One of the most effective ways of using assertive communication, according to Dr. Becourtney, is by using a technique known as the Compliment Sandwich. - photo by Rosalind Sedacca
One of the most challenging and frustrating aspects of being a divorced parent may be getting along with your former spouse. We all understand that parents are parents for life regardless of whether you are married, separated or divorced. The better you get along with your ex, the easier you make life for you and your children not only for this month, but for years and decades to come.

Its a safe bet that you and your former spouse are quite good at pushing each others buttons. Its not difficult to bring one another to a state of anger and then to feel frustration and resentment in return. For that reason, learning how to handle and manage your anger is an excellent and very productive skill to master. Dr. Lyle Becourtney is a licensed psychologist practicing in Rockland County, NY who specializes in the area of anger management. We can all benefit from the wisdom he shares thats applicable to both adults and teens.

Do you ever find yourself getting more and more angry and frustrated while trying to explain what is bothering you? Dr. Becourtney asks. Perhaps you feel your former spouse is not really listening to you or trying to understand things from your perspective. In such circumstances, you may end up raising your voice or becoming verbally or even physically abusive. Unfortunately, responding in this manner usually decreases your chances of being listened to with empathy and compassion, he notes.

Another maladaptive way of handling your feelings, perhaps out of fear of losing control, is to work extra hard at keeping everything bottled up inside. What happens here, Dr. Becourtney explains, is similar to what happens when a balloon keeps filling up with more and more air. The balloon will expand as far as it can and then eventually pop.

However, if the balloon periodically releases some of its air, the likelihood is it will never reach that point of popping, he adds. Similarly, a person who uses assertive communication will be much less likely to become explosive. One of the eight core anger management techniques that Dr. Becourtney teaches is assertive communication which involves honestly and effectively communicating your feelings in a non-hostile fashion.

Dr. Becourtney says one of the most challenging facets of using assertive communication when youre divorced is expressing your feelings without your ex becoming angry or defensive. What makes this so difficult, he notes, is that most people do not like to be criticized. Telling your ex what he did wrong, what you do not like about his behavior, or how he hurt your feelings can very easily trigger a negative reaction.

One of the most effective ways of using assertive communication, according to Dr. Becourtney, is by using a technique known as the Compliment Sandwich. Heres how it works.

The meat of the sandwich (your complaint, criticism, or concern) is surrounded by two pieces of bread (compliments or positive feedback). In order to minimize defensiveness, you would begin with a compliment (the first piece of bread), then present the main message that you are trying to communicate (the meat), and then finish with another compliment (the second piece of bread).

To illustrate, here is an example of the Compliment Sandwich:

You have always been a great parent, and Tom really loves you. (first compliment/ positive feedback) So when I heard you promise Tom that youd be there for the big game on Saturday, I was very surprised and disappointed when you didnt show up. What I need is for you to call me and let me know if you cant honor a promise you make to Tom. (critical feedback) Tom has always been able to count on you in the past and I know youll be careful about not making commitments to him unless youre sure you can follow through for now on.(second compliment/positive feedback)

The Compliment Sandwich makes it possible for an important communication to be made in a non-hostile manner, says Dr. Becourtney. By opening and closing with positive feedback, a friendly tone was set and an important message was able to be conveyed. Rather than aggressively attacking your childs other parent and risk making matters worse (or bottle things up and become potentially explosive) this type of communication allows you to get things off your chest without putting your ex on the defensive.

Dr. Becourtney offers a few key suggestions for using the Compliment Sandwich effectively:

  • It is essential that your praise be genuine. As challenging as it may seem, you should be able to think of at least two things to say that are both complimentary and sincere.
  • Avoid overusing this technique so that your words do not appear to be contrived.
  • Make sure your compliments are in some way be related to the critical message that you are trying to convey. In this way, the conversation flows smoothly and feels genuine.
Learning how to manage anger, especially in divorce relationship issues, is an important component of a creating a healthy, successful child-centered divorce. The payoffs, in terms of harmony, cooperation and peaceful days for your children, make anger management skills worth mastering. You will never regret learning how to diffuse anger and tension in your communication with your childs other parent. I encourage you to give it a try. You can learn more about managing anger from Dr. Becourtney.
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