Communication with your X

One of the biggest predictors for how your children will survive your divorce, or separation if you were never married, is how you get along with your "X." One of the worst things you can do for your children is to be in conflict with their other parent. The following comment from Dr. Ken Waldron may help you understand how your emotions and/or the response of your brain to emotional issues affects your ability to shield your children from conflict with your "X." Not only will your children benefit from your taking the high road (i.e. your being the mature one when it comes to conflict), your case in court will also benefit from your doing your best to give a message to your children that they are loved by both of their parents.

Understanding your emotional response to your "X"

By Dr. Ken Waldron

I always look to see if the parties are "able" to commnicate effectively in other parts of their lives. If they are, then it is not a problem of inability. Often, the parties have the same problems elsewhere, but more often they do not. The real issue for most is not ability, it is the location in the brain of the ability and the location of the brain they are using when they interface. I am going to put this on the list serve because it might be helpful to others. Effective communication requires reflection (e.g. stepping outside of oneself and examining one's own behavior), working with concepts that involve time (e.g. thinking through the impact of a current behavior or decision on future events), empathy (e.g. looking at a situation through the eyes of the child), and second order concepts (e.g. examining a current decision in the light of an established pattern or standard). All of these activities require the interface of the lower brain centers with several cortical areas of the more advanced brain. In the mid-brain, the part into which sensory input is channeled, there is a switching mechanism, so to speak. The sensory input receives emotional value, in a way, and the sensory input is combined with the emotional value and the midbrain (four different parts of it) somehow coordinate this and send it to the right brain locations. When we hear a lovely piece of music, or taste a particularly delicious food, have you ever wondered why there is a temptation to close the eyes? This is the midbrain working with other parts of the brain, including the occulatory center, to activate the brain to work efficiently.

When people receive high levels of emotional input, a switch goes off in the midbrain, and all of the data, so to speak, is sent to more primitive parts of the brain. This is what happens when we have sex, for example. When the pleasable feelings hit a point of overload, the cortex is cut out by the midbrain, and all of the neurological activity is in lower centers. When divorced parents are interfacing, particularly because many of their experiences have been traumatic and triggers strong emotion, their emotions hit a peak and the midbrain switches them to the brain stem. the functions in the brain step include a few we are familiary with (e.g. that is where fight or flight decisions are made), and a few people are less familiar with (e.g. preening, which is why separated parents are often so irrationally picky with each other). However, there is no time concept there, no reflective ability, no empathy,and so on - i.e., there is no ability to communicate constructively.

The problem is how to provide them, therefore, with experiences that reduce the emotions so that the midbrain can switch them back into their higher brain centers. I remember when I divorced, 22 years ago. I remember being in my brain stem and doing things that really made sense at the time, brainstem sense that is. Later when I looked back, I could cringe, because it was so obvious what a harmful mistake it was. If you haven't had that experience, you probably have been angry enough to say or do things that later you could see were horrible mistakes. When you got your ability to reflect back, to have empathic concern, to think about the effect of what you said over time, etc., you saw what a mistake it was.

If the court process reinforces the emotional meaning of the parties to each other, i.e. makes them enemies (competitors for limited resources, like the amount of time with a child), their emotional meaning to one another becomes more intense, making it less likely that the midbrain will choose higher brain centers. There are tricks to getting people out of brain stem thinking and into cortex thinking, but more than that, we have to remember that a gladiator facing the lion is not going to be wondering about vacation in two months. The context into which we place people is important.