Modern Family Matters

Trickle Down Bleakonomics: How High-Conflict Relationships Hurt Children & 5 Ways to Foster Healthier Dynamics

February 09, 2021 with Chris Messina Season 1 Episode 22
Modern Family Matters
Trickle Down Bleakonomics: How High-Conflict Relationships Hurt Children & 5 Ways to Foster Healthier Dynamics
Show Notes Transcript

Behavior Analyst, Chris Messina, discusses the impact that high-conflict parenting can have on a child, and 5 tactics you can start using today to help foster a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex. Chris covers the following in our podcast:

•    Why Your Divorced Relationship with Your Ex-Spouse is as Important as Your Married Relationship 
 •    How Dysfunctional Interactions Between Ex-Spouses Negatively Impact the Kids
 •    How to Move from Gridlock to Compatibility with your Ex
 •    Specific Actions You Can Take to Turn Around the Madness

The 5 tactics that you can start employing today to help promote a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex include:

·         DO:  Respond in a timely manner

·         DON’T: Purposely avoid communication

·         DO:  Set a clear objective every time you communicate

·         DON’T: Sabotage the conversation with insults or accusations or saying things like, "they don't do it at my house!"

·         DO:  Pause and collect your thoughts before you make decisions (to ensure your motivations are keeping the best interests of kids at the center)

·         DON’T: React impulsively in a way that is intended to punish or insult your ex-spouse

·         DO:  Try really hard to be open to collaborative problem solving and compromising

·         DON’T: Make “No” your default answer

·         DO:  Honor your commitments to yourself

·         DON’T: Simply pay them lip service


To learn more about how Landerholm Family Law and Pacific Cascade can help you, call our office at (503) 227-0200 or visit our website at or 

For more information about Chris Messina and how she can be a resource for your family, you can view her website here:

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.


Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast hosted by Steve Altishin, our Director of Client Partnerships here at Landerholm Family Law. We are devoted to exploring topics within the realm of family law that matter most to you. Our discussions will cover a wide range of both legal and personal issues that accompany family law matters. We strongly believe that life events such as marriages, divorces, re-marriages, births, adoptions, children, growing up, growing older, illnesses and deaths do not dissolve a family. Rather, they provide the opportunity to reconfigure and strengthened family dynamics in healthy and positive ways. With expertise from qualified attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcasts will help provide answers, clarity, and guidance for the better tomorrow for you and your family. Without further ado, your host, Steve Altishin.


Steve Altishin  0:03  

Hi, everyone. Welcome to our Facebook Live broadcast. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships here at Landerholm Family Law. Today I'm here with certified behavioral analyst, Chris Messina, to talk about how to manage high conflict co-parenting relationships, and avoid bleak outcomes for your kids. So Chris, for those who have not seen you on earlier conversations, can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 


Chris Messina  1:40  

Sure. Hey, Steve. Yeah, I am a behavior analyst, and I focus on co-parenting for kids with special needs, like autism and ADHD. So I work with the whole family unit, parents as well as doing behavioral therapy for the kids.


Steve Altishin  1:58  

Thank you. Well, today's topic is quite a handful. So let's start with what constitutes high conflict, and high conflict co-parenting, relationships. Where do we start? I mean, I've heard of this term "high conflict personalities". What's that all about?


Chris Messina  2:17  

Well, if you're involved in a high conflict co-parenting relationship, you know it. I think central to those relationships is blame. I kind of think of it as a blame-shame cycle, the blame-shame game, you know, where there is a lot of finger pointing, a lot of assigning responsibility, and not a whole lot of accountability for maybe a particular parent's role in anything really involving the kids. So we've got blame. Typically, there is aggressive communication, in the form of threats, to maybe take legal action, or to withhold certain things that the other parent might need, yelling; you get the gist of where I'm going with this aggressive communication, right? So, blame. Control. Control's another issue that I often see; an inability to relinquish control, or trying to wield control in similar patterns that maybe were present in the marriage.


Steve Altishin  3:22  

So high conflict, is it like a high conflict person? Is it something that's sort of built into this person and then just comes out especially awful during a divorce, or afterwards?


Chris Messina  3:36  

Is it built in? That's a great question. Listen, I think lots of variables contribute to the person we become, right? So that's a conversation for another Facebook Live. But typically, yes, this is the way this person engages, likely in most relationships in their lives. It's seen more often in those intimate relationships, right? We've kind of opened ourselves at home in a way that we might not elsewhere, but I would be willing to bet if you are a truly high conflict individual, it is not isolated to just your marital or divorced relationship. You're seeing it in the workplace, potentially with other family members, even friendship. So a high conflict individual carries themselves everywhere they go.


Steve Altishin  4:22  

How does it play out in the interactions that ex-spouses have with their children? I'm assuming it's got to have some negative impact with the children.


Chris Messina  4:35  

Yes, hence the name of today, right? That the idea of bleakonomics, which we'll talk about. When someone is truly wedded to winning-- and I'm not talking about a sporting event, I'm talking about in any kind of communication or negotiation with a co-parent-- when you are wedded to winning, and not open to problem solving, the outcomes...I mean, help me find a good outcome there. Right? So we're going to talk at length about more specifics regarding the negative outcomes. But when you're fighting to win or fighting period, your kids are going to be deeply impacted by that.


Steve Altishin  5:17  

It's funny you mentioned that, because when we were talking and we were kind of planning this, I noticed that you used a term, and it struck me. You said, "trickle-down bleakonomics". Well, I'm an old economics major. And I remember that term, trickle down economics. In the old trickle down economics, basically the idea was that, the more of something that those on the top of the pyramid accumulate, well, the more that trickles down to those at the bottom. Well, in economics, that was supposed to be the case of wealth. But I'm thinking that trickle down bleakonomics has something much less desirable that's trickling down to the kids. So maybe we could go through some examples of how high conflict co-parenting ultimately hurts the children now, maybe some examples of what this trickle down economics is.


Chris Messina  6:27  

I've gotta pat myself on the back. That's a pretty creative one, isn't it? Here's how I arrived there. And I know we kind of talked about this a little bit, but I'd like our listeners to hear. A big part of my job is to learn from the kids and their experience in these complicated family dynamics. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that even if a parent deludes themself into thinking that this email, this scathing email, that I write to my co-parent won't impact the kids. Or, the the feelings I harbor against my co-parent will remain largely unknown by my children, so how could it possibly affect them? I'm here to set the record straight with you today, because I have seen the evidence time and time again. And these examples are going to just illustrate ways in which we really do fool ourselves as divorced parents, if we truly think that I can be operating from a place of anger, resentment, contempt, and think that it will not trickle down, in many ways, not just in a singular way. And we'll look at how all of that kind of creates. And so I started to envision that as the trickle down bleakonomics, because I thought, 'these are bleak outcomes for kids'. And they actually can be avoided if we make positive co-parenting choices. So let's take a look at a couple of examples. So a behavioral pattern that I think is just really, really devastating, is poor communication. Okay. So very often, a high conflict parent will make the decision--and it's a decision-- to either not respond to their co-parent, or to really drag out and delay, in an intentional way, a response that really should be made in a timely manner. So in that communication, we see the control, we see how all of those negative feelings are just kind of manifesting in the way that we communicate. So, we say, 'Okay, so, how does my lack of response to my ex, either on a text or an email, how could that possibly impact my kids?' Like, how are they going to know, right? Okay, so let's take a look, we've got a flowchart here. So we're going to talk about our friends Kim and Pat, they're a divorced couple. Okay, so, Pat refuses, in this scenario, to respond to Kim's emails about an upcoming activity. She wants to sign the kids up for a camp. Okay? So we all know as parents that you have got to get on it like, really, really early, right? So she reaches out and says, 'Hey, I'd like to kind of get your approval.' This is assuming they've got joint custody, they're going to make these decisions together. She's kind of extending this bid for communication. And Pat just says, 'No, I'm not gonna.' He's angry and he's not going to respond. So now, Kim can't plan, because for many people, it is required that you have the decision made by both parents. So now Kim can't plan and so she has to hit the pause button. And we know with children, planning is of the essence. So now the kids are going to miss out on an opportunity, right? So it kind of trickles down. And even though you thought, 'I'm just going to annoy my ex', by not responding now your kids have missed out on an opportunity because something has filled up and that chance has gone away.


Steve Altishin  10:02  

So it's too late for them to go to camp.


Chris Messina  10:04  

Exactly! So let's think about, why did Kim reach out in the first place? We're gonna give Kim the benefit of the doubt, and we're gonna say she's trying to collaborate, right? She's trying to work with the other parent to say, 'Hey, let's make the best choices together. I don't want to just sign them up unilaterally. I want this to be a shared experience'. Yay, great. We want that! So if Pat doesn't respond, and Kim has the authority in that situation to make the decision and then she signs them up, well, then Pat later responds and says, 'Oh no, I'm gonna fight that. I wasn't part of that decision.' Right? So now, because Pat dragged his heels, Kim went ahead, she took the lead, she made the decision. And now Pat's like, 'Oh, no, no.' And so now we've got to either withdraw kids--again, another missed opportunity--or we have more transitions. Who knows what the outcome is, but we know it's not going to be good for the kids, right? And then there's an increase in tension. So the minute you increase your co-parent stress, I actually challenge folks to find one good outcome from increasing your co-parent stress, right? Like I can sit here with you, we could probably list like 912 negative outcomes. Can you think of one positive outcome that arises from increasing your co-parent stress? Yeah, really not a single one, not a single good outcome. So now, Kim's stressed out, right? So when you are stressed out, as a single parent, the children feel it, right? You're going to be short tempered, you're going to be exhausted. I mean, the kids are going to be deeply impacted. 


Steve Altishin  11:55  

Yeah. Stress doesn't trickle down, stress gushes down.


Chris Messina  11:58  

I know! That's great, but it's true. It's true. And so you think, okay, so it's my responsibility as the co-parent to recognize that all of these things are going to gush down and flood my kids. So communication, let's get real. Communication should be timely and should be respectful. Okay. So another way, should we jump into a second scenario, or do you have any questions?


Steve Altishin  12:24  

I mean, already we have the results that are created from just poor communication: less opportunities, less stability from when you change plans, and more stress. Those aren't good.


Chris Messina  12:38  

They're not good. Not good. Because we all know that stress leads to a whole lot of poor outcomes. So let's talk about finances, because I think another way that high conflict parents like to tangle is by refusing to participate financially in something that maybe isn't required in the decree. Right? So I'm clearly not a family lawyer, but I know some decrees will maybe specify extracurriculars, and some will not. They're going to look different, I imagine, right? So here is an opportunity for the kids, let's say it's a really great musical theater experience for kids. We all know, kids are not cheap. So this is going to be an expense that maybe in this situation, Pat really wants. We're back to Kim and Pat. Pat really wants his daughter to engage in this opportunity. So, Kim, because she is operating from a place of, let's assume there's some contempt here, says 'No, I'm not paying', even though Pat, in this scenario, needs Kim's financial input to make this really important opportunity happen for their child. Her financial contribution is necessary, right? So Kim just says, 'Nope. I'm in control, nope.' She thinks she's saying no to Pat, but who is she really saying no to?


Steve Altishin  14:03  

Yeah. And say Kim comes in and says, 'No, it's not in the decree. It's not in our parenting money. You're paying for it.'


Chris Messina  14:12  

Right, right. Presumably, in Kim's mind, she's thinking, 'I'm not giving money to you, Pat, I don't want to give money to you, Pat.' But in reality, you're helping Pat make this opportunity happen for your kid. Okay? So, now Pat has some choices. So Pat, in this scenario, his finances are stretched thin. So now in order to make this opportunity happen, which let's assume he really wants this for his daughter, he's gonna have to work more hours, right? Or he's gonna have to double down and work harder. So what does that do for the kids? Now I've got less time. And every time you increase your workload as a parent, your stress is going up. So now the kids are getting a grouchy parent, or reduced quality time together. So it trickled right down to your kids right? So the other alternative would be Pat just can't, There's no way for him, with the type of job that he has, there's no way for him to make up that difference financially. So his daughter's just simply not going to get to engage. And the thing that is really concerning about that is, sure, sometimes extracurriculars are fun and games. Anybody have a soccer kid who you're like, 'My kid shouldn't be playing soccer?' I have one of those kids. Not every extracurricular is really enriching deeply the lives of our kids, but some of them are, especially as kids get older. If you're nurturing a musical talent or something in that area, the stakes get higher, right? Like you actually may miss opportunities that have a long term consequence for your kid. So that's important to keep in mind, right? It's different when you've got a little kid running around a soccer field, and maybe someone who's, you know, playing a violin and nurturing through that. And again, every single scenario here is going to lead to that increased stress. Period. So if I think about some of the ways that that increased stress is going to impact Pat and Kim, how's the kid going to see that? Well, sometimes when parents go to maybe like a sporting event, or a play, or a musical event, even in high conflict situations, maybe they'll sit near each other to sort of have that united front presented for the kid. So now, you're ticked off at each other, we're not sitting near each other, okay? The tension becomes more palatable. Maybe I'm not walking to the door anymore to pick you up, maybe I'm going to wait in the car. Those little micro-aggressions are very, very, very clear to the kids. That tension is palatable. And I'm not just saying it from an adult perspective. This is what the kids tell me. They know it. I once read something that said, 'You can fool a lot of people on this earth, you can't fool children'. And I think it's true. They are the most perceptive, and we have a lot to learn from them. So finances, choose carefully.


Steve Altishin  17:00  

And again, it's a matter of, 'Oh, I'll punish my spouse', and you're really punishing your kids.


Chris Messina  17:06  

Absolutely. That's a great word for it. A lot of this behavior, at its very core, is punishing. You think you're punishing your ex. And we're going to talk more in a bit about what to do, but I just want to sort of make this public service announcement here: you're not married anymore. You're done, you're divorced. What are you fighting for? And I understand that that's a lot of work, but we should be doing the work to figure out how to move past. But sometimes people behave in such a way that I have to remind them, you're not married anymore. You actually separated your lives. This is the good news for you, right? You get to go on, so let's tuck that one away. So the third scenario that I see often is a real rigidity when it comes to time. So for example, you know, we've all got our parenting plans. And someone once told me that the best parenting plan, and you can tell me if this is what family lawyers feel, is one that's really, really detailed, but put in a drawer. Just so that if we ever need to refer to it, we have to, but we're going to be adults about this, and we're going to work together organically, right? Like that sounds great. So you've got this granular plan, but in reality, you say to yourself, 'Well, we're gonna be flexible, we're gonna roll with it'. So with kids, you know, things happen. Kids get sick, and parents get sick, and all sorts of things pop up. I don't know about you, but I don't see that actually happen in high conflict situations. Right? So when it comes to time flexibility, let's talk about Pat and Kim again. So Kim needs to go to a doctor's appointment. It's a pretty urgent medical appointment, right? She doesn't want to bring the kids for a myriad of reasons. So it's her parenting time, but it's the only time that she can get into the doctor's appointment. She says to Pat, "Hey, I need a hand,' knowing that he's available at this time. Certainly, if he's at work, what's he going to do? But knowing he's available, she reaches out and says, 'Hey, could I bring the kids by for a couple of hours while I'm at this doctor's appointment?' Obviously, in this scenario, Pat says 'No.' So how does this affect the kids? Who cares, right? Like, they're just going to go to a doctor's appointment and sit with mom. Okay, so if we look at protecting kids, we want to make sure that we are considering where they are developmentally and exposing them to what's safe and appropriate for them to know. And in this scenario, it really sounds like Kim is in a situation that the kids don't need to be privy to. So she now has to make choices that are really difficult for a single parent to make. So she has to decide, do I leave the kids home with my neighbor who they don't really know and feel safe with? Do I bring them to sit in a waiting room while all sorts of questions arise in their mind? I mean, really? Wouldn't Pat enjoy getting a few hours on a Saturday, if he's got it, to be with his kids? We all know that's about Kim, that's not about his kids.


Steve Altishin  20:11  

You know, it's like the old 70's term, he's on a power trip.


Chris Messina  20:14  

Yep. So, I think a lot of tension is inherent in all of these scenarios. And, again, I go back to the question, can we identify a single positive outcome for kids? In any of these scenarios? Right? And are we, if we're really honest with ourselves as parents, are we making decisions that are then in the best interest of the kids? You know your motivations! You may want to run from them, but you know your motivations.


Steve Altishin  20:47  



Chris Messina  20:48  

So you've gotta get honest.


Steve Altishin  20:51  

Yeah. And, like you've shown us, it's not just the mental, the emotional, the  convenience damage. You've shown us that there's health, there's job, there's long term significant real damage going on to everybody. And it's probably even damaging the person who's doing it! It's ridiculous.


Chris Messina  21:24  

Oh absolutely. We shared a quote the other day that said something like, resentment is a poison you drink, hoping the other person will die. You are taking on a whole lot of damage, a whole lot of damage. So here's the thing: when you are rigid, when you are inflexible, you do create obstacles for that other parents. So for example, a parent says to you, 'Hey, I've got an invitation to go see a family member' with maybe a significant other that they've got to earn a relationship with currently. And the other parent says, 'No, that's my weekend, and I won't switch', when in reality, they could switch no problem. Well, you know what, you may think, 'I don't want my ex to have a new relationship, I'm not going to make that easy for him or her.' Guess what? It's actually really healthy for that ex partner to have emotional support in their lives. And if you keep creating that blockade so that they can't nurture it, there's another negative outcome for your kids. Because potentially, there could be another really supportive individual that may not be able to remain in their lives because the ex parent has not been flexible. 


Steve Altishin  22:33  

So these are bad things. These are terrible results. This is the result caused by this sort of action. How do we get out? You may not ever make it stop, but how do we work through it?


Chris Messina  22:55  

Yeah, I want to share really clearly, some strategies for folks to try. Before I do that, I just want to make one comment. A mom recently said to me that she felt like this was all useless to her, because her ex was unwilling to come to the table, and do this work with her. So I want to be clear that, obviously it's optimal if both co-parents say, 'Hey, we're going to do this work, and we're going to commit to all the things we're about to talk about. We're going to own it, and we're going to deep dive into this together'. It's also possible that you may have such a high conflict ex that the work necessary for that person to sort of join the game with you is their responsibility, and they're unwilling to do it. Okay, so, you can still do this work. Because I believe that we can, maybe compensate is too strong of a word, but we can certainly provide different models for kids. Yeah, well, optimally, they'd see it from both angles, but one is okay, too. Just because they're not willing to meet you, doesn't mean you can't make the good parenting choices. Okay? I want to be clear about that.


Steve Altishin  24:08  

Well, what do you say to someone who says, 'Hey, hold on, I put up with this when I was married. I had to do that for the kids when I was married. That was a relationship that I was really trying to preserve and make better, but this is divorce, it aint the same!' How do you respond to that?


Chris Messina  24:28  

Well, I would share the bleakonomics theory, my bleakonomics theory-- I'm gonna write a theory! Because the truth is, if you did not have children together, fine, go your own way! You have nothing binding you. But kids are an incredibly powerful glue. So, here's what I argue: while we all made probably some very poor choices in our marriages, this is an opportunity to finally do it right. Okay? So I'm gonna make an argument that probably won't be super popular amongst divorce folks, but I believe it to be true for the kids. I believe that your co-parenting relationship is the most important relationship of your life. Not your new partner, not your kids, because your kids are going to reap so many benefits if that relationship is strong and respectful. Listen, as we kind of move through these, you'll see, I'm not suggesting that you have to adore your ex, none of that is required. It's letting go of the past and keeping the spotlight on the kids. Okay, so let's talk. So first and foremost, it is attempting, and I want to say attempting because I know it'll be really hard for folks, but attempting to accept that that relationship is paramount. All relationships that are important, that you want to maintain, that you want to flourish, they're going to take work, right? That's like psych 101. This is going to take work. So you're either going to do the work, or you're not. Until you commit to doing the work, the rest of this won't be super valuable to you. But I hope that folks will be willing to get to that place, whatever that looks like for them.


Yeah, I mean, it's counterintuitive, but it's correct. 


Yep. So these are four commitments that I would strongly encourage individuals to try really hard to make. So the first is, I think a lot of times in divorce scenarios, folks feel like they need to forgive. And they can't forgive, so they can never move past. But I read something recently that kind of stopped me in my tracks, and it was all about finding resolution, not forgiveness. I want to share a quote, because he captured it so perfectly. This author, Jeff Brown, I don't know who he is, but I want to meet him. He said, 'forgiveness is not a measure of our emotional health and well-being; resolution is. That is, how we come to a relatively resolved understanding of what we went through, and how we come to terms with what it wa, in a way that brings us to a deeper understanding and peace.' And that may sound a little flowery and, you know, woowoo, but to me, I thought, 'That's it'. I hear time and again, 'I won't forgive so I can't move forward, I won't forgive so we can't have a good relationship, what they did was unforgivable.' Right? I think resolution looks a whole lot different than forgiveness. What do you think?


Steve Altishin  27:34  

Well resolve yourself that it isn't forgivable, but it shouldn't stop me.


Chris Messina  27:40  

And doing that work, usually it's through some kind of therapeutic intervention-- it's a different path for everybody--but whatever that work looks like, if you don't find resolution, I think we're stuck. We're mired in the emotional muck, and we just can't seem to do the next few steps that we're going to talk about.So that's the first piece and it's a huge one. But if you can commit to finding resolution, I think there is a whole lot of hope for a good relationship with your co-parent. The next one is also going to be tricky. And I'm going to say, pick one of the greatest irritants that really plagued you with your ex, and let it go. Initially I thought, pick the greatest irritant, but that might be too big of an ask. But there are things about our ex that will irritate us all the live long day. There are reasons why you're divorced, right? We know this. If you can identify one, and commit to letting it go, I think that's going to move the needle in terms of developing this relationship. Again, I come back to my PSA: we're not married anymore, folks! You did it, you separated your lives, and you don't have to hold on. It's almost as though people sometimes in divorce, behave as if they're still married. It's like, well, hang on a second, you just separated your entire worlds. You have limited contact, you don't have to see this person every day... let it go.


Steve Altishin  29:01  

It's a great, tangible thing that someone can do.


Chris Messina  29:05  

Yes! Identify it, name it, what is it? What are you going to let go of?


Steve Altishin  29:10  

Yeah. And it's not a game, but it's, like I said, it's tangible. It's like, Okay, I can take some of this power back. Because this is a thing I can do, and I choose to do it. Don't let it bother me, and do what I'm supposed to do, and now I've got that one out of the way. You know, it's demonstrable, I guess.


Chris Messina  29:34  

It is! And you know, you can see as we kind of chip away at this, that this is work that an individual can do absent their co-parent doing it. You get to do this work for yourself. So, we're gonna kind of let go of one of those irritants. The next one is number three, be open to influence from your ex. We talked about those high conflict relationships--I'm here to win, and it's this dance, and I will up the ante and I will... right? Be open to influence. Because otherwise, your only other alternative if you're not open to influence-- which is really collaborative problem solving when you're open to making those decisions and hearing what they have to say, and maybe changing your mind--your alternative is to win. Do you want to be right, or do you want to do what's best for your kids? And believe it or not, the other parent knows these kids, too. He or she may have some great ideas for how to problem solve. But if you enter a conversation with that desire to win, you might as well exit the conversation immediately. Why bother?


Steve Altishin  30:30  

You don't cut off your nose to spite your face. 


Chris Messina  30:33  

Yeah. And number four, in terms of these commitments to yourself, feels huge to me. It feels monumentally huge to me, and I think it's game changing. I think you need to find some modicum of compassion for your ex. Compassion, why? So you can, I see two paths, when you leave a marriage: you can operate with that anger, which presumably flooded your relationship while you were married, right? That anger, that contempt, that disdain, and you can let that carry you. That's one river you can go down. The other alternative is to say, 'This person is human.' I see the humanity and this person. I have chosen not to live with it, which is great, so now you have protected yourself and you are safe, and all of the things that you needed, or whatever. But this is a human being, who I think deserves compassion. So for example, if they are ill, show compassion. If they are struggling, if they lose their job, I mean, this is a human being. And I think when we are so entangled in marriage, and the rage feels so real for a lot of people, they forget that you can feel compassion. And I think compassion is the other alternative. Let's go down that river. It's the hardest work you will do most likely, but I think it's the most impactful. 


Steve Altishin  31:48  

And it's something you do that has no real reflection of the anger. I remember you talking with me about how it's creating a moment of connection. Say we're at a game, let's take a selfie and send it to him. And not in a 'Oh, look what we're doing,' way, but just to share in something.


Chris Messina  32:10  

Yeah. And see, again, this cycles back to seeing this as a valuable relationship. If you don't see it as valuable and super important, you're not going to do these things. So let's start there. Okay, so those are the commitments. You're going to commit to making this significant, and you're gonna explore compassion and resolution. So now, I want to go to a quick list of do's and don'ts. Because I feel like it's really valuable for parents to walk away with things to actually try. So the do's: DO respond in a timely manner. Just do it. Right? We all know that every human being walks around with a device on which they can respond 24/7. So when someone says 'I didn't have my phone', it's like, I'm pretty sure it's glued to you. So just respond. Don't purposefully avoid communication unless you want to have like a whole host of negative outcomes. I had a parent tell me the other day, 'I just simply stopped responding. I blank it, and I just stop responding.' It's like, okay, well let's talk about what that's gonna yield. And we do it, I get it, but let's pick through it.


Steve Altishin  33:22  

So that's your number one thing, DO respond in a timely manner.


Chris Messina  33:26  

Respond in a timely manner! It's like low hanging fruit, just do it! And you can create boundaries. Some people say no text messaging--that's fine. But establish your kind of rules between each other and then just do it. Set a clear objective every single time you communicate. Because otherwise, I think, the don't is: don't sabotage conversations by maybe kitchen sinking, where you dump everything in or go to the past, and get into the insult some low blows. Lliterally, set an objective. So if you're going to email each other and say, 'I'd like to talk'-- and do try to talk sometimes, because it's the most effective way, if you can be calm, to communicate-- but even if it's an email exchange, set an objective. Today we're talking about Sarah's dental issue. So for example, in the response, it shouldn't be, 'Well you're feeding Sarah a whole bunch of candy and junk food. So obviously, it's your fault,' right? Let's not do that. Stay to the topic. So the objective is, we are going to decide on an orthodontist for Sarah in this message. Be clear.


Steve Altishin  34:31  

It seems like you have to listen more when you do that, as well. You're not waiting to set the bomb. You're not looking for a way to light the match.


Chris Messina  34:42  

Exactly. Stay on track. It's so easy to just veer off and then forget it, then it devolves, and you know the rest.


Steve Altishin  34:48  

So that was number two. 


Chris Messina  34:51  

That was number two. So one: respond in a timely manner. Two: set those clear objectives. Three: pause. Just pause sometimes. That doesn't mean drag out three weeks before you respond to the email. But pause before you respond so you don't react. Pause before you make a decision so that you recognize, either I'm making this decision because I really don't want to see that other person happy in the dating situation, or I'm making this decision so that my kids have some type of opportunity. You know why you're making that decision. Pause and get real with yourself. Are you doing it because you want to spite the other person, or are you doing it because it's really best for the kids? Impulsive reactions off the table. Just stop, okay?


Steve Altishin  35:41  

This is so much more important than it was, I keep referring to my age, but back in the good old days. Because the ability to react quickly, the the ability to make a decision instantaneously and get that out to people. is around now. I remember telling my kids 'Hold it, you're gonna send that text? Put your phone down, wait 30 seconds, look at it again, and then see if you want to send it.'


Chris Messina  36:14  

Yep, sleep on it. I know, you're right. We have access to so many ways to sort of react and show impulsivity. Okay, so number four. We talked about being open to influence. Be open, DO try and collaborate when it comes to problem solving. Try to be open, even if it's the most painful thing you've done, and don't make 'no' your default. When 'no' is your default, there's no room for ever hearing, 'Hey, I'm concerned about our kid's X, Y, or Z, their anxiety. Can we talk about getting them some some help?' ...'Nope'. Doors are slammed. Don't make no your default.  And I think just overall, as we kind of look at everything in total today, do honor those four commitments, or make some version for yourself. If  that sounded like hokey to you, and you thought 'Yeah right, no chance', come up with like training wheel versions. I don't care. Make a commitment. Make one commitment. Just make a commitment and try and honor it. Don't read the parenting books and say, 'I'm gonna watch this and learn this,' and then just pay lip service to those ideas. Make a commitment. That's how behavior change happens-- you have to commit. 


Steve Altishin  37:28  

I love that. And it takes you away from just reacting all the time. It allows you to be proactive. And I think people who are proactive tend to think clearer sometimes. So this was really cool. I'm afraid we're running out of time, as we always do when we talk, but it was great. Chris, I really want to thank you for joining us today. This was really great.


Chris Messina  37:57  

You're so welcome! And I just want to make sure that as we say our goodbyes that we remember, you don't have to have those bleak outcomes, right? Bleakonomics doesn't mean it's a guarantee if you choose positive co-parenting choices for the kids.


Steve Altishin  38:11  

Yeah. What you've done is you've showed us the result of not doing the right thing or not acting in an appropriate way, as well as what can be the result if you do. And it's stark! I mean, the difference can be stark. I think it's great. Any other last minute words of wisdom?


Chris Messina  38:37  

Just own it. Just own your behavior. Just remember, you're no longer married, so you get to behave in ways that we grow.


Steve Altishin  38:47  

I like that one. I do like that one. So thanks, Chris. And also, everyone who's tuned in, I really want to thank you again for watching our Facebook Live today. If anyone has any questions on today's topic, I know that we've got it posted where you can get ahold of Chris on our Facebook, you can also post it to us on our Facebook. And you can also shoot me an email at [email protected] So until next time, everyone, stay safe. Have a great day. And we'll see you at our next Facebook Live. Thank you.



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