Family Life


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Negotiating with ex- and current partners

Sad couple - negotiating with ex- and current partnersHaving spouses and ex-spouses means negotiating – lots and lots of negotiating.

In the last seven days, I’ve had significant discussions with all three moms involved in the Family Sized Blender mix. I spent two hours working out some support issues with one, more than sixty minutes talking about a report card with another and a chat about make up time for a child who was sick.

To be honest, this is the most exhausting part of the blending experience. More exhausting than the two-year-old who has recently learned to scream for fun. More exhausting than the six hours of driving I typically do on Thursdays. More exhausting than the Jester who forgot his lunch this morning, something I discovered after driving half an hour to drop him off for the day.

Nope, it’s the negotiating that takes it out of me. Part of the reason is that I have learned that there are intricate rules of engagement. One mom wants to be part of the collaboration process. One mom prefers that I show up with solutions in hand. Easy enough – in theory.

The exhausting part comes from the fact that there are emotions and egos involved. When I negotiate in the business world, it’s easy to forget this stuff. After all, it’s just business. But this isn’t business. It’s personal. One mom doesn’t trust my intentions (“Didn’t you break up with me?”) or another mom is concerned that someone else is getting preferential treatment (“Why did you text her first?”). It’s the same thing anyone who has gone through a divorce faces – compounded by extra kids and higher stakes.

This is why the United Nations has nothing on me – and why I think I could win an election if I ran for office. I’ve gotten exceptionally good at navigating the politics of it all. Here’s how…

I face it down

No matter how ugly the negotiations have the potential for being, I don’t shy away from it. I’ve established myself as someone who will listen, challenge and ultimately find a solution. A year ago, one of the moms popped up to talk about support, just two weeks before I was to close my new house. I pushed for a meeting to understand what was going on and get to a solution.

I draw first

Good negotiation comes from good preparation. If I’m sitting down to negotiate, you can be certain that I’ve done my research and am ready to present solutions. One of our kids recently went through learning disability testing. I spent weeks before the day of the results gaming out possible options. When we got the final report, we went to a local coffee shop and I detailed my idea for a process forward, instead of fumbling with the data we’d just been presented.

I’m not afraid of politicking

I’ve also taken the time to understand how the moms process a particular idea. This isn’t mercurial, it’s respectful. If I know that your immediate reaction to what I’m going to say is an emotional one, I’ll find a way to understand that and give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s why I seed ideas weeks in advance before I present ideas. It’s also why I bank brownie points for the future. I’ll do something right today, knowing that it builds trust in the wider relationship and pays off when I need something for the future.

These three things have saved my sanity and I’m certain that the moms have their own strategies that have saved their sanity. In the hour or so it took me to write this piece, I was interrupted three separate times to negotiate: 1) Who is watching the kids on Sunday, 2) What we’re having for dinner and 3) Who is doing pick ups on March Break.

Everything is handled and to the best of our abilities, everybody’s winning.

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