One of the most important tools for making cooperative parenting work and, for that matter, negotiating
any issues in a divorce or raising any matters of concern is to discuss them in a reasonable and non-
accusatory manner. In her excellent book, “Mom’s House, Dad’s House,” Dr. Isolina Ricci, suggests
applying what she refers to as basic parent-business principles,” when relating to one another. One of
these principles is keeping your feelings in check. In a business relationship, feelings may run high, but
good business people understand that feelings should not get in the way of negotiating solutions to
problems. If many spouses talked to their bosses the way they talk to their partners they’d be fired on
the spot.

In a business relationship one of the keys to success is to be solution focused instead of focusing on
blame or past mistakes. For example, if a couple are negotiating how they should share taking children
to after school activities, it is more productive if the parties focus on working out a plan that realistically
accommodates their schedules and provides certainty for the children than trading accusations about
how one parent was always too busy to get involved before the divorce and why are they now suddenly
showing an interest.

However, applying “parent-business principles” is often easier said than done when the relationship has
broken down in a hail of accusations and re-criminations and your ex-partner knows exactly what
buttons to push. Even in the best relationships reasonable demands (e.g. How many times do I have to
ask you to …….) can be met with tit-for-tat accusations in which there is no winner. In a divorce
situation, especially where children are involved, acrimonious conflict serves no-ones best interests.  
While you cannot change the past, you can change the way you communicate.

One of the reasons dialogue gets out of control lies in the way requests are made. They often involve
YOU STATEMENTS which feel like a first line of attack and invite defensiveness or a counteroffensive.
They are guaranteed to start an argument.

“Polite Requests” involving I STATEMENTS are a way of making a non-threatening requests for change.
They begin with an "I" statement where you identify and take responsibility for your feelings and
thoughts. They are an integral
part of making a “Polite Request.”

YOU STATEMENT =         "You are always late".
I STATEMENT =                 "I get very frustrated when I have to wait for you.”

"I feel/felt ______________________ (insert feeling or word)
when __________________________ (this happens)
and what I'd like is _________________ (insert your request)

This is what an “I” statement sounds like:

"I feel angry when you let our son watch R-rated moves, and what I'd like is
for you to leave him with me when you want to go to an adult movie.”

"I feel worried when Tasha comes home smelling of smoke and what I'd like
is for you to consider smoking outside.”

Consider how you would discuss the following scenario with your ex-partner using a Polite Request

Your daughter tells you that she is having trouble getting to sleep at the
home of the other parent. You see that she is tired when she returns from
time there. You are not sure why she's having trouble sleeping, but you are

If the going gets tough and meaningful and courteous communication becomes difficult or breaks down,
Dr. Ricci makes the following suggestions to minimize conflict:

•        Make communications direct and formal and if necessary use email or leave voice messages.
•        Keep the agenda to what is best for the children.
•        Avoid the temptation to push buttons.
•        Try to acknowledge the other parents positive contributions.
•        Do your job as a parent, let him or her do their job as a parent.
•        Be reliable and live up to your side of the bargain. Do what you are going to say.
•        Be flexible. If he or she wants something, maybe you can trade.
•        If communications fails, use a mediator!

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell to discuss your
custody issues.
Call for a free consultation now 310.247.9913.


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