Stepping Back Before Re-engaging in Divorce

The “Box Step” of Communication in Divorce

“Dance is communication, and so the great challenge is to speak clearly, beautifully and with inevitability” – Martha Graham

We often talk about dance as a metaphor—“the dance of life”, “the last dance”, “the big dance”. That may be because it’s something that can be both energetic or hypnotic, predictable or wild.

The “box step” is a highly predictable partner dance step used in the foxtrot, rumba and waltz that involves a couple tracing a square on the floor. It involves coordination as one partner is moving forward while the other one is moving back.

Marriage, like dance, can become a game of action and reaction, following the strongest lead without having the opportunity to lead back. And in divorce, some partners feel their own strength and will again for the first time in, perhaps, years. Once that marriage ends, the synchronized movements of the couple are disrupted—often for the good. But coordination is still critical to co-parenting.

My guest this week spoke about co-parenting and “the dance” we engage in when we deal with family questions. Julie Ross is founder and Executive Director of Parenting Horizons, an organization devoted to enriching children’s lives through parent and teacher education. She is a psychologist and author of a number of books including Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex.

Ross discusses the “box step of communication” where you step back from a problem, then step aside get a slightly different perspective and observe, then a step back to listen to the problem from the other person’s point of view, then finally forward to reengage.

Taken in parts, the “box step” approach is intuitive and natural:

  1. Confronted with a problem: you and your ex are face-to-face, feet planted squarely. You are staring at opposite walls. There may be a total breakdown in communication.
  2. Take a step to the side: you essentially give yourself a “time out.” You disengage. This gives you time to think and get your emotions calmed. It also gives you time to think.
  3. Take a step back: getting a little more perspective can help you consider the bigger picture and maybe even allow you to see things from your spouse’s point of view.
  4. Step forward, toward your ex, and present your new solution: re-engage with new enthusiasm or at least new compassion or understanding.

This advice is good for any tense confrontation from work to sports to school. But it’s especially helpful in co-parenting situations where opinions so easily differ and tempers can run high.

Keeping this “box step” metaphor in mind can help you in moments of frustration and anger—not uncommon or unlikely in situations of co-parenting.

Download our Guide: Holiday Survival Guide for Divorcing Parents.

Or read more from our Series with Julie Ross: Steps to Save Your Kids in Divorce

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