To co-parent successfully, you need to maintain peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex. However, when your relationship is fraught with conflict, finding ways to communicate can be difficult.
The first step is to change your mindset. You should approach communication with your ex with the ultimate purpose of making sure your child is happy and healthy. Ask yourself if your actions will negatively affect your child before you contact your ex, and resolve to behave in a dignified manner. Overall, whenever you speak with your ex-partner, keep your child in the forefront.
For the majority of your communications, it is fine to speak on the phone, exchange texts, or send emails—it isn't always necessary to meet in person. You want conflict-free communication, so determine the type of contact that is most comfortable for you and your ex.
1. Think of your ex as a business partner.
Most people have had coworkers who they didn't necessarily like. Despite that, you still managed to work with them well enough to get the job done. It may be helpful to take the same approach to your relationship with your ex.
When corresponding, keep things simple and do not indulge in personal details. Also, there’s nothing to gain for either of us by going over old arguments again. Remember, “The past. It’s done. Move on.”
A good rule of thumb is this; children should be at the center of your conversations. And, direct communication is always the best, rather than using your kids as go-betweens. Children will only feel more anxious when they're placed in the middle.
2. Find the best method of communicating with your ex.
This is more difficult than it sounds with complicated divorces. Many people are unable to communicate and may wish to stop talking to their ex at all. However, co-parenting is not feasible if you are unable to communicate.
To avoid fighting over parenting on the phone or face-to-face, try using co-parenting software such as OurFamilyWizard.com, TalkingParents.com, or CoParently.com. If you want to coordinate schedules with your ex, you can share a Google calendar.
If you know how to write civilly, you might consider texting or emailing. Nevertheless, a message can quickly spiral downward if you or your ex read a "tone" into it that triggers your emotions. Your communication, as we discussed previously, should be professional.
3. Be committed to your kids and communicate regularly with them.
You both need to be actively involved in your kids' lives. After all, it's essential that they feel you're both interested in their lives.
To get started, establish a regular communication method. By doing this, you show your children that you both care about their happiness and are willing to work together for their benefit. In addition, it helps to reduce the possibility of your children being left somewhere due to an error in communication.
Regular communication is difficult to maintain - particularly during the early stages of separation. Communication channels that don't require direct verbal communication might be helpful. As a result, you will be able to think about what you are saying before you hit send and keep your emotions out of it.
4. Do not talk negatively about your ex in front of your children.
Never badmouth your ex in front of your children - no matter how much you feel they’ve hurt you. Make it a rule to avoid name-calling, passive-aggressiveness, sarcasm, or cuss words.
Remember, this is still the mother or father of your children. And, they still love them. So, you must do your best to show them respect. It may not seem like it, but your kids will appreciate you for it.
At the same time, there's nothing wrong with venting occasionally. However, do that with close friends, family members, or counselors instead of your kids.
5. Use “I” message.
"I" messages or "I" assertions are a style of communication in which the speaker emphasizes their own feelings, beliefs, and opinions rather than highlighting the characteristics they are attributing to the listener. The purpose of "I" messages is to communicate thoughts and feelings without blaming anyone. A key component of an "I" Message is accepting responsibility for what the recipient feels or experiences.
For example, replace, “You never help Charlotte with her homework. Her grades are probably bad,” with, "I'm concerned about Charlotte's school performance when she does not receive the homework help she needs. What can we do to ensure she gets the help she needs?”
6. Control your impulses.
“It’s important to understand that in co-parenting, we often show up with two personas: partner and parent,” writes Dr. Mae Casanova, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, on the Our Family Wizard Blog.
“In the partner role, we are having to interact with a former partner, and there may be a history of wrong-doings in that version of the relationship.” The past then affects the new version of the relationship. “The impulses, triggers, communication styles, and patterns now show up in this new version of the relationship,” adds Dr. Casanova. “Not something anyone who voluntarily signs up for. But with some practice, we can strengthen the parent role, heal and redefine the partner in us.”
With that in mind, how can you keep your communication cool and effective? Here are five strategies that Dr. Casanova suggests;
Be aware of your own impulses. Are you defensive or planning a response before your co-partner finishes talking?
Be aware of your own trigger points. Often, our ex-partners are aware of our trigger points. We can control our response by recognizing them before they happen, and thereby become less reactive if we do so.
Limit the personalizing and internatlizing. “A lot of the time because our partner knows our triggers (i.e. being accused of being a bad parent or being called selfish) they will most likely happen in conversation,” she explains. “Don’t take it personally. This is no longer a ‘you vs. them’ issue. It’s an ‘us vs. the problem’ issue.”
Use solution-focused vs. blaming language. Don't start conversations by saying "you always" or "you never". Focus on the solution and be purposeful with your words.
Always ask yourself “what is in the best interest of the kid(s)?”If you ever find yourself wondering if you are defensive or internalizing, come back to the question, “what is best for the kids?”
7. Use the “10-Second Rule.”
You'll both make mistakes every now and then, as parents aren't perfect. Since you're not living under the same roof when this occurs, it can be stressful and frustrating. If this happens, take 10 seconds to calm down.
Take some time, as well as a deep breath before reacting if your ex fails to adhere to the agreed-upon time (such as dropping the kids off significantly later than agreed). You're never going to benefit your children or your co-parenting relationship by reacting badly to a situation -- and this is especially true when in front of the children.
8. Actually listen.
In most cases, we hear what we want to hear or what we expect to hear. As such, listen carefully to what your co-parent is saying to you. And, do your best to understand their viewpoint.
You'll be able to clearly state what it is you object to and your co-parent will feel heard even if you end up disagreeing. Effective communication is all about listening.
9. Be sure to stay on topic.
The odds of information getting lost or misunderstood are much less with clear communication between parents. As a result, there are fewer conflicts.
How can you stay on topic? Be concise and to the point in your communication. In addition, don’t wait and pack all requests, concerns, and news in one long message.
Similarly, avoid sending lots of messages each day with every thought you have. Try communicating once or twice a week.
10. Be willing to compromise.
Occasionally, parents disagree in parenting relationships -- even if you get along. To find a mutually agreeable resolution, find a way to communicate that allows you to work together. Ultimately, you will be able to create a solution that you will both like if you cooperate with each other.
You should also have a degree of flexibility. If a co-parent's birthday falls during your parenting time, be kind to them and let them share the birthday celebration with the kids. Your kids shouldn't miss a special occasion or fun time with a parent just to spite them or a technicality. In this scenario, it is the children who are the biggest losers. In addition, your co-parent is more likely to agree to your request the next time.