COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR EX - How To Keep It Calm
You and your ex had trouble communicating when you were together so how the F%#$! are you supposed to do it effectively now you’re divorced? Here are some tips to help keep it calm:
KEEP IT KID FOCUSED
Keep the conversation on topic, about kid related stuff only. If it veers into territory you don’t want to travel with your ex, or he/she asks you personal questions, be ready with a calm, polite but firm response such as “let’s keep it about the kids” or “I’d like to talk about school / soccer / singing / the holidays...”
2. LIMIT FACE-TO-FACE
If you can’t keep it calm, keep clear, at least in the early phases. Decide what communication strategies work best for you and your ex: phone, text or email. Don’t respond immediately if you feel agitated by a message from your ex. Wait until you’re calm or at least calmer. When you DO need to be in face-to-face contact, keep it public, polite and to the point.
3. KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS
Obviously, you and your ex have history - a story and a pattern with a predictable set of triggers that push your buttons. Know what yours are and how to recognise them. Know the topics, words and circumstances that threaten your ability to stay calm and have a set of strategies at the ready. It may be as simple as saying, “mmmm... let gather my thoughts”, or that you will respond via email, taking a deep breath before replying, or it could be walking away for a moment.
4. STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA
Facebook is not your friend. Don’t post your grievances or frustration on social media even if you’re not directly connected to your ex. Send a grumpy text to a safe friend or write it in a journal instead. Remember, your mutual friends will see it. And one day, so may your kids.
5. EDIT, EDIT, EDIT
Communicate as you would with a business colleague. Keep emotional words out of the conversation. Don’t blame or shame. Drop the “should’s” and demands. Use “we” rather than “you”. Ask questions aimed at solutions.
Pause. Breathe. Take your time. Don’t respond immediately, whether in person or via text or email. Consider your response before opening your mouth or hitting send. If it’s a written response, ask someone else to read and review it before sending.
6. PICK YOUR BATTLES
Save your energy for the big-ticket items. If you go hard-line on every single issue that arises, you will exhaust yourself as well as the goodwill of your ex-partner to co-parent. Be clear on what the core issues are (for you and your kids), and stick to those. Know where you are willing to compromise. Play the long game. Compromise and co-operate for the best outcome in the long run.
7. EXPECTATIONS and REALITY
ASK yourself WHY you need to communicate with your ex. What are you trying to achieve? Be clear on your intention (do you want a change in care arrangements / behaviour or do you just need to be heard?) and hold to it. Remember, just because you’re divorced doesn’t mean things automatically change. You have deep- seated patterns of communicating with each other, and they’re not necessarily effective. Don’t expect things to be different, just because you’re no longer together.
8. LESS IS MORE
Think about what you NEED to say. Say what needs to be said. Stop.
I admit, I’ve not always been great at this. I want to be sure I’ve been heard and understood but have come to realise that when making a point or communicating clearly and calmly (with my co-parent as well as my kids!), less is more. The less you both go on, the less likely it is that you will be drawn into your old dance. Less chance for what you say to become white noise. Less chance for your ex- to tune out. Less chance you will say something you later wish you hadn’t.
9. LISTEN, HEAR, UNDERSTAND
A huge part of successful communication is listening. Actively listen. Don’t just listen for the space to say your next piece. (Again, not something I’ve always been great at but there’s nothing like training as a coach to hone this skill!!!). Active listening is not just hearing. It involves fully understanding the other person’s message, then demonstrating your understanding or asking for clarification. Listen to understand and appreciate what is being said.
10. RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Boundaries are vital to a collaborative co-parenting arrangement and especially so in the way you communicate with one another. Set the boundaries - HOW you will communicate with your ex-partner and WHEN - early and re-set as needed. Set an agenda, even if it’s just in your own mind, and stick to the topic at hand.
Know WHEN it’s ok to communicate - not at 10pm after three glasses of wine and not when your ex will be sitting down to dinner with the kids. Setting healthy boundaries encourages a new pattern of communication less loaded with the old stories of your relationship.
11. RESPECT YOUR EX
Regardless of what your ex has or hasn’t done to, with or for you and your kids, s/he is still your children’s other parent. Disdain and disrespect won’t make your co-parenting relationship or your communication any better or easier. Be respectful even if you believe he/she doesn’t deserve it.
12. SET UP SUPPORT
There are loads of great tools and resources available to support your new co-parenting communication. Apps such as SharedCare or Cozi are useful to keep everyone updated and minimise the need to be in constant phone contact.
A good, level-headed mutual friend who understands what you’re trying to achieve and has the kids’ best interests at heart can be invaluable to bounce ideas off or be present as a mediating influence. Formal support can be found in a professional mediator, counsellor or coach.
13. SAY YOU’RE SORRY
If you need to. There is deep healing power in a heartfelt apology if you’ve genuinely got it wrong, caused hurt or harm. Don’t apologise for what’s not yours and don’t apologise if you don’t mean it, but if it’s warranted, it can go a long way to creating a clear, calm communication pattern with your ex. Find ways to move away from being adversaries and towards working together as equal partners in raising your children.
There is strong evidence to suggest that kids do well after divorce provided the conflict between their parents is minimised. Communicating calmly as co-parents isn’t always easy but it IS worthwhile.
You benefit. Your kids benefit.