Tips for Helping you Communicate with your Ex
One of the biggest challenges for separated parents is putting your feelings about your ex to one side. It's hard because it can take a long time to deal with the emotional adjustment of a relationship ending. In fact you have to gradually renegotiate the terms of your relationship and there's no rule book about how to do this - you're no longer partners, you wouldn't describe yourselves as friends necessarily and acquaintances doesn't seem right either. It can help some couples to think of each other as work colleagues and your job is raising the children. It may seem odd to think of your children as some kind of work project but it's a way of keeping the emotions out and not falling into unhelpful ways of relating to each other.
Although conversations may be focused more on practicalities, don't forget to share the positives of being parents. Finding opportunities to talk about your children's successes and appreciating what the other parent does for them all make it easier to keep the dialogue open.
If your ex is making communication difficult it is tempting to respond in kind. The risk is that bad feelings and behaviour easily escalate. Remember that you have the power to influence the other parent's behaviour even if you can't control it. It may be that your ex is going through a tough patch. Provided that you stick to your original goal of focusing on the children's needs and remain patient you'll hopefully get through it without doing too much damage to your co-parenting relationship.
Try to agree to keep the co-parenting conversations separate from all other discussions, for example, about the house or money. These are important issues so you will need to make sure they are being dealt with somewhere else.
If face to face conversation is too hard at the moment you'll probably be using text or email messages. Bear in mind that tone of voice and body language effects how people respond to messages. The absence of these cues means that messages can be misinterpreted so pay attention to how you phrase things.
Finally, if you want to raise something that you think will be difficult for you both to discuss, plan ahead. Let the other parent know you would like to talk and then agree a time and place convenient to both. Have an agenda so there are no surprises and you can both be prepared. Sometimes agreeing to meet in a public place is a good idea. It can give you confidence that you'll behave civilly and it also guarantees that the children will not overhear you.
Even if your communication is reasonably good, but especially if it is not so good, consider having a regular meeting to review:
- The children's successes and achievements
- The parenting time arrangements
- Special events
- Health, education, general welfare
- Discipline and boundaries
Why it's worth the effort
It's hard on everyone in the long run if you don't find a way of communicating with your ex that works for you both. The children miss out and parents can end up dreading any conversation. Children's needs change as they grow older; your life will change too - you need to be able to sit down together and talk about how these will affect you. Keeping the dialogue open and developing some goodwill makes the difficult conversations that much easier.
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