For over five years now I’ve been co-parenting with my ex. Does that make me an expert? No. But I am experienced.
For those of you who have been here a while, you know that my co-parenting relationship wasn’t always as amicable as it is today. I don’t know if we’ve ever been considered “high-conflict,” but there was certainly a time when we argued, blamed, and pointed fingers at each other rather than focusing on our kids. We were definitely not communicating effectively!
After several months of trial and error, we figured it out.
We now know how to get along, and we also recognize that the reason getting along is so VITAL is that it’s beneficial to not only our children and families, but also to our own SANITY!
I know that some of you reading this have a very high-conflict ex that you’re dealing with, and I emphasize with you. The fact of the matter is that you cannot change what the other parent says or does. If you could change a person’s words and actions, you wouldn’t have divorced in the first place. So, instead of trying to change someone that can’t be changed, the best thing you can do is control what YOU say… and maybe more importantly, HOW you say it!
If you want to learn to communicate effectively with your co-parent, AND AVOID CONFLICT, I put together some simple questions you should start asking yourself BEFORE you call, text, or e-mail your co-parent:
- Is there an emergency? This pretty much goes without saying, but if there is an emergency, call your co-parent. Don’t delay (other than if you need to first call 911 or other authorities). It sounds like common sense to most of us, but I guarantee not informing your co-parent when your child has been seriously injured, was in a car accident, etc, is a way to quickly start some conflict with the other parent!
- Does the court order say you need to communicate this? The court order is the legally-binding document that you and your co-parent signed in agreement before a judge. I’ve heard an alarmingly large number of co-parents refer to the court order as “an outline.” The court order is not just a suggestion; it’s the plan both you and your ex agreed to follow in order to protect a) your child b) your parental rights c) the other parent’s parental rights. If y’all get along and AGREE to do things differently than what the court order specifies, that’s okay! But if there is high-conflict in your co-parenting relationship, I strongly suggest that you follow the court order. For example, if the court order states that you and your ex have to agree on child care providers, do not enroll your child in a new daycare without the other parent’s consent. If the court order requires you to notify the other parent of a change in health insurance, you’ve got to let the other parent have the new insurance info. I suggest that if you’re in a high-conflict situation with your co-parent, text or e-mail any information that the court-order states you are required to discuss with the other parent. Or if you prefer a phone call, discuss the situation over the phone, but then follow up via e-mail or text summarizing what was discussed by phone. That way, you have documented proof that you’re holding up your end of the parenting plan.
- Are you feeling hurt or angry? Man, this one can be hard. Especially if co-parenting is new to you. With divorce and separation, no matter who ended it or why, it’s nearly impossible to not feel hurt, angry, or resentful. It’s so tough, and I know that sometimes our emotions are in full force. It’s one of the hardest parts of the healing process. (If you want someone who gives the SWEETEST, most gentle advice on healing after divorce, connect with Sweet Divorce on Instagram!) But no matter how hurt or angry you are after a divorce, there will be times when you feel more calm and neutral than others. Use those times to communicate with your ex. And if you are on the receiving end of a text that clearly is coming from a place of hurt or anger, whether you’re being attacked, belittled, or micromanaged–do not respond. Walk away from the phone, engage in a calming activity that will put you back in a better state of mind, and then respond using only facts. Communicating with your ex is SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE when you can leave the emotions out of it.
- Is the request within your rights per the court order? If the court order doesn’t say that what you want your co-parent to do is required, then quite frankly, they don’t have to do it. For example, if you really want to switch your holiday schedule from what’s specified in the court order this year, you can certainly call, text, or e-mail to ask. For these kinds of requests, I generally advise a phone call if possible–if it’s important to you and your ex can hear your sincerity in your voice, they may be more inclined to work with your request. It’s all about the approach! Don’t come at your ex demanding them to do something that the court order doesn’t require them to do–that’s another fast track to not only getting denied your request, but to create conflict. Instead, have a respectful approach. Acknowledge that they have a right to say no, and respect that. Here are some examples of texts between my co-parent and I, and how we ask for changes in schedule:
- Is your tone business-like and free of blaming? The best advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to communicating effectively with your co-parent is to keep your tone business-like and professional. Try this: When you need to communicate with your co-parent, imagine that instead of talking to your ex that you can’t stand, you’re talking to a business partner or client. Speak calmly, respectfully, and professionally. Keep emotions and blaming out of the conversation completely. After all, the court order is a lot like a business contract. Your married relationship was full of emotions, but your co-parenting relationship doesn’t have to be. The only reason you are required to continue any kind of relationship with your ex is because you have children together. The sooner you can let go of emotion and blaming, the better your co-parenting will be.
I can almost hear your thoughts. You’re probably thinking:
“It isn’t fair that I do everything I can to make my co-parenting relationship work, while my ex sits back and remains unchanged.”
And you’re right! It’s not fair.
But remember that you’re not making these changes to make things easier on your ex–you’re doing it to make things less stressful on YOU and easier on your children. Even though you can’t control what your ex says or does, if you stick to the basic rules of communicating effectively, over time, the conflicts will be fewer and farther between.
THIS WEEK’S CHALLENGE!
- Print the checklist. Screenshot it. Save the image to your phone. Whatever works for you to have a quick reminder on hand.
- Before you call, text, or e-mail your co-parent this week, refer to the list of questions.
- If it doesn’t follow the checklist, RESIST communication with your co-parent.
- In addition, DO NOT engage in name-calling, blaming, or attacks from your ex. If your ex is the one that doesn’t communicate effectively, only respond to them in ways that align with the checklist. Ignore insults, and stick to facts in a business-like manner.
- Finally, if you feel like this adds any VALUE to your co-parenting situation, SHARE this post with others who might need it.
- If you feel this won’t work for you, let me know that too! There are countless situations out there when it comes to co-parenting, and none of this is one size fits all. I still believe that even with just one person implementing these tactics, at minimum, how you feel about your co-parenting situation will improve.
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Thanks for being here!