9 Tips: How to Communicate with Your Ex Without Losing It!
These ideas will help improve the communication between your ex even if you are the only one implementing them.
“Yvette, Help! Ex-troubles! Communicating with my ex is a nightmare and down right draining! How do I successfully navigate through the day to day communication with them and not lose my mind?”
Ever scratch your head while trying to parent with your ex, thinking of it like a prison sentence that you just have to survive till the children are 18? Well you are not alone. Many divorced parents feel this along with several other thoughts and feelings.
Communicating with your ex can be difficult for some, but there’s hope. I won’t sugar coat it in saying that the process will be easy and that it will magically happen overnight, as it will take time, energy, a change in negative patterns and a shift in perspective with regards to your why behind it. You may be thinking I know, I know it’s for the kids. But, let me challenge you a little more. Do you really understand what the consequences of a conflictual communication style are on the children? I don’t want to spend much time having you thinking about it but I will say identifying your why’s early on in the game keeps you focused, actions aligned and prayers on point. Here are some communication pointers to aid in the transitioning process from conflictual to parallel parenting in the area of communication.
Have a plan for communication.
There's nothing worse then sorting through numerous emails and texts. Create monthly meetings in order to cover the big topics and get on the same parenting page. Creating monthly meetings helps to filter out the needless everyday or every week talking be it through text or emailing, as it allows you to keep the big stuff for the meetings which has a double purpose of allowing you to process your thoughts re: a situation, respond rather than react and successfully problem-solve.
Set up systems.
Systems allow for things such as, children’s events, performances, doctor visits, talks, and documents to be all in one place and everyone to have equal access to it. A system could be a shared google calendar and shared google files such as google documents for keeping track of medical expenses. Family wizard is another option for staying on the same page and making communication less complicated. If you homeschool there’s Planbook which allows you to communicate school related assignments, grades and school activities.
Say no to the extras (At least for the time being).
Meaning keep to the schedule and don’t make special arrangements for things or situations. It takes cooperation and compromise to make schedule changes, something at this level of co-parenting everyone is not ready for.
Separate your emotions.
Name it, own it and work through your feelings. Getting stuck in your feelings is not helpful for anyone. It inhibits your ability to process the situation with a clear head and not having clear thinking can have you reacting to situations more times than not when the goal needs to be responding.
Create clear boundaries.
Boundaries helps you define where you begin and the other person ends. The purpose of setting healthy boundaries is to protect and take good care of yourself. So, as it pertains to communication between each other here are some boundaries to implement when communicating via, text or email.
Set up out of bounds time for texting or receiving phone calls outside of emergencies.
Emails and texting should be no more than once a week and then a small discussion at drop off or pick up as to bring the other parent up to speed with the week’s events.
Be sensitive to the tone of your voice. Do not sound overly anxious, aggressive or pushy.
THINK through exactly what you plan to say and discuss BEFORE you place a call, a text or email. Jot down the items you want to discuss and questions you want answered. Plan your message to be as direct and specific as possible, asking the person to respond to specific alternatives or questions.
Pause. Purpose today to pause a little before you answer someone or before you make a statement. Use five brief seconds to shoot up a flash prayer to God asking for the right words to say.
I’m sure you have heard the saying Better over Bitter or Insight over Offense. When you are engaging with your ex one powerful tool you can utilize comes from leaning into choosing well. Pausing and getting insight helps us get perspective on the situation. It causes us to take step back from the situation and to exercise “patience” and see if there is anything we are missing in our assumptions. Patience also allows you to give others the benefit of the doubt and to believe the best before you assume the worst. If someone does something that angers you and you feel justified in lashing out, speak kindly and gently to them instead. Explore the concept of grace in your interactions and see how it invites peace into your interactions. Don’t be upset if your text doesn’t get an immediate response—you can’t know for sure when the recipient will read the message, not to mention giving them time to process. Limits are good but make sure they are realistic.
Identify your “for me and my house” statements and values.
Everyone runs their house differently and different doesn’t mean bad, so pick you battles wisely. Each family will have a different way of doing things. Does it mean that you forgo being on the same page with your ex? No, that’s not what I’m speaking to. What I’m speaking to is the little things, for example with my ex the kids are allowed to watch tv and eat dinner while at my house that’s a big no, no. Agree on the big things like discipline, education and moral upbringing and it’s okay to be different on the little things.
See situations as lessons.
Co-parenting can be frustrating for some, as your ex will do things differently than you. However, when you shift your mindset and think of situations as lessons it can be a positive learning and growth experience. What do I mean by lessons? For example in my own life there was a time that my ex would put on what I deemed as inappropriate music when he drove with the boys. The boys complained as well to me about what he was listening to and how they wanted him to change the music. I could have easily confronted him about it all but instead I choose to pick my battles and see this as an opportunity to teach a bigger life lesson to the boys. I processed with them the situation, their thoughts and feelings about being with someone that their choices be it music, language or going somewhere goes against their value system and they are not comfortable with it. I strengthened the boys on how to navigate both through peer pressure and adversity setting them up for other situations that I would have less control over and that they would need the tools to work through. It was an awesome lesson and they grew from it.
Create realistic expectations.
No quicker way to disrupt and bring conflict into a relationship then through unrealistic expectations of what the other parent should or should not be doing. Understanding the relationship you are in with your ex is key. As you are not friends or romantic partners, but parents and by parents you are not parenting the other parent, a habit far to many parents get trapped in.
Parenting with your ex can be complicated, tricky and draining. First off parenting in and of itself is a difficult and long adventure and now having to do it with an ex and a step (if there is one involved) can make it for an even bigger adventure. If not done with intentionality it will not only negatively impact you but also your marriage relationship and most importantly your children. The upside is co-parenting doesn’t have to be this messy. Sure you will have your difficult parts but that would have happened married or not cause you are both individuals. I have successfully worked with and experienced the levels of parenting with an ex, navigating from conflictual to parallel to co-parenting and you can too. Intentionality goes a long way and it is so worth the effort when you consider what’s at stake…...your children.
“Never speak from a place of hate, jealousy, anger, or insecurity. Evaluate your words before you let them leave your lips. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet.” ~ Tony A. Jaskins Jr.
Yvette E. McDonald is the owner and counselor at Traveling Light Counseling, a practice for divorced and blended families in Port Saint Lucie and Martin County. I'm passionate about helping blended families, parents and step parents become "drama free" in their co-parenting journey. If you're in the Saint Lucie or Martin County Area and co-parenting feels "chaotic", please give me a call at 772-361-8448 for a free, 15-minute phone consultation.