Three Rules for Communicating with Your Ex
So, you haven’t done that well talking to your co-parent in person. More often than not your phone conversations have been disasters. As a result, you and your ex decided that the best thing to do is stick to emails and text messages in order to ease the communication breakdown.
While that seemed to be the ideal solution, that hasn’t always been so great either.
This is a familiar story, repeated over and over again by the hundreds of couples I’ve seen in high-conflict divorce groups. No matter what some couples have promised and no matter how hard they’ve tried, some of their not-so-pleasant feelings have spilled over into their emails and texts. And even though they only agreed to discuss important issues related to the children, still communication goes awry.
That’s why this website was created. The Staying Connected pages of Two Happy Homes can be a God-send for some co-parents. However, if you want to continue to try to make your emails and text messages work, there are things you can do to improve your communication.
When working with co-parents and after asking hundreds of co-parents to share their emails and texts with us, we discovered some rules that can help avoid the kinds of communication breakdowns that often occur.
For instance, we found that even when bright, perceptive, and well-meaning co-parents tried to follow appropriate communication skills – such as “I” messages and reflective listening – their emails and text messages were often provocative or more likely to incite an emotional response – rather than the calm, rational one they expected. The following are our three rules for effective email and text messaging between co-parents:
Rule Number One: Strictly observe the fundamental communication techniques of using “I” messages and reflective listening.
It always best to initiate a discussion about a problem or issue with your co-parent with an “I” message. The alternative to an “I” message is a “You” message and when you have a rocky relationship with your co-parent these almost always evoke a defensive or attacking response.
For example, a typical “You” message might be: “You didn’t send Jason’s boots back with him after he spent the weekend with you. I paid good money for those boots and how do you expect him to get to the bus stop on these snowy days without his boots!”
A better way to ask about the boots would be an “I” message: “I was concerned when Jason didn’t seem to have his boots when he came back to my house. I suppose he was being forgetful again.” An “I” message like this is always more polite and respectful and doesn’t accuse your co-parent of any evil motives.
Also, a reflective listening statement is a way of defusing a hostile or inappropriate comment by your co-parent. Instead of going on the attack, simply reflect back or mirror back what you think your co-parent was saying: “If I understand what you’re saying, you would like to switch weekends in March.” Rather than questioning their intent or their character, try to keep the communication objective.
Rule Number Two: Get an objective person to read your message and offer suggestions before you send it.
It’s always helpful to have a friend or someone close to you read over a message that you think might be misunderstood to make sure it’s being written in the clearest and most non-threatening way. Sometimes you get caught up in your emotions and that can color the tone of your message. Letting someone else edit it can help make sure it is as neutral or as non-threatening as possible.
Rule Number Three: Don’t send anything in your message you would not want your children, your mother, or your religious or spiritual leader to read.
Sure, there are all sorts of things you might like to say to your co-parent, but keep in mind that you are probably communicating about your children. Bringing up the past or pointing out his or her character flaws will not advance the aim of this communication. If you put in anything you would not want the rest of the world to read, go over it a few times before sending it.
It would be best to get your co-parent to agree to these rules, but even if that is not possible, you can be a model communicator by following them yourself.