Divorce Talk Radio with Rick Goldberg
The 5 C’s of Effectively Co-Parenting with your Ex
You have a partnership relationship with your ex. You and they share the responsibilities of child rearing equally – unless or until a court of law says otherwise. When you’re interacting with your ex, be open and receptive. And be there totally. Listen with your whole self, not just with your mind. Express yourself fully and honestly. You could be opening up opportunities to connect, foster accord, and mend past hurts in ways you never thought.
Communicating is both a skill and an art. Practicing these 5 Cs will help you become a master communicator with your co-parent.
Think before you speak
Consider who you’re talking to, their concerns, vulnerabilities, and their feelings about you. You know them well. “Say unto thy ex what you would have your ex say unto you…” to modify a biblical commandment. Be silent if you’re having negative thoughts. Once you say it, you can’t take it back.
That negativity can escape in your words, tone of voice … and can be detected by a slight rise in volume or a raised eyebrow. Don’t lose sight of why you’re having this conversation and what you hope to gain from it.
When tone of voice is important, when something highly emotional needs to be conveyed or asked, or there’s an involved situation, you may want to make a phone call or meet face-to-face. For more routine communications send an email. But before you make contact over something important, sleep on it. You could feel very differently the next day about what you want to say.
It’s not a competition
I created a word that I think expresses how we can reframe the subject of conflict and our attitude about it. I call it CAREfrontation. It means we have differences of opinion that don’t have to lead to fist fights, name-calling, and other bad behavior. We can differ in a caring, considerate, and even loving way. We’re not out to win a debate and prove we’re right.
Say what you have to say in a way that anyone could understand, even a child – but don’t be condescending. Just communicate from the heart with simplicity, honesty, and authenticity. Your words and communications could be called into question not only by your ex but by a family court.
Your tone of voice can determine how well – or how badly – a conversation can go. Aim for co-worker or associate friendly. Be cordial, clear, fair-minded, and cooperative. Let visual cues help you steer away from hot topics when you’re meeting with your ex in person.
You’ve lived with your ex long enough to know what sets them off. If they are discussing the shopping spree to Toys R Us your mother-in-law took the kids on, don’t make snide remarks, grunts, or roll your eyes – especially if your relationship with her parents is a sensitive issue. If they impulsively jabber about how your Uncle Bernie is a lush and womanizer, hold your tongue.
Examples of Good & Bad Body Language
• Crossed arms (reflects anger or threat)
• Tightly crossed limbs (mentally, emotionally closed off)
• Avoiding eye contact (conveys dislike, lying)
• Eye rolling (exasperation or disapproval)
• Sitting or standing in an unnatural or unrelaxed way (discomfort, fear, anxiety)
• Eyes focused on their face
• Show you’re interested and engaged in the conversation
• Don’t have physical barriers that block you and your ex, like a desk, a wall, a stack of papers
• Smile … genuinely
• Keep your voice and face relaxed and soft
Be brief, to the point
Stick to topics related to the subject you have in common: your child. Remember, except for your child, your lives are now separate from each other. It’s easy to forget and fall back into dysfunctional communication dynamics from the marriage, especially if you’re newly divorced. Old habits die hard.
Are you using adjectives or phrases that are unnecessary or have the potential to elicit negative emotions or inflame … like “absolutely not”, “that’s ridiculous,” “can’t you see that?” “I expected,” “you always,” “remember when you”? Have you kept repetition to a minimum (it can be annoying)?
If you’re writing an email, try not to send one like this:
Listen, I have a problem. You know when I said I’d take Julie to her ballet class? Well, that’s not going to work. My company has me scheduled for a very important meeting that day. It’s out of town, so even if I got out early enough, I still couldn’t do it.
Maybe you could get your mom to take her or that sweet babysitter that I like. Why are you not available? You’re usually free on Thursdays.
Don’t be mad at me. I know I’ve let you and Julie down a lot. I just can’t do anything about it this time. My hands are tied. I’ll try to be around the next time you need someone to chauffeur Julie.
Here’s how that email could have been constructed:
I’m not able to pick Julie up this Thursday to take her to ballet class. My company has me scheduled for a meeting out of town that day.
I understand what an inconvenience this is and on such short notice. I’ll make it up to you and her by taking over for you when you have unbreakable plans, and I’ll take Julie out for pizza when I get back into town.
Thanks for understanding,
Express yourself in simple, understandable terms
When writing or speaking to your ex, be clear about what you’re discussing, the question you’re asking, the request you’re making, and the message you’re conveying.
Don’t spit out a barrage of items or points like machine gun fire. Discuss each one at a slow and easy pace, like bullet points – without the “bullets.” Speaking of bullet points, if you’re communicating in writing, use bullet points when you have many points to make or cover; it’s a good way to organize your thoughts and make them stand out.
Make sure that your meaning is clear and specific so they don’t “read between the lines” and make assumptions. Assumptions can lead to misunderstandings that could damage your relationship with your ex and your child, and cost you down the road.
Be focused, stick to the subject – nothing more
Control yourself. Stay focused. Don’t steer the conversation in some other direction or interject examples that could lead to an argument. Don’t go off on tangents, changing the subject mid-stream.
Keep parenting talks separate from talks about other subjects.
If you’re there to talk about why you don’t want Sally to go to a sleepover with her friends because you don’t know her friend’s parents and the parents are going to be out of town, stay with that. Don’t launch into side discussions that are argumentative like:
“That reminds me, remember I said I didn’t want her going to that party last month and we found out later there were drugs?”
Rather, you could say, “I’d like to give you my thoughts, if you have some time, on why I’m concerned about Sally going to that sleepover.”
Pay attention to the inflection in your voice. The way you say “I think Sally should be allowed to go on that sleepover with her friends” can affect how your ex responds and how cooperative they are.