Although your marriage or relationship is over, you still have to communicate with your ex in order to arrange visitation and discuss issues involving your kids. Instead of gritting your teeth and sending mental daggers his way each time you talk, follow these tips to make communication easier, more effective and more comfortable for both of you. The less stressful those conversations are, the easier your own life is going to be.
- Smile. I’m not kidding. Studies show that if you force yourself to smile at times when you don’t feel happy, it actually does improve your mood. And if you smile at your ex, you immediately defuse the situation. Warring tribes used to greet each other with a handshake to show they had brought no weapons. A smile does the same thing.
- Don’t talk money. Money is often the root of the biggest disagreements among divorced couples. He’s not paying what he should, he doesn’t agree with you when you want more, he disputes what’s actually owed, etc, etc. Therefore, keep money out of the equation when you’re talking about the kids or exchanging the kids.
- Don’t take the bait. You’re excellent at pushing each other’s buttons. So be aware of that and be smart enough to keep your buttons covered. Remind yourself this is not a real conversation. It’s a game. You win by not engaging. End of story.
- Plan ahead. Mentally rehearse any decisions or issues you need to discuss beforehand and boil it down to a concise, simple statement or request. Have a script and stick to it. This allows you to control the course of the conversation and stay focused.
- Pause. No need to count to ten, but instruct yourself to just slow down all of your reactions. In difficult encounters, your first deep, primal reaction might be to slug him. You’re an adult though and suppress that and keep your hands at your side. However, your second reaction, which comes only split seconds later might be to verbally slug him. Take a second and press your lips together or take a breath so you can get past that and allow the thinking, reasoning part of your brain to take over.
- Be calculating. You know this guy. You understand how he ticks. Use that to your advantage. Work him to get the situation to work for you. Use whatever he responds to, whatever helps him behave rationally, calmly, and reasonably.
- Focus on the future. No one wins when you hash over the past. You each have your own version and that’s that. The future is there to be shaped, so focus on what you can do to make it a good one for your child. This means no fighting about who did what or any rehashing of past problems.
- Face the facts. Too many women waste time struggling against the truth – this guy is your kids’ father and you’re stuck with him for the long haul. Stop looking for ways to shut him out and start looking for ways to make it work with him in the picture. If you deal with him in that spirit, everything becomes easier.
- Complete the transaction. You and your ex are talking or seeing each other because there is business to accomplish – kids to be exchanged, a schedule to be made, a schedule change to be negotiated. Remember that’s why you’re there and that’s what your goal is. Focus only on achieving that goal. He can throw tons of other junk at you, but you’ve got to keep your eye on the final goal.
- Run. Not literally. But when you’ve completed the transaction, get out. This is where you get into trouble if you don’t move on. If you’re not working on a specific goal, you’ve got lots of room to pick at each other. Don’t let it happen.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks), The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling), and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill). Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.