Everything turns out to be a fight! Everyday stuff, long-term goals, even the things you used to agree on turn into conflict! If you have an Ex that is always causing problems, it may be their personality or it may be the stress or your current situation. If your Ex used to be at least some degree of cooperative and you used to be able to agree on what was important for your kids, read on! Here are 3 tips on how to get back on track and return to the common goals you used to share.
1. Don’t stop communicating! Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
The WORST part about separating and changing the structure of the family unit is the fear that your relationship with your children will change. So many things happen in intimate relationships that come from moments of doing nothing other than sharing time and space. Yes, parents worry about missing out on important milestones but the loss that sits in your stomach is missing out on the quiet bonding of everyday life. Will you know if something important happens? If your kids are hurt, scared, happy? Will you hear about all of their hopes and dreams and know all of the people involved in their lives? When conflict arises communication usually stops and then that fear of losing out on the children’s lives explodes. Although the last thing you want to do is interact with a combative Ex, the fear of not knowing what is going on may be a large driver of your Ex’s behavior.
When your Ex doesn’t know anything about what happens in the kids’ other home, they feel like an outside observer. Because there is no communication, every action is evaluated for meaning and interpreted wildly. If one party is always overreacting, then the other party withdraws even more. Instead of talking, both parties begin to start acting on their own because talking seems pointless. Demands become harsher, compromise becomes unacceptable, lines are drawn, allegiances are formed. At some point it feels as if it will never get better. The answer is to communicate more, in a positive way that limits conflict and further advances your goals for your kids.
2. Let the kids do your talking for you.
Reaffirm your Ex’s relationship with the kids by encouraging them to make quick calls. If something happens to them, allow them to be spontaneous and remind them to call their other parent and tell them about it. Kids often need ‘reminding’ to share things. Intact families work to foster the children’s relationship with their other parent because it’s good for the kids. It’s also good for your Ex! And, the more the kids fill your Ex in on their life, the less you will have to.
While it is never appropriate for your children to be a go-between for their parents, it is perfectly acceptable to tell your child that they need to call their other parent to tell them about their poor grade, or getting in trouble at school. Hearing the news from your child will temper your Ex’s immediate response before the two of you discuss the issue in your capacity as parents. Your Ex will have had time to think about it before talking about it, giving them a chance to have a more measured response. If it is not a message your children should be involved in, (such as anything to do with money, schedule changes, or appropriate rules) do NOT have your kids be involved.
3. Set a time limit for your conversations.
Be casual at first. When your weekly call comes or your Ex wants to discuss an issue, say up front, “Something has come up. I only have about 10 minutes right now to talk.” That forces them to say what they need to say and not spend a bunch of extra time arguing about things. They will have to get to the point.
Once you have used the causal approach a few times, just be honest and say, “Let’s try to limit our talk to 15 minutes and anything we don’t get to we can follow-up by email.” This limits how much of a fight your Ex can engage in as well as your exposure to inappropriate behavior. Have a script prepared that allows you to enforce the time limit.
The goal is not to limit communication, the goal is to make communication efficient and limited. You’ll have to fine-tune this to make it work. Both parties need to feel like they are heard, but getting off topic is bad for both of you. By Limiting the length of time you talk to each other, you are able to keep the other person from going through their laundry list of complaints without specifically scolding them or hanging up on them. But be flexible.
Reset Your Relationship Sooner Rather Than Later
If you’re Ex seems like a different person after separation, they probably are. Stress does horrible things to your body and your brain, including changing how you perceive things and how you react. As difficult as it may be – don’t shut them out! If you can get through the first year still talking you will have a much higher success rate for all of the future years to come. If you go into avoidance mode, it may be a little less work in the short-term, but you may create a situation where all of the future years are much more difficult. There’s no way to make the divorce process easy, but if you keep in mind that your short-term AND long-term happiness needs to be considered, the work now will be worth it and bring you much needed peace.