Dealing with a difficult Ex is great practice for dealing with any difficult situation in your life. Want to be more assertive about getting a promotion? Do you need to resolve a financial dispute with a business? Are you upset over how the school handled a situation involving your child? If you can find ways to productively negotiate and communicate with a difficult Ex, you can handle any other ‘uncomfortable’ conversation and resolve differences. So take advantage of this! Learn a few tips and techniques, experiment with different approaches, and think of yourself as in training to be an ‘Expert Negotiator.’
In order to better communicate with your Ex be aware of past patterns. Do you stop listening after the third word out of their mouth because you’ve heard all of this before? Are you surprised at what came out of your mouth: that is not what you had planned! Breaking past patterns of communication is really difficult and that is why you can avoid fights by going through a neutral third party, such as Text Your Ex. When you visit with a neutral third party you can communicate more clearly because you can’t assume the person knows what you are talking about so you have to be precise. Likewise, when that third party responds there’s no ingrained ‘tone’ of voice, there’s no anger waiting below the surface and there’s no double-meaning behind the words.
Next, communicate with your Ex in a a business-like way. Know what you want: know that it’s reasonable and can be supported by good reasons for how it helps your kids. Say what you want: don’t beat around the bush or drop hints. Know that you are entitled to your request and say it directly. Work toward what you want: if you come at the problem with a reasonable request, supported by fact, you create new space to negotiate with options for both parties. Soon you can discuss things in a more neutral and objective way and find better solutions.
Know What You Want!
Your first step toward better, more effective, and wining communication is to know what you want. What is the issue you have? Write it down! Put the issue in all caps at the top of a piece of paper and just look at if for a few minutes. Maybe it’s as simple as you want to switch weekends. Maybe it’s as big as you want your child to change schools. Maybe you don’t like your Ex’s new partner, maybe you want to relocate, maybe you want more child support – whatever it is little or small, write it down in 10 words or less. Start writing down a few things it would take to solve this issue. If you want to switch weekends you might have to find out if your Ex has made plans: plans with other people while they have the kids, purchased tickets to something for the kids, or made plans for the weekend they don’t have the kids. If it’s a complicated issue like relocating, you may have to write down 20 things that would affect how the issue is resolved. Now, think about what needs to happen in order to make what you want to happen. As a backup, think about what kind of compromise you could live with. This might take you 10 minutes, or it might take you an hour – whatever you get done is better than doing nothing! (Check out our article, ‘What a Topics List Does for You!‘)
If you want something to just ‘be better’ you need to do some work. What does ‘better’ mean? To know what you want, you have to really know. Yes, you know you want something different but you’ll need to be able to give your Ex things they can actually do. Do you want them to be more considerate? be more flexible? be kinder? argue less? Write down the specifics. You may know in your head what you want but learning to communicate and negotiate is about figuring out how to get what is in your head out of your mouth in a way the other person understands perfectly.
“The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has actually taken place.”-George Bernard Shaw
Say What You Want!
Once you know what you want – say it. Tell your Ex what you want. Be polite, don’t make excuses, don’t talk for 5 minutes and then throw out what you want at the very end – be direct! “I wanted to talk to you. I would like to switch weekends.” “We need to find a time to talk about this, I want Alex to switch schools.” “It’s important for you and me and the kids to be happy but I have some concerns about your new partner that we need to discuss.”
So many times we are worried about voicing what we want. We are afraid it will make us sound confrontational or demanding. We create a million scenarios in our minds of how we will be shot down, start a fight, maybe even be worse off than if we had stayed silent, but this silence leads to even more problems. If we don’t verbalize what we want, our desires don’t just go away. We still want those things but then we start getting frustrated that we aren’t reaching our goals, that things aren’t falling into place. We start to think that the other person ‘should know!’ We start telling our self stories about why things haven’t happened – stories that aren’t necessarily true. Sometimes, we have a tendency to start complaining because we are unhappy.
Be Direct, Don’t Complain.
A complaining tone of voice tends to come off worse than a straight forward request. Complaining portrays a sense of being a victim, signaling to the other person “this is your fault.”
- “I told you my brother was going to be in town – you should have known I wanted the kids to see him!”
- “I told you Alex wasn’t doing well in her school, that she doesn’t like the teacher – you should have known she needed to switch schools!”
- “How many times have the kids told you they don’t like your new partner? You should have known I would be upset when s/he disciplined them!”
The other person will feel defensive and pick up on the fact that you are not coming from a position of strength but from a victimized place – the other party in a way, has already won. They just have to get past this moment of anger but they aren’t being asked to do anything different, they are just getting yelled at. The feeling we get from someone saying “why don’t you ever?” is very different than the feeling we get when we hear, “I would like”.
Work Toward Getting What You Want!
There is a huge difference between “Why is this happening to me?” and “How can I get what I want?” One speaks of being at the mercy of life (and your Ex), the other lets us make life what we want it to be. Asking directly for what we want allows more negotiation to take place so that one person is not just giving into a complainer. When there is no negotiation there is no happy compromise but just a win/lose situation.
“If you have an important point to make don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time – a tremendous whack!”-Winston Churchill
To ask for what we want we have to be vulnerable, we have to think we are worthy of what we are asking for, and we have to be prepared for hearing ‘no’ and to compromise. By being direct, we are telling the other person what is important to us and revealing some of our inner thoughts. If we want something and have doubts about our worthiness to receive it, it will be a real challenge to find a way to come right out and ask for it. By doing a little work, and knowing what you want and why you want it, you can know that the request is reasonable. If you are told ‘no’, that’s okay too! You just go back, reevaluate both sides of the argument and come up with a different way to (or a better argument for) accomplishing your goals.
The simple switch from complaining to asking can change everything in a person’s life, not just create a better relationship with your co-parent.