You may have been together for 20 years or maybe you just had a brief relationship but if you share a child, no doubt the two of you have a pattern of conduct. How many times do you and your Ex just react to each other without really thinking about what you are saying or how you are saying it? Your Ex is also a master at pushing your buttons – after all, they are probably the one that installed them! Once you know what your pattern is, it will be easier to do the opposite and take your Ex by Surprise.
By making some subtle changes you can begin to shake up automatic responses from both of you and create positive change in the way you communicate. It may take a few times of catching your Ex off guard before you get a change in their behavior but soon you’ll be on your way to shaping the tone to what you want it to be.
Shake it up
Reward the behavior you want
Imagine the best
SHAKE IT UP
Literally – shake it up. The second you feel your body tighten, your jaw clench, your stomach change, anything – physically jolt your body. Do a stretch, take a step to the side, shake out one arm and then the other, make your body move and then repeat back the last thing your Ex just said. A physical movement will keep your stress and tension from rising, you’ll show you were listening and you’ll change your typical reaction. If you know you get annoyed every time your Ex brings up a certain subject – look off to the side and down so your Ex doesn’t see the look on your face. Let a physical movement help you change your emotional state. (If the circumstances allow, go for a quick jog or do 20 jumping-jacks before you interact with your Ex.)
You want the best for your kids so if you know there is going to be conflict around them, start brainstorming solutions. When your Ex gets grouchy and starts complaining offer up 2 or 3 different options (even if they are not the best ones). When your Ex needs a change in the schedule, instead of getting frustrated, take a few deep breaths, and suggest some alternative ways to handle the problem. This way, you can control the narrative, the options, and you may genuinely be solving a problem instead of fighting about it. If you can’t come up with solutions, ask for some time to think about it and then be useful by putting forth some workable answers that help both you and your kids.
Chances are, even if you have a real zinger of a response to something your Ex has said, they are not even listening. Just let your Ex talk. If you walk away without saying much or engaging in the conflict you haven’t given your Ex any extra fuel for their fire and your Ex feels like they got to say everything they wanted to say without being interrupted. How many times is your Ex going to deliver the same speech when they get absolutely no reaction from you? If they ask you to respond directly just say, “Okay, now I know how you feel.” Or “I’ll have to think it over.” Short responses where you do not fully engage is a great way to stop a strong Ex from running all over you. It avoids conflict and will change their behavior. This is not the same as stonewalling or refusing to communicate. Always be communicating! It’s okay though not to always be talking and to require that the communication is productive, polite, and conflict-free.
Say please. Say Thank You. Apologize. Instead of making excuses just say, “I’m sorry you had to wait for me.” If your Ex is not expecting that, you will take the wind out of their typical response. If you usually communicate with your Ex by saying things such as, “this needs to get done”, “you need to do this”, “make sure the kids . . .” surprise them by asking if they will please perform a specific action. “Please make sure Janie gets to school on time tomorrow.” “Please think about changing days with me next week.” “Please help Johnny with his homework tonight, he’s been having problems lately.” It is much easier to be mad at someone who is being defensive or combative. If you are polite, getting mad at you will be much less satisfying and your Ex’s behavior will change.
REWARD the behavior you want
Even if this is the first time in six months that your Ex remembered to bring all of your child’s homework back with them, say “Thank you, this is great.” Yes, it may be normal behavior that everyone should do this without congratulations but you are trying to change your Ex’s behavior. People subconsciously react to positive reinforcement and if your Ex is not used to hearing you say “Thanks” then they may never forget homework again! Any break in the negativity that usually comes up in your interaction is going to catch them by Surprise!
IMAGINE the best
Are you ever skeptical of your Ex’s motives or their narrative of the story? Imagine that what your Ex is saying, the tone they are using, and the horrible way they are acting is an expression of frustration and sadness and not really anger and hate. Imagine that this behavior is the result of loving you and loving their children and the pain that comes from separation and broken dreams because grief will pass and it will get better. Imagine the best: imagine that your Ex is actually trying, that what they are saying may be true, that they didn’t mean to be sarcastic and cutting. Sometimes even when people are really trying the words still come out wrong; if you can give your Ex the benefit of the doubt a few times, it becomes MUCH easier to let a few things go. If you don’t react to what your Ex says, things will change!
When is the last time you gave a genuine smile to your Ex? Even it it’s a forced smile, try it! You may completely Surprise them and if you can catch them off guard, you have an in-road to changing the tone, changing the behavior, and setting a path to better communication. If you dread communicating with your Ex, chances are they feel the same way and even a brief smile sends a very different message before a single word is spoken. If you need motivation, just look at your kiddos and think about how much you love them – that’s going to put a smile on your face at least for a second, and that’s all you need to start making things different. It is absolutely shocking what a smile will do to other people’s behavior and attitude (and a lot of people can’t recognize if it’s fake!)
Listen without interrupting, repeat back what your Ex says and acknowledge what they say. You don’t have to agree with your Ex to be polite and engaged. It can be a statement as simple as, “I understand what you are saying and I will think about what you have said.” As long as you two have to make decisions about your kiddos, you both have a voice that needs to be listened to. Engage because the conversation is about the short-term and long-term well being of your most favorite humans. If you listen to what your Ex says, you are in a better position to make your best argument if you disagree, and maybe you’ll be surprised and they will have an idea that works!
It might not feel comfortable, but anything you can do to Surprise your Ex helps you break old habits, keeps you from being controlled by emotions, and gets you closer to communicating in a neutral way around your kids. Although you are changing your behavior by surprising your Ex with your new response, you are actively creating a different response from them, thus turning the situation in your favor. It might take a few times – don’t give up! Deeply entrenched patterns of behavior can take some time to rewrite. Doing the same thing almost guarantees things won’t change, so trying something different is worth it, even if you have to keep trying for a few weeks or months.
OR, you can just let US Text Your Ex! We help reset the relationship between you and your Ex while still being able to communicate about the kids. Once you have had a few productive and polite conversations around the kids, it’s much easier to go back to personal communication without as much emotional upset and you can begin on a better path forward.