If your ex is controlling, hostile, manipulative, drug dependent, or narcissistic, communication can be especially challenging.
Does your stomach churn at the thought of having to communicate with your ex? It is often curious to me how exes are expected to be able to communicate about important issues relating to their children when they could not communicate while they were married. According to a 2012 study by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), a whopping 67.5 percent of marriages failed from a breakdown of communication. Interestingly, most of the other top reasons for divorce such as infidelity, financial issues, and sexual incompatibility are often offshoots from lack of communication.
Many former spouses continue to experience significant problems in the ways that they communicate with each other, which spark more conflict when they need to talk about parenting, finances, holidays, illnesses, school issues, and other aspects of daily life that they must deal with following divorce.
Let’s face it: effective parenting after divorce requires effective communication – both between the co-parents and between the parents and children. Even if parents don't like each other, or disagree on many issues, divorced parents still have to work together as a team for their children’s sake. In addition, the lines should always be open for the children to express their thoughts and feelings and to be aware of the new rules and boundaries.
Your marriage may be over, but you still need to be able to communicate with your ex. If your ex is controlling, hostile, manipulative, drug dependent, or narcissistic, communication can be especially challenging. Deciding up front what issues are most critical to take a stand on, setting limits on how you interact with your ex and planning possible responses ahead of time can help to improve communications with your ex over the long run. After nearly six years of being divorced, I have come up with eight strategies that can be beneficial to all.
1. Be a team about the important things.
Even if you despise your ex and everything he stands for, you both must be firm on the big ticket parenting items that periodically pop up as children grow and change. Putting egos and lingering anger aside can be crucial when children need both love and consistency from their parents. Remember, they need to know that they are the focus, and not a prize to be won by being the “popular” parent.
2. Don’t take the bait.
Most exes are brilliant at pushing each other's buttons, and it usually happens when one feels like they aren’t getting their way. Remember, you’re divorced and there is no need to play these games. Don’t engage and say things that will harm future interactions. Have a script, whether in front of you while talking on the phone or in your head if in person. Stay focused and stick to it. You can always end the call or walk away if he is being belligerent.
3. Be flexible.
Whenever possible, try to be flexible with the schedule. In essence, give what you would want in return. If you would like a day switched here and there to fit your schedule, then by all means be the bigger person and do it when the request is cast to you. Make note of it so you can refer to it if need be when you have a request that the ex is reluctant to approve.
4. Show restraint and be civil.
Although changing the way your ex communicates with you is beyond your control, you can change the way you interact with your ex. Keep verbal exchanges as brief as possible, screen your phone calls, and respond only to emails that are not hostile or demeaning. You set the tone for what you are willing to respond to from your ex. You can also encourage more respectful interactions by keeping your own messages short and direct and editing out the emotional parts you are tempted to include. When writing an email, think of it as though you are writing a business letter, whereby nothing personal would be in it.
5. Be calculating.
Look, you know your ex best. You understand how he ticks. Use that to your advantage. Work him to get the situation to work for you. Use whatever tactics he will respond to positively to get him to behave rationally, calmly, and reasonably – of course, notwithstanding the difficult ex.
Try to listen more than speak. You’re already divorced; you do not need him to understand your feelings or thoughts. You’re done with that! Instead, by allowing your ex to feel “heard,” it may subconsciously enable him to actually take your point of view. Also, remember that listening doesn’t signify your approval, so let go of the fear you will lose control of the situation by allowing your ex to voice his opinions. You can always say, “I will have to mull that over” or “I will think about that.”
7. Be fair and polite.
It can be extremely difficult to be fair when your ex is putting you down to your children or to your face. But in the long run, fairness will serve you well. It won’t take long for your children to figure out what’s going on and will be able to see who is causing the issues. It helps to think of your ex as a workmate that you don’t like but have to get along with.
8. When all else fails, just write.
Sometimes the best communication is written communication, especially if you are dealing with someone challenging. If you find that you and your ex argue every time you converse, then keep communication limited to text and email only. You certainly do not need to get aggravated by him ever again. After all, that’s probably one of the main reasons you divorced him in the first place.