Even if you and your ex-spouse want nothing to do with one another on a personal level, you will still need to be able to co-exist and parent your child together in a manner that is suitable to you both and will allow your child to thrive. While good communication skills may not come naturally to you (or your ex-spouse), you can always stand to learn and improve them in the period immediately following your divorce. Let's focus on tips to help you and your spouse improve your already existing communication skills.
Improving in your ability to communicate with your ex-spouse
Do not lose track of why you are speaking with your ex-spouse in the first place. It is not to "score points" in a years-old argument or anger yourself or your ex-spouse. The likely reason for your having a conversation with them in the first place is to communicate an issue regarding your child. As such, be sure to keep in mind that your focus should remain on your child.
It will help you focus on your child when you are brief and remain fixated on the points you need to communicate. It may be tempting to venture off into different directions unrelated to your child, but I would advise holding back on those feelings. Focus on your child and what you need to communicate so that they stand to benefit. Any other messages that can be communicated are likely to be counterproductive or, at best off-topic.
As we noted a moment ago, you and your ex-spouse certainly have a history together, and that is not going to change. A conversation that began with you telling your ex-spouse about an upcoming homework assignment for your child may lead you into hammering on your ex about not paying enough attention to your child's homework while you all were still married. How does this happen?
There is no doubt that you will have some lingering frustrations surrounding your marriage and divorce in the years following your divorce. There is nothing more that you can do other than to understand that these emotions will be present and that you need to find a way to manage them without harming your relationship with your child or ex-spouse. Look ahead into the future and do your best to ensure that you do everything you can to help your child.
Positivity is an undervalued trait when it comes to co-parenting.
When I am sending an email, whether it is to my boss, a co-worker, or an opposing attorney, I am always polite. Even if the email I am responding to is less than polite, I choose to look the other way and communicate positively and respectfully. Nobody benefits from my being harmful or disrespectful. Often an angry or updated opposing attorney will vent their frustrations with me in n email and will want nothing more than for me to come back at them with an angry reply.
I've found that if you approach people with courtesy, kindness, and respect, any emotionally laden situation can be diffused, and cooler heads will typically prevail. If you find yourself in a position where you need to communicate information or updates to your ex-spouse, do so respectfully as you would working with a co-worker. There is no need to be overly "nice" or anything like that, but showing respect is not asking too much.
Maintain composure in all communication
It is tempting to want to jump to conclusions about your spouse when you learn a piece of information about their behavior regarding your child or you. It is normal to assume the worst and prepare for interaction with this mindset.
If something negative happens to you or your child due to the failure to communicate well, there are two reasons that the adverse event took place. The first is that your ex-spouse could be purposefully hiding information or could be providing misleading or false information. From my experience, I must say, this occurs in rare instances.
The majority of the time, when adverse events transpire due to a lack of communication, it is more likely than not that the event occurred because something slipped your ex-spouse's mind causing them not to tell you something that needed to be said. Your not being told about the last-minute party probably wasn't done to embarrass you. It was probably done because your spouse just plain forgot to mention it.
That doesn't make it any less frustrating and doesn't excuse the failure of communication. It does, however, further cement the idea that communication is as much about effort as it is about anything else. It takes work to communicate well, and this means that you and your ex-spouse will need to work together to improve your communication skills. While working on these skills, do not assume the worst in your ex-spouse. This sort of behavior will cause your ex-spouse to do the same towards you.
To be unclear is to be unkind.
When you ask your ex-spouse to do something for your child, make it clear what you are asking and your expectations. If there is a deadline or a timeline that needs to be stuck, make sure they are aware of those deadlines and the consequences of failing to abide by them.
I've written before about providing timely information to your ex-spouse to allow them a reasonable amount of time to meet a deadline or complete something with your child. You forced your ex-spouse to speed through a school project because you only mentioned it to them a day before the deadline, which is unfair to everyone involved.
If your request is lengthy, you can communicate it to your spouse in person, but always follow up the conversation with an email or text message where you can memorialize your agreement in writing. This way, there is no question about what the expectations are. Also, your ex-spouse can always read through the message again to refresh their memory on anything that needs to be done.
Be respectful and always ask; never dictate.
Requesting that something be done for your child is fine, but be careful of how you are making that request. Often we can come across as demanding or dictatorial when it comes to wanting something to get done for our children; instead of demanding that your ex-spouse do something to help your children be sure to ask respectfully for it to get done.
How can you be sure that your request is not coming off as a demand? Try always to use "please" and "thank you" words. I know this sounds basic, but I can assure you that it is not always a given that this degree of courtesy will be used. Please focus on the little things, and I promise you that the big things will sort themselves out much more accessible.
Communication methods for better co-parenting- the topic of tomorrow's blog post
When we meet back up tomorrow, a new blog post will be ready for you to read that goes over the different communication methods that parents can utilize in today's day and age. Remember- the efforts that you undertake and not specifically for your benefit but the benefit of your child.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, please get in touch with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week. One of our licensed family law attorneys would be honored to speak to you about your issues and our office's services to you as a client.