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 time period immediately following your divorce. Let’s focus on some tips that will help you and your spouse improve on 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 to anger yourself or your ex-spouse. The likely reason for your having a conversation with him or her 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 to focus on your child when you are brief and remain fixated on the points that you need to communicate. It may be tempting to venture off into different directions that are unrelated to your child but my advice would be to hold back on those feelings. Focus on your child and what you need to communicate in order so that he or she stands to benefit. Any other messages that can be communicated are likely to be counter productive 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 are going to 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 are doing 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, always polite. Even if the email I am responding to is less than polite, I choose to look the other way and communicate in a positive and respectful manner. Nobody benefits from my being negative or disrespectful. Often times an angry or update opposing attorney will vent their frustrations with me in n email and will want nothing more than for me to come back at him or her 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 are needing 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 pretty normal to assume the worst and to prepare for an interaction with this mindset.
In a situation where something negative happens to you or your child as a result of the failure to communicate well, there are basically two reasons that the negative 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 negative 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 him or her to not tell you something that needed to be said. Your not being told about a 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 you’re 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 are asking your ex-spouse to do something for your child make it clear what you are asking and what your expectations are. If there is a deadline or a timeline that needs to be stuck to make sure he or she is aware of those deadlines and the consequences for failing to abide by them.
I’ve written before about providing timely information to your ex-spouse in order to allow him or her a reasonable amount of time to meet a deadline or complete something with your child. Forcing your ex-spouse to speed through a school project because you only mentioned it to him or her a day before the deadline 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 go back and 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 our 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 to always use words like, “please” and “thank you”. 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. Focus on the little things and I can promise you that the big things will sort themselves out much easier.
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 for the benefit of your child.
In the meantime, if you have any questions please contact 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 the services that our office can provide to you as a client.