Soon after my divorce, I realized that my ex-husband and I no longer knew how to communicate with each other.
Fifteen years, two children, 4 years of therapy and a divorce later, we were unclear as to how to be "partners" instead of "spouses".
Our marriage had not worked out, but having kids, we now needed to manage our new "family" and the two little boys we call our children. I quickly realized that although our marriage had ended in divorce, we had taken the time for marriage counseling and I had a much greater understanding of who my Ex was and how he approached things in life. And although it had not worked for me in our relationship, I was going to have to work with him for the rest of my life as a "parenting partner" and this was going to take some skill, thought and effort.
It is easy to fall into a pattern of regret, anger (both at yourself and your ex) for not knowing that it would not work out, and frustration at having to maintain a relationship with this person for the rest of your life. However, this serves no positive purpose and will result in many failed conversations, destructive communication and un-ending drama with him/her that will cause your friends, family and co-workers to avoid making eye contact with you. Rather, it is time to once again take the high road and learn to manage this newly forming relationship.
The following tips will help in developing a new strategy for "Ex-management" and provide a method for creating positive communication:
1. Affirm and acknowledge all the good things that he/she does as a parent...you will want to inspire the greatest performance from them as a parent. Many times, although we can go on and on about our Ex as a spouse, his/her faults, inadequacies and areas for improvement, there are positive attributes about them as a parent. While it may be hard to do so, focusing on those positive attributes will allow you to begin forming a new, co-parenting relationship. Perhaps they truly love your children...even if they express it in a different way than you? The relationship between spouses is not the same as the relationship between a parent and child. Therefore, while your Ex failed to fulfill your needs as a spouse, it does not necessarily make them a "bad" parent.
2. Share with your Ex any cute, funny or amazing things that your child(ren) do through email or a phone call if you are able to have positive direct communication. No one will appreciate your children more than you and your Ex as their parents and it will keep the parenting relationship open for communication. While it is true that new people (girlfriend/boyfriends, stepparents, and friends) will come into your children's lives...only you and your Ex will experience the emotions that come with parenting a child. Whether it is celebrating success and milestones, comforting hurt feelings, or working through the challenges of parenthood, there will be many times when the two of you are the only ones who share the same emotional rollercoaster. It is hard to share time parenting your children, and knowing that they will experience life joys, sorrow, successes and challenges when they are not with you. Creating a pattern of sharing your children's experiences with your Ex when your kids are not with him/her will go a long way in developing a strong co-parenting relationship.
3. Remember that your children will share with your Ex everything that goes on when they are with you. The same is true in reverse. If there is anything that you think may frustrate, upset or aggravate your Ex, send a brief email letting them know what they might expect to hear. Trust me when I tell you, whatever goes on in your life and home when your children are with you are fair game for them to share with your Ex. For example, if you "lose it" with your child(ren) when they are with you, for whatever reason (and lord knows there are many when raising kids), you may want to shoot a quick email to your Ex and let me know what happened, what precipitated it and how you parented them through it. This is not meant for every time you raise your voice or reprimand them, but rather when there are extraordinary situations or situations where your children are given additional transition to manage, like if your girlfriend/boyfriend moves in with all of you. Again, setting this precedent for communication will open the door to a more effective relationship.
4. Make patience your greatest virtue. You are no longer married, so you do not have to live with your Ex any longer. You do, however, owe it to yourself and your children to be patient with your Ex and foster a positive parenting partnership. There is a reason why you divorced your Ex, and the triggers to those emotions will continue long after the divorce is over. For the sake of your children's growth and development, make a commitment to being patient with your Ex in situations where he/she "pushes" your buttons. Remember WHY you are communicating and what your ultimate objective is; raising happy, healthy children. And it doesn't matter what age your children are. Even adult children are deeply affected when their parents are not patient, kind and respectful of each other.
5. Remember that your kids come first....always. Although you now live with a custody arrangement, you are a parent all day, every day. Do not get aggravated when there are parenting obligations that interrupt that schedule and infringe on you when it's really "his day". Remember that it is about the children, not about convenience. It is a funny phenomenon that happens when we divorce and get used to a shared parenting schedule. It is common to become dependent on our "days off" when we can do what we want, when we want. We have to remember, however, that parenting our children is a full time, 24/7 commitment. Had we not gotten divorced, we would not have had days off. Custody is, underneath it all, no different. Our children expect that they are on our minds, and calendars, every day...regardless of where they are in the world. That is not say that they will need to understand, and respect, the time you have when they are not with you, but parenting inconveniences when it is not "your day" are sometimes part of the job.
6. Create a foundation for a flexibility with your Ex. If you are able to be supportive, collaborative, and helpful when your Ex needs it, it will be much easier to gain the same when you need it. There will be times when you do need it and having a "give and take" with your Ex will be extremely beneficial during these times. There will inevitably be times over the course of your life, and as a parent, when you will have obligations, plans and invitations to do things that conflict with your custody schedule. The same will be true of your Ex. Setting the stage now to be able to collaborate with each other so that all of your needs can be met, including the needs of your children, will benefit ALL of you over the long haul. If you feel that the requests to be flexible are one-sided, you can establish an "exchange policy" early on. Instead of simply accommodating his/her request, set up a practice that for each accommodation, there is an equal reciprocation. That will keep it fair and honest.
Your relationship with your Ex will become one of the most important relationships that you will have during your lifetime if you have children. Practicing patience, flexibility and compassion will ultimately benefit your life and the lives of your children.
As well, you have now become the model for them on how two adults manage conflict within a relationship. Every interaction with your Ex is one that they not only learn from, but will take into the relationships they form as they get older and face challenge and conflict themselves.
After all, it is about them....divorce does not hurt the kids, the quality of your relationship with your Ex does.
For more information on this or any other divorce related topic, please contact Laura Campbell, Founder of The D Spot at www.discoverthedspot.com.