While most of us dream of a co-parenting relationship that involves mutual respect, understanding and kindness, this often is not the case. So what happens when your ex just can’t be nice? How can you communicate with someone who is inflexible and cruel? Here are some tips and strategies that can help you disengage from the toxicity.
1. Put It In Writing
If your communication is emotionally charged and can spin out of control quickly, help control the narrative by keeping it to writing only. Establish a policy whereby all communication goes through email or one of the many co-parenting apps available (Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents for example).
This way, you can prevent the conversation from spinning in an unwanted direction and you have a record of your communication. It also helps us to stay more focused and “professional” when we write as opposed to less formal verbal communication. The writing holds both of you accountable for your words.
2. Stick to Facts Not Feelings
Remember who you’re communicating with. This isn’t a friend, or even someone that cares about your feelings, so why share them? You’re communicating with your co-parenting partner, and this relationship should be treated like that of a co-worker; professional NOT personal. Your emails should therefore reflect this tone. Keep them brief and to the point. For example, if your ex has requested a one-time scheduling change to his/her parenting time, an appropriate response would either be “sure” or “no, unfortunately that doesn’t work for our schedule…”. An inappropriate response would include something like “you never stick to your schedule and it’s not my job to accommodate you”. See the difference between fact vs feeling? Don’t bring your past relationship into the conversation. Stick to the facts surrounding the here and now.
3. Establish Boundaries
Depending on the age of your children, there should be some “policies and procedures” set up to manage the communication expectations. For example, we’ve already discussed establishing a co-parenting platform for these emails, but you would be wise to also establish response times. With the exception of time sensitive matters, there’s nothing unreasonable about setting rules that emails will be answered within 48 hours (or whatever time frame works for you). You should always take at least 24 hours before responding to emotionally charged emails. If something upsets or triggers you, wait! If you have been sent a request that requires more time, an appropriate response could be, “I have received your email and will respond to you by……..”. Then stick to it.
Boundaries can also be established when it comes to what’s appropriate and necessary to discuss and what isn’t. If for example, your ex brings up matters unrelated to the children, you can choose to not respond, or you can say “I will only respond to matters that directly affect the children”. We often feel the need to defend ourselves, but you don’t have to! Again, taking us back to rule #2; facts not feelings.
4. Know Your Triggers
Identifying when you’re becoming emotional or triggered is a key component to managing it. Does your heart race? Does your face start burning? Does your stomach tense up in knots? Whatever your triggers, being able to manage them before they get the best of you, is the first strategy in being able to disengage. Spend some time working with a coach or therapist to understand your triggers and how to control them so that they don’t control you.
5. Work With A Coach
Working with a Certified Divorce Coach can help you set healthy boundaries and establish a healthier, more productive way to communicate with an uncooperative, toxic ex spouse. To learn more about obtaining the right tools and strategies, reach out to a Certified Divorce Coach who can help with all aspects of your divorce process and communication going forward.