It’s no mystery that communication is critical to a happy relationship. In fact, lack of communication ranks third in reasons for divorce behind money and infidelity. And one could argue that lack of communication complicates both of these issues, too.
I recently sat down with Dr. Jeremy Gaies to discuss collaborative divorce and its effects on children. Dr. Gaies is a clinical psychologist, family mediator, and author of two books, A Clear and Easy Guide to Collaborative Divorce and the co-author of Mindful Co-Parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce. He describes the six steps to mindful co-parenting. This month we’ve been examining how to focus forward. Part of prioritizing the children is figuring out how to effectively communicate with your ex.
A breakdown in communication often precedes—and predicts—divorce. Lack of communication can snowball, with each side blaming the other, giving them the silent treatment or withholding information, or, alternately, sharing too much on social media, telling friends and family their version of the story. Talk becomes a weapon rather than a tool.
So it’s not too surprising that communication is a real challenge for divorced parents. Raising children, in some ways, requires constant conversation. Developmental stages, changing friends, moods and needs keeps topics coming at parents fast. Discussing parenting decisions, tackling sensitive personal issues and even arranging the many logistical details of co-parenting puts a massive amount of stress on an already stressful relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds.
Don’t Waste Your Time
Time does not equal effectiveness in communication. Sometimes, in fact, going on for too long—providing unnecessary details, spitballing causes, injecting motional reflections—can uncover old wounds or simply strike the wrong tone in communication. Summary is your friend. Details aren’t. If you aren’t sure, just don’t say it.
Say More with Less
Keep your communications short and sweet. It may feel strange after years of intimacy, or even after an amicable split. But learning how to communicate about an issue as important as the kids requires real care. Starting with small steps and a “just the facts” style of communication can help move the relationship forward.
Remember, You’re Modeling
Keep in mind that everything you and your ex do will come under greater scrutiny from your children. They’re looking for cues from the adults about how they should be feeling about the divorce and the new normal. Try to keep this in mind during your interactions with your ex.
It may seem impossible to find a functional way to communicate with your ex after divorce. But remember that this is going to be important for how your children get through such a dramatic family change. Put some thought, planning and even practice into how you will communicate with your ex. It will be time well spent.
Read the whole series about Mindful Co-Parenting after Divorce:
- Mindful Co-Parenting: An Introduction
- Key One of Mindful Co-Parenting after Divorce: Putting the Children First
- Key Two of Mindful Co-Parenting after Divorce: Focusing Forward
- Key Four of Mindful Co-Parenting after Divorce: Honoring Agreements
- Key Five of Mindful Co-Parenting after Divorce: Maintaining Boundaries
- Key Six of Mindful Co-Parenting after Divorce: Managing Emotions
- Mindful Co-Parenting with Dr. Gaies: A Recap