4 Communication Tips for When You Just Can't Get Along with Your Former Spouse or Co-Parent
When you get out of a highly contentious relationship or marriage it’s likely that one of the last things on your mind is the need to remain in frequent communication with your former partner. You probably want to continue to surround yourself with positive, life-affirming people, rediscover your self-worth and practice more self-care than you might have been able to during the breakdown of your relationship.
It’s crucial to understand early on that divorce doesn’t always allow you to close the lines of communication with your former spouse or co-parent so easily. Perhaps the marital estate is so complicated that you and the other party have to remain in touch for a while afterward, exchanging information to enable the orderly transfer of property, monitor future income or continue running a joint business together. If you have children together, some form of workable communication will be necessary for years as you endeavor to facilitate holidays, revisit and rework appropriate parental access plans, coordinate school schedules, vacation plans and more.
Below are 4 tips for navigating communications with a difficult, angry or struggling former spouse or co-parent while still protecting your rediscovered independence and personal growth.
1. Thoughtful, Measured and Mindful Response Rather Than Simply Reacting
If your former partner seems to go out of his or her way to incite or inflame conflict and you routinely respond in kind, you are inadvertently allowing them to have a form of unwarranted and nonproductive power over you. This can develop into a habitual dynamic resulting in a type of emotionally draining negative feedback loop.
Protect and empower yourself with a thoughtful, measured and mindful response rather than simply retaliating with your understandably emotional and frustrated initial reaction. If they send you a text or email that demeans or minimizes your decision-making, intelligence, parenting ability, or anything else, breath; resist the urge to engage and counterattack. Much like a fire, negative emotional energy is difficult to maintain for long without someone adding fuel. If anything they said needs a response (e.g., they have a question about what time your daughter’s volleyball practice starts), make your answer short and to the point. Address the merits of the communication, if there are any, otherwise ignore the message.
2. Set Boundaries
Establish for yourself what topics you are comfortable and willing to discuss with your former partner. Obviously, situations involving the children will need to be appropriately shared; but a co-parent doesn’t need to know about your recent date or the visit from your sister, with whom they may have experienced tension in the past. When you were married, there might have been a more intimate and open line of communication by necessity. Now you are entitled to establish a new, fulfilling and distinct life that they don’t need to participate in in the same way. To the extent you are willing and able to include them and allay any legitimate concerns, that is fantastic, but remember these are the new boundaries that you get to consider and establish for your own well-being.
3. Keep Important Communications Simple, Clear and Written Where Possible
Having healthy in-person dialogue with your former spouse is certainly a fine aspiration. But when the anger, resentment or hurt feelings are still too raw, even the discussion of relatively simple issues can hold the potential for unnecessary conflict when done face to face. If it is attempted too soon, historic and potentially toxic dynamics can break through the surface, making it feel like the divorce or separation never happened.
If you feel stuck in this type of communication cycle, you can protect both yourself and the potential of improving the relationship in the future, by limiting exchanges to clear, emotionally neutral and issue-focused
emails and text messages as discussed above. When folks are really struggling to communicate well, even phone conversations hold the potential to devolve and become counterproductive. Before initiating one, try to be cognizant of your feelings and general stress level before you begin. If possible, find both a time and a location where you feel most relaxed prior to starting the phone conversation. When in-person communication becomes a logistical necessity, focus on remaining on topic and recognizing and deflecting any provocation on their part. Should they conduct themselves in an unreasonable fashion or fail to treat you with your desired level of respect, calmly identify the tone or language you find unhealthy and counterproductive to the conversation. If they persist, politely disengage and end the discussion.
4. Focus on What You Can Control
Navigating an angry, anxious or depressed and fearful co-parent or former spouse can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Acknowledge and accept the reality that at least presently, they and the necessary communications with them will be challenging. Then, focus on what you might be capable of doing to minimize their ability to trigger you. Focus too on things you might inadvertently be doing, whether it’s word choice or a certain tone you know from past experience really causes them to react negatively or amplifies their unhelpful behaviors. If they attempt to intrude on your personal time, create your own space by not taking the call or responding to the texts in that moment of yours. If they devolve into rude and insulting speech during a conversation about the details of your parental access plan, reframe the conversation and discontinue the exchange, reminding them that you’re willing to continue when they are prepared to respect you and the process and remain on topic.
Contact a Connecticut Family Law Attorney
The dissolution of a marriage or long-term relationship is always an emotionally trying time. Don’t hesitate to seek support from family, friends, and even a therapist who can help you process what you are experiencing and come to terms with past pain and trauma so you can create and maintain your movement forward.
Whether you are just initiating the process with a difficult spouse or partner and need help navigating the complexities of child custody and property division in Connecticut, or realizing it is time to attempt a new strategy of engagement and dialogue now that your divorce or separation is complete, contact Holt Law at 203-872-7218. I understand that few events have more impact on a person’s future than divorce. I also have the experience and foresight to help protect your interests and assist you in developing a strategy based on your individual hopes for the future of your post-divorce or co-parenting relationship with the other side.