Parenting is full of joys and challenges. Sometimes there is more joy than challenge and then there are those days when there seem to be only challenges to face with little joy. This is the case whether you are parenting together or apart. However for parents navigating the end of their relationship there can be some new and significant challenges to face.
Right now you may be in a place where you find it impossible to communicate with your ex-partner about your children.
There are lots of reasons separated parents find it difficult to talk to each other.
Communication may be difficult because you feel too anxious, angry or upset to speak to the other parent.
Or you always end up arguing so it’s easier to not talk at all.
Or even when you were together you couldn’t communicate.
It is hard on everyone in the long run if you don’t find a way of communicating with your ex that works for you both. Worldwide research says that it is not relationship breakdown that harms children; it is the conflict that can ensue for years after a separation that can have a negative impact on them.
Children who have experienced prolonged conflict can:
Lose their ability to trust others
Have low self-belief
Have little capacity to manage their own emotions
Demonstrate their distress by acting out or through poor behaviour
Have difficulty maintaining friendships and relationships
Do less well at school than other children
Have difficulty forming healthy adult relationships later in life
Children’s needs change as they grow older and your life will change to – you need to be able to talk about these changes with your ex-partner.
When trying to have conversations with your ex-partner you may feel like every conversation ends in a vicious circle and when you get angry it is easy to stop listening and become defensive. You may start to feel stressed and your body releases lots of chemicals that can affect how you think. You may start feeling angry or feel like running away.
If this sounds like the sort of thing that happens to you, try the following techniques as recommended by Cafcass (Children and Families Court Advisory Service).
Reduce your stress levels.
Relax your shoulders.
Breathe slowly and deeply. Take deliberate deep breaths.
Take time-out – when you’re stressed you can’t think clearly. Even small breaks whilst you relax through deep breathing help you to think clearly.
Listen to what is being said.
Actively listen. The more you listen and the less you say the better.
Try to focus so your attention isn’t divided.
Take a position of curiosity. You might be surprised or wrong about what you expect to hear.
Only listen. If you are talking it means you aren’t listening. You can’t do both at the same time.
Take your turn to talk after you’ve listened. You are more likely to be listening to if you’ve listened well yourself.
Listen carefully to the words and watch body language.
Try to stay calm, even if you don’t feel calm.
When things begin to get heated, suggest taking a break.
If you both can’t calm down after a time-out stop the discussion and suggest you find a better time for it.
Respond in a non-confrontational way.
Avoid changing the subject or interrupting.
Avoid speaking too soon, too often or for too long.
Use simple direct statements and requests.
Stick to one subject. Take things one at a time.
Sit on the urge to interrupt. Take deep breaths and bite your tongue.
Speak for yourself
Use ‘I’ statements. Phrase things in a way that is about what you think or have noted or want, not what you assume or ‘know’ the other person does.
For example – “I feel angry when you ask me about money in front of the children” rather than “you always try to stir things up by asking for money. You know I hate it.”
Use this method to express yourself – state what has happened without blaming, criticising or judging. Say how you feel when you see or hear what has happened. Say what you need to happen. Ask for a change.
The Centre for Separated Families also has some tips on how to improve communication with your ex-partner.
Focus on the issues
Avoid old problems
Think about how and when
Think about language
Don’t make assumptions
Keep family and friends out of it
Find way to end the conversation
So if you have found yourself in a painful situation of toxic communication with your ex-partner, remember you can change. It won’t be easy and it will take some time but good communication will play an important role in your shared parenting. It will allow you to share important information about your children and relieve some of the stress you may feel.
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