Our co-parenting relationship is currently on an even keel. My ex is sticking to the schedule. The constant requests to change plans have abated. The barrage of angry emails and text messages has finished. Our handovers are amicable and efficient. We will never be best friends, but we are able to present a united and respectful front when Cygnet is around. It has taken a long time to get here. These are my tips for communicating with an ex when co-parenting.
The importance of text and email for communicating with an ex
My ex was angry that I left him. His pride was hurt. He was like a wounded dog; he would lap up sympathy from those around him, but would also lash out unpredictably. He threw insults. He yelled. He slammed his fist on the table.
We stayed living together for four months after separation whilst we sold our jointly owned house. I will never forget wedging a chair under the door handle in the spare bedroom and leaning silently against the door as he stood outside. He had another thing to say … and another thing … and another thing. I felt like I was suffocating.
After what felt like an eternity we sold our house. My ex still had a lot to say. He would never call my telephone, thankfully, but the text messages came thick and fast, and the emails came faster. The ping and vibration of my phone would haunt me. I would get anxious before checking my emails. He wasn’t always angry and abusive but his messages were always directive and demanding.
I’ve never learned how to control my ex’s actions. I don’t think we can ever do that, but I did learn how to control my own reactions. Gradually, I believe that my calm reaction and response have helped us to be co-parents.
I learned how to use text messages and emails to set the tone of our co-parenting relationship.
Human relationships can be messy, they can be confusing and they’re demanding. Co-parenting is all of these things multiplied a million times and that can be mega stressful. I found that by limiting our communications to text messages and email in the early days enabled me to control exactly what I was going to say and how I was going to say it.
The challenge of communicating via text and email is that tone of voice and body language often effects how people respond to messages. The absence of these cues in text and email means that messages can be misinterpreted. You have to pay really close attention to how you phrase things.
It would often take me five or six days to respond to some emails. This wasn’t because I was ignoring them, quite the reverse, I was thinking about them the whole time, but I was sleeping on my response. I was asking others for their opinion. I was drafting, re-drafting, deleting and editing constantly.
Through careful consideration of my text and email responses I was able to take the moral high ground. I was able to reflect. I was able to think through the implications of what I was saying and the impact that my response might have.
I trained myself not to over-react and sometimes not to react at alI.
Meet in a public place
It is inevitable that you will have to meet to discuss at some point. Some things are just too complicated to discuss via text or email.
Meeting in a public place is a good idea. It can help both of you to behave in a civil manner. In the early days I used to take my mum along to my meetings with my ex. My ex has always respected my mother. She has also been integral to our childcare arrangements because we both work full time.
My ex hasn’t always respected me and has, at times, despised me. I knew that in a public place and with my mother present my ex was less likely to raise his voice and he certainly wouldn’t thump his fist down on the table. In private and without my mum fists thumps on the table and shouting were almost a guarantee. There were a couple of occasions when my ex got up and stormed out of the pub, but I learned to deal with that.
Be business-like when communicating with an ex – share an agenda and some minutes
These days our transactions are very business-like. We are like work colleagues and our job is to work together to give the best and most rounded upbringing possible to our son. It may feel odd, wrong even, to view raising a child as a business task, but I have found that when communicating with an ex this is by far the easiest way to cope.
When you meet, it is good to have a clear agenda, shared in advance, so that there are no surprises and that both parents can come prepared.
It is also good to write up and share minutes to your meetings. I have found these really useful. Often six months later, I will refer to and re-send the minutes to my ex to remind him of what we agreed. Minutes, capturing agreements clearly and in writing is really useful for flushing out when one of you has interpreted a conversation totally differently. Trust me, this will happen, a lot!
Ultimately though, every co-parenting relationship is different, every human relationship is different. There are no set rules for communicating with an ex. Have confidence that you will eventually find what works for you. It may feel like it is taking an eternity. It has taken us at least a couple of years, but we’ve got there, for the moment. I am not naïve enough to believe that our future co-parenting relationship is obstacle free.
What has worked for you in your co-parenting relationship?
What are your tips for communicating with an ex?