Does the idea of amicably communicating with your ex have you laughing hysterically or head-banging into your pillow? Nirvana, Coldplay or Guns ‘n Roses?
I’m happy to say that after many turbulent times, I am almost in the state of un-wedded bliss when it comes to my relationship with my ex. We haven’t quite reached the stage of a shared cry but we occasionally crack a laugh. At times it’s very prickly, and the old gut-wrenching moments appear, but it’s become easier to have random chats about gardening as well as address complex parenting issues, including Child Support.
So here are the golden questions: How can we communicate peacefully with our ex when wounds are still raw and emotions run high? And how should we broach tricky topics which require both parties to dig deep and put differences aside?
Try these tips for starters, and remember that time does heal, so stick it out and (hopefully) things will get easier.
How to communicate with an ex you can’t stand
Choose your topics and keep it short and sweet
Although we all have to face the big issues sooner or later, it makes sense to keep the topics as light as possible and avoid bulldozing your ex with your own inner battles. If you need to initiate a conversation, have a clear idea of the purpose. Let your ex have a turn, open up the lines of communication with questions and give them a fair crack by listening (while you regulate your breathing!)
Keeping things brief and factual really helps. A final wrap up is a good idea e.g. “Great that you’re ok with the trip. Thanks for agreeing to sign the letter.”
Be the best version of yourself you can be
When communicating with your ex, there is always room to be respectful and considerate, no matter how tempting it is to sink into recrimination zone if we feel vulnerable. Of course, it takes time and practice to retract the claws, but baby steps towards acceptance and tolerance now will pay huge dividends in the future. Not only for you, but for the precious people who will take cues from your behaviour and model you in their own personal relationships later on.
Start with the (wo)man in the mirror. Make it a policy to thank your ex for small things – because those words of gratitude and encouragement could lead to a more co-operative and involved parent. And make you feel better inside.
Take charge of your thoughts – and your reactions
Regular meditation will help calm you and restore a sense of balance. Gently steer your thoughts away from the negative and think happy. Only you can control your thoughts – and only you can control your responses. In the words of Joyce Meyer ‘You cannot have a positive life and a negative mind’.
Remember, it takes two to have an argument. You can decide whether to engage or simply be powerfully silent. Keep the cat claw moves for acting classes or vent your frustrations in your active wear.
Look after yourself
If you do end up in the war zone when communicating with your ex, be kind to yourself afterwards, particularly if you have experienced high anxiety or feelings of anger. Even though I’m no athlete, many a spirited sprint has helped release all those stress hormones. (Practising to be a ballerina in my forties has also helped my state of grace).
Reach out to your tribe – without recreating and thus reliving the drama. Opt instead for a hug, a cry or a laugh over a shared cuppa whilst you recap on what went well, what didn’t and where to get the best French pastries.
Get professional help
It’s ok to reach out for professional help. In fact, I would recommend it to anyone going through a relationship breakup even if it’s amicable. See your doctor or counsellor particularly if you feel that things are getting on top of you. Or join a support group, online or otherwise. There are many avenues for you to obtain mediation or legal advice regarding financial or custodial matters. Remember to protect the precious people, and this includes yourself first and foremost.
Let go of unrealistic expectations
Having been in a relationship with your ex, you will have some idea of what to expect. Each of you has a role as a single parent and your coping mechanisms will be different. You would not expect your ex to lay down the law about how much TV you watch in your own home, so it is unreasonable to try to control what goes on in his space. It is, however, perfectly reasonable to expect parental controls to be on the media your children access.
Choose your moment, though. Best not to broach the subject having just prized your six-year old away from Grand Theft Auto whilst your ex fixates on footy from your former sofa. Take a deep breath and address the issue after you’ve plumped your own cushions really, really well.
Body language and the mirror
Pay attention to your gestures when communicating with your ex. Consider your tone of voice and facial expressions. It’s a good indicator of your natural responses and emotions. Likewise, observe those of the other party, as you may be able to take cues and gain understanding of how he feels. This little cheat sheet is a handy starting point.
Practice relaxing your facial muscles and shoulders so that next time you open the door, your face looks less like botched Botox and projects the serene, self-assured and happy person that you are without him.