As someone who has been through the ups and downs of separation and co-parenting, I know how challenging it can be to communicate with your ex, especially when emotions are still raw. But, here's the thing – keeping body language positive during those conversations can make a world of difference for everyone involved, especially your little ones.
I have discovered that our body language can speak louder than words, conveying emotions and intentions in ways we might not even realise. When we approach interactions with our ex-partners wearing a cloak of negativity, it only adds fuel to the fire. But choosing to don a more positive demeanour can work wonders in diffusing tension and fostering healthier communication.
In this article, I'll share some invaluable tips and personal insights on how to keep your body language positive while talking to your ex.
Mastering these essential skills can create a more harmonious co-parenting environment, leading to happier and more secure kids.
Further reading: Co-parenting tips I wish I knew 10 years ago.
Start with smile
Things would have been easier if you broke up amicably. But since that's not always the case, you might have to force yourself to smile.
But don't worry, because even forced smiles trigger positivity in your brain, according to a University of South Australia research in 2020. Positivity is contagious, so your ex will most likely feel a boost in his mood - something that's good for you both and the kids. The downsides to forcing them are minor, so you've got nothing to lose being the first to offer a smile.
If you're unsure how to fake a smile that won't look like a grimace, a quick Google or YouTube search will help.
Don't cross your arms
Although crossing your arms can also be a way to self-soothe, you're better off reserving the gesture when your ex and kids are out of sight. You don't want them to think you're defensive and stressed.
From childhood, we have known that crossed arms convey a generally negative emotion, and negativity is highly contagious, too. When our parents or teachers crossed their arms, that usually implied we did something wrong. I don't know about you, but when my mum looked at me with her arms folded, I would fold. What an effective way to shut down communications!
If you catch yourself crossing your arms around your ex, take a deep breath and put them down. It will be hard to control this reflex the first few times, but eventually, your body will get it.
Leaning in or out
Leaning in or out during conversations are obvious nonverbal cues that mean opposite things.
Leaning in shows that you're engaged with what the other person is saying. Alongside eye contact, it shows you're actively listening, which improves your conversation. However, you don't want to overdo it with the leaning in, unless you want your ex to think you're still interested or to send them running off (which you don't want because you're co-parenting).
Conversely, leaning back demonstrates a level of disinterest. Like leaning in, too much leaning out, your ex might think you don't care. While it might seem rude at first, who leans in and out shows who controls the situation.
In short, be aware of your tendency to lean in or out when talking. The right amount at the right time will influence your relationship going forward. An important factor when keep your body language positive.
Watch your hand gestures
Humans are born to speak with our hands, so making gestures naturally comes naturally to us. Knowing this, learn to control your hands so your motions don't lead to misinterpretations.
What I mean is no pointing fingers, clenched fists, the middle finger, and sharp, angular gestures that convey aggression.
Moreover, avoid holding sharp and pointed objects if you tend to use your hands when talking. You don't want to hit your ex by accident!
Maintain eye contact
Maintaining eye contact doesn't only demonstrate confidence; it's also crucial in communication. It shows respect and readiness to listen and potentially improve understanding.
I know it's not easy, and looking your ex in the eye can be incredibly awkward. Our eyes are the windows to the soul, they say. So, it can be pretty scary to look someone you have just divorced in the eye and possibly reveal all sorts of emotions.
Don't worry, because you don't have to maintain 100% of the time. Actually, you need to look someone in the eye only 50% of the time, for 4 to 5 seconds, according to this article from BetterUp.
Keeping body language positive when talking to your ex (cont.)
Relax your posture
One person I wished I was around when I and my ex started co-parenting was my mum. When I was younger, she always gave me a soft smack when she caught me slouching. I badly needed that reminder when facing my ex the first few times. It's a game-changer when trying to keep your body language positive.
According to research, slouching makes you think negative thoughts. On the contrary, good posture encourages positive thoughts and feelings. Additionally, sitting or standing straight makes you exude confidence and assertiveness - two things you need to prove you won't be a pushover.
Use the right tone of voice
A popular saying to keep in mind when talking with your ex is this: it's not what you say but how you say it. Sometimes, our tone can give away hidden resentments and tensions. We can sound combative or too formal.
Instead, try to talk like you used to - minus the shouting and passive aggression, of course. Try to be calm and kind, and even friendly. It's not going to be that easy at first, but you'll be more comfortable eventually as your communication improves.
Remember, you'll co-parent for a long time, if not forever. It's going to be pretty exhausting to always be in an antagonistic mode.
Stay mindful of your facial expressions
As someone with an open-book face, I find it challenging to hide my emotions. Doubly so because this is a man I was married to for many years, and he can read me pretty easily. In the first few months of our co-parenting journey, I didn't even bother hiding the slightest annoyance of being in the same space as him.
Obviously, that made co-parenting tougher than it should have been. Over dinner, my eldest told me I was unnecessarily rude to their dad, which made them uncomfortable. My youngest commented I was being immature.
So, I knew I had to make a change if I wanted this to work (and not push my daughters further away). I became more conscious of the slightest movements, like raising my eyebrows and glaring. I practiced faking my smiles (see first point) until they weren't fake anymore. I saw a massive change in my ex's demeanour, which eased my anxieties, too.
Practice active listening
Poor communication is one of the major reasons for divorce. If this was part of what led to your separation, it can be tricky talking to each other again. But also, you already know why your relationship did not work.
Although you're not getting back together, working on your communication for the kids' sake is important. You will still make decisions together, so you must show each other respect. Actively listening is one of the most effective ways to demonstrate respect and decency.
Here are a few things to remember to be fully present when your ex speaks:
- Stop what you're doing.
- Listen to understand, not to respond.
- Don't interrupt.
- Reflect and repeat what your ex says to ensure you understand it correctly. (In a related note, don't put words in their mouth.)
Take deep breaths
Before you can do anything on this list, take a deep breath. This is the starting point to clear your mind and calm your feelings when facing your ex. By taking a deep breath, you regain your composure, helping you approach things clearly.
It's never too late to take a deep breath. If you catch your gestures or your tone getting aggressive, or you're folding your arms or leaning in too much, pause and breathe.
And if you're worried your ex will catch you breathing deeply and think you're being too emotional, that's okay. You're acknowledging your complex emotions and regulating them healthily and maturely.