Does the idea of amicably communicating with your ex have you laughing hysterically or head-banging into your pillow? You are not alone. One of the biggest challenges of shared parenting is being able to communicate with an ex you can't stand
Note: This article isn't about criticising our exes. It's about mastering communication with someone you don't get along with, so you can make sound decisions about the welfare of your kids.
I’m happy to say that after many turbulent years, I am almost in a 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.
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?
I've written this article based on years of trying, failing and succeeding to communicate effectively with my ex. I persevered because I had no choice, but also because I knew it would benefit our girls and give them the best possible childhood. As a single mother, I know you will agree with me that nothing is more important than that.
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.’
Organise neutral ground meetings
Organising meetups might feel impossible at first. But once you've agreed on meeting face-to-face on neutral territory, it will make the discussions less hostile. You can meet somewhere quiet (and public) that's located halfway, perhaps a coffee shop.
During our first successful meeting, we had ground rules and focused on topics about the kids, and surprisingly, it worked. I had the urge to make side comments about some matters, but I stopped myself. Doing this turned those awkward conversations into something almost … civil. It was a very productive meetup, indeed.
Take note, though, that we had to go through a lot of arguing and bickering before agreeing on where “neutral ground” was.
Be the best version of yourself
When you communicate with your ex, there is always room to be respectful and considerate, no matter how tempting it is to sink into a recrimination zone if you 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.
Make it a policy to thank your ex for small things – because those words of gratitude and encouragement could lead to a more cooperative and involved parent. And make you feel better inside.
Try a communication book
Communicating with an ex you can’t stand doesn’t need to be done in person. If you are still in that phase where you cannot bear being in your ex’s presence, try the communication book. This worked wonders for a lot of single mums I know.
Create a journal solely dedicated to exchanging parenting notes and reminders. Because believe me, these ex-husbands need a lot of reminding.
Jot down schedules, important updates, and even concerns that you have about your children. And keep it nice light ... the odd smiley face scrawl will do wonders here.
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.
Let go of unrealistic expectations
Having been in a relationship with your ex, you will have some idea of what to expect.
Spoiler alert: This is your secret weapon. You know this guy better than you care to admit and can predict his behaviour.
For this reason, is your job not to set your expectations too high if you want to avoid disappointment.
If you're stuck, try flipping the situation. Just as you wouldn't want your ex dictating your TV time at your place, it's unfair to try to control their space.
Pick the right time to communicate
Choose your moments carefully when communicating with an ex you can't stand. Getting the timing right can make the difference between a co-parenting catastrophe and a blinding success.
Following my last example, if you need to discuss screen time, it is best not to broach the subject, having just prized your ten-year-old away from Grand Theft Auto while your ex fixates on footy from your former sofa.
Instead, take a few deep breaths and save this particular chat for a time when your ex will be receptive and open to what you have to say.
Body language and the mirror
Consider your tone of voice and facial expressions when you communicate with your ex. 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 an understanding of how he feels.
Practice relaxing your facial muscles and shoulders so that the 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.
Get professional help to communicate with your ex
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 most precious people, and this includes yourself first and foremost, as well as your children.
Bring in the technology
So, my ex and I, we're not exactly besties, right? But we gotta play nice for our children. Thank goodness for technology, communicating with an ex you can’t stand face-to-face has become easier. You know, less shouting and more conversing.
These shared parenting apps might not fix a bad breakup, but they sure make co-parenting a heck of a lot smoother. Think expense tracking, messaging, and shared calendars all in one place.
I remember this one time when my ex and I couldn't agree on our kids’ schedules. Instead of the usual heated argument, we sorted it out on the app's chat feature. The impending fiery debates turned into civilised texts. That’s another crisis averted!
Further reading: 12 Best co-parenting apps to keep the peace.
Allow yourself a chance to heal
If you do end up in the war zone when you communicate 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.
Summary: How to communicate with an ex you can’t stand
Whether you are newly separated or have been divorced for years, these are fresh (and effective) ways to communicate with an ex you can’t stand. My tips are crucial in making co-parenting work (without you losing your sanity).
I understand that there are times when you are not in the mood to deal with your stubborn ex (you and me both, sister). These methods will help avoid unpleasant face-to-face encounters.
Texts, emails, and parenting apps can become your new bestie. Even I, who is not a techie mum, became one to make it work.
There are times when we’d still have to face the ex, but remember to keep the conversation brief and focused on the children. And try to keep your cool!
How do I do it? I take deep breaths and think of my happy place (perhaps on a tropical beach).
I also love doing certain things in writing. This way, we have a handy record of who said what. I get to share updates and issues about the kids without the need for back-and-forth banter.
Most importantly, think about the kiddos. Remember that you're doing this for them.