Divorce is a life-altering experience that often leaves us grappling with a whirlwind of emotions. Amidst the turmoil, finding a way to communicate with our ex-partners without constant conflict can seem impossible.
As a divorced woman who has traversed the rocky terrain of post-divorce communication, I understand firsthand the complexities and frustrations of engaging with an ex. However, through trial and error, I have discovered some golden rules that have significantly lowered the level of conflict in my conversations with my ex. Now, I want to share these insights with other women facing similar hurdles.
In this article, I delve into practical strategies and techniques to help you navigate conversations with your ex more peacefully and productively. These golden rules are rooted in empathy, patience, and effective communication, offering you a roadmap to transform the dynamics of your interactions. By embracing these guidelines, you can reduce conflict and cultivate a healthier post-divorce relationship, whether it involves co-parenting, resolving financial matters, or simply finding closure.
Divorces can be emotionally draining, but building a foundation of respect and understanding is possible, even after the dissolution of a romantic partnership. Join me as we explore the golden rules that have helped me and countless other women foster more peaceful and amicable dialogues with our exes.
Know your intentions before engaging
As with any important communication endeavour, intent sets the tone and direction of the dialogue.
When communicating with your ex, focus on what you want to achieve or resolve. It's understandably hard to talk to someone who might be a strong emotional trigger, be it of anguish or stress. Nobody said it would be easy to fight against getting carried away by your trauma and emotions. This is when your conscious decision to anchor your conversation on your intent comes in.
Try your best not to veer off your purpose of talking with your ex. If you want to ask him if he could accompany your kid on the school trip, don't start an argument about him never remembering the teacher's name. If you want to talk to him about finalising the sale of your house, you don't need to vex yourself further by asking him if he's dating someone new, no matter how tempting it is. Allowing yourself to be distracted will just make your communication attempts counter-productive or, worse, destructive,
Keep calm when you speak with your ex. Stay clear and centered on what you want to accomplish.
Pick your battles
It could be that your ex is setting out to make your life hard.
If he is the type to try and say things that will provoke you, then you have to put your blinders on. You will gain nothing from entertaining everything he's throwing at you. You will be wasting your time trying to counter his points or proving him wrong.
Let's say you want to call your ex to remind of the time you'll be picking your child up from his place. If he answers the phone with a nasty attitude, or if he tries to tell you to just text instead since he does not want to answer the phone, don't give in to the urge of sending a screaming voicemail. It's not worth your energy.
When he sinks low, stay high. This will help prevent unnecessary and blown-out conflicts with your ex. No matter how much you want to wring his neck.
Further reading: How to talk to an ex you can't stand.
Practice active listening
After years of a marriage in decline, you and your ex may already have been used to the dynamic of mindless listening to each other.
Choosing to consciously participate in a conversation and employing active listening can transform your relationship from awful spouses to amazing co-parents.
How do you practice active listening?
Show that you are listening. Acknowledge what he is saying, even if it's just saying, "Okay", "Uh huh", or "Yes". Confirm your comprehension of what he's saying by giving a summary of what he told you back to him. For example, "You're going to make it to his recital today and you would like me to meet you at the school entrance so we can get our seats together, is that right?" is a great way to engage with your ex's request. Defer judgment, especially of the harsh and negative kind before he even finishes what he is trying to say. Respond to his questions only after fully understanding the full context of their question.
It might feel like an awkward change at first, especially if you have been so used to being snarky or trying to find faults with each other during your marriage and divorce. But trust me, talking to your ex will be a less torturous affair when you start practising active communication.
Watch your body language
You might finally be able to speak calmly to your ex, but your arms are crossed all the time. Or maybe you don't like facing him completely because being seen with him embarrasses you or annoys the ish out of you.
This can trigger unpleasant thoughts in your ex as your body language betrays your actual feelings towards him. I am not telling you to lie or to act as if you're trying to rival Cate Blanchett's career, but you will need to make some 'temporary' adjustments to help make the mood conducive to dialogue.
Maintain an open stance and confident posture to lower conflict when talking to your ex. Provide eye contact especially when either of you is making an important point. Try to mirror your ex for a bit when you are listening to them speak. These adjustments will help your ex (and other people!) see you as someone agreeable and attentive.
Use 'I' statements
"You never try to help our kid with her homework!", "You like ignoring everything that I tell you!"
No matter how true they are, these statements are attacks. These indicate your constant disappointment, absolute distrust, and heavy judgment. This type of "you" statements blocks any possibility for reason and tries to establish accusation as fact.
It would be much better for your relationship as exes if you only speak on your behalf and experience. "I can see that our kid struggles doing her homework, I would appreciate it if you could spend more effort assisting her", "I felt ignored when I shared this with you in the past" would be so much better in opening up and starting a dialogue, especially about difficult subjects.
Show empathy and understanding
Being kind towards your ex is a challenge like no other.
I mean how can you try to be nice to the one person who crushed your soul?
By working from a better place of empathy.
Possibly you don't like your nosy neighbour but you are able to empathise with her as a fellow single mum. That's something you can also try to lower conflict when talking to your ex
I understand that the sound of your ex's breath can arouse homicidal thoughts in your head. But next time you talk to him, try to not see him as the severed extension of you whom you despise. Regard him just as a person who is flawed and is trying. This can help you listen to him with less judgment and truly understand his predicament.
Be prepared to meet halfway
I know, I know, you're no longer married. Why do I need to meet this bastard halfway then, you might ask. Yet this is super important to lower conflict when talking to your ex
Sometimes, our exes cannot meet our expectations or fulfil our requests. And while tales of our exes' incompetency are indulgent fodder for another day, it is not right to hold other people (including our exes) to impossible or extremely specific standards.
Calm and intentional speaking and showing open body language won't serve their purpose if you are rigid regarding imperfections, urgent changes, and opposition. When reasonable, agreements can be adjusted to accommodate each other's capacities and limitations.
Stop spending full afternoons engaging with your ex on your phone. Yes, I said it, stop aimlessly chatting with your ex for hours on end. Chances are, over extended periods of time, something will be phrased badly for the other party to also react badly to.
To avoid breeding contempt towards your ex, put a pause on the conversation if you no longer sense that you are achieving what you intended to during that exchange. Even if it's a simple "Oh, I'll talk to you again later, I need to check my laundry", you are allowing both you and your ex to take a step back, cool down from any narrowly-avoided conflict, remember what needs to be resolved, and mentally refuel on that good and emphatic energy.
My final thoughts: Golden rules to lower conflict when talking to your ex
Divorce doesn't have to be the death sentence for everything you share with your ex, not especially healthy co-parenthood and good communication.
By learning and adapting my golden rules to lower conflict when talking to your ex, you will be able to apply the important things to improve your communication every time you enter a conversation with him.
Stay focused and level-headed. Don't let emotions get the best of you, and try to keep every dialogue purposeful, productive, and well-planned. Truly listen and let your ex know what you've understood from him, ensuring that you are both on the same page before you give your feedback. Practise empathy and kindness, and be less judgmental. Avoid recklessly accusing him or projecting the same grudges again and again with those "I" statements. Know how to take a break when the conversation is about to careen down the path of discord.
It is possible and beneficial to lower conflict when talking to your ex, as you pursue a better co-parenting partnership and friendship with him. Improving the way you engage with your ex is really within your control and capability.
The sooner you realise the lightness and peace this improvement can bring, the better it is for your healing and for your daily life as a single mum.