Conflict is a normal part of separation and even a most amiable person can be pushed into poor communication practices in these circumstances. However, if goals are ever to be achieved, whether they’re property settlement or child custody, clear communication is a necessity.
It’s especially important to practice healthy communication techniques when you’re dealing with children and child custody. Too many children are left scarred from parents disparaging each other or being combative during divorce. How you deal with conflict sets the example for how your children will approach the challenges (and challenging people) in their lives.
Here are some ways to keep communication healthy and productive during even the most challenging separations:
1. Schedule a time with a mediator to discuss difficult topics.
If your conversations frequently devolve into arguing, yelling, belittling, or other negative conditions, it’s time to introduce a neutral third-party. Agree to only discuss certain subjects during mediation sessions, such as custody scheduling, financial considerations, new partners, and other hot-button topics.
2. Communicate via email.
If you can’t have a civil conversation in person, it’s important to keep communication online. Not only will you have a record of what you both said, but it can take some of the “heat” out of interactions. Just make sure to keep your emails short, concise and direct. Watch out for “tone” and cutting remarks. Imagine you’re writing to the CEO of a company and not your ex-spouse!
3. Set boundaries.
Discuss when and how it’s acceptable to contact each other and about which topics. If your partner is continuously attempting to overstep boundaries or have inappropriate conversations, respectfully remind him or her of your agreed upon terms and then…just let it go. You can offer to discuss the topic later, in the presence of a mediator if necessary, but do not engage. It’s engagement that leads to escalation. If you know a conversation isn’t likely to be productive, save yourself the aggravation!
4. Always set a goal.
What is it you want to achieve in this communication? Do you want a change of schedule? Do you need participation at a school event? Is there a financial need for your child that needs to be addressed? Be clear on what you want and then ask for it. Skip the story and simply ask, “can you pick up Billy on Wednesday after soccer?” or “Sally needs supplies for her science project. The cost is $50, can you split it with me?” No need to bring up who pays for what when and who paid last time. If you don’t get the desired answer, table the discussion for later with a mediator or let it go and move on.
5. Keep it neutral.
Lead by example by using neutral, non-judgmental language and a neutral tone. This is more difficult to do in person, especially when your buttons are being pushed! But, it’s important to avoid name-calling and blame. Remember, you’re setting an example. Avoid bringing third-parties into your conversation, unless it is a neutral third party. Leave out your ex, his mother, and what your sister thinks. Avoid terms like “you always” and “you never.”
The most important thing to remember is that how you communicate is within your control, while what your ex-partner does and says is not. No one’s perspective has even been changed by being screamed at or called names. You have the option of setting good boundaries for communication and keeping them. It will save you countless hours of frustration!