Co-parenting communication can feel uncomfortable, exhausting, and even unbearable at times.
No two sets of co-parents have the exact same challenges, but there are some everyday tools that can be helpful for all co-parents. After 20 years of working within mental health and supporting families and co-parents, there are some foundational steps for co-parent communication. In the past, you may have been the parent to figure everything out and you just GOT IT DONE. This is no longer the case because your child now has TWO HOMES and they need you both to be able to communicate effectively in order for them to feel in FOCUS and not in the middle. Approaching anything with neutral curiosity helps open a conversation in a less defensive and more open way. When approaching co-parenting issues with curiosity -instead of using demands, allegations, or assumptions – your co-parent won’t be as quick to hop on the defense AND they will be more able to HEAR you and your concerns about your shared children. But how do you do this? It takes a certain mindset to do this and we know it’s not easy.
Here are 2 steps to help guide you toward more positive communication with your co-parent:
Step 1: Notice and Identify
First, be aware of what you are doing and how you are communicating. In order to change a negative pattern, we need AWARENESS. By understanding we need to create a NEW healthy cycle and get rid of the OLD unhealthy cycle of communication – you are showing up, accepting your part, and committing to change it. You can’t control your co-parents’ behavior and communication, but you CAN control yours. Typically, when we change the way we behave and interact, it can affect the way the other person behaves.
Remember: WE TRAIN people how to TREAT us.
Here are some examples of cycles we see in our work as Collaborative Divorce practitioners and co-parent coaches:
- OLD marital cycles
- OLD Divorce/Separation Injury cycles
- OLD Post-Divorce cycles that occur and without positive intervention (like co-parent counseling or our online course )
- Childhood trauma or attachment patterns that influence current communication and functioning
After you have noticed, identified, recognized, and accepted the old cycles that show up in your communication with your co-parent, use step 2 to guide you toward NEW HEALTHY ways of communicating: (hint! You can use these with ALL relationships in your life, not just your co-parent!)
Step 2: LEARNING TO LISTEN
Is this a different relationship than in the past? Absolutely. Can it be healthy even if our partnership/marriage was not? Absolutely. When you focus on staying on topic about the needs of your children and not stepping into past spouse/partner issues, while at the same time bringing empathy and humanity into your communication…both of you will feel heard in how you are showing up for your children. You will be able to be empathetic with each other and show each other that you both are doing the best you can with what you have as a parent. The steps outlined below will help you navigate this. It all starts with the ability to LISTEN to the other person. Learn: focus your energy on learning and getting it right for your kids rather than being a knower and needing to be right with your co-parent. Include curiosity: be curious about the other person’s perspective. State your interests and goals: what are your children’s needs, and why are they important to you. Take time and space when you need to think things over. Communicate when you will re-engage so the other person is not left hanging. Empathy. See the other person’s perspective and feelings without judgment. This does not mean you agree with them, it means you hear them. Name what you need. Be clear in your request. Find a middle way between both your interests for your children. This is not an opportunity to capitalize on your ex’s past pain, challenge areas, weaknesses, or insecurities. It’s an opportunity to use the historical data you have about each other and navigate conversations with humanity and empathy. Treat each other with respect as your child’s other parent. Instead of accusing, seek understanding by saying: “the story I am telling myself is ________________. Can you help me make sense of what is going on?” Instead of judging, use curiosity by saying: “ I’m curious about why ___________ happened. Can you tell me more so I can better understand your perspective?” Example: parent B responds negatively or hesitantly to their co-parent making a request to take their child out of town for a longer period of time. This is confusing for you and you react instead of listening and responding.
“I am taking the kids to see my brother for two weeks – it’s in our custody agreement and my right and my time – so I am doing it! “
USE CURIOSITY TO…
try and understand why your co-parent may be so negative about a family visit
AND TRY THIS….
“I am hearing there is some hesitancy to me wanting to take the kids to see my brother – I know that may be scary for you because I have talked about wanting to move closer to him. I get that and it makes sense. Would you be willing to consider me taking them for this longer break because he has the time off work to do some fun things? I’m curious to know more about what comes up for you when I want to visit Chicago, I hear it’s difficult so I wonder if you’d tell me more about that?”
What gets in the way of being able to do this?
Defensiveness or withholding information – this is a fear-based response Lack of clarity – confusion or lack of understanding Inability or lack of willingness to acknowledge the other’s perspective Inability or lack of willingness on either part to keep one’s partner brain separate from one’s parent brain (want to learn more about this tool? Check out our online course for co-parents ) Lack of self-regard and/or self-care Be AWARE of your defensive behaviors and use LISTEN to help guide you. Need more support on how to get on the same page with your co-parent? Check out our blog here!