Co-Parenting is challenging. At times parents become frustrated and find communication strained. Healthy communication in co-parenting relationships is important and crucial to help give children the support they deserve. Effective communication is more than just exchanging information; it involves a wide range of skills.
Healthy conversations involve communication that can prevent and defuse conflict. Our tendency is to exchange back and forth, listen and respond…listen and respond…repeat. This can cause communication that is reactionary instead of responsive, and it may appear we are “not listening” to what is being said. When this is our pattern, we often skip two critical pieces of listening that can be a game changer when communicating with your co-parent. Before responding to communication, try validating or affirming the other person’s feelings to better understand the meaning and intent of the message. For example, “[what you just said] makes sense to me”, or “I understand that you feel [share what you understood]”. After that, you should make sure to clarify what they communicated by asking questions of the other person. For example, “Help me understand…”, or “Could you explain… ?” These two middle steps will help demonstrate to the other person you are listening to what they are saying, and create a clearer understanding for yourself before responding.
Using “I” Statements
In general, “I” statements help in communication by sharing your concerns, feelings, or point of view, without coming across as blaming the other person or sounding like a threat in the conversation. “I” statements can keep the conversation moving in a positive direction and help improve your communication and relationship with your co-parent. Shifting from “You” to “I” statements can help prevent and defuse conflict in your communication. Try shifting from “You’re always late dropping the kids off”, to “I feel disrespected when you’re consistently late dropping off the kids”. Another example: “You never let me know when the kid’s schedules change”, to “I feel frustrated when the kid’s schedules change because it affects my schedule, so can you give me advance notice next time?”. As a side note, words such as “never”, “always”, etc. should be avoided as they can serve conflict-starters.
Facial expressions, eye contact, body posture, and personal space are forms of communication. It is said that more can be communicated at times with non-verbal communication than the words used and is a large piece of what is being communicated. Consider how your non-verbal communication (i.e., eye contact or lack of eye contact, rolling of the eyes, arms crossed, etc.) can increase or decrease the effectiveness of what you are communicating to your co-parent. Being aware of our non-verbal communication is key to the exchange of a message between people.
It is important that you are aware of both your emotions and the emotions of your co-parent. When you are aware of your own emotions, you know if you are present in the conversation or not. When you are aware of your co-parent’s emotions, you will know if they are receptive to the conversation or not. Emotions are key to communication. When you find yourself or your co-parent becoming too emotional, it is a good strategy to take a break from the conversation. You should make sure to verbalize the need to take a break, but also be sure that you set a time to continue this conversation later on so that you are not leaving issues unresolved.
Here are a few additional strategies you might want to try when communicating with your co-parent:
- Communicate with a purpose using some of the communication skills listed above
- Focus on the present and future, not the past
- Ask yourself, “How will this talk with my co-parent affect my child?”
- Accept that you only have control over your own words and actions.
- Determine the best mode of communication for you – email, text, phone, co-parenting app, etc.
Daily communication with your co-parent may not be necessary, but it is helpful to talk on a regular basis (i.e., at least once a month). Keeping one another updated on schedules, child-related behavior changes, or special events, will help reduce miscommunication and demonstrate to your children that you and your co-parent stand together as a team!
When you and your co-parent establish healthy communication, you provide your children with a sense of safety and security, establish consistency from one house to another, demonstrate an example of healthy and open communication, and reduce tensions at future shared events.
Healthy co-parent communication may be challenging, but it is a key to creating healthy family relationships – now and in the future. If you want to reduce conflict with your co-parent, try communication strategies that provide focus, intentionality, and drama-free communication to allow for a healthy co-parenting relationship.
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