How I Handled My Disagreeable Ex
There are probably some really good reasons why you're no longer married to your ex…maybe you had opposing parenting styles, differing opinions or difficulty communicating with each other. And as you may have noticed, those issues don't disappear once the marriage ends…in fact, they often intensify.
Leftover pain from the past, broken promises and envy often characterize how ex-spouses (and their new spouses) feel about the adults living in the kids' other home. Walls of distrust are built as the bricks of painful emotions and experiences are stacked side by side. Tearing down those walls and setting aside personal agendas for the sake of the kids is no easy task.
Parental Conflict Affects Kids
The truth is that kids need their parents to peacefully work together, whether married, divorced or remarried. Research clearly confirms that children are able to successfully adjust to the ending of their parents' marriage and cope reasonably well if the following circumstances exist:
Parents are able to bring their marital relationship to a close without excessive conflict
Children are not put into the middle of whatever conflict does still exist
There is a commitment from both parents to cooperate on issues of the children's material, physical, educational and emotional welfare.
High-conflict stepfamilies and conflict between their parents can negatively impact children; burdening them with undue emotional anxiety and stress. In an earlier post Mike quoted expert Patricia Papernow: "The problem for children is not divorce. It is conflict."
Divorce doesn't end the dynamics of family relationships; it merely reorganizes them into separate households. Well beyond their divorce many ex-spouses are still trying to change, control or influence their ex the same way they did when they were still together.
Resisting the urge to control an ex-spouse can be tough. But we need to recognize and accept that we are not in a position to control our ex or how the other home operates. However, letting go of control can actually help co-parents respect each other's boundaries and, ironically, work better as a team.
It's awesome when ex spouses are able to agree on issues about the kids, communicate amicably and get along when they have to be around each other. But that isn't always possible. We know that we can't control how our ex-spouse behaves, but we can control how we choose to behave and respond in those moments of contention. And our positive choices can make a big impact on the quality of our co-parenting relationship. This will ultimately benefit the kids.
Here's one useful strategy that can promote peaceful communication with your ex, while leaving your dignity intact…
Containing the Conflict
Conflict containment starts with controlling your speech. When you find yourself in a disagreeable conversation with your ex, do your best to avoid engaging in a prolonged argument. Here is a simple statement I said to my ex-spouse when conflict began to surface and I knew that a reasonable solution wasn't on his radar: "I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree for now". This approach can deescalate the conversation and leave both parties on equal ground. I didn't have to agree with his point of view and he didn't have to agree with mine, but we could agree to disagree & let it go for now.
Pushing a conversation to the brink of disaster just to win an argument will certainly lead to relational destruction. And, there really are no winners when effective co-parenting breaks down. Instead, choose to take the high road and respectfully end a conversation when it starts to become unproductive or hostile.
If the issue is important, you'll need to revisit it at another time once you've both calmed down. If you have major disputes that just can't be resolved, mediation is a great option. This is an affordable and effective way to promote peace and work through your differences without litigation.
The 'Agree to Disagree' technique can also be used to set a clear boundary when verbal abuse or false accusations come your way. If you can "Agree to Disagree" and politely end the conversation, you'll be communicating two things to your ex:
- You don't agree with their misguided beliefs about you
- You will not allow them to continue their verbal attack
In doing this, you'll be getting what you need without having to defend yourself or stoop to their level of aggression. Promoting peace also means protecting yourself from toxic interactions.
Words to Live By
When managing a contentious co-parenting situation, being 'Professional" and 'Courteous' is key! Regardless of how your ex-spouse treats you, always strive to live by these two words. When you do, you'll be modeling peaceful communication and healthy conflict resolution skills to your kids and you won't be adding to their burden!
You never know, maybe that difficult ex will follow your lead and choose to respond positively to you too someday!
QUESTION: What can you do to promote peace within your co-parenting relationship? Leave a comment below…