Divorce can be a nasty thing. The word wars and legal battles will wear just about anyone down. No matter who is at fault, in the end, it sucks for everyone involved. But if you have kids together, your ex-spouse will be a part of your life for a long time. So whether you can tolerate them or not, you need to learn how to communicate in as healthy a manner as possible for the sake of your kids, as well as your sanity. My ex-wife and I have not always seen eye to eye on things, but we have managed to focus on what really matters through it all…our four kids. So here are some lessons I have learned along the way that I’d like to pass on.
1. Remember that your kids didn’t ask for, want or deserve this situation. Divorce happens due to a variety of reasons, but kids are the greatest victims of it because they didn’t get a say in the decision. They love mom and dad and just want the family to be together. And now, they are forced to deal with this new reality thrust upon them. It is a good idea to keep this fact at the forefront of your mind.
2. Filter everything through how it will affect your kids. There have been so many times that I’ve wanted to respond in a situation based on how I feel, but I always come back to how my words and actions will affect the kids. The best thing possible in this situation is for the parents to be civil and polite in front of the kids. Another way to put it is to learn to swallow your pride. That will provide them security and will help them adjust to this new reality.
3. Understand that your ex-spouse now has different priorities. My ex-wife has remarried and she and her husband have different priorities than I do. Some of these directly affect the kids (sports, extracurricular activities, vacations) and some indirectly. And that’s ok. As long as the kids are being taken care of and are not being harmed in any way, you really have no say in what the other parent does with the kids a majority of the time. Maintaining this perspective can be difficult, but it will make your life a lot easier.
4. Practice the 24-rule. Because you and your ex have differing priorities, you are bound to disagree or get frustrated with a decision or action that they make. Years ago, my friend Mike encouraged me to implement a 24-rule for handling conflict whenever possible. Basically, you wait a day to respond so that your emotions calm and you think about the situation rationally. Sometimes you don’t have this luxury, but the point is to step away from the situation long enough to clear your head and calm your emotions.
5. When in doubt, ask. There have been many times that one of my kids has said something that their mom did or said that didn’t sit right with me. As I would process what they told me, my initial reaction would be to assume the worst. But experience has taught me that I have to be careful to take what my kids pass on to me as the complete truth because 1) they are kids and 2) there is typically important information that has been left out. So I started making the practice of asking her at some point down the road, usually a day or two afterward. Oftentimes, it was a misunderstanding of how my kids viewed the situation and then relayed it to me. And sometimes it was something that needed to be addressed and we would work it out diplomatically. This has happened with both of us. I’ve received calls from my ex-wife about something the kids told her that happened when they were with me and I was able to clear it up in a few minutes. The point is, you should pick up the phone and ask. Don’t assume because we all know what assuming does. Instead, do your due diligence to find out the truth. That’s a win for everyone.
6. Be involved in your child’s life. Sporting events and school functions are a great way to show your child (and your ex) that they are important to you, and it can be a great way to build healthy “ex communication”. You don’t have to be buddy-buddy with your ex and their spouse or significant other, but you can be cordial and friendly. This demonstrates to your ex that you aren’t enemies and provides the security your kids need because they see mom and dad getting along.
These are a few things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me have good communication with my ex-wife. I haven’t figured it all out and still have a lot to learn. But I believe what I’ve learned can assist others in making the most out of a difficult situation, particularly for the sake of the kids. As I encounter an increasing number of divorcees with kids, I feel this information needs to be shared.
What about you? What have you learned about “ex-communication” that needs to be shared?
Note: I have to give credit for this “ex communication” idea to Denira Williams, otherwise she will punch me in the throat.