If you have children, your relationship with your ex isn’t over once the divorce is final; you will need to have a strong co-parenting relationship. Some people fall into this easily, but for others it’s a struggle, especially if the divorce was contentious.
The truth is that your ex might never be your favorite person to talk to. But you absolutely can have a positive co-parenting relationship and the following techniques can help:
Tip #1: Look for Common Ground
What are the points of common ground and or shared values between you and your ex? You already have some common ground built right into your relationship: your love for your children. See if you can start from there, and then move into other things you both care about and want to prioritize such as education or activities. Working on things that you both feel are important, can help build consensus for the harder issues. If the children are old enough, see if you can agree to consider their input after you and your ex have discussed the issue but remember to commit to being a united front on the ultimate decision, even if the outcome is not one the child had hoped for. When you are married, being a united front is key to harmony; when you are divorced, it becomes an essential tool in parenting post-divorce.
Tip #2: Set and Maintain Good Boundaries
You are recreating your life after a divorce. This means that things might feel like they’re “up in the air,” which some people take as an invitation to push their own agendas and needs. Make sure you know your boundaries, and have a plan for communicating and enforcing them. This includes everything from how and when (and if) you and your co-parent can be in each-other’s houses, to how often your ex-in laws see the kids during your residential time. The goal is to foster and encourage healthy relationships even after you are living apart. Not sure what your boundaries are? Start looking at the things that make you feel angry or resentful. Those emotions almost always arise as a result of a boundary being crossed. If you can pinpoint what that boundary is, then you can make a plan to maintain it and discuss it productively. Communicating your boundaries in a neutral and positive way is also key once you define them.
Tip #3: Remember That the Children are What is Really Important and be “Forward Thinking”
It can be very easy to get stuck in power struggles, or have fights flare up over events that happened in the past. Ultimately, the goal of creating a good co-parenting relationship is to take care of the things that really matter: your children’s safety and happiness. Keeping this front and center of your mind can really help you keep perspective during conversations and negotiations, and help you avoid sliding back into past hurt and anger.
Tip #4: Try to be Empathetic and Open
This can feel impossible – when you’re already hurting, the last thing you want to do is call on your better nature. But try to come to conversations with your ex from a place of kindness and cordiality. You don’t have to agree with your ex but you can try to put yourself in his or her shoes before reacting to their request. You don’t have to be best friends but try to participate in conversations and interactions with a baseline level of kindness. It really does make a world of difference.
What’s more, assume positive intent whenever you possibly can. This means that whatever the other person is doing, try to assume that they are doing it for a good reason or because they really do have good intentions. Viewing interactions from this perspective, rather than out of suspicion and hurt, can really help avoid unnecessary battles.
Tip #5: Don’t go it alone
It can feel like your whole world is turned upside down after a divorce, but this is not the time to retreat and isolate yourself. Seek out support wherever you can, whether that’s from your family, your friends, a therapist or counselor, or even a support group for single parents. And, if you feel like you need some more structured support in creating your new co-parenting relationship, a mediator or other child-focused professional can really help.