Learning to communicate with your ex to avoid conflict after divorce is something most of us have to do. Since disagreements are a normal part of all relationships, you can’t expect that your ex will agree with everything you suggest or request.
If you’re not comfortable handling conflict then hearing that may make you groan, tense up and become anxious.
You have choices. You could simply go along with everything your ex says, which really isn’t a choice at all. You could say no to everything they say, which again is not recommended because that will lead to ongoing unresolved conflict and that is how divorce harms children the most.
The third option is to take things step-by-step, issue-by-issue and to learn how to better handle these difficult conversations. And there are some simple strategies and techniques that you can adopt that will quickly make a difference to your communications.
Joining me for this Conversation, are Leslie Breisch and Christina Jensen from Civil Communicator, a third party communication platform designed to help parents communicate productively about the needs of their child. Breisch is a co-founder and software developer of Civil Communicator and Jensen is Director of Sales and Marketing.
Listen in below or keep reading for a synopsis of this Conversation.
Choose A Preferred Method
We have multiple ways of communicating these days – text, voice, email, and messaging through a number of social media applications. Even without disagreement, getting messages from your ex via multiple mediums can be overwhelming, confusing and actually cause misunderstandings when messages get crossed.
So the first recommendation is that you and your ex agree on the primary way you will communicate. Both Breisch and Jensen recommend email because it seems less intrusive and often doesn’t demand an immediate response from us. They suggest that you agree to keep texting for emergencies which is any situation that is truly time sensitive. These might be urgent medical treatment for your child or pickup arrangements for your child that day.
Having different methods depending on the urgency means that you know when you get a text message that it is time-sensitive and it is important to respond as quickly as possible.
Choose When To Read
Once you establish email as a preferred communication method, it means you have more control over both opening a message and responding to a message. Like any changes in habit, this is going to take some discipline but you really don’t have to read the message from your ex the minute it lands in your Inbox. The goal is to train yourself so their messages don’t distract you from what you’re doing, so you open their messages when it is a good time for you.
“Now that the couple has split, they have their own lives and they shouldn’t feel they need to cater to the other person,” said Breisch. They shouldn’t have to pick up the phone every single time and interfere with their day or activity.”
The same applies to responses. The vast majority of communications do not demand immediate attention and chances are you’ll have more control over your reaction if you wait to read the communication on your own terms.
Wait 24 Hours To Respond
Breisch recommends setting a personal standard of waiting 24-hours before responding to any communication unless it’s something with which you agree and the response is simple. This waiting period helps to avoid a knee jerk reaction.
“That’s the problem I feel with text messages,” said Breisch. “It’s right at your fingertips. It is so easy to send something hurtful or scolding and you can’t take it back.
Waiting 24 hours gives you time to think before you respond.
Don’t Respond After 10 p.m.
Even with waiting 24 hours, it’s still a good idea to quit sending emails after 10 p.m. This is the time when Jensen and Breisch see most communications start to ramble.
“I think people at that point, their day is done, they’re ready for bed, they might want to fire off some emails and they’re just not thinking as clearly as they might if they sent it in the afternoon,” said Breisch.
There are other times when you should definitely wait to respond …
- anytime you’re under the influence or drugs or alcohol
- anytime you’re angry or upset, even when the cause has nothing to do with your ex.
Draft Your Response And Wait
When communications with someone are strained or the message you want to send is difficult, then it’s always smart to draft the message, save it as a draft and then read again several hours later. You may find that major portions can be deleted or worded better.
This is a great strategy for the late night emails. If you truly feel compelled to write that email late at night, go ahead and do it. Just don’t send it. Save it as a draft. As Breisch would say, “Step away from the communication!”
How You Say It Makes The Difference
Breisch says there’s usually good reason for the communication so it’s not the topic that causes the conflict.
“The main reason for communication conflict is how the message is presented to the other party,” said Breisch. “It’s the words that they use. It’s the way they say something and they don’t mean it to be offensive be hurtful.”
The difference in approach can be quite subtle. Think about what you really want to say and then try to sum it up in as few words as possible. One tip that might help here is to omit adjectives – these are usually editorial, judgments and open the communication up to being misinterpreted. You want to avoid how you’re saying something getting in the way of solving your parenting problems.
Drop The Greeting And Closing
Through habit and how we’re taught to communicate, most people tend to communicate to their ex as if they were writing a letter. Jensen says that this can get in the way of “fact-based” communications which is the style that is most effective in reducing conflict.
Jensen recommends omitting the greeting and closing and getting straight to the message. Aside from keeping the communication as brief as possible, greetings and closings are open to misinterpretation. The opening, “I hope you had a really nice weekend with our children” could easily be interpreted by the recipient with sarcasm and insincerity and that sets the tone for how the rest of the message will be received.
It would take me some time to get used to this technique however I see the value in it and I’ve seen client communications where greetings have been misinterpreted. If omitting a greeting and closing completely seems too difficult for you, then you can compromise by using your ex’s name as the greeting and your name as the closing.
One Topic Per Email
This is one of my favorites. Instead of writing a long email with several topics, put each topic into a separate email with its own subject.
There are a number of advantages to this. First, it can help speed responses because say you write an email with five topics in it and your ex can respond to four but not the fifth, then they may not respond at all because they’re thinking about the fifth topic and then it gets forgotten. Or maybe they will respond and address the four issues and then forget about the fifth. Maybe they don’t have time for a long email or find it overwhelming.
Having separate emails and separate topics also makes it much easier to search and track responses. Even with the powers of Google search, going back through emails to find out what your ex said about the parent teacher conference or Fall soccer is much easier, when that’s the topic of the email and the conversation isn’t buried in another email on an unrelated topic.
No References To Past Behavior
Comments about past behavior tend not to be productive. “Focus on what needs to be communicated to let the messages go back and forth,” Jensen said.
So for example, the message, “Karli’s swim meet is this Saturday at 2 p.m. but I know you won’t come because you never have before” needs to end after the time.
“You just need to let that stuff go for the communication to be productive,” Jensen said. If you need to vent about the past, find another forum.
When Your Ex Won’t Take No For An Answer
Repeated requests on the same topic is a common pattern that Civil Communicator sees, especially about swapping parenting time. The requests can be very confusing and exhausting. In responding to this, it is helpful to provide an explanation as to why you’re not able to agree to the request rather than a simple, one word “no” response. This sort of response can open the door to more of a dialogue that could lead to another resolution.
However, repeated requests can become harassment and one of the strategies to reduce conflict in post-divorce families is to limit the flexibility because then there is less interaction needed between the parties.
At the point you feel a topic has become harassment, you need to communicate to your ex that you will not respond to further requests on the same topic.
Consider Using A Third-Party Platform
If communications with your ex are causing you stress, they’re accusatory, confusing or you’re facing repeated requests then it may be time to consider moving your communications to a third party platform such as Civil Communicator which has a monitored option that helps to train parties on fact-based communication. Breisch has observed that for most of their clients, there’s a huge improvement in communication from both parties within a month of using the program.
Another well-established third party communication platform is Our Family Wizard. You can read my review of that app here.
My guests for this Conversation were Leslie Breisch and Christina Jensen from Civil Communicator. Breisch is a co-founder and software developer for Civil Communicator and Jensen is Director of Sales and Marketing. Civil Communicator offers a 30-day free trial. With the coupon code, “divorce” you can also get an additional one-month free. This way you can try the software and see if it would help you.