Communicating with your ex

Kate Daly, is the founder of Amicable, which focuses on changing the way the world divorces and separates, for the better. She shares her advice on communicating with your ex after you separate. 

My own divorce was traumatic and stressful. It ended in court after several years of frustrated lawyer-led negotiations, confusion, and heartache. No one had won – unless you count the lawyers. I was emotionally exhausted and broken. Once the court case was over, the last person I ever wanted to speak to again was my ex. Radio-silence, however, was not an option. We have two children together and that means communicating.

The divorce is several years behind me now and we have both moved on, but communicating when you’re a co-parent is tricky, irrespective of how old your kids are. I didn’t really think about how our communication would have to change. I saw things in practical terms – events to arrange, school reports to communicate and things that needed paying for. But communicating post-divorce even about the practicalities, is not the same as when you’re together as parents. There are new rules, and different things to trip you up.

When a relationship ends but you are still in touch you need to re-define it. You need to set boundaries with each other and change the way you communicate. This is what I’ve learnt on my journey so far...

1. Be realistic about what sort of relationship you want now

Relationships are not static they change with time and circumstance. Think about how much interaction you want with your ex now. Do you want to be able to do things as a family – celebrate children’s birthdays, graduations or spend time with extended family? Or are you going to lead more separate lives? It’s important you communicate your expectations clearly. Find out what your ex’s expectations are and whether your expectations match. If you are in different places respect each other’s boundaries.

2. Flex your style to meeting the prevailing emotional temperature

If things are currently difficult then you may need slightly more formality and distance for a time. Communicating by email can be helpful if done correctly. Keep emails, short and to the point, removing any emotional language and make them fact based, making statements where possible rather than opening with lots of questions. Always start and end emails politely and never send emails after a disagreement until you have calmed down. Don’t send emails late at night and never after you’ve been drinking.

3. Acknowledge your relationship will change if one or both of you introduces a new partner

Your ex doesn’t have the right to veto your new partner but if your new partner is going to be part of your extended family then it’s much better for your children if everyone gets along. This is especially true of older children who may feel guilty about getting on with a new partner or worried about how their other parent may react or whether they’ll be lonely. 

Each family is different so its hard to say the right or wrong way to integrate new partners but confiding in your grown-up children about a new partner can put them under tremendous pressure and make them feel like they are being forced to take sides. Your children will always be your children however old they are, and they will still deserve your protection, so don’t burden them with confidences. If you need support, it’s best to seek it from someone qualified to help.

4.Plan for the milestone events

When you have a new partner it’s natural to want to share new and exciting moments of your lives together. Some moments such as graduations, weddings or the birth of a first grandchild need especially careful handling. Think carefully about who will take what role and how your ex might feel about the role your new partner might play and plan accordingly.

5. You can control you

The most powerful realisation you can have is that you can’t control your ex, but you can control you. If communicating with your ex is bringing up difficult emotions, especially after the passage of time, then train yourself to pause before you react. Breaking the cycle of being triggered and responding is the first step to more positive communication. This focus on your own behaviour rather than your partner’s will improve your communication almost instantly and dramatically improve any new relationships you find yourself in… so think of it as an investment for your future happiness.

For more information on Amicable, visit their website by clicking here

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