Conflict coming from everyday conversations, children used as message-passers, events devolving into chaos… these are all things that can happen when co-parents begin to lose sight of what co-parenting is meant for: raising happy kids in an environment that is healthy.
Forgetting your main goal is easy to do and often happens on a subconscious level. Frustration, stress and the other negative emotions that can come from divorce often cause messaging between co-parents to break down. You can, however, break the cycle of hostile or unproductive communication by adjusting your habits, particularly when it comes to any form of messaging like text or email, which is where trouble often starts for many people. Before you hit the send button on your next message, ask yourself the following questions.
Is Your Message Civil?
Your messages to your co-parent don’t have to be warm or fuzzy; politeness is sometimes the best that co-parents can hope for when they are communicating. However, even if your messages can be viewed as distant, they should always be respectful.
When you and your co-parent have hit a rough patch communication-wise, assessing a “civility baseline” can be helpful when you’re deciding how to respond to your co-parent’s messages. These messages should not have swear words in them or be used to deliver insults. Keep in mind that any conflict between you and your co-parent will only distract you from your children’s needs when you receive hostile messages from your ex. Take a few seconds or minutes before you respond so you’re not reacting based on your emotions, even though they are understandable.
Is the Message Relevant to Your Children?
For the smoothest co-parenting possible, communication between co-parents should be entirely focused on the kids. If your co-parent is bringing up topics from the past that have no relation to your children, it’s wise to disengage in most cases, or not respond to that portion of the communication. The exception would be if the topic being addressed does somehow pertain to co-parenting. Feelings of regret, guilt or anger should never prevent you from hearing legitimate concerns from your co-parent, even if the conversation does make you feel uncomfortable.
What Is Being Asked?
Deciding whether a message should be responded to can be as simple as considering if a question is being asked. Responding to a message without a clear request for your answer can end up prolonging animosity, especially when that message is full of harsh language and negativity.
Of course, sometimes a message can be hostile and still have a question about the kids. Try to overcome the negative wording that is surrounding the question and focus on only giving the necessary details. This won’t be easy; it will require you to have more self-control, and you may need to practice this skill. This approach, however, is worth it. When you won’t bring your co-parent’s negativity into your messages, you’re indicating that you are not going to actively participate in the conflict anymore.
Should messaging with your co-parent become a significant source of strife and anxiety despite your best efforts at handling the situation, don’t hesitate to get some support from mental health professionals and/or a family law attorney. They will have advice and guidance on how you can protect yourself from manipulative or emotionally abusive communications from your co-parent.
Communication with your co-parent can be difficult, especially in the wake of a contentious divorce or separation. Keep the questions above in mind every time you have to respond to a message from your co-parent that seems designed to provoke conflict. By doing so, you can set the tone for future communications and put the focus back where it belongs: on your children.