One of the most challenging aspects of co-parenting after divorce is that we have to find a way to communicate and work respectfully and constructively with a person who may have caused us significant pain in the past — or whom we hurt. It can be difficult to put your personal history aside and focus on dealing with each other solely as co-parents.
You and your ex will likely always know how to push each other’s buttons. Sometimes, it’s done intentionally. Other times, it’s just a matter of habit after years of conflict.
You can’t control what your co-parent says or does. However, you can control your reactions. By not responding negatively, you can keep what could have been an offhand comment from escalating into a fight that takes you away from what should be your primary focus — your children’s best interests. Here are a few suggestions.
Know your trigger points. We all have them. Maybe for you, it’s the suggestion that you spend too much time at work or are always running late. If you’re aware that any mention of these things can cause you to overreact, you’re better able to control your reaction. You can let the comment slide and move on.
Be aware of your impulses in communication. Again, we all have them — particularly when dealing with people we find difficult. Do you have your response ready before your co-parent has finished talking? Do you believe that you have to “win” in every situation? A large part of successful co-parenting is compromise. That often means not letting our impulses take over and really listening to what the other person is saying.
Focus on finding solutions rather than blaming. No one is a perfect divorced parent, just as no one is a perfect parent. Things will go wrong — especially in the early days. Even if your co-parent makes a mistake that is typical of them and a perfect example of one of their many flaws, blaming them doesn’t help the situation.
Sometimes, it’s easier to see ourselves (and our exes) more clearly and work to improve our reactions to negative stimuli if we talk to an impartial third party like a therapist. They can give more productive guidance than a best friend who agrees that the problem is completely your ex’s. Your family law attorney can likely recommend some therapists with experience helping people adjusting to divorced life.