When relationships end, pain, sadness and bitterness can take over. Sometimes it seems easiest to totally avoid each other in order to heal and move on, but when you have children together, this may not be the easiest or the best option. Getting along with your ex to have a healthy co-parenting relationship is important for your children's well-being and happiness. Every relationship is different, but it's important that you and your ex find a way to get along and put your children's needs first.
Establish healthy communication
Healthy communication is necessary for a productive co-parenting relationship with your ex. If you are struggling to communicate with each other, consider the following suggestions:
- Speak maturely and respectfully. Remember, you are going to have to communicate with your ex in some form for a long time as a part of co-parenting. Making rude or disrespectful comments may make you feel better for a moment but will not improve your children's lives.
- Listen to each other. Be attentive without interrupting. Even if you don't agree, it's much more productive to hear what the other person is trying to say.
- Be reasonable. Making demands and trying to control your ex's relationship with your kids can cause unnecessary hostility. When problems arise, consider using reasonable language such as "Would you consider switching visitation days with me?" Or ask for your ex's opinion on something to show you value their opinion such as "How do you feel about our daughter getting her ears pierced?"
- Admit when you're wrong. It's not easy to do but admiting when you're wrong and apologizing can keep communication between you and your ex from becoming bitter and full of finger pointing.
Focus on your children
Remember that you and your ex have a common interest - the health and happiness of your children. The more you think about what's best for your children, the easier it will be to work together and get past the personal issues you may have with one another.
- Stay focused on your children and their needs. Don't get caught up in revisiting old arguments or problems. Keep your communication focused on your children and what's best for them. It doesn't help to bring up the cause of the breakup, past fights or anything else that will cause pain or anger.
- Keep child support battles away from your children's ears. If you and your ex are having a dispute related to money, avoid fighting about it in front of your children. Hearing about late payments, missed payments or issues related to child support can make children feel sad and worthless.
- Be consistent on rules, discipline and schedules, if possible. For example, you may want to discuss issues like appropriate bedtimes and the consequences for breaking a rule. Consistently portraying a united front to your kids will make them feel safer, easing the transition between households.
- Accept that you are different and may have different parenting styles. It's OK if you cannot agree on everything when it comes to raising your kids. Try to listen and respect each other's wishes when it comes to the important issues and also accept that you may need to agree to disagree on other issues.
- Remain friendly when picking up and dropping off your kids. They should see you interacting in a positive and civil way. Take time to share what's happened during your visit and update your ex on any important developments.
Treat each other respectfully
Just like any successful relationship, your relationship with your ex must be built on mutual respect. Even if your personal relationship ended badly, the new relationship you have as co-parents can be different. Here are some suggestions:
- Be courteous of each other's time and feelings. If you would call to let a baby-sitter know you're running late, why wouldn't you do the same for your ex? If you call your parents to let them know about a school event, your ex would likely want to know, as well.
- Be open about your love life. If you are dating again, don't wait for your children to tell your ex. Let your ex hear it from you. This subject may evoke anger or jealousy, but it's important to be honest with each other. Listen to your ex's concerns and, if reasonable, be respectful of their wishes. For example, if your ex wants you to wait to introduce your children to your new love interest, try to understand his or her concerns before discounting them.
- Speak nicely about one another in front of your children. Your children should not hear you say disrespectful things about each other, and they should not have to witness your arguments. You are your children's first and most influential example of how to communicate respectfully.
- Know your limits. If you feel like you are about to scream, yell or say something nasty to your ex, try to limit communication as much as possible. Instead, try emailing or texting if you don't feel confident that you can hold a respectful conversation. Better still, arrange a time to hash out conflicts when your children are not present.
You may not be living in the same house anymore, but you are still a family and getting along with your ex is an important part of effective co-parenting. While, it may not be easy, working hard to establish a good relationship with your ex will let your kids know that you have their best interests at heart, and that no matter what, your love for them will not change. If you and your ex need assistance in developing positive communication and creating more healthy relationship, contact Military OneSource for help in addressing issues such as stress management, parenting and other life-transition problems. Military OneSource offers non-medical, short-term counseling and can be reached by calling 800-342-9647. You can also visit the non-medical counseling page for more information. In addition, your installation's Family Advocacy Program offers counseling, classes and workshops on topics such as communication, conflict resolution and anger management to help military families learn how to build positive relationships.