Hello everybody, welcome to episode 199 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on communication with an ex for the purpose of co-parenting kids.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Now today we’ve got a question for you that shows once again what’s at stake when good communication isn’t present. If you’ve been listening for a while, you know how much I love to talk about communication and it’s value, and unfortunately for our asker, she’s trying to sharpen communication with her ex-husband to no avail. While she’d be happy to be done with him, she knows it’s best for the kids to stay in touch, at least to coordinate their schedules. But he’s not cooperating. Let’s hear what she has to say and see if there’s a way around this behavior her husband is exhibiting. Here’s her question…
QUESTION: “I’m dealing with a great deal of stress due to having a bad relationship with my ex-husband. He simply feels attacked at everything I say, takes things the wrong way, gets angry constantly and does things to show his anger.
For example, right now, he stopped communicating altogether. He misinterpreted something I said through text. I would just let it go but this keeps happening, it’s happened a million times, I’m so tired of it. My kids have basketball games and we need to communicate for these things but he doesn’t make it easy, when he’s mad he just gives me the silent treatment and completely ignores me.
I feel like if I ignore him when he comes to me I would just be creating more of a problem and I would be doing something that hurts my kids in the end. He’s very manipulative and that’s why we got divorced. I’m very exhausted by the whole thing. I don’t know how to put an end to it. I don’t know what to do.”
The Well-Being of Your Kids
Tough spot. Annoying spot. But great question. Thanks for sending this in, asker. These men sometimes, am I right?
Lucky for you and your kids, you seem to be a very driven and devout mother. You expressed remorse in your question about doing anything that hurts your kids in the end. It’s going to be crucial to hang onto that mindset.
For as draining as this behavior from your ex husband may be, you have a North Star to guide you through all of this and keep you from losing your cool, and that’s the wellbeing of your children.
Repeatedly remind yourself of that and move it to the front when it comes to any interaction you have with him. You can’t ignore him right? It’s bad for the kids. You can’t insult him right? It’s bad for the kids.
If you think what’s best for the kids is to have open communication with him (which is likely true), then the best thing you can do is focus all of your communication to him about his lack of communication.
The Bigger, Mutual Goal
Let this most recent hissy fit ride out. And when he’s cooled off, neutral and in between outbursts, initiate a conversation with him that has nothing to do with your frustrations towards him and nothing to do with his childishness. Initiate a conversation that revolves around something bigger; the mutual goal you share of wanting to be good parents.
And a reminder that not only will the focal point be on the wellbeing of your children, but you’ll have to present yourself through the lens of what’s best for your children. That means taking responsibility for everything you’ve said to him and trying to understand how he might’ve perceived it as wrong.
Even if you didn’t say anything wrong, if you don’t think your children can thrive if you’re not in touch with him, then it’s on you to communicate to him in a way that’s tailored to his insecurity.
No, it doesn’t seem fair, but these are the kinds of sacrifices you sign up for if you want to be the best parent you can be.
Communication with Ex in Co-Parenting
Try saying something to him along these lines; “I’m sorry if I say things to you that are upsetting, it’s not my intention. My intention is the wellbeing of our children, and I know yours is too. Could you please let me know the types of things I’ve said that you find unacceptable or offensive? If you explain it to me, I’ll make it my mission to word things clear and more respectfully. If I ever fail to do this, could you make it your mission to tell me when you’re upset and give me a chance to explain what I meant before you stop talking to me?”
I know you might feel as though there’s a sense of martyrdom in this – not saying what you really want to say and instead talking to him like a child. But if you feel it’s imperative to work together for your kids, and he’s not budging from where he’s at, you’ll have to start this process by meeting him where he’s at with a good tone and laying things out very simply, free of shame or argument, so you two can start from scratch and start to understand one another.
Ideally, over time, he will communicate better and you won’t have to bend over backwards this much, but you have to start with where you’re at now. And right now, you’ll never give this relationship a chance to get healthier, or you’ll at least prevent it from getting healthier as quickly as possible, if you don’t swallow your pride and come down to his level.
As a matter of fact, I advise you not to see this as bending over backwards, but rather as the right thing to do for your kids as well as well as an invitation for your ex husband to express himself more openly. Needless to say, these are both steps in the right direction.
What if That Doesn't Work?
And, finally, what if you’ve tried this exact formula and it hasn’t worked or if you try it and it doesn’t yield immediate results? Well, just as you should seek to communicate with him in an appropriate way, you should always seek to do the same with your children.
There is a way to relay this conflict to your children in a way that’s both age-appropriate and not vilifying to your ex husband. Simply let them know, in whatever variation is age appropriate, that sometimes you two mix things up, misread each other, have a hard time getting in touch or a hard time understanding one another.
And naturally, supplement this with a reminder that you both love your kids and are both trying your best to make things as easy as possible for them.
Communication with Ex: Conclusion
Doing this will reassure your children and numb some of the frustration they may feel if their schedules or feelings are affected by their father’s behavior or the lack of cohesion between you two. As long as you are regularly willing to talk openly to them about how you two are trying, how sometimes you aren’t on the same page, how sometimes their father is going through a lot and still learning how to be the best father he can be, but that ultimately you both love them, there’s less room for them to build resentment and detachment – which would be the ultimate downfall here.
As a final note, depending on the ways your children are being affected by this, it never hurts to seek the help of a friend, sibling, parent or sitter to get more involved and take some of the weight off of your shoulders.
A difficult situation for our asker and her communication with an ex, especially when we all know that there’s only so much we can do to change another person’s behavior. But what I really admire about her today is that she’s willing to do whatever she needs to do to make sure that her children aren’t inconvenienced. Its a tough and exhausting road as a parent sometimes, but there’s great fulfillment in the sacrifice of putting your children first if you’re indeed ready to be a parent.
The underlying theme here for all of you to apply, however, is that if you really feel there’s only one option to bettering a situation that needs to be bettered, there’s no shame in altering your behavior to make it happen. Sometimes playing this game when we need to as opposed to triumphantly beating our chests and saying whatever we want to ends up making things quite easy down the road, not to mention you open yourself up to learn about the nuances of other people and the ways they oppose you. Best of luck to our asker today and best of luck to all of you guys if you’re going through anything similar.
Time for me to get out of your hair for now as we’ve reached the end. As always, thanks for being here and for helping OLA make it all the way to 200! We’ll be back with episode 200 next time, quite a milestone to be proud of. Don’t miss out everyone, I’ll see you there, and until then, stay safe and happy. I’ll talk to you next time.