10 Tips to Improve Communication with Your Ex

Although your marriage or relationship is over, you still have to communicate in order to arrange visitation and discuss issues involving your kids. Instead of gritting your teeth and sending mental daggers his way each time you talk, follow these tips to make communication easier, more effective and more comfortable for both of you. The less stressful those conversations are, the easier your own life is going to be.

  1. Smile. I’m not kidding. Studies show that if you force yourself to smile at times when you don’t feel happy, it actually does improve your mood. And if you smile at your ex, you immediately defuse the situation. Warring tribes used to greet each other with a handshake to show they had brought no weapons. A smile does the same thing.
  2. Don’t talk money. Money is often the root of the biggest disagreements among divorced couples. He’s not paying what he should, he doesn’t agree with you when you want more, he disputes what’s actually owed, etc, etc. Therefore, keep money out of the equation when you’re talking about the kids or exchanging the kids.
  3. Don’t take the bait. You’re excellent at pushing each other’s buttons. So be aware of that and be smart enough to keep your buttons covered. Remind yourself this is not a real conversation. It’s a game. You win by not engaging. End of story.
  4. Plan ahead. Mentally rehearse any decisions or issues you need to discuss beforehand and boil it down to a concise, simple statement or request. Have a script and stick to it. This allows you to control the course of the conversation and stay focused.
  5. Pause. No need to count to ten, but instruct yourself to just slow down all of your reactions. In difficult encounters, your first deep, primal reaction might be to slug him. You’re an adult though and suppress that and keep your hands at your side. However, your second reaction, which comes only split seconds later might be to verbally slug him. Take a second and press your lips together or take a breath so you can get past that and allow the thinking, reasoning part of your brain to take over.
  6. Be calculating. You know this guy. You understand how he ticks. Use that to your advantage. Work him to get the situation to work for you. Use whatever he responds to, whatever helps him behave rationally, calmly, and reasonably.
  7. Focus on the future. No one wins when you hash over the past. You each have your own version and that’s that. The future is there to be shaped, so focus on what you can do to make it a good one for your child. This means no fighting about who did what or any rehashing of past problems.
  8. Face the facts. Too many women waste time struggling against the truth – this guy is your kids’ father and you’re stuck with him for the long haul. Stop looking for ways to shut him out and start looking for ways to make it work with him in the picture. If you deal with him in that spirit, everything becomes easier.
  9. Complete the transaction. You and your ex are talking or seeing each other because there is business to accomplish – kids to be exchanged, a schedule to be made, a schedule change to be negotiated. Remember that’s why you’re there and that’s what your goal is. Focus only on achieving that goal. He can throw tons of other junk at you, but you’ve got to keep your eye on the final goal.
  10. Run. Not literally. But when you’ve completed the transaction, get out. This is where you get into trouble if you don’t move on. If you’re not working on a specific goal, you’ve got lots of room to pick at each other. Don’t let it happen.

NOTE: Please be sure to see the previous post for a chance to win the ebook The No-Fight Divorce Book, everything you need to know to use mediation.

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Divorce and Gen X

A recent story in the Wall Street Post analyzes divorce for Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). This is the generation that grew up with divorce–they were raised when divorce rates were sky rocketing (I am a Gen Xer, but my parents did not divorce). I found the piece interesting because the author’s point of view was shock and surprise about divorce for this group. She grew up in a divorced home and knew how hard it was and so never wanted that for her own children. While I understand her feelings, I think she fails to consider what studies show us about children of divorce. Children from divorced parents tend to have double the rate of divorce as other children. Divorce begets divorce. Unfortunately it seems that if you do not have the model of a healthy marriage when you are a child, it makes it much harder for you to have a healthy marriage yourself.

That being said, I do not agree with parents who stay together just for the children. Yes, it works in some instances, but if you have a volatile marriage that is filled with anger, violence, emotional abuse, and other behavior that children observe, living in such a home is also damaging. Having represented children of divorce as a Law Guardian, I firmly believe it is better for a child to have two safe, secure, emotionally healthy homes than one severely dysfuctional and emotionally dangerous one.

To get back to the question at hand then, how do we help children of divorce learn what a healthy marriage is? If they can’t learn in their own homes, how do we teach them? I think it’s essential for children of divorce to get some therapy to help them deal with the home situation. If children can eventually come to terms with their home situation, they may not seek to have those needs filled elsewhere, which can lead to unhealthy relationships. I also think it is imperative for parents to talk about what a healthy relationship is like (assuming they can!). Expose your kids to people in long-term marriages and ask them to talk to your kids about how to make it work. Pre-marital counseling is very useful for couples who have divorced parents, but often unhealthy patterns have developed by the time you get to counseling.

Divorce need not be inevitable for kids of divorced parents and Gen X needs to think about how they can keep divorce from spreading to the next generation.

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The Seven-Year Itch Really Does End Marriages

A new report from the Census department shows that while divorces are actually declining in the U.S. at long last, people who reach the 7th year of marriage have a 50/50 chance that this will be the year that ends their marriage. People tend to separate at this milestone and divorce a year later.  Marriages that make it through this time period tend to last.

That ties into what I saw when I was practicing matrimonial law. Nearly all of my clients had been married less than 8 or 9 years.

The report also said that the decline in the divorce is linked to the fact that people are waiting longer to get married. Many couples cohabitate first and the average age at first marriage is increasing. People are finishing their educations, getting jobs, and testing out the relationship waters before taking the plunge into marriage, and it’s working.

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Teachable Lessons from Divorce

Photo credit: Rawich

You might have a number of flippant answers to the question “What lessons has divorce allowed you to teach your kids?”  “Men/women are creeps,” “Don’t get married,” or “Hire the most expensive attorney” might be off-the-cuff things that come to you if you’re trying to be funny, but the fact is divorce has probably provided a lot of teachable moments you can share with your kids.

  • You can love someone without being in love with them. If you have a reasonable relationship with your ex, this is an important message to share with your kids, who might find it confusing that you are able to be friendly together. It’s also an important distinction for kids to learn to make as they date and form relationships as adults.
  • Never give up on happiness. Many people find it is easy to sort of float along in an unhappy marriage until an event forces them to take action and then they realize they should have made a change a long time ago. It’s really important for your kids to know that they should create a life that brings them happiness and any situation they find themselves in that impairs happiness is something to consider changing. Don’t settle for less than you deserve is another way to put this.
  • The worst times always pass. This is a hard lesson for kids to learn because when they’re in the middle of something they see as just awful (a fight with a best friend, being grounded, or losing the championship) they often aren’t able to look past their momentary situation. Remind your kids that things always do get better and tomorrow is another day. Setbacks are never permanent.
  • You can survive almost anything that comes your way. Your divorce likely taught you resilience. It’s definitely an attribute that we gain as we age and work our way through life’s ups and downs, making it something tough for a kid to come by. However, simply telling your child that he really can get through even the hardest things will show him you have confidence in his inner strength and someday he’ll come to believe it too.
  • Life is all about change. Again, that’s hard to understand if you’re eight, or even sixteen, but helping your child see life as a series of changes and new experiences can help her be more open to the twists and turns she will face. It’s important to emphasize that each change you’ve faced has had up and down sides, but that you’ve tried to focus on the good aspects whenever possible.
  • Love is worth trying for. Some teens who have divorced parents act very jaded about relationships and profess that they don’t believe in love or marriage and there’s no point in trying. Even though your marriage ended, it’s important to tell your child you still believe in love and want him or her to find it someday.
  • Respect is the most important thing when dealing with other people. Even if you and your ex don’t always get along, if you’ve tried to be civil to each other, you’re showing your child that we owe respect to all the people we deal with, no matter what our disagreements or differences are.
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Use Mediation for Custody Disputes

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If you are going through a divorce or are having a custody or visitation dispute, mediation is an option you should consider. When you go to court, a judge who doesn’t know you or your children makes decisions about how you’re all going to share your time. The outcomes are usually pretty scripted without a lot of creativity. Mediation puts the power back into the hands of the parents.

How Mediation Works

In mediation, the parents meet with a neutral mediator (who usually has background as a lawyer or therapist). The mediator helps the two parents find solutions that work for their lives, instead of making those decisions for them as a judge would do. The mediator encourages you to look at the situation from all angles, think of possible solutions, and compromise to reach decisions that work for your family. If you have teens, the mediator may encourage them to participate in a session and express their opinions about the parenting schedule.

Why Choose Mediation

In addition to the fact that mediation gives you and the other parent the power to create a parenting plan that meets your individual needs, it also has other benefits. Mediation is less expensive than hiring attorneys and is almost always faster than a trial. Mediation helps you not only today but in the future as well. Because you learn conflict resolution skills, mediation prepares you to solve future disagreements on your own, so that you aren’t always running back to court to fight over who should have your child for Christmas each year. A key benefit of mediation is the flexibility it gives you to create unique solutions that meet your individual family’s needs.

Perhaps the most important reason to choose mediation is because it benefits your children. Parents who mediate are less angry with each other. Although they may disagree, they are committed to working together to finding a plan that will work for the family. Because of this, they experience less conflict and expose their children to less fighting. Parents who mediate demonstrate to their children that they respect the other parent and support the relationship that parent has with the child. Mediation generates a parenting plan that has what is best for the children as the primary concern. Parents are able to work around the kids’ schedules and activities and maximize time with both parents. Mediation also teaches your children an important lesson – that it is better to work out your problems than to fight about them.

How to Find a Mediator

Do an online search to locate your state or city mediation association. They will have a list of mediators in your area. You can also call your state or local bar association and ask for information. Once you get a list, call a few and ask some preliminary questions, such as what their credentials are and if they just do mediation or practice in other areas. Always schedule a free consultation to get a feel for the person and his or her style. Even if you are currently in the middle of an ongoing court case, you can put a hold on the proceedings and go see a mediator to determine if you can work the conflict out yourselves.

How to Be Successful in Mediation

Enter into mediation with as open a mind as possible. Obviously, you have a clear idea of what is acceptable to you and what isn’t when it comes to custody, but there may be some solutions you have not considered. Speak up about what you think and how you envision resolving the conflict. Meet with an attorney for a consultation before you go into mediation so that you completely understand what your rights are under your state’s laws – this helps you understand how a court might rule in your situation. Be patient. Don’t expect everything to be resolved in the first session. It takes time to talk through all the issues and possible solutions.

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