With divorced and single parent families ever-increasing across Australia we are pleased to provide information to support this unique and sometimes challenging family structure. Whether you are in this particular dynamic or not this article from Trish Everett has great communication advice for us all… Welcome Trish!
5 Secrets to Co-parent Communication
Jagged rock pushes into my thighs as I sit in a huff, crying. I look over the blue grey seas in front of me, they mirror the identically coloured clouds above. I have just had one of “those” conversations with my ex about our kids that went really badly. As I sit feeling the jaggedness, the anger and the tears, I reflect on how communicating with my co-parent can be such a challenge.
So if I am the one sitting out on the cliffs in a huff after a bad run in with my ex, what can I possibly share with you?
And there it is, secret number one:
It is a work in progress
We are never going to get it right all the time. It will never be perfect and there is going to be lots of communication over the years that just, well, sucks! There are two really cool things about this secret. The first thing is that where your communication with your ex is right now is a great starting point. The second helpful thing about this is that our co-parents have a special ability to push buttons that no-one else can. And why is that helpful? I hear you say — because it is such a great learning ground. If you can learn to communicate with your ex then you will learn to communicate better with everyone, including your kids.
But they walk in the room, press your buttons, and it feels like someone has just poured petrol all over you and there is nothing left to do but light a match and Whoosh. And this is where secret number 2 comes in.
You have the power to centre yourself
For a lot of co-parents the idea of talking to their ex is stressful, then they turn up and your body has the stress response kicking in, and they start talking and you start reacting and you don’t feel safe anymore. Your body chemistry thinks there is a tiger in the room with you. And most of us don’t talk with tigers, we either run from them or we fight them. So at this point our body chemistry is all wrong for having a conversation. You have the power to change this. You can get your body to kick in the relaxation response. One really effective way to do this is to breath like a relaxed person. Nice deep breaths. The brain thinks, wow, they are breathing like they are relaxed, the tiger must have gone and then it changes your brain chemistry to suit.
It is not always possible to do this in real-time. Sometimes the brain won’t be convinced. So now we are on to secret number 3.
Boundaries are a kindness
There are times when you need to say, “no, I am too stirred up to talk about this right now”. This is a boundary. A boundary is also saying, “no, I can’t do that”, when you really don’t want to do that. It is also thinking “hey, I see that you are upset, and I know that is unpleasant, and I don’t have to take that on”. Finding new boundaries as co-parents is a way to emotionally divide your lives. And for those not used to this, it can feel unkind. I truly believe that setting your boundaries with truth and clarity is a kindness. And this goes both ways. What is theirs is theirs and what is yours is yours. With good boundaries there is no need for you to blame them. You can take responsibility for your own feelings.
5 secrets of communication and as yet we haven’t spoken a word. I better tell you secret number 4.
Communication can build trust and rapport
I am a coach and I teaching coaching skills to single parents. These skills are all about building trust and rapport. Imagine if you could have conversations that build trust and rapport with your ex. The 3 core communication skills for coaches are listening, reflecting and open-ended questions.
Listening is about listening mindfully and trying your best not to take it personally. Sometimes this can mean listening for what they are really trying to say, not just the blame filled words coming out of their mouth.
Reflecting is kind of odd at first. It is where you reflect back to the person what they just said. In conversations with your co-parent it can be helpful to tell them what you are hearing, to show you understand and acknowledge them, to get clarity, and it is also a really neat way to pause if you are about to react.
“I’m annoyed that you are late!” they say
“Oh, you are annoyed that I am late. I see that,” you say.
Open-ended questions are also really useful. Closed questions are often making an assumption whereas open-ended questions promote openness. See how different these two questions can feel “do you like being late?” Or “what happened to make you late?” One kind of question takes you to a dead-end, the other to a door.
These are helpful skills for hearing them, building a communication relationship where they can feel safe. And what about communicating what you want? This is secret number five.
You are allowed to and can have your needs met
I don’t know if I missed a single parent memo somewhere but I have never seen written anywhere that single parents can’t have what they need. But there is also something about the grief, the guilt and that trapped feeling of solo parenting that can have us persuading ourselves of that. I see 3 big things getting in the way of having your needs met, not feeling like you are worthy, not knowing what they are and not knowing how to ask for them.
Please believe that you are worthy. I truly think that you are.
Start to get clear on what you need, until you are clear, you can’t ask for it.
Ask, and if you can, try not to demand it.
So, I stood up from that rocky seascape and I went and saw my co-parent. I felt centered, in my head I had cleared up what was mine and what was his. I went and said to him “I feel really yuck about how that last conversation went, would you be up for talking more?”
“Yes “ he responds.
“How are you feeling about it?” I ask as I settle into listening in a nice comfy chair as the clouds above part, revealing sun stroked blue. And the work in progress continues….
About the Author: Trish Everett is an educator and coach who specialises in helping single parents to regain their personal power and find the freedom they didn’t know they could have. For 17 years she has been supporting people in developing their personal power. She has worked as a school principal and is now a university lecturer and a single mother of two girls. Be sure to visit her website.