Dear Dr. Jann: My ex and I can’t talk to each other. Our break-up was really nasty and someone suggested we only communicate by email or text. But her text messages are really awful which makes it difficult when we exchange the kids. What can we do?
Dr. Jann says: When a divorced couple comes into my office telling me they can’t talk to each other, I hesitate suggesting text messages or email. Actually, email is the less of the two evils and sometimes necessary when couples think they can’t communicate, but relying on text messages is really asking for trouble. First, they are short and can sound argumentative even though they are not intended to be. Consider the question, “Where are you?” If you are in love and dating, “Where are you?” can mean, “I miss you. Please hurry.” When you are at odds, “Where are you?” can mean, “You’re late again, you ^%$#&, and I’m really sick of it,” and the fight is on. (Not the best if you are exchanging kids and they can hear or sense the animosity you have for their other parent. And, no, if it is ongoing, they will not get over it. ) Ultimtately, the best way to communicate is to talk–where someone can hear the inflections in your voice and understand your true meaning.
When communicating with an ex, it’s best keep the discussion to “about the kids” and not about the past or who did what to whom. I always suggest battling parents approach each other in a business like manner. In other words, if you were at work and you had to interact with a coworker you didn’t like, you wouldn’t openly fight with him or her because you might loose your job. You would look for ways to cooperate. You try not to push their buttons. You do your job and then go home. It’s the same premise when communicating with an ex who gets under your skin. Just talk about what is necessary–the kids. Look for ways to cooperate—for the kids. Do your job and move on.
That’s when angry divorced parents really turn up the heat. “You don’t understand,” they say. “My ex was the worst ex anyone could ever have and I never want to speak to him (or her) again.” And, there lies the key to why you can’t talk to each other. You don’t want to. You are stuck in the anger, revenge, or jealousy and can’t get past it. Meanwhile the kids are going back and forth between houses.
There are, of course, terrible stories of abuse and in those cases, its understandable that communication is stained. It is also questionable in those cases if it is in the best interest of the children to go back and forth between homes.
Try to remember this: You are now forging a new relationship as co-parents. It is not an extension of the relationship that didn’t’ work. Because you were not good at being partners does not mean you cannot be good co-parents. You can. Do your job.