BEALOR: Talking to our co-parent: We can all do better!
Talking together when you are not a couple can be hard. We know it is frustrating to be told, “talk to each other,” when talking does not seem to work. We have all been there. What starts as a simple conversation with our co-parent can sometimes escalate into an argument.
The good news is that we all can do better. There are several communication techniques that you may want to try the next time you and your co-parent talk. Give them a try, make them your own, and see what happens.
MAKE A PLAN. It is important to spend some time thinking about why we need to talk and what we hope the outcome will be as a result of talking. We do not want to let our emotions hijack our ability to productively communicate with our co-parent. So, before talking to our co-parent, we need to get our emotions in check.
FIND THE RIGHT TIME TO TALK. We need to pick a good time to talk. We should not try to have a conversation when we are in a hurry, we are actively dealing with other matters, or we are in high stress situations.
SET OUR EXPECTATIONS. Be realistic. Think about whether we are talking to exchange information or to reach agreement about some action we or the other parent will take. We should think about how we would respond if the other parent were making the same request. Think about how we will react if the other parent does not agree with us. Will it be the end of the world? Can we agree to disagree? Is there a possible compromise?
LISTEN MORE THAN TALKING. We need to be curious about what the other parent is saying and how they are experiencing things. Listen to better understand. Do not assume. Do not build our understanding of what is being said based on our last disagreement. Do not latch on to words and begin developing our response without hearing out the other parent. We do not want to jump to the wrong conclusion. We can show understanding by making empathetic statements like, “that sounds ‘X’” or “I had no idea you were feeling that way” or “I am glad you shared your thoughts about this.”
BE PREPARED TO APOLOGIZE IF THE CONVERSATION GETS HEATED. Good communication requires honesty. We have to be honest about when we mess up. If we get too emotional during a conversation or take things more personally than we should, we can and should admit our mistakes. We all make mistakes when we talk to other people. By admitting our mistakes, it can create trust and make future communication easier.
ALLOW FOR THE POSSIBILITY THAT THE OTHER PERSON MAY BE RIGHT. We may not agree with our co-parent. We can be open minded about there being more than one opinion and show this by saying, “You may be right.”
KEEP TALKING. Some co-parents give up before they have given themselves the opportunity to have productive conversations. Communication is a skill. It takes practice. Let’s give ourselves and the other parent the benefit of the doubt. Consider the possibility that we may have to talk to one another many times before we get good at it.
REMEMBER THAT OUR CHILDREN ARE WATCHING. Our children watch everything we do. Do we want our children talking to other people the way we talk to our co-parent? We have the power to change what we do and how we do it. We can do better. So even if our communication with our co-parent has never been good, we can try again. By continuing to try, we set an example for our children that good communication is worth the effort.
Sometimes it is helpful to get communication ideas. A great resource was developed by the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts called the “Co-Parenting Communication Guide.”
If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol Bealor is the director at the Cass County Friend of the Court.
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