Effective Co-parent Communication: Controlling Impulses and Keeping the Kid(s) First

Siblings sit at the kitchen counter with their mother as she helps them with their reading.

Communication is probably the most important part of any type of relationship. Whether it’s a spouse, a coworker, a friend, or a family member, effective communication is one of the foundational keys to success in any human interaction.

Of course, it’s no secret that communication can be difficult, even in the smoothest of relationships. But communication in a relationship that has already been strained or severed? It’s enough to make anyone want to hide under the covers. Add to that, a child whose specific need is to know and be raised by both parents, and now we’re tasked with the responsibility of difficult communication to support the well-being of a child. With stakes so high, it’s certainly worth taking a deeper look.

It’s important to understand that in co-parenting, we often show up with two personas: partner and parent. In the partner role, we are having to interact with a former partner, and there may be a history of wrong-doings in that version of the relationship. That history then carries over into the new version of the relationship. The impulses, triggers, communication styles, and patterns now show up in this new version of the relationship. Not something anyone who voluntarily sign up for. But with some practice, we can strengthen the parent role, heal and redefine the partner in us.

OurFamilyWizard's Divorce Communication Tools are a great place to start improving communication, and you can build a solid foundation for healthy communication with a handful of tools. Below are 5 key tools for keeping the communication cool and effective with your former partner- and remembering that the well-being of the kid(s) always comes first.

Be aware of your own impulses

Take a look at your communication style. What is your impulse? Is it to get defensive? Do you start thinking about a response before the other person is even finished talking? Do you feel you need to be right, whatever the cost? Knowing our own impulses in communication with our co-parent can help us prevent them instead of having to clean up after them.

Be aware of your trigger points

What makes you boil? What makes you get defensive? Knowing our own personal trigger points can be helpful in effectively communicating with our co-parents. More times than not, our former partner also knows our trigger points. By recognizing them before and while they happen, we have control over our response, and it becomes less reactive. Awareness is key.

Limit the personalizing and internalizing

A lot of the time because our partner knows our triggers (i.e. being accused of being a bad parent or being called selfish) they will most likely happen in conversation. Don’t take it personally. This is no longer a "you vs. them" issue. It’s an "us vs. the problem" issue.

By removing the internalizing aspect of the communication cycle, we can reduce our defensiveness, our impulses, and our anger. It’s not all about you; disconnect from the personalizing and keep your focus on the content of the conversation.

Use solution-focused vs. blaming language

In general, people are more likely to listen to what we have to say when we are not using blaming language. Try not to start conversations with “you always” or “you never”. Be intentional and solution focused on your word choices: “what do you think about” or “would you be open to trying”. Remember that this is not about you and the co-parent. It’s about finding a solution that is in the best interest of the kid(s).

Always ask yourself “what is in the best interest of the kid(s)?”

Whenever you find yourself questioning your defensiveness, your internalizing or whether or not you are being defensive, come back to the question “what response is in the best interest of the kid(s)?” Not in the best interest of you or your former partner, or your mother in law—but the kids. If we can always have this as our intention testing question, then we know we will always be making decisions with the wellbeing of our little ones in mind.

At the end of the day, the only thing we can control is what we say, how we say it, how we let something affect us and what our intentions are. Building an awareness over your tendencies in communication with your former partner can help you to better manage the parts you can control. In addition, using tools that have been created specifically for effective, direct communication can help take some of the guesswork out of it.

Dr. Mae Casanova is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist working with families in the San Diego area.
Author's Bio:

Dr. Mae Casanova is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY28763) with a doctoral degree from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She has clinical experience in both the private and nonprofit sectors with adolescents, adults, couples, and families at multiple levels of care and in multiple roles. She also provides consulting services from a clinical perspective for startup companies and other professionals in the field. She considers herself a therapist, a growth coach, an objective, insightful colleague, a creator/implementer of systems that work and content that brings people together.