Usually when you break up with someone the two of you walk away and stay out of contact. That’s what’s easiest for a lot of people. But if you’re divorced parents you don’t have the luxury of cutting someone out of your life. You still need to talk with each other regularly about kids and routines. And that can be extremely challenging, especially when there have been hurt feelings.
Mental health expert Dr. Charles Figley of Tulane University and author of Families Under Fire says divorce can be extremely traumatizing for families. It’s not a wonder former spouses have such difficulty communicating with each other. But there are a few things you can do to improve your relationship with your spouse, at least to the point where you can function together and move forward in your new lives.
1. Remind yourself of what brought you two together in the first place. This may be hard at this point, but remember the things you loved about your former spouse. Think about what about your relationship you don’t want to lose. “Insert love, not hate,” Dr. Figley says. “Lead with the heart.”
2. Work on your stress management. You can’t control how your ex deals with stress. But you can prepare for a conversation by centering yourself.
3. Use a visual that helps you coach yourself through the conversation. Dr. Figley uses a lot of sports imagery, like a boxer in a ring who needs to keep her defenses up but doesn’t want to hurt the other fighter, either. You may want to come up with something else. But it helps to picture yourself in a particular role that symbolizes how you want your conversations to go.
4. Stay in the zone. Keep the focus on the objective of your conversation. Instead of thinking in terms of “problems,” think of challenges and solutions so you don’t get bogged down into feelings of hopelessness and frustration.
5. Listen carefully to what your former spouse is saying. You know those mirroring exercises, where you listen to what the other person says, and then you summarize that back to them to get confirmation that you understand them? It works.
6. Work on healing yourself. “It takes a long time to get un-wounded,” Dr. Figley says. Have patience as you go through the healing process