Conflict is a part of life, whether you're dealing with your ex, your children, or your extended family. Instead of wishing it away or deciding that you simply can't work together, learn how to deal with child custody conflict in a way that's productive and healthy.
Differentiate Typical Conflict from Serious Conflict
You and your ex aren't going to agree on everything. To a certain extent, that's to be expected.
So don't be too quick to say, "This won't work. We can't co-parent because we can't even talk." In situations where both parents were involved in their kids' lives before the separation or divorce, skills for coping with everyday conflicts can usually be learned. And what's more, getting to the point where you can genuinely collaborate with your ex will help your kids maintain an ongoing relationship with both of you—an important part of their own healing.
Spend some time visualizing how you want to handle various situations with your ex. For example:
- When your ex comes to the door... What thoughts and attitudes do you want to have in your mind before he or she comes to pick up the kids? What will help you to maintain a peaceful, courteous front for those few minutes?
- When your ex sends you a negative text message... How will you respond, if at all? And moving forward, how can you establish boundaries with your ex, such as reserving text messages for emergencies only?
- When your ex makes you angry... How will you process your emotions so they don't linger at the forefront of your mind? Is there a friend you can speak with? How about journaling? Taking steps to process your feelings will help you feel more empowered the next time you see your ex.
Consider Your Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
Processing custody-related conflict isn't just about what you say, it also comes down to how, when, and where you say it.
Use these tips to communicate more effectively:
- Choose your words carefully. You may be tempted to blurt out every thought that comes to mind, especially if you feel your ex has disregarded your perspective in the past. However, it's important to consider your words carefully and ensure that when you speak you stay on topic. Don't resurrect an old argument when he or she comes to drop off the kids. In situations where you need to discuss something essential, like your custody arrangement or visitation schedule, make an appointment when you can speak freely without the kids. If possible, meet in a public place for a limited amount of time.
- Consider your tone. Have you gotten into the habit of speaking neutral words in a harsh, negative tone? Try to remove the emotion from your voice and speak to your ex as if he or she were a co-worker. Because, essentially, that's the relationship you have now that you're working together to raise your kids.
- Use body language to your advantage. Don't forget to be intentional with your body language, too. Standing up tall demonstrates competence and confidence and makes it a lot harder for your ex to put you down or dismiss your words.
Finally, as you work through child custody conflict with your ex, remember that he or she is and always will be your children's other parent. Try to maintain a long-range view of what you hope to accomplish and realize that getting there will require many baby steps. Even when you experience setbacks, you can be confident that you're making progress and that the effort is worth the result for your children.