Clearing Up Communication

Communicating with your former partner is probably not on the top of your list of things you feel like doing.  For ex-couples with shared parenting obligations, keeping lines of communication open with your co-parent will become a necessary aspect of your life post-split.  Even if your time as a couple was rather combative and full of arguments, now is when you should take a different angle in the way you choose to communicate with each other in order to make things as painless as possible.  Since you must continue to have some communication, now is the time to try and put an end to the anger and stress you experience when speaking to one another.

Clearing up communication with your co-parent doesn’t mean you have to learn to speak a whole new language. Instead, you should just take a closer look at the way you communicate currently and find the areas which could use improvement. Written communication gives you an opportunity to review what you’re about to say before you actually say it.  Try and isolate most of your communication to a secure medium so you can keep an accurate record of what was actually said.  Take your time when writing messages in order to keep them as concise and as brief as possible.  You should also not start writing a message if you are in a particularly angry mood.  Allow yourself some time to calm your mood and think things over, then come back and write your message.

When reviewing your message before sending, take a look at your grammar and punctuation.  Have you written this message using all capital letters?  Have you used question marks, exclamation points or emoticons inappropriately or more than what's necessary?  Have you chosen to bold or underline text?  If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, know that the actual point of your message is likely to be lost underneath these intense style choices.  If you want to have your message read and responded to, take a moment to edit any frivolous items out of your message.  This will certainly make the point of your message much more apparent and clearly defined.

After you’ve taken a look at grammar and punctuation, consider your overall tone and phrasing.  Word choice can make or break the tone of a conversation, and making a poor choice can turn a simple conversation on its head into a confrontation that could have been avoided. Try thinking about it like this: how would you talk to your boss or co-worker?  What words or phrases would you avoid in an email about a meeting at work?  Treat messages to your co-parent just the same with the same care.  Also, be careful not to fill your message with accusations or complaints. If you have a complaint you absolutely feel you need to make, try phrasing it in a way that speaks to the way that you are feeling.  Starting it off with, “I feel like…” or “I sense that…,” will come off as less aggressive but still get your point across in a calm manner.  While a phrase like this may be appropriate in a message every once in a while, reserve them for only when absolutely necessary.  If your grievance is rather large or intense, save it first for a conversation with your attorney or a family law professional. They can help you decide what is the best way to communicate your issue to your co-parent.

Once you feel about ready to send your message, give it one more proofread.  You are in control of your communication only before it is sent; once sent, your co-parent will receive it as they will.  A message that is carefully drafted in a neutral tone is more likely to interpret as such and not initiate conflict. One tool that can help you to access your message is called ToneMeter™ offered in the OurFamilyWizard® message board. ToneMeter™ will analyse the content of each message you compose, flag any emotionally-charged phrases, and offer feedback as to how your tone may be received by the other parent. This will give you a chance to reframe the tone of those phrases before sending. If you feel that you need a second opinion on your message, talk to someone such as your attorney, therapist or another trusted professional for advice.  Once you start putting this type of communicating into practice, you should begin feeling more confident and less tense in your interactions with your co-parent.