With the kids in school and the holidays coming up, their schedules are probably packed with sports, activities, plays, and other events. Your calendar likely overflows with places to be. If you’re co-parenting with an ex, these events can be a minefield of stress and anxiety.
Coming face to face with your ex is no one’s favorite thing, but when raising kids, it’s a fact of life.
Emotions and conflict often become overwhelming. But these events are important to your kids and it’s equally important not to ruin them.
There are no sure-fire ways to avoid every possible conflict with your ex. There are, however, steps to take to minimize the friction and help everyone enjoy these moments.
Keep it Strictly Business
If you have kids, you know your relationship with your ex didn’t end the day the divorce was final. Navigating the co-parenting relationship can be tricky and full of tension. For couples that don’t see eye-to-eye, keeping things strictly business can save you a lot of grief.
Treating your ex as a business associate can help you channel your most professional self.
Much like at work, when your boss or a co-worker gets under your skin, you can keep your cool and rely on formalities to maintain your composure.
Approach interactions with your ex the same way. Keep emotions out of the conversation. This allows you to remain civil even in situations that might otherwise inflame emotions.
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Business relationships thrive on effective and efficient communication. If your ex is difficult to communicate with, establishing communication etiquette can keep your conversations on course.
One of the foundations of effective communication is being a good listener. Try to hear what your ex is saying by paying attention and focusing on the conversation. Be patient and ask questions to clarify anything that’s unclear. This is of course easier said than done, but well worth the effort.
Listening to what your ex says also gives you clues to where the conversation might head. If you think it will end poorly, politely excuse yourself before the situation escalates.
Stay on topic
Keep the conversation in neutral territory. Focus on your child or any other topic that will keep the exchange casual and friendly. (Or at least polite if friendly is too much of a stretch.)
Try talking about topics that are in the moment, like the venue, the weather, or whatever event you’re both attending. Talk about what brought you there. Avoid discussions about the past or even the future. This helps keep contentious subjects off the table for the time being.
Avoid hot topics
Hot topics should be avoided at all costs. This includes anything that will escalate into a heated argument or cause emotions to boil over.
Prior to the event where you will see your ex, make a list of the topics that should be sidestepped. Think about subjects that always led to fights before. Avoid them like the plague. Then create an exit strategy for leaving the conversation with dignity if they do come up in conversation.
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Be nice at Events
Like Patrick Swayze’s character, Dalton, says in Road House, “Be nice.” Sometimes it’s just that simple. Maybe not easy, but simple.
Your ex probably knows the exact buttons to push to get a reaction from you. If this happens, channel your inner Dalton and make “Be nice” your mantra. By refusing to be anything but nice, you set the tone and the standard for your interactions throughout the event. (And maybe don’t focus on the part of the movie where Dalton rips the guy’s throat out.)
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Practice, Practice, Practice
Preparation is important for many facets of life. Running into your ex at your child’s soccer game, play, debate match, or another event probably isn’t high on your list of favorite things.
But since it will probably happen, it’s important to prepare.
You know this person well and can tell when things are going south. Have a plan in place to avoid tense topics, change the subject, or get out of an escalating situation if necessary.
What does your ex say that always gets under your skin? Practice how to respond to frequent topics that cause tension should they arise. Have an appropriate response prepared. This can help you smooth over interactions, maintain your composure, and stay focused on enjoying your child’s event.
Dealing with an ex is never fun. Even if you left things on reletively good terms. These are just a few suggestions to help you survive those moments when they do happen.
And remember, beneath all of this, it’s not about you, it’s about your kids. You’re an adult, you can deal with uncomfortable situations for a short amount of time. Do what you need to do in order to keep things civil for your children. These moments can be huge in their lives, don’t mess it up for everyone.
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