When you are divorced with children there is no getting out of having to communicate with your ex. I’m sure sometimes you wish that you never had to speak to him again, but that’s not going to happen – so it’s time to deal with reality.
Today we are going to talk about how to have a productive, civil phone conversation with your ex. I have found that phone conversations are often more volatile than in person talks.
The phone provides that layer of “safety”. We are more inclined to say things we wouldn’t say in person – plus we can delude ourselves that our kids are not “hearing” this conversation, so we tend to just let it fly.
Here are 5 common mistakes that we make when having that phone conversation that often leave us either in tears or wanting to pull our hair out.
It doesn’t matter what triggers it – your child making an innocent remark about daddy’s new “friend” or that he let them stay up way too late. The end result is you are steaming mad – steam actually coming out of your ears, your heart racing, your blood pressure sky high.
Your first instinct is to pick up that phone and give him a piece of your mind. Please don’t. Nothing good or productive will come of it.
Instead follow the 24 hour rule. Do not mention it to your ex for 24 hours. Go outside and pull weeds, punch a pillow, anything but pick up that phone. If possible have no contact with him during that time.
After the 24 hours, ask yourself “How important is it?” If you can let it go and move on – do so. If you still feel the issue needs to be addressed you can now address the real concerns you have without coming off as a screaming banshee.
Accepting an Invitation to a Fight
There will be times when your ex “angry dials” you – there is nothing you can do about that, but you can control your reaction.
I remember once my phone rang and I answered and said “hello”. What I got in return was nothing but a minute long rant being spewed from the receiver which ended with my ex hanging up.
I literally didn’t even say a word. I practically had to sit on my hands to keep myself from calling back and asking “what the f# @&?”
Most of the time you won’t be so lucky, the hurting and angry person on the other end of the line wants you to react, to engage in this fight. This is where the STOP phrases come in handy. “Sorry you feel that way”, “That’s your opinion”, “Oh”, and “Perhaps you are right”.
The last one is my personal favorite – it kind of stops him in his tracks. If you just keep repeating these lines in any appropriate combination, one of two things will happen. He will get frustrated and hang up or he will calm down.
If he hangs up, you can be proud that you did not play a part in escalating this fight. If he calms down, you can either catch your breath and let the negativity you were barraged with dissipate and continue the conversation or take a small break (say you have to pee or something) if you need to center yourself even more and then continue the conversation.
Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall
Your ex has issues (we all do). There are things you disagree about, things he does differently than you, things he believes that you don’t, maybe a different parenting style. You couldn’t change him when you were married. Guess what? It’s not going to happen now either.
Do yourself a favor and stop trying. It only frustrates you and destroys your peace of mind. Unless there is a real danger to your children (in which case you should be seeking legal advice), let it go.
You don’t want to walk around with a bruised forehead from that wall do you? You no longer have the power to knock it down (you probably never did). It may come down one day on its own, but it won’t be because of your lectures.
I do not mean that you can’t get into your jeans. I am talking about your state of mind and making sure none of the following are affecting your good sense and attitude before you pick up the phone.
- Are you in pain? Do you have a headache, a stomachache, any ailment? P can also stand for PMSing. Either way, it is probably not a good time to try to have a productive conversation.
- Are you hungry? This is a big one for me. If I am hungry I become really cranky and you do not want to be around me until I’ve had some food.
- Are you angry? I’m not just talking about being angry with your ex, but are you angry at your boss, the rude driver on the ride home, anybody?
- Are you tired? If you are tired it affects your ability to concentrate and to be rational. A conversation will probably leave you feeling overwhelmed.
So before picking up the phone, check for these feelings and try to correct them beforehand. If your ex is calling you, do a quick check and if you find something that needs to be corrected, don’t answer – call him back after you have eaten or taken a nap.
Now, I know there will be times when you have to answer (when your kids are with him and it could be an emergency, etc). If that is the case, do a quick check and if you find a PHAT, take a breath, try to center yourself and pick up the phone. Just know that you are not at your best.
If possible, once you know it is not an emergency try to put off the conversation until later after you have taken care of you.
I know sometimes it can be tempting to get in our little jabs when we see an opening, but try to resist. The consequence it has on your relationship with your ex and therefore on the well-being of your children is just not worth it.
So, say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. This might take a little practice. It’s ok to rehearse in advance. Go ahead and talk to yourself in the mirror. Most of the time it won’t go exactly as planned, but you still will be ahead of the game.
The most important thing to remember is that while it might take two to tango, you only have control over yourself. You can only change your way of interacting with your ex.
At first it might seem unfair – you’re trying to be civil and he is continuing to be hostile, etc. But don’t give up. Give it some time. Be proud of yourself for all the changes you are making to create more peace for yourself and your children.
Change what you can control, let go of what you can’t.