­By Guest Blogger Camila Dos Santos, M.Ed., HRI Program Coordinator

The Healthy Relationships Initiative promotes happy, healthy, and safe relationships of all kinds and provides resources for marriages in distress. But when divorce is the healthiest way forward, how do ex-spouses become effective co-parents?

Divorced parents know that the real work truly begins after the divorce, when ex-spouses must overcome the challenges they experienced in their relationship and find a way to work together to raise their children. As difficult as co-parenting can be, when it is done well and with intention, there are major benefits for children.

In fact, there are many long-term positives for children in healthy co-parenting situations, such as enhanced self-esteem, positive behavioral and school outcomes, an ability to maintain strong bonds with both parents, and the ability to develop healthy attachments with potential stepparents in the future.

It’s important to note, however, that there are circumstances where healthy co-parenting is not possible. When chances for unhealthy conflict are high, learning the difference between parallel parenting and co-parenting may be useful in helping ex-partners decide which works best for their current situation.

Parents who are ready to embark on a co-parenting journey together should acknowledge that healthy communication is the most important piece of healthy co-parenting. But how can divorced couples have healthy communication when most couples who divorce cite having problems with communicating?

While it can seem like a bit of a paradox, healthy communication amongst ex-spouses is possible. Co-parents can remember the following strategies to encourage healthy and intentional conversations about their children:

1. Before beginning the conversation, acknowledge together that the point of the conversation is to talk about the children. Decide what needs to be discussed in advance and agree to end the conversation when that goal is accomplished.

2. Agree to refrain from discussing relationship issues or exploring other areas of potential conflict. This is not the time to discuss why you are upset with your ex-spouse, or to remind them that they forget to do a particular task. Doing so can cloud the purpose of the conversation and make it difficult to be productive.

3. Stick to that agreement regardless of what the other person does. In any relationship, we only have control over our own behavior. No matter how difficult it can be when the other person doesn’t stick to the agreed topic of discussion, do not let that influence your role in the conversation. Instead, gently remind the other person that the purpose of the conversation is to accomplish a particular goal regarding the children and suggest revisiting it later if your ex-partner is unable to switch directions at that time. Sometimes it’s best to walk away from the conversation and try again later, rather than getting off-topic and possibly introducing or revisiting conflict.

4. Consider where your relationship is with your ex-spouse and don’t be afraid to change your communication strategies based on the status of your relationship. Some couples may need to adopt different methods of communication early in the divorce when emotions are high, such as communicating via email or text, while other couples may be able to communicate face-to-face or via phone with minimal issues. Being honest with what you can handle in terms of communicating with your ex can help to prevent miscommunications and negative interactions.

5. Aim to have important discussions about the children away from the children. While you may update them later on the things they need to know, they probably don’t need to hear the details of how you both came to a particular decision. Keeping the kids out of these conversations when they are happening also helps you both stay focused and on task if and when conversations become emotional.

Co-parents who are intentional about communicating with respect are more likely to have conversations about their children that are productive and positive in nature. When both parties can put the children at the heart of each discussion, refrain from discussing relationship issues, and remain flexible about how they communicate, the children are more likely to adjust to their new normal after a divorce.

Read more on the topic of Supporting Children Through Different Stages of Divorce here.

For tips on healthy co-parenting after divorce, check out our HRI Relationship Booster on Effective Co-Parenting After Divorce.

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