You Are Going to Disagree (Sometimes Strongly)
No matter how hard you try, it’s inevitable that you will have disagreements with your ex. Disagreements can get nasty and lead to fighting. We are human beings and it’s in our nature to gravitate to what is familiar to us. It’s easy to fall back into our old habits of arguing and fighting with our exes. There is one important point to remember when these situations arise, it is:
Do not provoke or engage in fighting, belittling, or name-calling with your ex in front of your children.
Don’t do it in person, and don’t do it on the phone. Fighting (non-violent) is going to happen, just don’t do it when your children are around; that is the key point. (It’s not going to help you too much even if the kids aren’t around.)
An Example Situation
You are helping the kids with their homework when the phone rings. It’s your ex calling, he read your email to him from earlier that day, and he’s angry that you are asking him to pay for half of your child’s school band outing. You respectfully let your ex know, that right now, you are sitting with the kids working on homework. You proceed with, “I understand you’re frustrated. I’m finishing up homework with the kids. Can I give you call back when we’re finished up?” Framing your response in this manner is both respectful, and the request (rather than telling them outright) to have the conversation later, maintains their feeling of situational control. If your ex is at all reasonable, they will understand the context of the situation and have enough respect for the children to agree to discuss later.
Your ex is still not satisfied, and continues indignantly stating that he “cannot believe you expect him to pay for this.” Now, you should follow up (maintaining a respectful tone of voice) with, “I will not have this conversation right now. I am working on homework with the kids; they are right here with me now. I will call you back when we’re finished… in about a half-hour.” Hopefully, at this point your ex understands why it’s not a good time to have this discussion, agrees, and the call is ended.
If your ex is a buffoon, he will continue to chide and berate you, pressing you to engage in an argument right now. It’s time to disengage from the conversation completely. If your ex still doesn’t understand why it’s a bad idea to have the discussion right now, there’s nothing more you’re going to say to get through. Interject something like, “The working with the kids right now. We can discuss this later. I’ll call you back in a half-hour.” Then, hang up the phone.
If your ex continues to call you back, do not pick up. Disconnect or shut-off your phone and finish up with the kids. When you do finish up the kids and they are no longer an audience, call your ex back to argue and fight all you’d like. Your ex will likely be angry that you hung up on them and/or that you didn’t pick up subsequent calls. That’s their problem, not yours. You were respectful; they were not respectful of you or your children.
Just like disciplining a child, your ex will learn where your boundaries are and their behavior will adjust accordingly. They will know the limits they can push you to before you will disengage. They will learn that if they do not show you with the same level of respect that you show them, they will not get anywhere. Just like disciplining a child, you must be clear and consistent. Not once, can you waver in, or abandon your resolve to be treated with respect. In time, they will learn.
The Cooling Period – Then Move On
You will need to learn to make a judgement calls about how you will handle future interactions with your ex. Do you hold on to the residual anger left over from the last time you and your ex fought, or do you let it go and move on? Do you realize that you were in the wrong, and apologize? Do you pick up where you left off last time? Do you wait for your ex to make the next move? What will it be? What factors will influence how you will handle your next interaction?
I have found that disassociating with the last fight or negative interaction is often the best way to move forward. If you were wrong, you absolutely must acknowledge it. Put your pride aside and apologize if you need to. You don’t necessarily need to back down from the position or viewpoint that you had previously defended, but if you acted poorly, if you lost your cool, at least apologize for your bad behavior. View the last interaction as an isolated event, and resolve to move forward from it. Do it for your child’s sake.
You will find that there is an ebb-and-flow in your relationship with your ex that includes periods of tolerance and intolerance. You will learn to read their queues and they will learn to read yours. To this very day, my ex and I will have the occasional contentious interaction (away from the kids of course). A few days will pass and it will be necessary for us to communicate regarding the kids schedule or the like, and it seems as though the prior incident never even occurred. We both know it’s not worth it to rehash the previous discussion unless it’s of the utmost importance.