Co-Parenting: How to Form a Productive Relationship With Your Ex

You’ve ended your marriage and are interested in keeping things positive with your ex. Starting the process is always the hardest part. Luckily, the amicable divorce movement is gaining ground, and other people just like you are actively working toward mutually beneficial splits. But, what do you do if you’re having trouble bridging the gap between your hurt feelings from the end of your marriage and moving into a positive future?

Remember: a shared commitment to doing what’s best for your kids helps shield kids from the negative effects of divorce.

“I knew that nothing mattered more to Nikki and me than our son’s happiness, health, and well-being and that we’d do anything to make sure divorce didn’t hurt him” ~Ben Heldfond, Our Happy Divorce 

Successful co-parenting is based on the question: what is best for the kids? If you can check your ego at the door and focus on this, a productive co-parenting relationship with your ex is possible. 

5 Secrets of a Productive Relationship With Your Ex

Leave Your Ego at the Door

When a relationship ends, there are usually bruised egos on both sides. When it came to doing what was best for their son, Asher, co-authors and co-parents Nikki DeBartolo and Ben Heldfond were able to check their egos at the door, which was definitely an uphill battle that took a lot of time and patience. 

Ben and Nikki explain in their book, Our Happy Divorce, “We were sure that we could make it work—we just had to sacrifice every last shred of pride, ego, fear, control, and selfishness in ourselves.” 

Practice Forgiveness – For Your Ex and Yourself

Leaving your ego at the door is easier when you make a commitment to forgive both yourself and your ex for your roles in the divorce. Forgiving your ex doesn’t happen overnight, but holding a grudge will only fuel your ego and get in the way of co-parenting. 

It’s important to focus on empathy and patience when approaching your ex. Making this your natural response to interacting with your ex may take time, but you’ll get there. Try incorporating these practices into your interactions:

  1. Start talking. Whether it’s in person or a phone call, simply make the first step and reach out. Stick to the specific question or need the kids have, and try to keep the emotions about the ending of the relationship at bay. 
  2. Remain neutral. Assume your ex has a positive intent in what they say and do. This assumption helps you avoid criticizing, over-analyzing, and blaming them.
  3. Write a letter. Sometimes it helps to get all your feelings out, even if no one hears them or reads them except for you. Be open and honest in this letter owning your part in the end of your marriage, and your ex’s. 
  4. Embrace your freedom. Sharing custody with your co-parent means you’ll consistently have time to yourself. Find a hobby or activity you love as a way to look forward to this time.
  5. Find your tribe. Whether it’s through therapy, dinners with friends or online communities, build a support system. 

In addition to forgiving your ex, it’s also important to look inwards. Address any feelings of personal guilt you have over the divorce. This is where your support system or writing a letter of forgiveness to yourself can help.  

“Realizing I was accountable for who I was in every way and that I still needed to examine some gaping holes in myself was a tough process.” ~ Ben Heldfond

Communicate Openly

Co-parenting requires a high level of communication with your ex. The ages and maturity levels of your kids, as well as factors like school, sports and activities, will all influence the amount of communication that’s required. 

Depending on your relationship with your ex, this communication may occur face-to-face. Ben and Nikki have weekly family dinners with their blended families. This allows them to show their son, Asher, a united front. 

If that feels like too much for you, there are many co-parenting apps that include messaging services, shared calendars and financial tracking. Relying on a neutral third party, like an app, can sometimes remove the stress of communicating with each other so you can focus on the decisions at-hand. 

Set Boundaries

One of the secrets to successful communication with your ex is setting boundaries. By keeping things business-like between the two of you, you can avoid hurt feelings and begin to move forward with your own life. It’s okay to not respond right away when your ex reaches out about the kids, especially if you’re feeling angry or disappointed. Wait until you can focus completely on what’s best for the kids. 

An easy way to set boundaries is to use your custody schedule as a guide. Instead of communicating non-stop, use that transition time when your kids move from one house to the other to touch base with your ex, address any parenting issues that came up while you had custody, and confirm certain details about the schedule ahead. 

Accept Your Ex For Who They Are

Good, bad and ugly, you and your ex are still joined together as long as you are raising kids together. The sooner you can accept them for who they are, the easier co-parenting will be. Many of the same issues that contributed to your divorce will still be present as you co-parent. 

Practicing empathy and forgiveness will help you overcome these frustrations. Again, keep your focus strictly on the kids and what’s best for them. Don’t respond out of anger. Focus on collaborating, not competing. All of these things will make co-parenting easier and help avoid many of the negative effects of divorce on kids. 

Co-parenting is becoming the norm in blended families, but that doesn’t make it the natural choice. Successful co-parenting takes work, and a little help from the people who’ve gone before you. There are many co-parenting blogs, podcasts, Facebook communities, books and even Pinterest boards to help you find the support and tips you need to be the best co-parent you can. 

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