“I just wanted to know if the kids got to school okay, so I texted to ask. When I didn’t get a response–for hours–yeah, I blew up. What else was I supposed to do?”
When couples divorce, the loss of trust devastates their ability to communicate. Shared lingo disappears. Parents attribute the worst motives to the other parent. They consider ranting the best option for getting what they want. When that doesn’t work–they throw up their hands and blame each other.
Effect? Issues unresolved and parents furious.
So, how do you create a new path?
Use the formula.
Though it can feel artificial and stilted–this tried and true formula moves parents out of the downward spiral of arguing and onto a path toward shared agreements and final decisions. When you face a difficult discussion. frame your statements as:
I feel _____ when you _____ because _____ . Could you please _____ ?
Using this formula, the parent in the opening scenario would approach the other parent with, “I felt stressed when you failed to let me know if the children got to school okay because last week they had left several school things at your house. Their teachers docked points from their grades, and the girls were mortified. On your days to drop off, could you please text me right after you drop off to let me know that everything is good or if there is a concern. That helps me address any problems so the girls don’t feel so stressed having to keep track of their school work from two different houses.”
- I feel–With this opener, you take ownership of your communication. People shut down when they sense an attack. When you open the conversation with owning your feelings, you invite the other parent to join solving a problem rather than feel attacked or blamed.
- When you–offers a statement of very concrete, specific actions. Nothing more is needed. Do not make assumptions about why the other person acted as they did. If your assumptions are right, it won’t help. If assumptions are wrong, it won’t help even more. And, honestly, the likelihood of being at least partially wrong is high.
- Because–again specificity is key. A very short, specific reason helps provide context for the concern and why it takes both parents to resolve.
- Could you please–invites the other parent to join in resolving the issue for the sake of creating a better situation for the children. The request should be reasonable, concrete, and measurable. This helps protect against future ill-feelings if the other parent does what he/she thought was being asked but still misses the your core concerns. “Please text me right after you drop them off” is specific and measurable. “Let me know if it went okay” leaves room for hours of delay and the response may be by phone, text, via children, or carrier pigeon.
If the other person is especially prone to turning discussions into disagreements, concrete statements framed by this format are your best ally. The clarity helps parents work together. And, when parents work together–children thrive.