Improving communication with your ex


When a relationship breaks down, often it's because communication has been a problem between the couple.

So when faced with having to find compromises and resolve differences after separation, communication difficulties may be even worse. But in spite of the history, it is possible to learn a different way of talking, and if you have children together, then this is a skill that the two of you will need to develop for their sake.

  • Listen - always give 100% of your attention to your ex when they're speaking so they know you're truly listening.
  • Clarify - make sure you understand what's being said by asking for clarification and summarising or paraphrasing what you've heard.
  • Empathise - even if you don't' agree with their perspective, show that you understand how they're feeling.
  • Explain - when you're talking, give as much information as your ex needs to understand your point of view and also explain why you feel as you do.
  • Keep emotions in check - it's understandable that old feelings of anger or upset may rise when you speak, but don't let them get in the way of you resolving the issue at hand.
  • Be adult - make sure you don't slip into behaving like a critical parent condescending, criticising or punishing, or behaving like a child, sulking, whining, blaming or being obstinate. Speak like an adult - stay calm, focused, listening and negotiating.

Calmness and courtesy are perhaps the two most important words to remember when communicating with your ex. Whatever the subject may be, and whatever you may be feeling emotionally, try to take a deep breath and approach the conversation calmly and courteously.

Think about each conversation as you would one you might have with a work colleague - in other words, keep emotions separate and stay focused on your agenda.

Another essential ingredient of good communication is to give your ex the benefit of the doubt and try to maintain optimism. Even if past experience tells you that they're likely to be negative or obstructive, remember that circumstances are different now and people can change if you give them a chance.

How to improve communication

Most potentially difficult situations can be avoided by planning ahead and also by agreeing rules and roles upfront. For example, things such as contact arrangements, holidays, handover times, school meetings and so forth.

You can also pre-empt problems by agreeing basic behaviour rules such as bedtimes, coming-in times and homework routines. However, if you can't agree the same rules for each house, don't worry too much. Although some children find it easier to have the same rules, most adapt easily if they're different. Children are used to there being different rules at school, after-school clubs, or in grandma's house, and can learn to accept different rules at mum's house and dad's.

When something crops up that you need to talk about, make sure you book a convenient time for both of you to have a face-to-face meeting and that you have sufficient time and energy to address the issue in hand.

You might find a neutral location such as a cafe or park easier, too. Before you meet, be clear in your mind about exactly what you want to say and the outcome you'd like to reach. And make sure your ex is also aware of the objectives of the conversation.

If it's really difficult to have a constructive conversation face to face, then try telephone or email instead. Often talking in these kinds of environments can feel less confrontational and, consequently, can be more emotion free - plus you have the added advantage of having a written copy of what's been said and agreed.

But be aware that things that have been written can easily be misread, so make sure you're clear about what you're trying to say. 

  • Get more information about talking to your ex from the Relate Guide, Helping Your Children cope with Your Divorce, by Paula Hall, available from the Relate online bookstore
  • Chat to other Mumsnetters about improving communication with your ex


The content on this page is supplied by Relate.

Last updated: about 3 years ago