Navigating the complexities of co-parenting can be challenging. When you become frustrated with the situation, it’s important to communicate effectively with your spouse, but unfortunately, the conversation can leave both of you even more upset. How do you talk about co-parent issues without it turning into a gripe session?
If you’ve found yourself in that situation, you’re in good company. We get this question a lot. Let’s explore practical strategies for constructive conversations with your spouse about co-parenting so you can reach a child-focused, healthy solution.
Tips for Co-Parent Conversations with Your Spouse
Co-parenting often involves a messy conglomeration of emotions, needs, and expectations. And that’s just within yourself! Add your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and frustration to the mix, and the conversation gets even more intense. Follow these guidelines to engage in a fruitful and healthy discussion:
- Pray together. The most important and first step is to sit down with your spouse and pray about the situation. Yes, praying is an intimate activity and it may be a little uncomfortable at first, but going to God’s throne together strengthens your marriage and reminds you of the power of God. Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Lean into the discomfort and keep praying together.
- Reflect on how you feel. Before initiating a discussion about a co-parent, take some time to sift through and process your emotions. Are you feeling angry, disappointed, or overwhelmed? Is this a co-parenting issue, or is something else at the heart of your frustration? Identifying your emotions can help you and your spouse communicate more clearly and avoid misdirection.
- Listen actively. Give your spouse your full attention (put away your phone!). Don’t interrupt or finish your spouse’s sentences for them. Allow them to pause to gather their thoughts even as they are verbalizing them. Demonstrate that you have heard them by nodding and reflecting back what your spouse said. Say something like, “What I hear you saying is…” and summarize what you heard. Your spouse will likely confirm or clarify what was said.
- Choose the right time and place. Choose a time and place in which you can discuss the co-parenting issue without being interrupted or overheard by little ears. Your children and bonus children don’t need to hear the conversation. In addition, make sure you have enough time to agree on positive next steps or a resolution. Talking with your spouse while you’re brushing your teeth is not a good option.
- Use “I” statements. Start sentences with “I feel…” instead of “You always…” This approach expresses your feelings without blaming your spouse and helps prevent them from becoming defensive. For example, you could say, “I feel angry because it seems as if _________ is trying to sabotage our date nights.” (By the way, this technique is good for any difficult conversations with your spouse, boss, co-worker, or extended family members!)
- Focus on the issue, not the co-parent. It’s easy to focus on your ex-spouse’s faults, mistakes, and poor choices, especially when there is a history of hurt feelings. Bashing an ex-spouse is like trying to paddle a boat without an oar–-you don’t get anywhere.
Instead, focus on the specific problem you have with the co-parent. You might discover two issues to address, and if that happens, stick to one issue and determine the next steps to take before talking about any other conflicts.
- Brainstorm solutions. Once you’ve narrowed down and identified the problem, talk together with your spouse about practical ways to reach a resolution. This can include setting boundaries, adjusting communication frequency, suggesting a change in schedules, or getting external support like a mediator or family therapist.When and how do you want to communicate with the co-parent about the issue? Are you in a season in which your spouse needs to talk to the co-parent? What concerns might the co-parent have and how can you address those concerns? These are some of the questions you might want to work through together.
- Focus on the children and bonus children. Remember, the ultimate goal of co-parenting is the well-being of your children. While you or your spouse may want to dig your heels in out of frustration, past hurts, or resentment, neither of you is not the focus here. You may have to choose a solution that creates the best situation for your children and bonus children.
- Seek outside help. If conversations regarding the co-parent consistently lead to conflict, it may be beneficial to seek the guidance of a professional. Therapists, co-parenting, and coaches can provide valuable tools and unique perspectives, and they bring the training and experience to help you and your spouse communicate better.
Healthy communication with your spouse about co-parenting frustrations is crucial for maintaining a healthy marriage and blended family dynamic. By understanding each other’s perspectives, focusing on solutions, and prioritizing your children’s well-being, you can navigate these challenges more effectively. Remember, it’s about teamwork, empathy, and a shared commitment to cultivate a healthy, God-centered blended family.