Q. When my children's mother and I broke up four years ago, we made a pact that we would never go back to court. But as time went on, it got more difficult to discuss things rationally. I know I should reach out to her when we have something to discuss, but it always escalates to a fight. So I avoid it, which just makes things worse. Then I hear about how she can't trust me because we said we'd never go back to court. What's good ex-etiquette?
A. More than the subject of the discussion, going back to court, I see your real problem to be your style of discussion. I'm assuming here, but let's look at a common conversation I hear about twice a week -- and see if this rings true.
"We agreed we would never go to court again, and here we are. All you had to do is call me."
"I did. You never answer the phone."
"You could have texted me."
"I did. You don't return my texts. I call the kids when they are with you, and you don't ever let me talk to them. It's like they are in a black hole when they are at your house."
"I answer your calls."
"No, you don't. The only way I can get you to listen to me is if we go to court."
"That's not true. You're lying. We agreed we'd never go back to court."
Now stop. Think about it. What's the next line? Will it be on subject? Doubtful. Because a word was used that will take this conversation in another direction...
Lying. That's a buzzword to co-parents. They will zero in on the fact that they were just accused of lying and no longer discuss the topic that brought them to the table.
That's when conversations spiral out of control, and you can't problem-solve on the defense.
If you want to problem-solve, not win or put your co-parent in their place, staying respectful will go a long way (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 9). That means stay away from accusatory words -- they will always take the conversation in another direction. Words like "liar," "lying," "you always," "you never," or name-calling, all these put the other party on the defense and will accelerate a discussion into an argument, not about the subject you want to discuss, but what was said during the argument. You truly will get lost in a black hole of defensiveness and misunderstanding.
Now, let's address the other half of your question, using the courts to solve your problems.
Most co-parents hate going to court. They feel that if "court" intercedes, their power to decide is removed -- and they are right. However, I can tell you from experience, the courts don't want to raise your children. They want you to co-parent and make decisions together. If you can't, the court is there, but it's a last resort. Someone who doesn't know you or your children will decide what is best for your family.
At this point, if you both can't turn your approach to discussing something around, I'd suggest co-parenting counseling to help you personalize a positive blueprint for problem-solving -- always based on what's best for your children. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website exetiquette.com at dr.jannexetiquette.com.)
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