My ex and I can barely talk without arguing. How can we better communicate for the sake of our kids?

My ex and I can barely talk without arguing. How can we better communicate for the sake of our kids?


Dear Alex,

Your situation is both challenging and, unfortunately, not uncommon. Communication breakdowns can often happen after a relationship ends, but when children are involved, it is important to find a way to communicate more effectively for their wellbeing.

First, remember that your job as a parent is to provide a stable, nurturing environment for your kids. Keeping this in mind is a constant reminder to put personal issues aside during interactions with your ex-partner. Sometimes knowing what you’re striving towards can help you to keep your emotions in check. Your kids didn’t ask for a divorce, and their feelings are not the same as yours.

Second, consider establishing a set of “communication rules” to be followed by both parents. These might include sticking to specific topics, avoiding blame language, and setting boundaries about times and places to talk about parenting issues.

If in-person conversations tend to escalate into arguments, you might find that using written forms of communication, such as emails or a co-parenting app, allows you both to think before you respond. However, ensure that the language remains respectful, succinct, and to the point.

The BIFF Response Method is one I often recommend.

When communication is challenging, I recommend not using texts/SMS other than in emergencies – it is too easy to react quickly and reply without thinking enough about the tone and content of the message.  With an email, you can save a draft, come back to it later, or as a trusted friend to read it before you send it.

Another effective strategy is using a neutral third party, such as a parenting coordinator to help you work out some ground rules for conversations, discuss when communication has been (objectively) unhelpful to co-parenting, and keep the focus on the children’s needs.

A simple but effective technique is to engage in active listening. This entails not just hearing but truly listening to what your ex-partner is saying, refraining from interrupting, and asking clarifying questions if needed. By showing that you’re listening, you’re more likely to encourage reciprocal respect and attention.

Finally, it’s crucial to maintain consistency and reliability in your arrangements and agreements. Changing plans without prior discussion can fuel frustration and lead to arguments. Clear and consistent communication is crucial for successful co-parenting, which includes keeping each other updated on any changes as soon as possible.

Asking for the other parent to help out with a change in schedule (e.g.: if you have to go away for work) is likely to lead to much better communication between you than assuming the other parent will just step in for you (and then – as I have seen previously – demanding ‘make up time).

Remember, it’s entirely normal for this process to require time and effort from both parties. You’re both learning a new way of interacting, one that prioritises your children’s well-being above all else.

Communication often breaks as a relationship comes to an end, so it’s normal for it to be hard.  Working with resources like Our Family in Two Homes can help rebuild trust and improve communication by keeping you focussed on the issues that are important to your kids.

Wishing you the best of luck,

Jennifer Hetherington

Family Mediator and Parenting Coordinator

*Name changed

This is general information only.  Seek independent legal advice about your specific situation.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

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