Etiquette for dealing with your ex-spouse

Some blended family parents post notes on the refrigerator or next to the phones to help them deal with an ex-spouse in a positive way.  Notes are especially helpful when we are really angry or when there are kids in the room. The following ten rules of etiquette for communication with an ex-spouse put the welfare of children first, the basis on which good parenting decisions are made. You may find them useful to your blended family.

The ten rules of good ex-etiquette

  1. Put the children first
  2. Ask for help when you need it
  3. No badmouthing
  4. Biological parents enforce household rules, supported by step parents
  5. Do not be spiteful
  6. Do not hold grudges
  7. Use empathy when problem solving
  8. Be honest and straightforward
  9. Respect each other’s turf
  10. Compromise whenever possible

Putting the children first is the cornerstone of all effective dealings with an ex-spouse. Making the right decision is easier when you can remove your own personal interests, hurt, or anger and use the welfare of your kids as the criteria for both discussions and decisions.

Asking for help from an ex-spouse may feel awkward, but sometimes he or she is your best (or only) choice. If you should be picking up the kids, for instance, but are stuck in traffic and your blended family partner is busy, phoning your ex-spouse could solve the problem; asking for help demonstrates good will and respect for him or her as a parent. As well, if you are late picking up your step kids, asking your partner’s ex-spouse for help might be the answer, and earn you respect for putting their needs ahead of your own feelings of discomfort. 

If you can’t say something nice about the other parent, don’t say anything at all. Divorced and step family parents sometimes forget their children have dual loyalties. Even a seemingly insignificant comment about Dad being late … again … can make a child feel badly about your bad feelings.

Bio parents enforce household rules for their own children, and receive unconditional support from their blended family spouse on parental decisions.  If, however, the step parent is a primary caregiver, or is at home with kids of their own and coordinating household rules for the entire step family, then he or she should be consulted when making parental decisions.

Being spiteful and holding grudges against your ex-spouse is poison to you and to your chances of making a success of co-parenting your kids. Resentment, attempts to undermine or blame, and hateful words can prevent you from moving on with your life and wholly embracing your new blended family. Most damaging is the negative impact these things have on your children, who are always watching how their parents interact.

Empathy for an ex-spouse can give insight into their situation and feelings, and help you to stay more positive during conflict. Your own ex-spouse likely feels threatened by your new partner, and your position as step parent probably represents a similar threat to your partner’s ex-spouse, too. Combined feelings of loss and fears of being replaced by a step parent are powerful and frightening. Try to be understanding.

Being honest and straightforward with your ex-spouse demonstrates self-respect for yourself and your parental decisions. This clear message can often prevent a power struggle between ex-spouses. Besides, your children are watching, and they need to see and hear you be confident about your ability to take care of them.

Respecting your ex-spouse as parent of your children means that you do not try to control them, their lifestyle, or their household rules. Chances are, you could not control his or her actions before your divorce, either. The fact is, we can only control what happens in our own homes, and offering respect to the other parent of your children helps to lay the groundwork for positive co-parenting. If your child’s mother or father does not offer you respect, you cannot control that.  However, you can set a good correct example for your children.

Compromise is the key to solving conflict, opening the discussion for what is important: the children.

Long story short? Blended family advice is that things work better when you keep it about the kids. If you need additional Blended Family Advice, check out some of our resources online, and also contact us for Blended Family coaching.