Life is so much easier when you’re getting along with your ex, isn’t it? No blow-out arguments, no dirty looks, no cruel emails or texts between the two of you, and most importantly the kids can feel the peace, which makes their lives easier. Getting along with the ex means less stress and anxiety in everyone’s lives, and makes co-parenting so much easier. So, how do you get along with your ex better? Let’s talk about ex spouse etiquette.
Poor ex spouse etiquette, whether it’s intentional or unintentional can lead to you and/or your spouse feeling hurt, judged, angry and even vengeful. On the other hand, good ex spouse etiquette hopefully leads to a healthy co-parenting relationship, and a courteous, respectful relationship between the two of you, in general.
Here are 10 examples of ex spouse etiquette, specifically 10 things you should NOT say to your ex:
1. “You’re just being lazy.”
Here’s the scenario: Your kids never brush their teeth or floss at dad’s house, and you know it’s because he’s too tired and lazy to get them to do it. But, calling him lazy won’ t go over well. Instead, better etiquette sounds something like, “Would you mind trying to make more of an effort when it comes to brushing teeth and flossing? It only takes a few minutes and our kids will have much better teeth. Plus they’ll have less cavities. Think about how much money we’ll save by not having to pay such high dental bills.” Isn’t that better ex spouse etiquette?
2. “It’s your fault.”
No one wants to hear that even if it’s true. Nothing good can come from placing blame on someone else, and it won’t solve the problem. All it will do is cause further resentment and dislike. Instead try, “Let’s talk about how we can fix the problem.”
3. “You’ll never change.”
What is the point of saying this to the spouse you just got divorced from? If he/she didn’t change while you were married, that might have been one of the reasons you got divorced. So, if you know he/she will never change, why even say it? The bottom line is, your ex will never change. Think it but don’t say it. Thinking it will reiterate why the divorce was necessary, so it’s actually a good thing and will help you maintain good ex spouse etiquette.
4. Don’t use the words “psycho” or “psychotic.”
Here are two definitions of psycho: 1. An offensive term for somebody who has a psychiatric or personality disorder. 2. An offensive term for behaving in an uncontrolled and unpredictable way. During divorce, I have seen otherwise completely normal people act like psychos. But, if you tell someone they are a psycho and it will intensify the behavior even more. Might be better to say something like, “You are not being rational right now. Maybe just cool off and let’s talk tomorrow.
5. Anything with the words “Your mother” in it.
Your ex-mother-in law might drive her son nuts, but God forbid you say anything remotely derogatory, and suddenly you are the worst person on earth. How dare you say anything against the beloved woman who bore him. His response will undoubtedly be, “You were always so mean to her anyway.” Trust me, you can’t win with this one. Leave your ex-mother-in-law completely out of any conversation.
6. “I don’t get you.”
Right. That’s why you’re not together anymore. No need to drive that home any longer.
7. Do not use the word “deadbeat.”
This might be the lowest blow you could deliver to your ex. Ex’s HATE deadbeat dads. If you call him a deadbeat, he will really hate your guts. Plus, is he really a deadbeat or are you just feeling that way because he refused to pay for something, or he doesn’t see the kids as much as you’d like?
8. “How’s the bitch?” (referring to his girlfriend)
Remember that movie, “The Betty Broderick Story?” That is who you sound like when you refer to his girlfriend in any derogatory way. I don’t care if she was the reason you are divorced. You will only sound like a jealous, bitter, “psycho” –sorry, I know I told you not to use that word—who has no life of her own. Again, you can think it, and you can refer to her that way to your girlfriends or your sister, but not to anyone else.
9. “You never did any of this while we were married, so why are you all of a sudden doing this now?”
Let’s say that when you were married, your ex never helped with the kids, wasn’t a very involved dad, and never really made an effort to do fun things with them. Now you are divorced, and suddenly he’s doing stuff with them. The situation forced him to become hands-on, and he’s now really stepped up. Instead of asking him why he has changed, consider how great this is for your kids! Aren’t you THRILLED that he’s stepping up? I know you wish he would have been this way while you were married. It hurts. I get it. But your kids are getting the benefit of his attention right now, so try to appreciate that. Instead, say something like, “Regardless of our differences, I think you’re doing a great job.” Not only will you be saying something that is kind, but he will feel so good and it will keep him going (which is good for the kids!)
10. “Thank God I don’t have to deal with this anymore.”
Saying this to your ex just sounds silly. Of course you don’t have to deal with this anymore. You are divorced. Take a deep breath and say nothing. Actually, “Thank God I don’t have to deal with this anymore” is a good thing to say to yourself.
The thing about ex spouse etiquette is…
There are most likely always going to be issues between you and your ex, and he/she will probably continue to do things that bug you beyond belief. And, I understand that there is still some resentment that might never fully go away. But, the way you talk to your ex (same as the way you talk to your spouse) is very important in getting along, which is important in making your kids’ lives better, AND making YOUR life better.
I’m going to bring you back to couples therapy for a minute. Remember how your therapist emphasized over and over again the importance of communication, in general, but also good, effective communication? Therapists underscore again and again two things: one is the value of listening, and two, they will drill into your head the importance of HOW you say things. So, if something is bothering you with your ex (which we all know happens frequently-otherwise you wouldn’t be getting divorced) think very carefully about how to bring it up and what you are going to say.
How you say it could make the difference between solving the problem or just making the problem worse.
In closing, there is one thing you SHOULD say if you want to get along better with your ex: THANK YOU. Possibly a polite thank you for the child support check or a text thanking him for a favor, like picking up the kids one day when you have plans.
You might be thinking, ‘Why should I have to thank the parent of my child for being a parent?’ I get it. And ‘He/she never says thank you to me!’ My opinion is, who cares? Thank you goes a long way. Plus, it’s hard to be a single parent. It’s hard for moms and it’s hard for dads. It’s a struggle. So, a thank you might help someone get through a rough day and be a little nicer and more understanding the next time YOU need something. Good ex spouse etiquette isn’t always easy, but in the long run, it gives everyone–especially the kids, a better quality of life.