Touchy Subject: Communication About the Ex

This past month, I have received several requests regarding single parent dating advice. One of them caught my immediate attention, and it read something like this:

“I am dating a SingleDad and he communicates with his ex-wife too much, how do I stop him?”

I was interested in getting the rest of the story, so I made contact with the member to elaborate on what was going on in this relationship. For the sake of everyone’s privacy in this story, I’m going to call the girlfriend Mary, the single dad Mike, and the ex-wife Nancy.

So Mary’s telling me that she has been dating Mike for over two years now and she feels that her relationship is pretty committed and that Mike and she have the “two home exchange” going on pretty well. This is something where the  Single Parent couple will stay at the other person’s house for the weekend and “exchange” destinations every other time when they have a “no kid” weekend. I find this romantic and happening all the time for most Single Parent relationships. So as the relationship has grown over the two years, Mary just can’t shake the ongoing  and frequent communication that Mike is having with Nancy.

I asked, “How frequently do they talk?”  Mary explains, “ at least 3 to 5 times a day.”  “About what?” I asked as I thought aloud.  What bothers Mary is the fact that every time that Nancy calls, Mike purposely leaves the room and talks in whispers for hours to Nancy. “For hours?” I ask.

It appears that Mike will get a morning, afternoon, and an evening call from Nancy. What they talk about, nobody knows but them. What is certain is the type of behavior that Mike is showing every time Nancy calls is bothering Mary. This behavior is not sitting well with Mary for a couple of reasons. First, when Mary approached Mike about the frequency, there was immediate denial and the conversation was ended.  Nobody likes to  be “called out” and maybe this is what happens when Mary inquires about Mikes behavior. And finally, maybe there is something to hide, or maybe not. What needs to be discussed is the “choice and consequence” to what’s going on between the couple and their lack of communication in their relationship. You can’t change a person’s choice, you can only let him know the consequences of their choices.

I asked Mary to write down the following advice and follow these three easy steps:

Step 1: Make sure to start this conversation with a “disclaimer.” I know this sounds funny, but most of us want to feel safe in a conversation before feeling attacked, which results in taking on a “defensive role.” If you want results, try starting the conversation with, “ I am not mad you, nobody’s right or wrong in this conversation, I just want to make sure that I am doing my part in having a discussion in the best possible way with you.” The choice is now his.  Does he feel it important to change his choices? You have his attention, let’s go to the next step and see.

Step 2: Take ownership of how you feel. This sounds strange, but many times we are not “saying what we mean” under the duress of an argument. We often think we are explaining ourselves very clearly in the heat of the battle, when often, we’re not. Start a conversation this way, “Mike, I am feeling uncomfortable,  or  I feel awkward when this happens, and I don’t know how to talk about it and I need your help.” It is best to wait and be patient for a reply instead of jumping into assumptions or interruptions. Allow Mike to visualize what is going on for you as you walk him through the picture of what you see and feel.

Step 3: Give your results a realistic time frame. Most of the time, these past behaviors built up over time. And they are not going away overnight. In fact, its more healthy to see the gradual change in a partner’s behavior than a “Cold Turkey” approach, where the rebound is much more severe.  It takes more effort to acknowledge the positive, so take a stand and show the courage with your partner that you notice even the little improvements in the relationship. Most of the time we fall into the gap of negative reinforcement and often talk about the glass half empty approach, pointing out what’s wrong instead of what’s right. Make every effort to point out the positive, and you will see better lasting results.

Image credit: Guido Alvarez

1 thought on “Touchy Subject: Communication About the Ex

  1. It hek,ps when we know who should be doing what….Mothers stress nurturing, while fathers stress achievement: both of these are important when it comes to healthy development.

    But when it comes to being a dad…” it was not enough to be there ,when it was convenient or easy, but what really counted was being there when it was difficult and thankless….Fathers need to step up and realise that their job does not end at conception…To realise that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child – it’s the courage to raise one”. Barak Obama September 2008,

    “Fathers have a powerful and positive impact on the health and development of their children….
    Good fathers, like good mothers make an irreplaceable contribution to the happiness and well being of kids”. Cardinal Pell, ‘Men need to be better father’

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