Improve communication issues with your co-parenting partner through active listening
Listening seems like a natural process; an innate sense that doesn’t need to be learned or improved upon. However, listening and hearing are two different things, and the former requires engagement and reciprocation. Mastering this skill can be challenging—particularly after a break-up.
After the trials and tribulations of formalizing a separation, a reprieve from listening to your former partner may feel well-earned. But although it may be the last thing you want to do, listening—really listening—can be the first step in establishing a strong foundation for a peaceful co-parenting relationship. Move on from the past and create a new and improved future by paying attention and relearning this lost art.
In a contentious relationship, a large part of the conflict often centers around the fact that both parties feel like they are not being heard or understood. The end result is that each person ends up talking louder or more often, without taking the time to truly listen and process. This behavior becomes a self-perpetuating cycle—forcefully trying to make your point instead of listening, which results in the other person doing the same. It becomes a circuitous loop of metaphorically screaming into the void.
Work on being a good listener instead of the loudest talker, and see how that impacts your relationship. You may find that the other person is more apt to listen when they see that they’re being heard.
3 steps towards active listening
Be patient: Many times, we’re already crafting our response as the other person is speaking. This is natural—we often don’t even realize we’re doing it—and it’s hard to stop. However, you’re not truly listening if you’re already preparing your rebuttal. Clear your mind and listen consciously. Take a moment before responding; your reply will still be there. Also, don’t interrupt the other speaker, no matter how much you disagree or how eager you are to make your point.
Pay attention: It can be hard to stay focused on what the other person is saying; particularly if you don’t want to hear it. It’s easy to mentally drift off, especially if you think the topic is irrelevant or the conversation isn’t going in the direction you would like. A trick to listening consciously is to silently repeat every word they say back to yourself in order to avoid missing an interesting point.
Compose yourself: Sometimes, body language can shut a conversation down before it even gets started. Take a deep breath, relax your jaw, drop your shoulders, and make eye contact. Maintain a neutral expression regardless of your emotions. Checking your phone, rolling your eyes, sighing dramatically, or gritting your teeth isn’t conducive to a two-way conversation. Expressing your anger might feel good in the short term, but it’s very unlikely to produce satisfactory results.
Ask questions: Often, our preconceived ideas about a person or situation color our interpretation of their words. Demonstrate that you’re listening and request clarification by summarizing the conversation with your own understanding: “What I hear you saying is _____? Is that right?” Don’t use language like “You always” or “You never”—moving forward in a conversation (and in a relationship) requires leaving the past behind.
Active listening is far more difficult to do than it seems on the surface. However, your co-parenting partner plays a significant role in your life, whether you like it or not. And your relationship has an impact on the well-being of your children. Make an effort to listen in a way that you would like to be listened to, and see if the tone of the conversation changes. Family Plan is committed to empowering parents after divorce or separation and creating harmony by improving collaboration, helping with organization, and simplifying payment obligations to reduce stress and eliminate potential conflict. Download our app to get started.