Dear Dr. Jann: My ex recently took our children on vacation and my son (age 5) came home terribly sunburned. I told my ex that he put our son in danger. Am I out of line?
No, you’re not out of line, but the key to good communication with an ex is “tact and timing”. If you say, “You stupid fool! You put our child in danger and I’m calling CPS!” you will not get the same response as, “Oh my! You must not have seen the sunscreen I put in his bag.”
When angry with an ex, our first response is often to look for fault or blame, but that approach is not helpful when you will be interacting and problem solving with someone for years to come. Although many have a difficult time sorting through negative emotions and think they will never be able to problem solve with an ex, if a problem is approached remembering that there is a mutual interest-the best interest of your child-it will lay the groundwork for problem solving together in the future.
Having a formula to follow is helpful when emotions run high.
1. State the feeling.
2. State the offending behavior.
3. State the effect it has on you.
4. State a solution.
“I worry about the fact (feeling) that you weren’t aware Jacob was getting so sunburned (behavior) and it really makes me uncomfortable. (effect). Let’s make a pact to make sure he has on lots of sunscreen or keep him in a t-shirt.”
You have owned your feelings and have not blamed your ex, but brought your concern back to the child. And, you have stated a solution that requires commitment for improvement in the future from both of you.