All healthy communication originates from and is guided by respect and civility. We’re going to write that again: All healthy communication originates from and is guided by respect and civility.

Wow, SO MUCH EASIER SAID THAN DONE. We know it; you know it. at is the most important lighthouse in each and every communication with your former spouse—your children’s other parent. Let’s get clear about what we mean by respect and civility in both written and verbal communication:

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  • In your kids’ best interest: remember, you’re writing or speaking to your children’s other parent, not your ex-partner.
  • Pleasant tone (you’d use that very same tone to your BOSS).
  • Appropriate word choice (this is not the time for four-letters or other expletives).
  • Judiciously use ALL CAPS for highlighting and ease of reading—not for shouting at the reader.
  • Be brief, informative, well-organized.
  • Use the subject line of an email effectively.
  • Be thoughtful about how many communications you send; repetitive texts or emails are intrusive and ineffective.
  • Respond in a timely manner to appropriate communications received, even if all you say is, “Got it. Will get back to you tomorrow,” or whenever is appropriate and possible.
  • Ignore unproductive emails, texts, or voice messages. Think of any response to negative/unproductive communication as kindling on a fire you’re hoping will die-out. Don’t feed the fire.
  • When angry or triggered, go quiet. Your least productive interactions will occur when you’re angry or triggered, so, to the extent that you can, excuse yourself, take a break and step away from interactions when you are in those states of mind. Go for a run, sit in meditation, take a nap, do some work, watch a funny movie. Re-engage and/or respond when your perspective is unclouded by difficult emotions and when productive problem-solving can resume. If you and your coParent are in an entrenched cycle of high-conflict conversations, consider using a family specialist to facilitate communication while you both build skills and learn to soothe emotions. After a few problems are tackled successfully, you’ll have more confidence to go solo.
  • Protect your children from witnessing, overhearing or participating in unhealthy or protracted adult conflict. Arguments scare kids. Conflict undermines their sense that parents can take care of them; this often causes kids to feel they need to take care of parents by taking sides, solving problems or caretaking emotionally rather than expressing and managing their kid-level feelings.

Excerpt from CoParenting Handbook by Karen Bonnell. For more information on Karen or her book, visit


About Karen Bonnell

Karen has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress and change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Karen has been Board certified and licensed as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner since 1982. She served on the faculty of University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University & Seattle Pacific University before beginning full-time private practice in 1984. She continues to be a provider of Professional Continuing Education to both health care and legal professionals.

Karen served on the Board of King County Collaborative Law and Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

Her work is found through Unhooked Books: