Fatherhood can be a daunting task, but building a strong partnership with the mom of your child can make it easier. Whether you’re married, separated, or divorced, creating a positive co-parenting relationship with your child’s mother is essential for your child’s development and well-being.
In this article, we will share guidelines and insights from relationship experts Dr. John Gottman, Dr. Laura Markham, and Dr. Tony Evans on how to build a strong partnership with your child’s mother.
1. Build a Foundation of Mutual Respect
The foundation of any healthy relationship is mutual respect. Dr. John Gottman, a world-renowned expert on relationships, emphasizes the importance of showing respect for your partner, even when you disagree.
As a father, showing respect to your child’s mother means listening to her point of view and validating her feelings. This doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything she says or does, but rather, it means acknowledging that her perspective is valuable and worthy of consideration. And when you do disagree, you find ways to work through it constructively.
Other actions that demonstrate respect include considering her feelings, talking with her before making any decisions that affect you both or the children, and taking an active interest in her life.
A final consideration for creating mutual respect is having healthy boundaries in the relationship. Boundaries protect the relationship and create appropriate expectations for behaviour. If your child’s mother asks for space – respect her boundary and give her the space she needs. If you need time to collect your thoughts and think about the options she presented to you before providing your opinion, then ask for it and expect that you’ll be given the time needed. Healthy boundaries go a long way in supporting a foundation of mutual respect.
2. Communicate Effectively
Effective communication is another crucial component of a healthy relationship. Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and author, explains that communication is not just about talking but also about listening.
To build a strong partnership with your child’s mother, it’s important to listen actively to her concerns and feelings. This means giving her your full attention, paraphrasing what she said, and asking clarifying questions. Effective communication also involves being honest and transparent with each other.
When she is talking to you, look at her, nod your head, and make facial expressions that show you’re paying attention. Using simple words and a calm voice in response will also help her feel heard.
The rules of communication also apply to phone calls, texts, or emails. It’s important to choose the right way to talk to someone, depending on what you’re talking about and what the situation is. Be sure to check the tone of written communication, keeping it as neutral or positive as you can. Written forms of communication are very tricky, so take the extra steps to keep this form of communication healthy too.
3. Practice Empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand, be aware of and sensitive to someone else’s feelings. Dr. Tony Evans, a pastor, and author, believes that empathy is essential for building strong relationships.
As a father, practicing empathy means putting yourself in your child’s mother’s shoes and what she is feeling as a result. The act of acknowledging her feelings does not mean you agree with them, so taking this important step will allow her to feel seen and heard.
Showing empathy can be as simple as saying, “it sounds like you feel really sad about what happened.” You’re acknowledging her feelings and checking to see if you understand it correctly. Using phrases that start with, “It looks like…,” or “It seems like….,” and then fill in a possible feeling you think she may be feeling is a great way to demonstrate empathy and listening. Make these statements a regular part of your practice.
4. Be Flexible and Willing to Compromise
Parenting requires flexibility and compromise. Dr. Gottman suggests that a key to successful co-parenting is being willing to make compromises and finding solutions that work for both parents.
Being flexible and willing to compromise means considering your child’s mother’s needs and desires and finding a way to work together to meet them. It also means being open to new ideas and suggestions and being willing to adapt your parenting style as needed.
This can be challenging if you have opposing perspectives or one or both of you are very stubborn. In situations like this, it can often help to have a decision making process created in advance that you both agree to use. If you create the process together, there is more buy-in from each of you, and you can both focus on contributing to the process, and not getting caught attacking the other person.
A simple decision-making process could look like this:
- Step 1 – you talk about the decision together
- Step 2 – you take time away to think about the conversation or gather more info on your own
- Step 3 – you return to the decision later as agreed (preferably within 24 hours)
- Step 4 – you name your preferred decision with one main point
- Step 5 – you decide who will make the final decision, and commit to supporting each other going forward. You can also agree on a time when you’ll re-evaluate the decision to see if it’s still what’s best for your family
5. Show Appreciation and Affection
Showing appreciation and affection is a simple but powerful way to build a strong partnership with your child’s mother. Dr. Markham suggests that showing gratitude and affection can help build emotional connections between partners.
As a father, showing appreciation and affection means acknowledging your child’s mother’s contributions and expressing gratitude for all that she does. It also means showing affection through physical touch, such as hugging or holding hands.
Learning to show appreciation may not be easy or come natural. If that’s the case for you, start by simply saying “Thank you.” You can do this every day, through a special note or card, or by knowing what your child’s mother values and providing it to her for no reason at all – just as your way of saying thank you. You can also find ways to say positive things about her parenting, her strengths, or her beauty. These affirming words are one of the best ways to let someone know how you feel about them.
6. Prioritize Your Relationship
Finally, it’s essential to prioritize your relationship with your child’s mother. Dr. Evans believes that a healthy partnership requires intentional effort and prioritization.
If you’re in a committed relationship, then prioritizing your relationship with your child’s mother means making time for each other. That can include scheduling date nights, communicating regularly, and being intentional about your interactions on a daily basis.
In situations of separation or divorce, prioritizing your relationship with your children and showing respect to the children’s mother regardless of the circumstance is most important.
Building a strong partnership with your child’s mother is essential for successful co-parenting and healthy child development. By following the tips and insights from Dr. Gottman, Dr. Markham, and Dr. Evans, fathers can create a positive co-parenting relationship with their child’s mother, whether they are married, separated, or divorced.
When dads show mutual respect, communicate effectively, practice empathy, are flexible and willing to compromise, show appreciation and affection, and prioritize the relationship with their child’s mother they will see benefits for the entire family – but most importantly their children.
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About The Author – Drew Soleyn
I’m the Director of Dad Central Ontario, Founder of Connected Dads, and a Career Coach at the Queen's Smith School of Business. As an ICF and Maxwell Leadership certified Coach, Trainer & Speaker, I help struggling dads show up at their best for the people who matter most.
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