Season's greetings, everyone!
Since the last blog post, I received a letter from one divorced reader who is struggling with a question frequently seen in my therapy practice, not only among separated or divorced individuals, but with married and single people as well: "how do I communicate effectively with a 'slow-or-no' responder"?
Slow-or-no responders are folks who take an unusually long amount of time to reply to emails, texts, or phone calls (if they reply at all), even when the issue at hand requires their input.
If you've ever tried to make plans with a slow-or-no responder, this reader's frustration will sound familiar.
Fear not! The suggested tips below are a sure fire way to free yourself from the slow-to-no response trap.
Enjoy and happy holidays!
Dear Dr. Jill,
I have a communication-related question.
My ex and I have been living apart for almost three years. We have three children. They are 6, 8, and 11. For the most part, we see eye-to-eye. We usually keep it cordial and civil.
Because we have three children, there are lots of details to keep track of. Two kids in soccer and one in piano. When we were married, I was the one who took the kids to their medical appointments, practices, recitals, and such.
Since we separated, the one place we struggle most is with communication. Between the two of us, I have the more flexible work schedule. This means I am on the front lines with pick ups and drop offs, appointment scheduling, etc. Sometimes this coordination requires her consent and/or her participation. That is where we clang heads.
When I make a request, it takes days—even a week—to hear back from her. Sometimes I get no response. One time, our oldest son missed an important school outing because my ex didn’t get back to me in time.
Our parenting plan says that all major decisions will be jointly made. So I'm kind of stuck here.
I’ve tried to talk with her about this issue. She usually either gets defensive or says she’s working on it and promises to do better. With one or two exceptions, things have stayed status quo.
I’m wondering if this is something you’ve helped clients with and, if so, can you give me some pointers for how to deal with it?
Sounds like this experience has neatly nestled you, right between a rock and a hard place! Making joint decisions with someone who won't decide, can be frustrating. Knowing and communicating boundaries is the most effective way to free yourself from what I like to call the "slow-to-no response trap."
When coordinating with someone who is slow to respond (or who doesn't respond at all), with each request, it is important to communicate three things: the ask, the expected response time, and what you will plan to do if you do not hear anything back from her.
Here is an example of what this kind of communication looks or sounds like:
I just received notice of a mandatory work meeting that is scheduled to take place tomorrow evening, when the kids are scheduled to be with me. I am wondering if you would be willing to pick the kids up from aftercare and keep them until I can pick them up at 8:00 p.m.? If you would please let me know by 6:00 tonight, that would be great. If I don't hear anything back by then, I will find an alternate arrangement.
By communicating a clear time frame and a pre-determined backup plan, any potential for Jim to feel burdened by slow-or-no response is removed.
Differences like the one described in your letter are common among divorced co-parents. It is for precisely this reason that some parenting plans include a clause which stipulates that, after a written request is sent, the responding party must provide an answer within a pre-specified amount of time, after which, if no response is received, the requesting party is free to make a decision. Ideally, the parenting plan would also stipulate different response times for matters that are considered urgent (e.g., medical emergencies, school-related activities, important deadlines, etc.).
If your parenting plan contains this language, I suggest calmly reminding your ex (by phone if possible—the tone of email can easily get misinterpreted) of the agreed upon timeline(s). Once you’ve referenced the agreement, it is up to you to abide by its terms. In so doing, any future disregard for the documented timeline, by either party, will be construed as permission to proceed.
If your parenting document does not include the aforementioned clause, I recommend including it, ad hoc. Though you can choose to do this via the legal system, if you and your ex are pretty good about adhering to agreements, legal intervention may not be necessary.
Let your ex know that you would like to work with her to come up with a response timeline that each of you will follow, for both urgent and non-urgent situations. Once this agreement is in place, write it down. Keep a copy for yourself and provide your ex with a copy to refer to in the future.
After the agreement is in place, stick to it. When solo decisions are made, send a courtesy follow up email so your ex is in the loop.
One final tip. Though it won't always be possible, whenever you see an opportunity to free yourself of the slow-or-no-response game, take it. Try to minimize the number of appointments, activities, and events that require cross-coordinate between you and your ex. One way to do this is to schedule kid-related activities only on your own residential time.
Hopefully these tips will help free you up to do more of what you do best: love your children. Good luck!
Yours In Health,
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers divorce consultation, co-parenting support, grief therapy, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Struggling to communicate with an ex? Schedule a free consultation to see how divorce counseling and co-parent support can help you create the co-parenting relationship your children deserve.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.