Individuals journeying through the process of divorce and separation have been emotionally wounded causing them not to trust one another. During the marriage or partnership, trust can be lost through lies, conflict and infidelity. Trust may continue to erode during the co-parenting partnership by not keeping your word, being late for exchanges, and not following through with commitments and court orders. You become suspicious of each other’s motives. You interpret every comment, every e-mail and every action as one more reason your co-parent cannot be trusted.
Once trust is lost, it’s difficult to build again. However, because of your children, rebuilding trust through commitment to the co-parenting relationship is essential. Rebuilding this trust in the co-parenting relationship requires the following Three C’s: Confidence, Commitment and Consistency.
Believe in yourself and your powers and abilities. Believing in yourself means having faith in your own capabilities. Have confidence in your ability to succeed as a parent and co-parent. Be personally accountable for your parenting responsibilities.
Build confidence in the co-parenting relationship by being considerate. Tell your co-parent things they may need or like to know such as school functions, sports activities and notes from school. By volunteering detailed and reliable information, they will rebuild trust in you.
Take action to support the other parent’s relationship with the children. Tell your co-parent you appreciate their relationship with the children while emphasizing how important it is. Encourage your children to respect the other parent, behave appropriately and spend time with them both in person and by phone. Be flexible with the children’s schedules.
Understand that rebuilding trust is difficult. There will be bumps in the road. Be reasonable with your co-parent and not make unfair demands. Be open and willing to work on the coparenting relationship. Keep and follow through on the commitments you make. Continuing your efforts to develop trust benefits not only you and the co-parenting relationship, it benefits your children. It shields everyone from unnecessary tension and conflict and enables you to confidently move forward in the co-parenting relationship.
Your behaviors must work in harmony with your words. Your co-parent, as well as your children, have to become confident that you with follow through on your financial and parenting responsibilities, agreements and promises. If you commit to something, do it. Follow court orders and items outlined in your parenting plan. If you can’t do it, speak to your co-parent and children openly and honestly about it. Do something to make up for it. Trust requires that your co-parent and children believe you’re dependable.
Showing commitment to your children will demonstrate to your co-parent that you are invested in your role as parent and will increase their confidence in the co-parenting partnership. Spending time with your children sends a message that you love them and consider them worthy of your time. Be prompt when exchanging the children. Tardiness erodes trust. If you are late, apologize. Show some empathy and explain briefly why you were late.
Commit yourself to telling the truth even when it is difficult or embarrassing. When asked a question, be as truthful in your answer as you can. The truth, while not meeting your co-parents approval, is necessary in order to restore trust in your relationship. People are very forgiving. They don’t expect you to be perfect, but do expect you to own up to your mistakes. Accept blame rather than shifting it to someone else. Acknowledge your mistakes. Make the effort to genuinely apologize. You will become much more trustworthy.
Show consistency in all aspects of your behavior. When we show clear and consistent behaviors, actions and words, we create a safe environment for others. We become reliable and predictable. DO what you say you will do. This will help your co-parent feel safe as they are now aware of how you will react to different events. Consistent behavior is a hallmark of great parent and builds faith in the co-parenting relationship.
Create an environment for your partner that makes him/her feel safe in your presence. Speak respectfully to the other parent. Do not allow your emotions to rule the co-parenting communication. Refrain from blameful conversations. Practice effective communication skills such as active listening, reflective listening and I-Statements.
Look at rebuilding, and ultimately, restoring trust as a gift you give your children that will bring with it mutual respect between two co-parenting adults. Trust most always can be rebuilt. It may not be a quick or easy process, instead it takes doing the right things over a long period of time. But in most cases, and with effort, it can be done and the results are unmeasurable.
Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC