Two people rarely make it through a divorce as friends, but many are capable of being civil to one another, even if only for the sake of the children. But what happens if your ex is toxic or worse, a narcissist? Co-parenting needs to be approached in a different way when your former partner is confrontational and difficult to work with.
Here are six tips for co-parenting when your ex is toxic:
1. Set Firm Boundaries
Setting firm boundaries will not only help you keep your sanity (and avoid stress), but it will also provide your child with a safe space where there’s no need to be fearful of arguments or psychological abuse.
Be clear about these boundaries, and make sure your ex understands them.
2. Avoid Saying Negative Things About Your Ex in Front of the Child
While this is a common piece of advice in the co-parenting world, it’s worth repeating: avoid making negative comments about your ex in front of your child.
It’s over between you and your ex, but your child will still need to have a relationship with his/her parent – unless your former spouse is abusive in some way or a danger to your child. The comments you make and your attitude towards your ex will impact your child’s opinion. By perpetuating a negative opinion of your ex, you’re being just as toxic and may prevent your child from developing a healthy parent-child relationship. Someday in the future, your child may resent you for this very reason.
3. Identify Triggers and Try to Avoid Them
By now, you probably have a good idea of which triggers set your ex off, or you off for that matter. Keep these triggers in mind, so you can avoid them whenever possible or approach sensitive topics from a different angle.
If last minute plans or visitation requests make your ex angry and confrontational, do your best to make plans ahead of time, or explain that a situation was out of your control. While you may not always be able to avoid confrontation, you can do your best to minimize it.
4. Keep Your Composure
When your ex flies off the handle, it’s easy to go along for the ride, but staying calm will defuse the situation. And while you may not want to, try to truly listen to what your ex is saying and see where they’re coming from.
Reiterate that you understand his/her point of view, and ask how you can work together to solve the problem.
Not all couples can do this, but staying calm and taking the higher ground by trying to work together – rather than against each other – may ultimately make co-parenting easier in the future.
Shouting back or name-calling will only escalate the situation further. But if you remain calm, your ex will have little reason to continue on a tirade.
Keeping your composure becomes even more important when the children are around. They likely saw and heard their fair share of fighting when the two of you were married. If the bickering continues after the divorce, the children may feel as if there is no escape from the anger and negativity you are both perpetuating.
5. Keep Contact to a Minimum If You Have To
In some cases, an ex may be so toxic that the child and the former spouse are better off limiting contact. Typically, visitations are supervised, and communication outside of this scheduled time may be limited for the sake of the child’s physical and mental health.
If this situation applies to you, try to avoid contact unless necessary. This does not mean that you should cut off all contact between your ex and your child, unless abuse or neglect is in question. But limiting your own contact with your former spouse can make life more peaceful for all involved.
6. Vow to Be Pleasant Without Being a Doormat
Keeping your composure when things heat up is a great start, but making the effort to be pleasant – without being a doormat – can also go a long way in keeping visitations and child-related decisions as stress-free as possible.
You don’t have to like your ex. But you don’t have to be unnecessarily confrontational or disrespectful either. And if your ex crosses the line, you always have the option to walk away from the situation rather than allowing it to escalate out of control.
Co-parenting with a toxic ex is a tremendous challenge, but remaining calm, setting boundaries and doing your part to be a cooperative parent can go a long way in avoiding conflict, stress and emotional pain.