If you are a co-parent, you either have a good co-parenting relationship or a not-so-good one with your ex-spouse. Sometimes, when you have what we call a ‘high-conflict’ ex-spouse, co-parenting can present unique challenges to you [and by extension], to your kids. Here are some do’s and don’ts about co-parenting with a high-conflict person.
>Do communicate just the facts. When in communication with your co-parent, be sure that you are discussing only facts that pertain to your child and what they might need to know for when your child is in their care. There is a great book called BIFF for Co-Parent Communication by Bill Eddy [buy it here] that gives you real-life examples and how to handle them for texts, emails, and social media posts. This book is a must-read if you tend to get sucked down the rabbit hole of having to respond to every single thing your ex says.
>Don’t engage if you don’t need to. When your co-parent makes provocative comments, personal attacks, or otherwise tries to get your goat, take a pause and a deep breath, and then respond [rather than react] by saying something neutral like, “I’ll think about that,” or “You are welcome to your opinion of ______ , and I disagree”. Do not respond to emails or texts with an emotional response. Again, stick ONLY to the facts. [Remember that BIFF book I mentioned?]
>Do set a good example. Never speak poorly of your co-parent to or within earshot of your child. Remember to always keep your kids as your focus–don’t ever put them in the middle of a conflict between you and your co-parent. Also, check in with yourself about your tone of voice and your facial expressions around your ex. Stay as neutral as possible.
>Do consider parallel parenting. This is a type of co-parenting in which communication is limited to being in writing only, often with the help of a co-parenting app. The children essentially live in two separate, yet parallel households. Parallel parenting is useful when you need or want that distance from your co-parent.
>Do remember that you can only control YOU. You are responsible for any and all reactions or responses to things your co-parent does or says. Take the high road for the sake of your kids. At the same time, stand your ground and don’t allow your ex to talk you into doing things you don’t want to do just to keep the peace. Which leads me to….
>Do set clear and firm boundaries. If your ex is always asking to switch days, and you don’t want to or cannot accommodate the request, be firm. You are absolutely within your rights to say ‘That won’t work this time.’ No need to offer an excuse or explanation.
>Do engage in self-care. I can’t stress this one enough. This could mean having a spa day, or a dinner with girlfriends, but it could also mean something like talking with a counselor, journaling, moving your body in a way that feels good to you, eating well, and getting enough sleep. You need to be at your best so you can advocate for yourself and your kids during this process.
The process of divorce is a long and emotional one. Having a high-conflict ex can make it even more overwhelming when tensions are already high, causing you more stress and angst in the process. Don’t go it alone if you are dealing with someone like this. Your therapist and/or your divorce coach can absolutely help you learn strategies to help you cope with the challenges of a high-conflict ex.
Need help negotiating a co-parenting relationship with your ex, or navigating something else in the divorce process? I’d love to help you. Feel free to reach out to me or follow me on Instagram for practical tips and advice.