Divorced couples often don’t get along well – that’s why they’re divorced.
Whether things became hostile at the end of the relationship or took a turn for the worst during the divorce itself, sometimes, the couple will never see eye to eye on anything, ever, again. In situations where there are kids involved and co-parenting is required, this can be a hell of a doozy.
It goes without saying that the best thing a separated or divorced couple can do for their kids is to set their feelings about each other aside for the sake of their children and put the kids first. This is great in theory. But in reality, both parents need to commit to this ideal. If one parent is always doing the right thing, and the other one acts like a jerk all the time, how can you co-parent effectively?
I know someone whose ex-wife regularly defies their court orders and runs interference in his relationship with their kids. He’s always surprised and hurt every time it happens because he has always tried to do the right thing by the kids. My advice to him is always that the best indication of future behaviour is past behaviour. So if you know your ex is prone to being an ass, you need to plan for that as best as you can. You cannot change your ex-spouse. You cannot change their behaviour, but you can manage how you deal with them.
1. Step out of the conflict.
If your ex is always looking for conflict and arguments every time you see each other – and yes this can drag on for YEARS after your split – you really need to step back from it. It isn’t good for the kids to see you constantly arguing. If you feel an argument coming on, bite your tongue and don’t take the bait.
As a wise person once said, you don’t have to attend every argument you are invited to. So if they are sending you angry text messages in the middle of the night, you can choose to sleep on it before responding, or don’t respond at all.
In extreme circumstances, if they are constantly threatening or acting in a violent manner, you should consider arranging for your swap overs to be done at an approved family contact centre where you will not have to see your high-conflict ex.
2. Stick to talking about parenting only.
If you try to talk to your ex about the kids and they keep wanting to hurl insults at you or drag up past issues from your relationship, it can be hard to keep your cool. It’s extremely important not to take their bait. Tell them coolly and calmly that you will only talk about the children, and if they can’t agree to that, leave the conversation.
If verbal communication isn’t working out, try to keep any important information you exchange in writing. That way, you will know that you have done the right thing by the kids and kept their other parent informed. Stick to the facts about what you need to communicate, e.g “Lucy has been to see the doctor for an ear infection and is taking antibiotics” – avoid being sarcastic and getting sucked in to petty tit-for-tat arguments.
3. Accept what you can and can’t control.
This is what you can control: yourself, your own household, what your kids do with you when they are on your time in your house. You cannot control how your ex parents on their own time and it will eat you alive stewing on it if you let it. You need to learn to let go of things that you cannot control.
I know someone whose ex refuses to take their child to Saturday sports on his time. There’s absolutely nothing she can do about this, and she and the child have to accept that every second weekend, the child must miss out. If situations like this occur, it is utterly crappy, but the best you can do is to ensure that the time you have with your kids is the best you can give them.
Of course, if your children are genuinely at risk of harm in the other parent’s care, you should seek to remedy this through the legal system.
4. Establish firm boundaries.
You are no longer with your ex so that means they don’t get to micromanage your life. If they are calling, showing up, texting and so on to argue with you at all hours of the day and night, you don’t have to stand for this. Aside from the fact this could be grounds for a restraining order, you can also insist they email you at a certain account that you set aside for them alone and that you check at a designated time once a week. Take control of your own life back.
5. Avoid criticising the ex to your kids.
It can be extremely tempting to vent in front of the kids about the crappy behaviour the other parent is dishing out, and there’s every chance that the other parent is saying bad things about YOU to the kids. However, two wrongs don’t make a right. Hopefully, with time, they will see that you were the better person who didn’t make them feel bad about their other parent all the time.