3 Ways To Co-Parent With A Bullying Ex

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Co-parenting with a bullying ex is all about conflict management. You’ll never turn your mean-spirited former spouse into a reasonable person, but you can learn ways to dial down the conflict and manage your own reactions. Read on to find out how.Let go of the fantasy that your ex will change. Many people believe that successful co-parenting involves a secret formula that will turn a nightmare ex into a garden-variety human being. This is unlikely! High-conflict people have entrenched personality structures that cause them to blame other people. Once you realize that your spouse is never going to be able to consciously co-parent, you can adjust your expectations accordingly. Otherwise, you will continue to break your own heart by having your well-intentioned attempts to co-parent met with vitriol.

Communicate Strategically. Bullying exes love sending nasty emails and texts! It’s an easy, lazy way of engaging in warfare and offloading whatever anger and shame they might be feeling onto you. Don’t take the bait and respond in kind. If you react with anger, fear, or defensiveness, he or she will know exactly how to hurt you and continue barraging you with cyber-bullets. When communicating with your high-conflict spouse, keep your emails brief, factual, and neutral in tone. Set your boundaries and be firm – don’t engage in a negotiation via email rallies. If your heart pounds when you read an angry email, wait till you cool down before responding or sending your response. If you communicate in an almost robotic way, you won’t make your spouse nicer, but you will give him less to fight about.

Manage your emotional reactivity. The worst thing about co-parenting with a bully isn’t so much his (or her) behavior but your reaction to his behavior. If you are in a perpetual state of turmoil resenting the crappy things he did or worrying about the crappy things he might do or the impact all this will have on your children, you will make yourself nuts. And if your nervous system is in overdrive, you will struggle to function at work, parent your  children effectively, or enjoy any aspect of your life.

Tips for staying calm include:

  • Limiting contact with your ex;
  • Practicing strategic communication as discussed above;
  • Not taking the crazy things your ex says about you personally;
  • Using coping skills such as mindfulness meditation, grounding exercises, and
  • Journaling to tolerate distress.

Staying on an even keel will help you navigate co-parenting conflicts with a clear head.

The better you’re able to cope with your difficult ex, the better your children will cope with the divorce. Kids absorb their parents’ stress, so do what you can to manage the conflict. You can’t control what your ex does, but you can control how you choose to respond to your ex and what you model to your children.

Read more: 

High Conflict Divorce: When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work, Try Parallel Parenting

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