How Do You Deal With a Toxic Co-Parent?
Your attempts at co-parenting have left you exhausted and frustrated. Are you dealing with a truly toxic co-parent? Here’s how to cope.
Signs Of A Toxic Co-Parent
High-conflict personalities are toxic to interact with because they make everything harder than it needs to be. They exhibit some or all of the following behaviors:
- Blame. Your co-parent blames you for the divorce and any issues with the children. They don’t take accountability for their behavior. They are so focused blaming you for everything that they are incapable of self-reflection.
- Bad–mouthing. Your co-parent trashes you to the kids. They may say things about you that aren’t even true. They do this for various reasons: they use the children for therapy; they think they are “protecting” the kids by telling them how awful you are; your ex can’t stand the thought of your kids liking you more.
- Dramatic behavior. Your co-parent doesn’t know moderation. Everything your ex does is extreme and causes chaos: threats, hostile emails, yelling, accusing you of negligence over minor parenting gaffes. They cause so much drama during drop-offs that your children have a hard time transitioning between households.
- Boundary violations. Your co-parent wouldn’t know a boundary if it hit them over the head. They try to tell you how to run your house. They call the kids multiple times during your visitation schedule. You’ve lost authority over your kids because your kids get the message from your ex that they don’t have to follow your rules.
If your co-parent demonstrates any of the above behaviors, don’t despair! You can’t change them, but you can find ways to manage your co-parenting relationship and stay sane.
4 Ways To Deal With A Toxic Co-Parent
Co-parenting with a high-conflict ex is like having someone close to you who’s in active addiction or has a mental illness that’s untreated. Unless you find strategies to skillfully interact with them, you’ll drive yourself nuts and respond in ways that make co-parenting even harder. Here are some things you can try to improve your situation.
- Communicate strategically. Responding defensively to your co-parent’s hostile emails and texts will just inflame drama. When you communicate with your ex, say as little as possible, in the most boring manner as possible. Don’t be emotional, sarcastic, or preachy. And don’t be at their beck and call; you don’t need to answer an email right away, or even communicate more than once a day. Sticking to the facts and holding your boundaries will help minimize conflict.
- Practice radical acceptance. Stop looking for the perfect choice of words to give your ex an epiphany: they are who they are and nothing you say will change them. Waiting for the day when your ex has a personality overhaul will keep you from focusing on the present, and the best choices you can make given the way life is today.
- Set boundaries. Crazy-making co-parents love to steamroll your boundaries. If you struggle to set limits, you need to get better at asserting yourself. You don’t need to accommodate your ex’s visitation swap requests if they don’t suit you. You can take your kids’ phone during mealtimes so your ex can’t spoil dinner. You do not need to defend your parenting choices, or change your house rules to keep the peace (they’ll just find a way to stir up more drama, anyway). Tell your kids to come to you directly if they have a problem with you; explain that your ex is responsible for your ex, and you’re responsible for you.
- Be a self-care junkie. It’s critical that you learn ways to regulate your nervous system so you’re not in a state of chronic stress. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating properly. Make a list of coping skills that you utilize when you’re coming unglued: exercise, take a walk, meditate, do something creative, talk to a therapist. The more you can skillfully manage your reactions, the better able you’ll be to detach from the crazy.
Remember: ruminating about your toxic co-parent’s evil ways is not only a waste of time, but will also make you depressed and anxious. Focusing on strategies to manage your relationship with your ex is the first step towards your empowerment!
Read more: High Conflict Divorce: When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work, Try Parallel Parenting