Divorce and separation are challenging no matter what, but when you have a difficult ex, the challenge increases exponentially. However, it can be managed, with the right perspective and some proactive strategies.
Your ex may have made you feel bad about yourself during your marriage/relationship so your self-esteem is low. You may be exhausted from years of dealing with your ex’s difficult behavior and you can get triggered by this. How do you co-parent when it’s so hard to control your emotions? Follow these 5 guidelines to make co-parenting with a difficult ex more effective:
1. Build your self-esteem and be patient with yourself. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend. Be patient with yourself – if you mess up, recognize that you’re learning how to deal with a very difficult situation. Change your self-talk from “I can’t believe I let her get to me.” to “I’m doing the best I can and it’s ok.”
2. Don’t get triggered by your ex’s provocative remarks. This is easier said than done. If you can take a pause before you respond, you’ll give yourself the time to think through how you’d like to handle the situation. A pause enables you to respond rather than react. Take a few deep breaths, meditate, call a friend – anything that helps you calm down.
3. Seek a parenting coordinator through the courts. Courts can appoint a parenting coordinator to coordinate scheduling and communication issues between the parents. It’s helpful to have a professional who is trained to deal with high conflict divorce handle these issues.
4. Develop your divorce strategy. What are your priorities? What kind of life do you want in 6 months or 1 year? Without a strategy, you can get derailed by your ex’s behavior. Remind yourself why you’re leaving the marriage and what kind of life you want going forward. This will give you perspective beyond the current struggle.
5. Don’t make your child the middleman. Don’t use your child to send messages to the other parent, don’t vent to your child about the other parent and don’t ask your child for information about the other parent. Let your children know that it’s not ok to do those things and if either parent tries to do any of those behaviors, they will know that it’s not ok. They can learn to set boundaries with their other parent.
The life you want is waiting for you. Ignore the noise that’s coming from your ex and celebrate that it can’t control you anymore. Focus on the present moment, breathe deeply, notice nature, appreciate freedom. Once you recognize that finding your peace has nothing to do with anyone else, you’ll have the life that you’ve been dreaming of.
We can get provoked or “triggered” by many things – a fight with a spouse, a child who won’t listen, a boss who treats you badly, an aggressive driver, etc. Being triggered simply means that some event has impacted us emotionally and we have a difficult time reacting rationally. When we’re triggered, we do things that we shouldn’t do. We yell back at our spouse or child, we say something inappropriate to our boss, or we leave in a huff. How wonderful would it be if we could somehow, in the moment that we are triggered, find a way to detach?
One skill that you may have tried in the past when you’ve been triggered is deep abdominal breathing. Deep abdominal breathing is where you push your stomach out as you breath in and pull your stomach in as you breath out. This enables your lungs to expand much farther than if you take the typical “chest breath”. When you do it correctly and for long enough, your brain will release a hormone that will calm you. This calm will enable you to detach. Once you’re detached, you can respond logically rather than emotionally.
Sometimes deep abdominal breathing doesn’t work. You try it and you’re still triggered and unable to detach. Grounding is another technique that can be helpful in these circumstances. Grounding is a type of coping strategy that is designed to “ground” you in or connect you to the present moment. You can only use grounding if you have given yourself some space from the person that you were interacting with. You can say that you have to go to the bathroom, ask them if you can talk about this a little later or find some other way to get to a separate space. Once you’ve gotten to a separate space, you can try these steps for grounding:
The key to being successful with these techniques is to practice them when you’re not being triggered. You can also make up your own method of grounding that enables you to distract and detach yourself from your emotions. Learning to detach is a powerful tool that can help you to be more successful in your communication skills and improve your relationships with your spouse, children, boss and anyone else important in your life. Let me know what techniques work for you!
On average, 40% of all first marriages end in divorce, and over half of those families have children under the age of 18. When you add to that the 57% of millennials choosing to have children outside of a marital union, there are lot of parents who are not living under the same roof. Under the best of circumstances, raising a child is difficult, but when you’re divorced or not living together, it brings a lot of additional challenges.
Ideally, both parents share childcare responsibilities – and the quality of their co-parenting relationship can be characterized by the extent to which they support or fail to support each other. When parents fail to cooperate, it can have consequences for all involved. For years, research has shown that the quality of interaction between separated parents is a strong predictor of the mental health and psychological well-being of children living in this type of family structure and young children especially are at higher risk for anxiety, aggressive behavior, and poor social skills. If you can’t manage to get along, it can cause lasting mental and emotional problems for your kids.
In such situations, having a support network is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your family. All parents going through divorce or separation need supportive people that they can talk to, so they don’t speak to their children about any ill feelings about the other parent. A therapist, a friend, a family member, a clergy member, or any supportive individual can make the difference between frustration and anger and learning how to manage your emotions.
The following rules an help to build a healthy co-parenting environment:
Following these rules – even if you’re not on the same page as your ex - is a gift to your children. They will benefit tremendously from having a secure, reliable relationship with both parents. And if you find that you fall off the wagon sometimes, don’t beat yourself up - the rules aren’t always easy to follow. Admit to your child that you made a mistake, apologize and move on. The gift your child will receive is less anxiety and more stability, as you and your ex work together for their well-being.
In today’s fast-paced, connected world, we often communicate via email and text. Remembering to update an ex on all events, conversations and decisions is important and requires organization and time. But failure to do so can lead to the breakdown of the co-parenting relationship and can negatively impact your children.
Luckily there are tools that are now available to help co-parents communicate more effectively. The app that I’d like to highlight is called “2Houses” which includes a calendar where every family member can view an online schedule. Parents can schedule recurrent activities like tennis lessons and special events such as birthday parties. The app has a finance tool that helps parents manage their children’s expenses. When a payment is needed for a doctor’s appointment, a reminder is sent to the parent in charge of that payment. A great feature is a wish list where each parent can suggest what should be bought for their children such as food or something needed for school. It even has an album feature where you can share pictures of your children with each other. Lastly, there is an info bank where you can share important contact numbers and addresses.
If something is not communicated correctly, there can be serious consequences. Apps like 2Houses make it easier for co-parents to be on the same page. By using 2Houses, the chances of miscommunication is lessened and you and your children will benefit.
Marriage isn’t always easy and most, if not all, marriages go through ups and downs. The loss of a job, mourning the loss of a friend or parent or an illness can significantly impact a marriage. In some marriages, neither spouse ever considers divorce. But sometimes one or both spouses may think about divorce.
Thinking about divorce is very different from deciding you want a divorce. When you’re just thinking about divorce, you’re not ready to take that step. You may be very angry at your spouse or feel very hurt. You may realize that the stresses that you’re dealing with right now will not last forever. When you spend a night out with your spouse you may get along well and feel hopeful that things will get better. And many times things do get better.
In general, unless you’re seriously thinking about divorce, you probably shouldn’t mention it to your spouse. Threats of divorce or leaving a relationship can be damaging to a relationship. If there’s a discussion about divorce every time there is a fight, that can make the relationship emotionally unsafe. Divorce is a loaded word and shouldn’t be overused. Once you say it, you can’t take it back.
Most people who are seriously considering divorce have thought about it for a long time. But when do you talk about it with your spouse? It depends on a lot of factors. Is there abuse in the relationship? Are you concerned that your spouse may do something extreme if you have that discussion? Do you have children? Does your spouse react rationally to stressful situations? All of these things must be considered before you make the decision to talk to your spouse about getting a divorce.
One way of navigating this process is to work with a professional – a therapist who can provide a safe place where you can discuss your feelings with your spouse. Ideally you can come to the decision together whether or not to get divorced. Although that’s not always possible, if you’re working with a therapist, you’ll have guidance about how to work together respectfully. You can avoid some post-divorce anger and misunderstanding. This is especially important if there are children involved because children are significantly impacted by their parents’ relationship.
Jill Barnett Kaufman is a Divorce Coach, Therapist, Parent Educator and Divorce Mediator. She is an experienced professional who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges when considering divorce, starting the process of divorce or are already divorced.