But My Ex Is _____
I recently received the following question: “Do you have any podcasts on how to deal with a narcissist post-divorce via co-parenting and negotiating? This is a difficult personality to be married too. I thought life would get better after divorce but I have accepted he will always be a pain and seek to be in control.”
I have heard many variations of this question down through the years. My ex is bi-polar, by ex is controlling, my ex is angry, my ex suffers from depression, my ex is a pathological liar so how can I co-parent with them. Each of these situations has it’s own set of difficulties that a licensed counselor or therapist would be more qualified to address, but there are some things you can do to make life easier when dealing with someone who may not be easy to work with.
Dealing With Any Ex Isn’t Easy
First of all I want to say that if your ex has been diagnosed with a psychological disorder it does not mean that they cannot be dealt with. If he or she is seeking treatment, following through with counseling and taking any prescribed medications your experience should not be significantly different than the norm.
If your ex has an untreated psychological disorder, or just a basic character flaw, co-parenting can be nearly impossible. There are situations where you need to determine if it’s safe for your children to be alone with your ex. If at any time you think you or your children may be in an unsafe situation you need to take the appropriate actions to ensure everyone’s safety.
Dealing with an ex is rarely easy. Something broke down in your marriage that caused you to get a divorce so there is no reason to think your relationship will suddenly get better after the divorce. The pain and ill will caused by the divorce process can linger for a long time making joint parenting decisions difficult. Take some time to exam yourself to make sure you are not using your ex’s issues as an excuse to avoid the difficult task of working with them.
If you are dealing with a difficult ex, here are some tips to help you manage the situation:
Remember: Your’re Doing This For Your Kids
In an ideal world, kids would grow up in the household with both of their parents. But life isn’t ideal and you are divorced (or divorcing). The next best thing for your children is for both of their parents to work together. If you have a difficult ex this may mean that you have to work extra hard to keep things civil between you. Sometimes you have to choose to be the adult and not let them drag you down to their level.
Pick Your Battles
You cannot effectively co-parent in a situation where you are constantly fighting with your ex. Even if you disagree you have to allow them to be right sometimes. There has to be some give and take. If you are dealing with a narcissist, you may have to do more giving than taking to have a functional co-parenting relationship. If you are dealing with a pathological liar you may have to get everything in writing. If your ex is a hothead you may need to avoid confrontation unless it’s very important to you.
Your goal is to get your kids raised with the fewest possible ill effects from the divorce. Keep this in mind when deciding what to fight for.
Don’t Push Their Hot Buttons
You were married to this person. You probably know better than anyone else how to really set them off. Avoid the temptation to use that knowledge to trigger an outburst or any other kind of confrontation. If they are bi-polar you can probably tell within a few seconds of conversation if they are having a manic or depressive episode. If they are, it would not be a good time to bring up a major issue with the kids.
Don’t Be A Doormat
Even though you need to work together for the best interest of your children, don’t let your ex walk all over you. If your ex has a very controlling personality, you may have let them have their way in your marriage just to keep the peace. While keeping the peace is a good goal to strive for, sometimes it’s just unrealistic. You have to stand your ground on things that matter for your kids. Both parties have to realize that neither one will always get their way.
Put Up A United Front
If at all possible, put up a united front to your children. This can be difficult if you don’t fully agree with a decision that you’ve agreed to, but it’s in your kids’ best interest to see their parents in agreement. Many kids will try to play you against your ex, and if you let them know you disagree with a decision that was made they will see this as an opportunity to drive the wedge between you and your ex in deeper.
If you want more expert advice on how to deal with difficult people I highly recommend the book Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud (affiliate link). The tagline of the book is “When To Say Yes And When To Say No To Take Control Of Your Life”. If you purchase through that link I will get a small commission to help with expenses and it won’t cost you a penny more.
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