I know a number of very lucky women who after divorcing or leaving their child’s father, either had him drop off the face of the planet, or who have a wonderful post-divorce relationship with their ex. Both groups are able to parent their children both with the same goal—ensuring that their children grown and develop into fully functional adults without the baggage from their parent’s divorce ruling their lives.
The women in the first category may have a difficult time of it—money worries likely being one of the most important outcomes. However, those are the lucky women who get to make all the decisions without interference. Of course, they also have to take on all the consequences – but if done right, these women can mould fully functional adults without the pressure of a difficult co-parenting relationship.
The women in the second category – well, I never fully understand why they’d feel the need to split up a parenting relationship that works so well, but I suppose each has their own specific circumstances and I respect that.
And I would point out – I’m sure that there are also men in the same situation. Happens most of the people I’ve known or had discussions about it with are women.
I fall into neither of those categories. My ex-husband, while I’m sure he loves our children a great deal, unfortunately, he hates me much more than that. This hatred taints every interaction that we have, and I suspect it also taints every interaction that he has with our children. He has in his very nature a high conflict personality and thrives on making every interaction between us (and between himself and others) into an argument.
Complicating this, my ex also suffers from an array of mental health issues. Some diagnosed, some not. My own therapy has taught me that in order to overcome mental health issues, one has to have an inherently flexible and resilient personality, and also one has to be able to have insight into their own behavior and the results to be able to take corrective action. It’s unfortunate, but it seems that his upbringing (mostly his mother) taught him to be completely dependent on others (he lives in his own house, but his mother now lives with him), and that he is never, ever the cause of his own problems. His primary motivation is to find someone else to blame for everything that causes him or his children difficulty. Even if it means making it up.
Have I just described someone in your life? Possibly your coparent? Through trial and error, I have hacked together a way to deal with this and somehow maintain (most of) my sanity.
- Consider getting a parenting coach and/or mediator/arbitrator. You need to vet this person – to ensure that they’ve dealt with an HCP before. Prior to your first appointment “together”, you need to have a no-holds barred conversation about how conflicts will be dealt with, what happens if (when) your HCP starts to get abusive, how agreements (if they can be reached) will be enforced. I found that getting everything in writing generally meant that I could refer back to the agreement, parrot it back, and sometimes he would stick to it. You also need to ensure that you have some control over the situation – so you’re not stuck with a large bill at the end because your ex spent a lot more time arguing than you expected. But…if you’re expecting this will be the magic bullet, see Why Parenting Coordination Didn’t Work for Me.
- Get support. Ultimately, this is the most important thing you must do. You need girlfriends, family, co-workers, even a therapist—whatever. Someone who will listen to you rant without necessarily understanding what you’re going through—but listening. Sometimes the sympathetic ear can help you to hear yourself.
- If necessary, forego verbal communication. In my case, this was necessary for my own sanity. When communicating verbally in person, I could see my ex was not listening to me, but instead formulating in his mind what he wanted to say next. He’d decide what the conversation was about when it started and continue to enforce his point whether I’d gone onto another topic or not. Now, for exchanges of our young children, with the help of a mediator, we developed a format for written communication which allows little deviance from fact. It contains only the pertinent information about the children’s clothing and possessions, homework, medication and general health status. Occasionally there’s a barb here or there (admittedly on both sides), but in general, because the method of communication is so formal, the sting is generally taken out of it.
- If getting everything in writing is necessary, you should also likely try to limit your physical interactions with your ex. Make a custody schedule where all exchanges are done either at the children’s school or through a neutral third party. This will limit your ex’s opportunities to increase the conflict.
- Keep your children out of it. Don’t use them as messengers. Don’t backtalk the other parent in front of them. Don’t make them feel like they’re in the middle. Because it’s not their fault.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Before communicating with your ex, remember the end goal, and try to stick to it. In my case, prior to writing an e-mail, I decide what I want my message to be and try to stick to it without emotion or accusation. I am not always successful. Sometimes the message gets across, but more often then not, it doesn’t. Especially if I’ve made an emotional statement or an accusation. My ex needs to feel like he’s in control of the situation in order to absorb information. So I let him. When my son has homework, I suggest that I know he knows how important it is for him to get it done. Is it manipulative? Damn straight. But if it works, and he’s happy, and I’m happy, where’s the harm?
- At some point, you may have to just draw a line under it. My parenting coordinator at the very beginning of our time said to me, “He was like that when you were married…why do you think he’ll change now.” Your ex won’t change. The only thing that you can change is the way that you react to the interaction.
That’s all I can offer you. Everyone’s situation is different. I urge you to evaluate your own situation—and make sure that you have a safety plan in place if necessary for the sake of yourself and your children. I’ve been lucky in that although my ex is a very difficult man to deal with, he’s too afraid of his own shadow to consider any violence. And since I’ve limited his opportunities to even think about it (and my current husband is twice his size), I don’t worry about it. But you may need to.
I hope that this blog may have set you on the right path to dealing with your difficult ex. I’d love to hear what methods some of you use!