Following divorce, many people hope to be able to co-parent with their ex and put the needs of the children first. Unfortunately this is not always possible. Sometimes an ex-spouse is passive aggressive or openly hostile, putting your kids in the middle and making life unreasonably stressful and chaotic as a result. So, what can you do if you are in the midst of one these situations?

What is parallel parenting?

When your ex refuses to communicate or is overly controlling or hostile, you need to accept it for what it is. You need to protect yourself from the constant drama and protect your children from the chaos. The way to do this is by practicing parallel parenting instead of co-parenting. Parallel parenting still places each parent’s relationship with the children as a priority, but parents become disengaged from one another. 

Keep communication limited and business-like

One of the first things you should do is to limit communication to avoid being pulled into arguments. Keep communication straightforward and business-like. Communicate about your children by email, text, or use a parent communication journal or mobile app if that is easier. Do not discuss your personal life with your ex outside of any subject matter that does not relate to the logistics, health or well being of the children. Keep phone calls brief and to the point. If your ex tries to pull you into an argument, end the call and tell him or her you can discuss further when everyone is calm. If situations escalate in front of the children, leave or end the conversation immediately and continue to shield them from the fighting.

Solid boundaries are essential

Set boundaries, but keep these boundaries to yourself. You do not need to explain this to your ex because you will be showing them using your actions. People who are unable to put aside their anger for the sake of the children’s well being are not capable of respecting other people’s boundaries, so there is no point in trying to get them to change. Practice your poker face, remain calm and create space between you and your ex using actions, not words. 

Disengage from legal threats and direct them to your lawyer

If your ex has a habit of threatening legal action against you, avoid reacting to it. This can be difficult, but if you tell your ex to direct any litigation-related communication to your attorney, you will avoid emotionally charged arguments. Many ex-spouses use empty threats to control the other parent. 

Send the divorce decree to the school and counselors

Many combative exes tend to tear down the other parent to teachers, coaches, or child therapists. You can provide a copy of your custody agreement along with your contact information so that you can remain an active participant in your child’s care and education. You may not be able to control their opinion of you, but you can demonstrate that you will put your child first no matter what.

It can be highly stressful to deal with a destructive ex wrapped up in their anger. You should talk to an attorney so you have a plan for dealing with the behavior and shielding your child from the conflict. Document the other parent’s behavior and your responses. If you can control your emotions and maintain the best interests of your child, you will be a step ahead and ready for a custody battle if you decide to initiate one.