Coparenting with a toxic ex-spouse can be challenging, but it’s not impossible to find ways to navigate the situation effectively for the well-being of your children.
Over 30 years of research indicate that that ongoing parental conflict increases children’s risk of psychological and social problems during and after divorce and into adulthood. The higher your conflict, the more likely your children will suffer. You may see them exhibiting symptoms like loss of energy, depression, anxiety, difficulty focusing, sleep disturbance, isolating from family and friends, and acting out. And some children outwardly seem “ok” but are struggling inwardly.
Here are some suggestions that may help:
- Prioritize the well-being of your children: Remember that your children’s needs come first. Focus on creating a healthy and supportive environment for them, even if it means setting aside your differences with your ex-spouse.
- Establish clear boundaries: Clearly define boundaries with your ex-spouse to minimize conflict. Communicate your expectations and discuss how you will handle various parenting situations. Stick to the agreed-upon rules and avoid engaging in confrontations.
- Improve communication: Although communication may be difficult, strive to keep interactions civil, concise, and focused solely on parenting matters. To maintain a record of discussions and reduce misinterpretations, use written communication methods, such as email, text messages, or a coparenting app.
- Seek professional help: Consider involving a family therapist specializing in coparenting and conflict resolution skills. A neutral third party can provide guidance and strategies to cope with the toxic behavior and help facilitate effective communication. I recommend my clients read Bill Eddy’s BIFF for Coparent Communication1 to learn effective communication tools.
- Be a positive role model for your children: Be respectful to your coparent, show empathy, and use the effective communication skills you have been learning. This can help counteract any negative influence from the toxic behavior they may witness.
- Create a detailed parenting plan: Work together or with a coparenting specialist to establish a comprehensive parenting plan outlining schedules, responsibilities, and decision-making processes. A well-defined plan can reduce potential conflicts and provide a structured framework for coparenting. Research finds that when divorcing parents create their own agreements and include their children in the divorce process, allowing them to talk with a neutral child specialist with expertise in children’s adjustment and developmental needs during and after divorce, the children and the parents are more well-adjusted during and after the divorce, and the parents’ agreements are more durable.
- Stay focused on the children’s needs: When making decisions regarding your children, prioritize their best interests. Remember that coparenting is about raising healthy and happy children, rather than satisfying personal desires or trying to “win” against your ex- spouse.
- Take care of yourself: Coparenting with a toxic ex-spouse can be emotionally draining, so prioritize self-care. Engage in activities that help you reduce stress, such as exercising, practicing mindfulness, or seeking support from friends, family, therapist, or clergy.
- Choose a peaceful, respectful, family-focused divorce process: Collaborative divorce or divorce team mediation empower you to you create win-win solutions for everyone. Divorce coaches, who are specialists in communication and family restructuring, meet with you to help you learn how to resolve conflict now and into the future. The child specialist meets with your children to educate them about divorce, hear their hopes and concerns, and be their voices as all of you move through the divorce process. You, the parents, make all the decisions about your children.
Remember, effective coparenting may require time, patience, and perseverance. While it can be challenging, your commitment to creating a positive environment for your children can profoundly impact their well-being now and into the future.
1 BIFF for Coparent Communication by Bill Eddy