You're stuck dealing with this person for YEARS to come, here's how to make it work.
Do you feel like you might strangle someone after receiving yet another jerk email from your toxic ex? Are you sick and tired of faking in front of your kids, as if your ex's new lifestyle choices are completely OK with you or like he isn't nasty and cruel to you despite him being pleasant for five seconds in front of them?
It's like: "Here we are kids — go with your Dad!" only to sink back into the driver’s seat and contemplate how to run over him without harming your children?
Co-parenting with an ex you hate is a nightmare.
Whatever brought about your divorce, you never dreamed that your life with your children could become so upended and disrupted. And, to top it all off — you’re now forced to regularly communicate with a person you no longer recognize, no longer respect, and can’t tolerate.
Human nature is powerful. Part of your brain was designed to ensure one thing and one thing only — survival. That’s the home base of your fight, flight, or freeze alarm system. As long as you feel threatened, the survival instinct remains kicked into overdrive.
Get a nasty, attacking email? Attack back. Brings his girlfriend to your child's soccer game? Rally the other parents to side with you to make him as uncomfortable as possible. He dares to act like everything he’s doing is normal-as-apple-pie? Persistently point out what an inadequate parent he is, while scheduling a sleep-over for the twins with their best friend on HIS residential time.
In short, 'you'll teach him' not to walk all over you, push you around, or discard you.
Divorce in general (and your ex's behavior specifically) makes your feel threatened and attacked. The only thing you can think to do is fight fire with fire. Oh, except, wait ... people who fight fire with fire often end up in ashes.
And, that’s not all. Your children are struggling to find a way to survive the family change, too, which might trigger them to fight (have the kids been much harder to get along with lately?), flee (perhaps they’ve withdrawn to their rooms, their technology or their friends), or freeze (an option children often resort to without you even knowing it).
High-level conflict with your ex is like toxic, second-hand air pollution that your kids breathe.
They feel the effects of the conflict in their emotional and physical body, whether they witness the conflict in person or not. You and I know kids don’t cause adult problems ... and kids can’t solve them. But, these on-going adult problems impact your kids! If it weren’t for your amazing, precious children, you’d have nothing to do with your ex, right?
But kids worry that the conflict and fighting between their parents is because of them. Kids are naturally self-centered, they naturally care about both parents, and so they tell themselves: "I caused it … I’m the one who needed new basketball shoes … I’m the one who had a band concert … I’m the one who forgot my karate clothes as Dad’s."
So, what’s the secret to successfully co-parenting with an ex you completely hate?
Sit down and write out clearly what you want for your children. What do you want their sense of family with you to feel like? If you can take the next step, what do you want for their larger sense of family with you, their Dad… and here’s the tougher step, even with his new partner (if there is one)t to feel like?
Make this your credo: I will not let the loss of my marriage, the hate I have for him, become a daily part of my kids’ childhood.
Now, how about these:
- I want my children to know they can come to either of us with challenges, problems and concerns — they will always have an emotional safe-haven.
- I want my kids to feel emotionally whole, healthy, and loved, which starts with me showing them how to get through this with optimism and faith.
- I care more about peace in my home, health of my boundaries, and happiness with my kids MORE than getting back at my ex.
You see, the opposite of love is not hate. Hate is actually the other side of the ‘love coin’… it’s what we feel when we’re still attached and struggling hard to get unattached from someone we once loved and cared for deeply. Hate comes from feeling powerless or betrayed in love. Hate is a desperate attempt to shield and protect our broken heart.
Even under the banner of protecting your kids, this hate and conflict MUST stop. If your children aren’t safe, protect them (physically and emotionally). Don’t argue or fight or complain. One thing you can know for sure: Toxic, chronic conflict between parents harms kids.
Unless there’s a true safety issue (in which case, the proper authorities should be involved), make shifting out of hate and into self-care your first priority.
Follow these three self-care steps to calm your fight, flight, or freeze response:
- Take good care of yourself.
Get enough sleep, eat healthy, avoid alcohol, and exercise 30 minutes a day (dance in your living room or take a brisk walk).
- Respond to co-parenting communication when you’re in a good emotional place.
Take time to calm down, focus and follow your business communication/e-mail protocol in your reply: Keep it brief, informative, clear, and respectful. You can ignore your co-parent’s attempt to push your emotional buttons. No more fighting fire with fire.
- Focus on creating the family you want for your children.
In the long run, creating a new life with your kids is far more important than getting back at your ex or staying engaged in a struggle with him any longer. It’s co-parent well or nothing! Meanwhile you'll become the best co-parent you can become — because that’s something he’ll never control, nor take away from you.
Remember, the opposite of love is ... indifference.
You’ll know you’ve progressed in your post-divorce recovery process and have turned toward a healthier future when you begin to feel indifferent toward your ex. For a lucky few, that indifference can even evolve to include a new kind of acceptance and friendliness.
Wishing you the very best.