3 Brutally Honest Signs You're A Toxic Ex-Wife

You're not getting back at your ex; you're just hurting your kids.

Last updated on Jun 11, 2024

Toxic ex-wife, bullying Jose Calsina | Shutterstock

When we think of couples going through "an ugly divorce," people often assume that if one side is being an emotional bully, it's the man. We instantly imagine it's the poor, beleaguered ex-wife who is left to struggle under his oppression and vicious attacks — emotionally, financially, and sometimes even physically. Honestly, I thought that, too, until one of my male family members went through a divorce years ago. Then it became painfully obvious that there are plenty of toxic ex-wife bullies out there, too. Are you a toxic ex-wife? No one wants to admit so, of course. We all believe we're in the right by default, but are you? Here are three tell-tale signs you are engaging in toxic behavior in your post-divorce relationship, not him.


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Here are 3 brutally honest signs you're a toxic ex-wife:

1. You manipulate by withholding child visitation

To clarify, this is one of the cruelest and most vicious ex-wife bully tactics. If your ex is a true threat to the safety of your children, the court should become involved in deciding what safe visitation entails. Outside of that, deciding not to let your ex see the children because you're mad at him — because he has a new girlfriend, or gave the kids junk food, or said something unkind to you — is not a reason to keep your children from their father. Nor is you wanting increased child support more important than their time and relationship with their dad.


According to an oft-cited study "Visitational Interference — A National Study," by J. Annette Vanini, M.S.W and Edward Nichols, M.S.W., "77 percent of non-custodial fathers are not able to 'visit' their children, as ordered by the court, as a result of 'visitation interference' perpetuated by the custodial parent." FYI: that's you, Mom! In other words, moms not honoring court-ordered visitation is a significantly bigger problem (3 times bigger, actually) than dads not honoring court-ordered child support. And you better believe keeping your children from building a relationship with their father impacts them negatively.

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2. You undermine and belittle your ex-husband's parenting

You desperately want to believe that you are the only "good parent." Everything your ex-husband does with the kids is stupid, shocking, terrible ... and wrong. If they dare to parent differently than you, you criticize them. And if they follow your parenting style, you imply they continually fall short in some way. But here's the thing, Mom: those potshots at your ex damage your children. Those mean-spirited "in the moment," and "no big deal" comments carry enormous short and long-term repercussions for kids.

It's like a poison you contaminate every conversation with, sending the message, "Your father is wrong, and loving him is wrong." Oh, and that subtle way you initiate conversations with your children for the sole purpose of berating their father (oh, yes, you do) is nothing but an obvious (and selfish) attempt to drive a wedge between your kids and their father. You better believe both your kids and your ex know what you're up to.


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3. You micro-manage your ex's interactions with the kids to prove you're the boss

Your ex is taking the kids camping? You send along sunscreen and bug spray. Your ex asks if he can pick the kids up at 6 pm, and you say 6:30 pm just to make him wait. Your ex says he's going to take the kids to a new movie, so you take them first before his visitation day. When your ex's parents gift your child with money for her birthday, you take it and tell her you'll decide how she'll spend it. You're a control freak. Why? Because the thought of your children being entirely fine without you drives you crazy.

Even worse, the thought of your children happily getting along with your ex's new girlfriend or wife sends you into a fury. Your emotions are understandable (perhaps), but your poor behavior in response to them is not okay. Newsflash: You don't get to control what happens at your ex's house. You don't get a say in how or when he moves on to a new relationship. And you don't get to pick what toothpaste the kids use at his house. If your child isn't in true danger (in which case you need to speak to the court, not your ex), your opinion on anything else is entirely unwelcome.


So, does this sound like you? Are you a toxic ex-wife? If so, please know you can do something about it. Changing your behavior won't happen overnight, but for your children's sake ... you need to knock it off. And if you're a man dealing with a toxic ex-wife, don't put up with it! There are ways to work yourself out from under her toxic behavior: First, limit communication. Start by keeping your communication with her brief, informative, friendly, and firm. And avoid apologies. The less ammunition you give her, the less of it you'll receive.

Next, avoid getting caught up in her drama. It's natural to want to defend yourself when she's attempting to tear you a new one, but the best response is no response when she acts like this. The more you get into it with her, the more power you're giving her behavior. You're dancing to her tune and you don't want to continue being subject to her whims. (If you did, you'd still be married to her.) Finally, start standing your ground.

Sometimes the best thing to do is call a bully's bluff. Never do this in the heat of the moment; calling her bluff and standing your ground are things you do when you're calm and communicating clearly. You regain control of your life and stop the emotional bullying only when you clarify and honor your boundaries. "Yes, but she's so frustrating!" The reality is, no matter what you do and how well you avoid caving to your ex-wife's bullying ways, she's still probably freaking out and behaving poorly when she doesn't get her way. And you'll likely feel frustrated and angry when she does. That's normal and understandable, but it's not okay that she puts her anger and ire above the health and happiness of your children.

But don't let her behavior stop you from raising happy, healthy kids who are part of a loving extended family (that doesn't include her). The most important thing is that your kids have a happy, rock-solid relationship with you. So pick your battles and keep your eyes on the long-term game instead of the moment-to-moment skirmishes she is so fond of starting. This is how my family member handled his bully of an ex-wife. He felt mad at his ex, but he stopped taking the bait when she taunted him. He worked with an attorney when she got really out of control. And, most importantly, he made his relationship with his sons his absolute top priority. And as a result, he has a terrific relationship with his boys. Remember, your kids are paying attention. So focus on building a positive relationship with them, instead of engaging in a negative battle with your ex.


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Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce, and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo, Psych Central, Huffington Post, Prevention, and The Good Men Project, among others.