Divorce and dealing with your ex is hard enough; but, when your ex is a jerk, you need all the patience and help you can get to survive co-parenting!
Here are five strategies to help you succeed when co-parenting with a jerk:
1. Treat co-parenting like a business.
You and your ex have one common bond between you now, and one very important reason to work together: your children. As in a business, you do not have to like your business partner, but you do have to be willing to communicate and collaborate to achieve your mutual goal of parenting the kids.
In the co-parenting business, your product is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted children; so, it’s in everyone’s best interest to work toward that end. In your business, you need only keep the conversation and activities on your business, so if your business partner strays onto other topics, just steer them back onto the relevant topics such as the schedule, school, medical issues, and so on.
I have found that this way of thinking puts so much into perspective and ensures that the kids do remain the primary focus. It also helps me to tune out many of the annoying behaviors of my ex when I remind myself that so much of what is said or done doesn’t matter because I’m going to keep working away at my products!
2. Two crazies don’t make a right.
All of us have heard stories of “crazy exes” who seem hell bent on making everyone’s lives miserable and demonstrate an unwillingness to follow any kind of reason or cooperate. If someone is determined to punish you every day for the rest of your life because they can’t get over the events of the divorce, there’s not much you can do to change the way they act. You only have control over your actions.
First of all, it is in your best interest to behave like a civil and sane human being because your children are watching everything that goes on, and they should have at least one parent who can model appropriate behavior.
Secondly, you do not want to become guilty of any craziness that is going to make you look bad before the court or harm your stake in your children’s lives.
Additionally, it stands to reason that if you throw a bad attitude and nastiness at your ex, they will just throw it back to you tenfold! Be the bigger person. Be the one who can confidently say that you are doing everything you can for the interest of the children (not for revenge or other such reasons).
Even if your ex doesn’t follow your parenting plan to the letter, don’t be the one to decide to bend the rules. That way, it can never be said of you that you didn’t do what was ordered or expected. If you don’t feed the beast with your anger and pettiness, you do not give your ex a reason to claim they are a victim or further control over your emotions and happiness.
The more you show that their negative behavior gets to you, the more they are able to push your buttons and bring out the worst in you. Be the pillar of sanity, truth, and reason. Let them own the title of the crazy or uncooperative one, if either of you are to act that way!
3. Set boundaries.
I have a friend whose ex has clearly not moved on and continually makes overtures toward him to involve him in her day. She left him, but I believe she hasn’t formed any support system for herself, so she still tries to rely on him as a social outlet, confidant, and problem solver in her life.
Early in their divorce, I noticed that she would call and text him multiple times per day, sometimes to argue about divorce-related topics, and sometimes just to talk. She also used to call him whenever she ran short on gas money, needed help plunging her toilet, for directions, and so on. He was in a prison of nonsense where a divorce did not give him any of the separation from her that he needed in his life.
Although he needed to have a relationship with her in order to co-parent their children, he was not interested in being her coffee buddy or go-to guy anytime something went wrong in her life. He had to enforce some very tough boundaries with her. His efforts took a lot of time and patience and required him giving her a limit on how often and when she could call. When she would try to turn the topic of conversation onto her personal matters, he would redirect her back to the children’s needs.
When she would call asking for bill money or to solve a problem for her, he would remind her that this was no longer his responsibility and refer her to other sources to solve her problems. When she asks to meet, he asks for an agenda to make sure their conversation is about co-parenting. She still sometimes tries to fall back on some of these behaviors, but he holds firm to the limits he is comfortable with so that he is able to tolerate the time that he is required to interact with her to co-parent.
4. Breathe and count to ten.
A wise divorce warrior in my life once told me that her best advice for dealing with a difficult ex is to say to yourself “thank you for reminding me why I divorced you” whenever they act like a jerk. Some jerks will always be jerks, and that is likely one of the reasons you are no longer married; so, good for you that you no longer live with that every day!
It takes a lot of strength and patience to stand in the face of a jerk, so I recommend that when the rude comments and actions fly, that you count to ten, take a deep breath, smile, and think those magical words to yourself! When you’re by yourself again, have fun fantasizing about saying all the nasty things you would like to, punching them, or whatever else can help you relieve the stress.
5. Hold your ex accountable for his or her actions.
I recommend keeping a journal and keeping track of jerky behavior that, in any way, affects the children. Record any issues that would qualify as contempt against your parenting plan and any other behavior that you feel is detrimental to the kids. Show your ex, if need be, that you are willing to return to court to have contempt issues reviewed or enforced. In short, don’t start trouble, but also don’t allow yourself to be bullied.
Refer to your final divorce decree as often as you need to make sure you completely understand each person’s responsibilities and to remind your ex of what was ordered. Avoid threats, but make it understood that you know how things should be and what your options are to address problems.