There's nothing pleasant about divorce, nor the process. Despite that, it's a thing that'll affect about half of all American households.
Whatever your reasons for divorcing, it's important to keep your head clear -- especially when dealing with co-parents who are toxic. After all, being level-headed not only protects your health and well-being, it also it helps the co-parenting relationship, and most importantly, your kids too.
Below are ten ways to deal with a co-parent who is uncooperative.
1. How uncooperative is your co-parent?
“The first thing you need to do when you’re dealing with an uncooperative co-parent is to determine to what extent your ex is refusing to engage,” advises the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer. “There are different levels of ‘uncooperative,’ and those levels each require their own approach.”
To determine where you stand with your co-parent, ask yourself a few questions. “Can you, for example, say your ex is fully refusing to co-parent, or are you simply having parenting disagreements that you may have had before the divorce or separation?,” they suggest. Because co-parenting relationships do sometimes have their ups and downs, it's important to be able to distinguish whether you're just experiencing growing pains or are dealing with an uncooperative partner.
“Next, determine whether the lack of engagement is found across the co-parenting board or if it only appears in relation to certain topics.” For example, if your ex engages with holiday planning but refuses to discuss medical care, you need to know this information. Finding out where the lack of cooperation stems from will help you plan more effectively.
Challenging some of your own internal cognitive biases about the other parent can help you be more successful in the co-parenting relationship. Parents often make sweeping statements about the other parent that is not always true. Examples are “they are always so difficult” “they can never just agree if it is something important to me” or “everything is a problem with them”. Notice these statements include a lot of always and nevers. When you find yourself saying this dig in a little more, it is often not “always” true.
2. You must accept what you cannot change.
No matter what you do, you will never be able to change everything about your ex-spouse. You'll be more proactive about focusing on what you can really improve when you accept this.
Perspective is something you can control, however. For instance, you can choose how you handle your former spouse. Although they might not grant you the same privilege as them, you can still see things from their perspective.
Taking their perspective and seeking to understand can always help you through a bi-pass. If you understand where they are coming from you are less likely to be gridlocked.
3. Set healthy boundaries with your children.
For kids to feel safe, they need consistency. Give your kids boundaries as much as you can. Feeling guilty and wanting to be the fun parent by fulfilling every desire of your child is easy. It's also possible your ex could be doing the same. The only thing this does is allow your child to feel entitled instead of disciplined.
Try to keep things on your side as consistent as possible if your ex is giving them gifts and letting them do things that might be bad for them. When your children are older, they will be thankful for your setting boundaries even if it makes you look bad at the time.
Good parents are consistent, predictable, and follow-through. If you set boundaries and follow these traits you will do just fine.
4. Address issues in advance.
Whether your ex chooses conflict or reason, you can address it early if you anticipate conflict. To make this possible, your divorce settlement can include successful co-parenting strategies.
If problems arise after the divorce, both parents may agree to attend co-parenting therapy. By attending co-parenting therapy, you can clearly communicate your expectations. By attending, you also show you're willing to work through problems together.
Resolution between the parents is best for your child. Anticipating conflict and giving yourselves time to resolve a conflict will benefit your child. This keeps things flowing.
5. Have a parenting plan in place.
To keep a business running smoothly, it needs a strategy. For parents, this is a parenting plan.
Parents can make a parenting plan to help them identify problem areas and work on them before they pop up. Planning is essential if parents desire their children to succeed. You might need a mediator, a therapist, or a minister to help you stay on task and negotiate through the tough stuff.
Parents' commitment to cooperating on issues of a child's material, educational, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing has been shown to be a key indicator of the child's well-being over time. If there are differences in opinion, then each parent should write down their ideas and then share them with the other.
6. Don’t let them set the tone for your own co-parenting.
“Respect is non-negotiable in every healthy co-parenting relationship,” states the Our Family Wizad team. “When it feels as though you're giving all of the respect without getting any back, however, interactions with your co-parent can really start to test your patience.”
The good side of conflict is that it typically involves active participation on both ends in order for it to truly flourish. “While you cannot reasonably expect to control your co-parent's every action, you are expected to be able to control your own,” they add. Take a deep breath and step back if they continue to push your buttons. As a result, you are not forced to react to their behavior.
“Negative behaviors can be highly manipulative, and it's all too easy to get sucked into a cycle of tit-for-tat pettiness.” Your co-parent shouldn't distract you from your goal of positive and healthy co-parenting. Setting the tone of your co-parenting is still within your control, even if they are not in control.
7. Reacting is not the answer.
From what I've mentioned previously, there's a good chance your ex-partner will do things to irritate you, they know all the right buttons to push. For example, they may forget an arrangement you both agreed to. Or they become the ‘fun parent’ who takes the kids to amusement parks while you are the ‘bad parent’ who makes them do chores and their homework.
The best reaction? Do nothing because that's what toxic parents want. Instead, take a deep breath. Once calm, consider your children's best interests and then proceed accordingly.
8. Be sure not to criticize your co-parent behind their back.
It is not appropriate to speak ill of your ex in front of your children. Kids are easily influenced by the environment they grow up in. Although they might be annoying you, never be disrespectful to them.
Don't burden your kids with adult issues that might affect their emotional well-being if you have to talk about your ex. And, you shouldn't allow your kids to speak disrespectfully about their co-parent.
9. Communication is key.
The tone of your relationship with your former spouse is greatly affected by how you communicate with them. Keep communication straightforward and as simple as possible if you're dealing with a co-parent who's not cooperating. Keep the conversation focused on a single, relevant subject.
It's easy to get caught up in an emotional rant, but you have to stay focused on what's happening now and resist the urge to bring up the past. Consider alternative communication methods if you can't talk to them in person. Can you call them? What about texting or emailing them? Choose a method that minimizes confrontation for you.
I encourage parents to speak to the other parent as if they are a co-worker. It is ok to be respectful and transactional.
10. Turn to your trusted support system.
You have to work hard at parenting. And, sometimes co-parenting with an uncooperative ex feels too much and there's no way you can cope.
With a trustworthy support system like your family, friends, or therapist, you'll be able to handle it. Not only can they listen to your problems, but they can also give you sound advice.
Reminder: make sure your support system does not have personal connections with your ex which could perpetuate conflict with them. You want someone removed from your direct experience, someone only there for you and not directly involved with your custody matters. Someone who will not go back to your ex and share the things you have said will keep conflict low.