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5 Tips on How to Co-Parent with a High-Conflict Ex

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Parenting on the best of days with two parents is hard, but when you add a divorce and conflict between ex-spouses, co-parenting can become extremely challenging. This article outlines five steps to help you co-parent successfully, maintain your mental sanity, and keep things moving for you and your kids so that you can truly enjoy the time you have with them.

Limit Your Communication

You don’t need to respond to every single call, text, or email unless it pertains to the safety or health of your children. Creating a mental ranking system can help you manage your mental and emotional energy. For example: Level 1: Very important; needs a response right away (e.g., child got hurt, what field is the game on, etc.). Level 2: Needs a response but can wait (e.g., child play date, birthday party, Halloween costume, etc.). Level 3: Not important at all and can ignore (e.g., asking personal questions that have nothing to do with parenting). This will take a bit of practice but will certainly go a very long way.

Keep Communication Professional

The last thing you’ll probably want to do is “be nice,” especially when your ex has a way of pushing your buttons. The most effective thing you can do when it comes to communicating with a high-conflict ex is to document everything (either text or email) and respond to your ex as if you are speaking with a supervisor — direct, simple, and stick to the facts. This means avoiding blaming, judging, or yelling.

Leave the Kids Out of It

Do your best not to use your kids as a messenger. If the other parent needs to know something, communicate directly with them. The same is true for even when your kids insert themselves into the conflict and try to assist or ask questions that don’t concern them. This is when you share assertive responses with your children. An example of this could be: “This is between me and your mom/dad; you don’t need to worry about it.” Your kids just need to know that they are safe and loved.

Don’t Defend or Explain Your Parenting

Your co-parent doesn’t set the parenting standards for you and they aren’t in charge of you. Even if the other parent has more parenting time, you still don’t have to explain yourself. You are allowed to parent your child the way you want, and the other parent is allowed to parent the way they want. Ideally, there would be consistency in routine and rules between households, but sometimes that’s not possible when value systems are inherently different. When that happens, it’s important to consider if the other parent is being neglectful or abusive. If they are not, then your best bet is to leave the situation alone and realize that you’re unhappy because you’re not able to control how the other parent is parenting the children.

Create Resistance on the Back End

Don’t disagree directly with your ex or be confrontational. This will only make matters worse and cause additional conflict between the two of you. Instead, respond to them as neutral as possible and take action in alignment with your desires on the back end. This can look like getting support from school counselors, teachers, lawyers, etc., as needed so that you’re not in the middle of another fight.


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