Dealing with a Difficult Ex-Spouse: 10 Tips to Help You Cope
- Friday, July 27, 2012
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on SmartStepFamilies.com.
Wouldn’t it be nice if adults could remember that parenting is not about them, and that it is about the children? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the pain of the broken personal relationships of the past could be kept separate from the practical parental concerns of the present. Wouldn’t it be nice…
Yes, it would. But sometimes people aren’t nice.
Dealing with a difficult ex-spouse can be very discouraging and defeating. Yet, we are called to continue trying to pursue good, to “turn the other cheek”, and “walk the extra mile.” Hopefully the following tips can aid you in your efforts to cope—because it’s all about the children.
1. Be sure to notice your own part of the ongoing conflict. Christian ex-spouses, for example, often feel justified in their anger toward their irresponsible ex-spouse. It’s easy, then, to also feel justified in your efforts to change them in whatever ways you feel are morally or practically necessary. Unfortunately, this sense of “rightness” often blinds good-hearted Christians from seeing just how their own behavior contributes to the ongoing cycle of conflict. Any time you try to change a difficult ex-spouse—even if for understandable moral reasons—you inadvertently invite hostility or a lack of cooperation in return. Learn to let go of what you can’t change so you don’t unknowingly keep the between home power struggles alive.
2. Stepparents should communicate a “non-threatening posture to the same-gender ex-spouse. An ex-wife, for example, may continue negativity because she is threatened by the presence of the new stepmother. It is helpful if the stepmother will communicate the following either by phone or email: “I just want you to know that I value your role with your children and I will never try to replace you. You are their mother and I’m not. I will support your decisions with the children, have them to your house on time, and never talk badly about you to the children. You have my word on that.” This helps to alleviate the need of the biological mother to bad-mouth the stepparent or the new marriage in order to keep her children’s loyalties.
3. Keep your “business meetings” impersonal to avoid excessive conflict. Face-to-face interaction has the most potential for conflict. Use the phone when possible or even talk to their answering machine if personal communication erupts into arguments. Use email or faxes when possible. Keep children from being exposed to negative interaction when it’s within your power.
4. Use a script to help you through negotiations. This strategy has helped thousands of parents. Before making a phone call, take the time to write out your thoughts including what you’ll say and not say. Also, anticipate what the other might say that will hurt or anger you. Stick to the business at hand and don’t get hooked into old arguments that won’t be solved with another fight (For more on how to do this, see the “Be Prepared by Borrowing a Script and Sticking to It” section of the free Common Steps for Co-Parents e-booklet).
5. Whenever possible, agree with some aspect of what you ex-spouse is suggesting. This good business principle applies in parenting as well. Even if you disagree with the main point, find some common ground.
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