One of the most crucial things to keep in mind post-divorce when you were married to a narcissist or challenging person is to set good boundaries and abandon any thought of co-parenting successfully.
If one of the reasons why your marriage ended was due to your spouse being a narcissist, you probably hoped that things would get better for you and your children after your divorce. Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments might be that co-parenting with a narcissistic ex-spouse doesn’t work any better than being married to him or she did.
While co-parenting is advised by experts as an optimal situation for a child’s well-being after divorce, attempting to do so with an ex who has a high conflict personality or a personality disorder is usually unsuccessful. In most cases, an amicable relationship can’t be achieved between parents and parallel parenting is the only paradigm that should be attempted.
Many parents don’t realize that there is an alternative to co-parenting when their ex is high conflict or has narcissistic traits. During a recent conversation with Briana, she shared her insights about the hazards of co-parenting with her former spouse who was challenging and self-centered.
Briana put it like this: “Justin made our life miserable after the divorce. He was argumentative, controlling, and late picking up our kids – or worse he’d cancel at the last minute, or not show up.”
During our conversation, I explained a solution for parents who want to co-parent with an ex who is narcissistic or challenging. According to Dr. Edward Kruk, Ph.D., “Parallel Parenting is an arrangement in which divorced parents are able to co-parent by means of disengaging from each other, and having limited contact, in situations where they have demonstrated that they are unable to communicate with each other in a respectful manner.”
Truth be told, parallel parenting allows parents to remain disengaged with one another (and have a parenting plan) while they remain close to their children. For instance, they remain committed to making responsible decisions (medical, education, etc.) but decide on the logistics of day-to-day parenting separately.
10 strategies for dealing with a narcissistic, challenging, or high conflict ex:
1. Accept that co-parenting is not in the best interest of all children – especially when one of their parents is high conflict, self-centered, or lacks empathy.
2. Don’t tolerate demeaning or abusive behavior from your ex and be sure that you and your children feel safe. This might mean having a close friend or family member on hand when you talk to your former partner. If you plan for the worst (and don’t expect that your ex will have moved on or be caring) you’ll be less likely to be blindsided by his/her attempts to control or get back at you. Be sure to save all abusive emails and text messages. Don’t respond to them since this can perpetuate more abuse.
3. Limit your contact with your ex and try not to take calls from them when your children are nearby. It can be very hurtful to them to hear you and your ex argue – especially about them.
4. Set firm boundaries for your kids. Since their life with their other parent is unpredictable, you will have to provide stability. High-conflict personalities thrive on the possibility of combat. Be prepared and write a script to use when talking to him/her and try to stick with it, using as few words as possible. For instance, if he/she tries to persuade you to change the parenting plan, say something like: “I’m not comfortable with this idea. I’m sure you have good intentions but this won’t work for me.”
5. Be the parental role model your kids need to thrive. Show compassion toward your children and don’t bad-mouth their other parent in their presence. Children are vulnerable to experiencing loyalty conflicts and shouldn’t be in the middle between their parents. Be aware of your tone and facial expressions during interactions with your ex in front of your kids.
6. Keep your eye on the big picture in terms of your children’s future. Although it’s stressful trying to co-parent or even parallel parent with a difficult ex, it’s probably in the best interest of your children. Adopt realistic expectations and pat yourself on the back for working at this challenging relationship for your kids.
7. Focus on the only thing you can control – your behavior! You alone are responsible for your reactions to your ex’s comments and behavior. But don’t be persuaded by your ex to do something that you’re uncomfortable with just to keep the peace. Adopt a business-like “Just the facts, ma’am” style of communicating with him/her.
8. Don’t express genuine emotion to your ex or apologize for wrongdoing in the relationship. If your ex is a perilous or abusive narcissist, they might interpret your apology as proof of your incompetence and use it against you, according to Virginia Gilbert, MFT.
9. Make sure you have a parenting plan that is structured and highly specific – spelling out schedules, holidays, vacations, etc. to minimize conflict. Using a communication notebook to share important details with your ex can be an essential tool and help you stay detached and business-like.
10. Do accept help from counselors, mediators, or other helping professionals. Make sure you have plenty of support from a lawyer, friends, family, and a therapist. Use a third party mediator when needed. Educate yourself about strategies to deal with a difficult or high-conflict ex. Therapists who utilize cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) are usually the most successful dealing with survivors of a relationship with an ex who has a personality disorder.
Under the best circumstances, co-parenting is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to have close to equal access to both parents – to feel close to both of their parents. Experts agree that the outcomes for children of divorce improve when they have positive bonds with both parents. These include better psychological and behavioral adjustment and enhanced academic performance. However, few experts discuss the drawbacks of co-parenting when one parent is hands-off, has a high conflict personality; or a personality disorder such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
However, it’s crucial that you take an honest look at the effect your ex’s behaviors and the dynamics in your relationship are having on you and your children. Once you accept that you can only control your own behavior – not a person with a difficult or high conflict personality – your life will greatly improve. After all, you and your children deserve to have a life filled with love and happiness!
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).
The post 10 Strategies For Dealing With a Narcissistic, Challenging Or High Conflict Ex appeared first on Divorced Moms.
During counseling sessions, couples often ask me some version of this important question: How can we get back on track after a disagreement and build a strong relationship that lasts a lifetime?
Typically, I explain that conflict is an inevitable part of an intimate relationship and that one of the main ingredients of a healthy, long-lasting partnership is making a commitment to repair hurt feelings and bounce back from arguments fairly quickly.
How to Make Love Last
In over 40 years of research in his classic “Love Lab” studies, Dr. John Gottman discovered that the number one solution to marital problems is to get good at repair skills. He explains that repair attempts allow a couple to get back on track after a dispute and are an important way to avoid resentment.
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman describes repair attempts as the secret weapon that emotionally intelligent couples employ that allows their marriage to flourish rather than flounder. A repair attempt is any statement or action – verbal, physical, or otherwise – intended to diffuse negativity and keep a conflict from escalating.
Couples who discuss concerns in a timely and respectful way and adopt a “we’re in this together” mindset have a better chance of creating a happy long-lasting partnership. They’re resilient and don’t let anger destroy the loving feelings and affection that brought them together in the first place.
7 Steps to getting good at repair skills:
- Do not blame, criticize, or show contempt for your partner. Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking him or her. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t tell me about spending money on new clothes. We agreed to be open with each other and money is tight right now.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me the truth. How can I trust you?” Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.).
- Starting a conversation with a soft and curious tone such as, “Could I ask you something?” will lessen your partner’s defensiveness. Dr. John Gottman reminds us that criticism is extremely damaging to a marriage and that talking about specific issues with a soft approach will reap better results.
- Avoid character assassinations. Don’t attack your partner’s character, values, or core beliefs. Remember that anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so stop and reflect on your own emotions. Listen to our partner’s side of the story instead of focusing on your counterargument. Validate their perspective first – then share your viewpoint. When you feel like attacking your partner, ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish?
- Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later. Being vulnerable with your partner can make you feel exposed but it’s an important ingredient in a trusting, intimate relationship. You may have created a psychological armor since childhood due to being hurt or judged but this might not serve you well as an adult. Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.
- Approach conflict with a problem-solving attitude. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues that are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Engage in a conversation with your partner that is productive rather than shutting down or criticizing him or her.
- Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner. Author David Akiva, encourages couples to develop a Hurt-Free Zone Policy which is a period when criticism is not allowed between partners. Without it, couples usually feel less defensive and as a result, feelings of hurt and rejection dissolve within 3 to 4 weeks.
- Practice having a recovery conversation after an argument. Daniel B. Wile, Ph.D. believes that your focus needs to be on listening to your partner’s perspective, collaborating, building intimacy, and restoring safety and good will if you want to develop good repair skills. A recovery conversation can reveal information about your relationship, lead to a resolution of the fight, and restore intimacy. It’s best to wait until both partners have calmed down before starting it and to be careful not to rekindle the fight. If you stay focused on the present, this will prevent rehashing an argument.
Be sure to give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Avoid building a case against your partner. In its place, express positive feelings and gestures of love often and become skilled at demonstrating acceptance and gratitude in your words and actions.
Can a Marriage Thrive with Unresolved Conflict?
Dr. Gottman advises us that couples can live with unsolvable differences about ongoing issues in their relationship as long as they aren’t deal breakers. His research informs us that 69% of problems in a marriage don’t get resolved but can be managed successfully.
Author Marcia Naomi Berger, explains that many couples buy into the myth that if a marriage is healthy all issues get resolved. She writes: “Simply put, it is not the presence of conflict that stresses the relationship; it is the manner in which the couple responds. Positive, respectful communication about differences helps keep a marriage thriving.”
Once you have gotten better at recovering after a dispute, it becomes easier to restore loving feelings with your partner. If you find yourself struggling, tell him or her what’s on your mind. For instance, say something like “I feel flooded right now. Can you hold me or tell me you love me? I feel like attacking you but I don’t want to do that.”
Most of the time, you’ll restore intimacy during times of conflict or stress by being honest and vulnerable with your partner. Adopting these skills takes time and patience but will help you recapture the love, trust, and intimacy you once experienced.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship was published by Sourcebooks in 2016. He new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around will be published by Sounds True in 2020.
More from Terry
- 7 Steps to Forgiving Your Ex Once and For All
- 6 Tips to Rebuild Love After An Emotional Affair
- 8 Steps to Reclaiming Your Life After Divorce
This blog originally appeared on movingpastdivorce.com
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