Coparenting with a high-conflict coparent can be a challenging and stressful experience, but it is possible to make it work. The key is to develop effective strategies that allow you to maintain a positive relationship with the other parent while prioritizing the well-being of your children. Here are some tips that can help:
- Maintain open and clear communication: Establish a clear method of communication with the other parent, such as email or text, and stick to it. Avoid using the children as messengers or discussing sensitive issues in front of them. It is easy to get caught up in responding or reacting when the other parent does this and this will only feed the narrative that the child is to be a messenger and their role is to be in the middle. This is a dangerous place for a child to be and often leads to an emotional cutoff with one of the parents and this is usually the parent who is not setting and maintaining one form of communication and a health boundary. Which leads us to number two.
- Establish and maintain boundaries: It's important to set boundaries for what is acceptable behavior from the other parent. Be firm about what you will and won't tolerate and stick to your boundaries. When dealing with a high conflict or pathogenic co-parent it is easy to stay stuck on old patterns of communication which keeps you and your child stuck in the middle. When you set the boundary, stick to it.
- Avoid confrontation and engage in problem-solving: When conflicts arise, focus on finding solutions rather than getting into arguments. Consider seeking the help of a mediator or therapist if necessary. One of the best pieces advice I can give you here is to scan an email and find the proposal and only respond to a proposal. Of you are coparenting with someone who spends a lot of time attacking you verbally and in written communication, simply respond with something simple like, “it appears you are very upset. I would like to focus on the issue at hand, we are discussing Spring break, what is your proposal?” This removes you from the emotional spin cycle and shifts you to focusing on solutions and not feelings.
- Keep emotions in check: Of course like I just stated, it's important to remain calm and rational, even when the other parent is not. Taking care of your own emotional well-being through self-care and learning how to manage your emotions can help you stay level-headed during difficult situations. When your co-parenting has unmanaged emotions it is even more critical for you to manage your emotions.
- Focus on the needs and well-being of the children: The most important consideration in coparenting should always be the well-being of your children. Try to put your own feelings and differences aside and work together to ensure their happiness and stability. If your co-parenting is not working with you, which is often the case with high conflict or pathogenic people, teach your child how to manage their emotions by empowering them to think critically.
- Seek the support of a coach, therapist or mediator: Having a neutral third party can help you work through conflicts and find mutually acceptable solutions. A therapist can also provide emotional support and help you manage your own stress and emotions. A coach is a wonderful tool to assist you with focusing on what you want, learning and implementing skills and holding space to help you find solutions.
- Maintain a positive and collaborative relationship with the other parent: While it may be difficult, it's important to try to maintain a positive relationship with the other parent. This can help minimize conflict and make coparenting easier for everyone involved. So many people say this is impossible and I encourage you to focus on what you want and not what you don’t want. It is possible to co-parent even with personality disordered parents, it requires you to raise your parenting skills and create the soft place for your children to land. If you are reading this, it probably means you re the parent looking for solutions and you are the parent willing and able to learn skills of resilience to teach your child.
- Be flexible and open to negotiation: Be willing to compromise and find solutions that work for both of you. Try to be flexible and open to new ideas and approaches. This one skill, matched with managing your emotions, allows for you to lead by example and creates the space for solutions. When parents stay fixed in their desires and beliefs it leaves little room for solutions and moving things forward.
- Avoid engaging in arguments or disputes in front of the children: While this seems obvious, many parents get emotionally destabilized and ignore the fact that their children are always listening and watching. Children should not be exposed to parental conflict or arguments. Make sure to have private conversations and find a way to resolve disputes without involving the children. If you have had disputes in front of your children you have the opportunity to clean them up and have a conversation with your children and apologize for not being mindful of arguing in front of them and assure them that you and your co-parent argue sometimes and you will do better about doing this in front of them. They deserve to be children and to be free of the adult disputes.
- Stay organized and keep track of important information and agreements: Having a clear understanding of your coparenting agreements and schedules can help prevent conflicts and misunderstandings. Keeping organized and having a system for tracking important information can also be helpful. Be specific in your parenting plan as much as possible to prevent the opportunity for conflict later when the agreement is vague.
In conclusion, co-parenting with a high-conflict coparent can be challenging, but it's important to remember that your children's well-being should always be your top priority. By following these strategies, you can make coparenting with a high-conflict coparent a more manageable and successful experience. If you want more hands-on assistance in working through some of these difficult coparenting challenges, check out our coaching program here and enroll to be able to work with someone one-on-one to guide you through your complex situation.