Many parents wonder if it's ever possible to co-parent with someone who is high-conflict. The short answer is, yes! The long answer is that it takes work, building consciousness and strength, and requires a shift in yourself.
While this can be confusing to hear, because many parents assume their high-conflict coparent has to be the one to put in the work, co-parenting with a high-conflict partner is a challenging experience. You may find times where it seems impossible, almost. To sum it up, if they do not see themselves as a problem, them they won't see a problem that they need to fix. So, where does that leave you?
With you! There are several key tips and strategies to ensure you can co-parent to the best of your ability, with a high-conflict parent who is likely unwilling to put in the work.
1. Re-define 'Co-Parenting'
Many parents think that if they have a high-conflict co-parent, that it is nearly impossible to co-parent, in the literal sense. If your co-parent is creating chaos, it may never be butterflies and rainbows all of the time. And that's ok! Redefine what an ideal co-parenting relationship would look like with the other parent. But don't draw yourself short. Remember, we have the power to control how we show up, and this can be a good and bad thing! If we mirror the way they show up, chaos continues. If we mirror how we want them to show up, there is the opportunity for shifting on their end. More on that later.
2. Focus on the Children
You may be thinking, well 'duh!' Of course my focus is on the children. Yet often parents who struggle to co-parent all the time, find themselves so wrapped up in the chaos that they loose focus on why they are attempting to coparent in the first place: their kids! If you ever get off track, or find yourself wrapped up in the conflict, remind yourself what matters most when in an argument with your co-parent. Put the issue into perspective and learn to let go of things that are simply not worth the fight. Now, that is not the same thing as letting them get their way. But there will be times that you may get yourself worked up over your opinion on something that isn't really a dealbreaker or cause for a drawn-out argument, rather co-parents who argue tend to want to win than anything else.
3. Create a Parenting Plan
Establishing a clear parenting plan can help minimize disagreements and misunderstandings when something is set in stone. You can refer back to it, remind your co-parent (and maybe even yourself at times), and is something that eases a lot of unnecessary worry. Be specific about schedules, routines, and decision-making processes. Establish boundaries. Review and update the plan as necessary, yet only if it is absolutely necessary. If you're struggling with even creating one, seek support & guidance from a mediator or coach.
4. Communication is Key
Keep communication with your co-parent respectful and conscious. Avoid engaging in personal attacks, passive remarks or commentary; catch yourself when engaging in the conflict. It can be easy to get triggered, defensive, and react to their remarks - invest in supportive courses to help you learn and practice conscious communication to prevent a never-ending cycle of chaotic communication. Don't fight fire with fire or add fuel to their flames, the fire will only get bigger- I promise you.
5. Seek More Consistent Support
Dealing with a high-conflict co-parent can be emotionally draining. If you find yourself overwhelmed and at a loss, seek support from those trained to understand the dynamic you're faced with. This could be for a period of time to help ground you with what it takes to know how to navigate the situation in the longterm. Maintain self care, and receive emotional support from friends & family to help manage stress & maintain a positive outlook. Letting their conflict get the better of you only makes the situation worse, not better- and will worsen the situation in the longterm if not nipped in the bud.
Remember, co-parenting with a high-conflict partner is not easy, but it is still possible to create a healthy and stable environment for your children. By focusing on the children, creating a clear plan, communicating effectively, setting boundaries, and seeking the right support, you can successfully navigate this challenging situation.
For one-on-one guidance, consider working with a Co-Parenting Coach to help guide you to a productive solution. It's hard, until it isn't - because once you know, then it's easy.