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How to Deal with That Dreaded Difficult Ex When There’s Kids Involved; Advice from an Online Counsellor

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A divorce, separation or break-up is incredibly difficult at the best of times. When there are children involved it becomes exponentially harder. And when you’re dealing with a difficult ex, co-parenting can often feel like an impossible task. The “perpetrator” in this dynamic will very rarely see themselves as the problem, so seeking third party help is often futile in trying to establish a compromising and working co-parenting situation (but not impossible, some divorced couples start online relationship counseling to make sure the co-parenting works out). But dealing with someone like this can be extremely difficult and stressful and we highly recommend that you get an online counsellor for yourself that can help you navigate the emotions and other frustrations that come along with a situation like this.

Here’s a few helpful tips on how to manage co-parenting with a difficult ex:

Forget about the phone

Picking up the phone and making a call to, or even receiving a call from the ex should really be a last resort. Keep everything in writing. Not only will this allow emotions to take a back seat and not allow anyone to react impulsively or say something they might regret, it also serves as proof. This is especially important with the ex who never perceives themselves as the guilty party. Something that was said on the phone can be refuted, but something in black and white can’t. And unfortunately, those dealing with a difficult ex will often be forced to seek legal discourse.

Don’t bite

You need to realise that a difficult ex is often not triggered by certain actions, situations or scenarios; they are triggered by your mere existence. The mere thought of you, seeing you, hearing you, having you be a part of anything they need to deal with brings up all their past anger and resentments towards you. You will be the scapegoat for everything that was, is and will be “wrong” in their life. Did they lose their temper over text? Yes, but that only happened because you said or did a, b or c. Did a child fail a test? Yes, but that’s only because you’re such a terrible parent. Did the child fall asleep in the car on the way to dropping them off at the other parents? Yes, but that’s only because you clearly keep them up throughout the night. And so these little pokes continue.

Over and over. Day after day. When this happens refrain to bite the bait and end up in yet another argument that you will never win. As hard as it is, you’ll need to ignore the personal attack and divert the problem/accusation into a mutual solutions. For example; “Maybe if you weren’t so busy with work all the time you would have time to help Stevie with his homework properly and he wouldn’t be failing tests” can be replied to as “I know a great tutor that gives extra lessons in the afternoon. Shall we make arrangements for Stevie?”

Get off the rollercoaster

You’ll often find with a difficult ex that there are these glimmers of hopes of a normal co-parenting relationships. They might send you a message thanking you for helping with your son’s textbooks the one day and the next day you’re a danger to your son, yourself and the community at large. It can be completely draining and soul-crushing to weather these ups-and-downs. That’s why it’s so important to get off the rollercoaster. These ups-and-downs actually doesn’t have anything to do with you. It is an external reflection of their own internal struggle in trying to figure out how to adapt and treat you as a co-parent in this new dynamic.

The way to get off this rollercoaster and protect your own emotional health a bit is by setting certain boundaries and literally training your ex-partner as to how to treat you. The boundary you set may be that you won’t tolerate someone swearing at you and if they do you will disengage from the discussion. You never have to call out the behaviour, simply keep to the boundary you’ve set and act accordingly. Whilst upholding these boundaries, it’s still very important to always be kind and polite. You can set out these boundaries with the help of an online counsellor.

You’ll need to remove the human shield

Sometimes you will find that after a turbulent five years of co-parenting, a “Mary” is suddenly trying to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs. It’s only after you’ve asked the question of “Who are you?” that you realise it’s a new girlfriend or partner. The reasons for why a co-parent would place a partner in such a position is legion. It could be an attempt to flaunt their love life and happiness to the ex. Or it can even be a misguided attempt at avoiding the ex. But whatever the reason, the new partner has now become a human shield. This never ends well for anyone involved. You will need to have a conversation about removing the human shield with your ex.

This can be extremely tricky, since a discussion like this can trigger a reaction that can range from accusing you of jealousy, enjoying the conflict that’s caused by direct communication or even that you’re feeling threatened by a new mother figure. When the human shield is the step parent already, it becomes even trickier to navigate the situation. There needs to be very strict boundaries regarding the roles of the biological parents as well as the step parents. There are ways to establish these boundaries by making use of a mediator or via an online counsellor. If this still does not resolve the issue, you will need to refer the matter to the courts again.

Stop trying to make them

A difficult ex that operates on the belief that you can’t make them do anything, simply cannot collaborate in a co-parenting situation. They usually make decisions on their own, they won’t forward the teacher conference invite to you and then go sit there like a single parent and blame you for not being involved. They let the kids wear a green shirt for an event if you asked that they wear red. All just to show you that you can’t make them forward that invite and you can’t make them dress the kids in red and there’s absolutely no consequence to their actions. The message is clear; you are powerless.

Anyone would agree that this is a terrible situation and the only people who suffer are the children trying to navigate two households with completely different rules and dealing with a parent not showing up to certain events and never knowing exactly why. But you will have to stop trying to make them. If you are patient, remain respectful and ride out this terrible period a difficult ex might begin to move to a more collaborative relationship by themselves. If these actions continue despite your efforts and have an adversely negative effect on your parenting as well as that of your child you will need to seek legal discourse again. Also seek the emotional support of your online counsellor to help you through these legal processes.

Tell them to stop

When it comes to things such as trash talking, many parents simply don’t understand what that encompasses. Trash talking is not always verbal. It’s every time the ex-rolls his eyes or laughs sarcastically in front of the children when someone mentions your name. It’s completely ignoring your existence when you come to drop off the children. Trash talking is anything that sends out a message to others that you dislike someone. And this is something many parents are guilty of (whether they are the difficult ex or not).

This has an incredibly negative effect on the children and gives them loyalty struggles, insecurities, trust issues and simply makes them feel bad about themselves (half of who they are comes from the parent who is so hated, after all). When you realise that an ex is guilty of trash talking the first recourse is to politely make them aware of it and request that they stop. If they simply refuse or won’t acknowledge any wrong doing whilst continuing these actions, you will need to seek legal counsel.  

Get help

It can be tough dealing with all of this even if you have the support of an online counsellor. Especially when a difficult ex starts withholding the children from you as some sort of punishment or when they don’t give the school your details. Sadly, once again, it is the children who suffer under these antics the most. The first recourse is always to make a polite request to rectify the situation. But with these types of extreme situations where the effect on the children can be quite detrimental, it is best to seek legal counsel if your requests fall on death ears. Also an option is to talk with one of our online children psychologists.

Having a difficult ex is an incredibly tough situation, but you are not alone. There are many out there who have to operate within these tricky dynamics. If you would like to know more about this topic or would like to discuss your own situation with a difficult ex, please do not hesitate to contact an online counsellor on or simply fill in the form below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible:

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