How to Co-Parent with a Difficult Ex

Does your ex thrive on conflict? Are they narcissistic? Do you struggle with how to peacefully co-parent with someone who seems to want anything but peace? Co-parenting with a difficult ex is just that- difficult- but it’s not impossible. There are several steps you can take to make your co-parenting relationship better for you and your children. The following 7 steps can show you how to co-parent with a difficult ex.

Steps to Take When Co-Parenting with a Difficult Ex:

  • Set boundaries
  • Let go of what you can’t control
  • Recognize how you contribute to unhealthy communication
  • Choose what you respond to carefully
  • Treat co-parenting like a business transaction
  • Document important information
  • Consider parallel parenting

Setting Boundaries with Your Co-Parent

One of the benefits of divorce is that you and your ex don’t need to be in constant communication anymore. You can set boundaries when it comes to how and when you will communicate with them. In really high-conflict co-parenting relationships, you may choose to only communicate through a co-parenting app like Our Family Wizard. Keep your conversations focused on the children and what is in their best interest.

Letting Go of What You Can’t Control

You cannot change your ex. If you could, you’d probably still be married, right? So let go of that desire to change them and instead focus on what you can control. You can control what goes on in your own home, and also how you choose to respond to your ex. They can only trigger you if you let them, so take back your power by remaining calm and keeping your attention focused on being the best parent you can be.

Recognizing How You Contribute to the Unhealthy Communication with Your Co-Parent

Your ex cannot argue with themselves, so by removing yourself from disagreements and things that contribute to the unhealthy communication patterns you have with your ex, you are doing what’s best for you and your children. When you find yourself being triggered, ask yourself, “How is my response helping the situation?” and “What led me to respond in this way?”. When you start to recognize the unhealthy patterns in your co-parenting relationship, you can start to work on changing the role you play in them. Remember, you can’t control your ex, but you can control how you respond to them.

Choosing What You Respond To

One of the biggest tricks to co-parenting with a difficult ex is knowing when and how you engage with them. If something they said triggers you, you do not have to respond to it immediately- unless it’s a pressing issue. Instead, write out your response but don’t send it for 24 hours. Then, go back and reread your response and ask yourself whether this response will contribute positively or negatively to the conversation. Giving yourself the space to calm down before responding can help avoid a lot of unnecessary disagreements.

Treating Co-Parenting Like a Business Transaction

It may sound cold, but when it comes to co-parenting with a difficult ex, you need to stick to the facts. Stay focused on the goal of raising your children together and let everything else go. The BIFF Response Method can be a great tool to use for this because it helps you learn how to be Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm in your co-parenting conversations.

Documenting Important Information

When it comes to co-parenting with a narcissist or difficult ex, it’s always going to be a “he said, she said” situation. Make sure you’re backing up your claims with proof in case you ever need to go to court to modify your custody agreement. You don’t have to stress yourself out with documenting every little thing, but keeping a journal dedicated to any important issues that arise can be helpful to your case.

Considering Parallel Parenting

It’s possible that you can do all the things mentioned above and still end up in a contentious co-parenting relationship with your ex. When this happens, you may need to consider parallel parenting, where you and your ex disengage from each other and you both approach parenting in your own way. Part of parallel parenting is avoiding contact with each other whenever possible, which means you likely won’t attend the doctor’s appointments, school activities, and other events for your children at the same time. The good thing about parallel parenting is that with time and growth, you and your ex may be able to switch back to a co-parenting relationship that is healthier for everyone involved.

Related Co-Parenting Blog Topics:

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Essential Resources

If you’re facing legal/custody battles, a mental health crisis, an urgent medical issue, serious emotional problems, including suicidal thoughts, please seek help from the appropriate professionals near you.

Suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis line: 1-800-356-5395
Crisis text line: Text “help” to 741741
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) Resources Marital Life Inventory
Divorce Lifecycle Document
Divorce Process Overview


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