How To Co-Parent When You Don’t Get Along With Your Ex

by Amy B. Chesler
Originally Published: 
A woman not being able to Co-parent with her Ex because they don't get along arguing in the kitchen
PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/Getty

My ex-husband and I share joint custody of our children, and our divorce was not something either of us really wanted. But after nearly ten years of marriage and a good deal of talk therapy (individual and couples’) it had become clear we could not remain married if we wanted to provide a loving and peaceful environment for our babes.

It breaks my heart daily that we couldn’t find a rhythm together for our family. But every day proves that our decision to dissolve our marriage was a valid one, because even with limited interaction, our relationship is extremely tenuous. Which honestly makes a very fragile platform for our current co-parenting efforts.

Still, people are shocked to find out we don’t get along, let alone are even divorced. Especially since most of our neighbors see us walk to school every day together, no matter ‘whose day’ it is (and yes, we live separately). We occasionally even celebrate holidays together when we feel we can manage. Because at the base of it all might be a rocky relationship with poor communication and little understanding, but also at the base remains our children. And he and I would both do just about anything in our wheelhouses (or beyond) to ensure our children’s health and relative happiness. It isn’t easy to set aside the feelings we have harbored within the dramatic loss of our relationship, but for our kiddos, it’s worth it.

So, how do we do it? As much as I’d like to admit I have a magic list of coping mechanisms to get through the difficult seasons of co-parenting, I don’t. There doesn’t seem to be a fix-it-all cure for communication breakdown; if there was one, we wouldn’t be divorced, now would we? However, I have found there are some tried and trusted tips and/or tools that seem to make the process of effectively co-parenting much easier. They are as follows:

Limit interaction to only when it is necessary, or to only when it is in your wheelhouse to handle it.

As I mentioned before, my ex and I walk our kiddos to school every day together. But that’s because a) it means the absolute world to our kiddos, b) I hate seeing them only 50%, so I will take any excuse to cuddle them, even if that’s a block-and-a-half walk, c) we live six blocks from each other, and d) I never sleep in. But if we are experiencing friction, I generally will kindly let my ex know not to expect me that following day so we both have a reset period. We all need to know our limits, especially as single parents.

When you do have to communicate, keep it centered around the kids and as concise as can be.

This is for obvious reasons, as it really does (often, but not always) help to curb heightened emotions and engaging further than you have to. That way the conversation can remain more civilized and congenial, which helps everyone, your children especially.

Use divorce apps if and when you need.

TBH, sometimes you can’t just keep it centered and concise. Thus, we have the web. It is a massive, beautiful space (when people allow it to be), and the number of apps designed to make the divorce process are almost equally as vast. There are programs created to help with communication, scheduling, finances, even mediation. I suggest you do a deep dive with a pretty specific Google prompt that encapsulates your needs; Coparently, Our Family Wizard, & Hello Divorce are just a few of the highly recommended apps out there today.

Go to talk therapy.

I know: how’s individual therapy gonna help my already-finished marriage? Honestly, I am a massive proponent of talk therapy with the right therapist at any point. There is a great deal of value in discussing conflicts that you may be having with your co-parenting partner, so you can receive neutral perspective regarding the issues at hand. Mine has also helped me to recognize my triggers, which enables me to avoid reacting as a result. And we all know being non-reactive helps avoid extra conflict. A therapist specializing in divorce or family systems may be especially helpful since they have such a cache of knowledge. Just know that sometimes it takes time to find the right therapist; finding one that can become a trusted advocate for you is extremely important.

Try divorce support groups.

If one-on-one therapy isn’t for you, a great alternative is a local divorce support group. Groups are often organized by their members’ stage in the divorce or separation process, but they can also be separated by age, location, reason for divorce, and more. These are a fabulous solution for anyone feeling they need extra support or community. Sometimes it really does just help to know you’re not alone. They also tend to be less financially burdensome, if not entirely free. Finding one in your area is generally simple; a targeted Google search for ‘divorce support groups near me’ works, but you can also call your local religious institution or medical facility. Most will have further information for your area.

Do not be afraid to use a mediator.

If communicating calmly and apps and group support don’t seem to be working, there are always mediators. If it is absolutely necessary, you can hire someone to remain a neutral party to negotiate and discuss things with you, even your kids’ report cards. They can be hired in the form of an actual legal mediator (who are generally also lawyers), or even a family therapist. There is value in either.

Remember who you’re doing it all for: your kiddos.

Sure, the marriage wasn’t going to work. And at times, it could have even been downright toxic. But now that you’ve slowly slid (or awkwardly stumbled, if you’re like me) in to co-parenting status, you’ve got to do your best to show children cordiality (or at least simple communication skills) are possible. Not only will they appreciate the effort later in life, but it’ll show them you can do hard things for them. That they’re worth it. And that they can survive hard things and still be relatively kind, too.

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