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How to Co-Parent With a Difficult Ex: 8 Tips for Success

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Stepparenting is never an easy job, but I’m sure you’ll agree with me that this task is made that much harder when you find yourself figuring out how to co-parent with a difficult ex!

Whether it’s unhealthy boundaries, rudeness, a lack of communication, bad-mouthing, or an utter disregard for your feelings or time, these people can really drive you up the wall! Co-parenting with a difficult person can throw your life into disarray and do untold damage to your relationships with your kids, stepkids, and partner.

If you’re just about ready to scream, tear your hair out, or throw in the towel completely, wait a minute! There are some ways you can improve your situation when co-parenting with a difficult ex.

1. Set Boundaries

Often, people play out toxic behavior without even realizing the harm it’s doing or the upset they’re causing for others. Though the ex may be driving you bonkers, there is a chance that they may actually be blissfully (or even just slightly) unaware of this fact!

This is a situation where boundaries can be quite effective. Personal boundaries are what you will and will not tolerate people around you, including the ex, doing!

Boundary. This simple word holds so much power when learning hot to co-parent with a difficult ex! Whether it’s refusing to readjust your schedule every time the ex is late or early, walking away from verbal abuse, or choosing not to attend events where the ex will be, boundaries are vital to keeping your peace

They’re also applicable whether the ex is doing something toxic on purpose or not.

Some examples of boundaries you can set with a difficult ex:

  • Childcare time and custody exchange will be discussed and agreed upon beforehand, not at the last minute (unless in an emergency). If the ex texts last minute for a change, you are allowed to be unavailable and say no.
  • Verbal abuse, slander, and gossip about you will not be tolerated, especially in front of the kids. You’re allowed to walk away from that conversation.
  • The ex will call or text beforehand to arrange a time to come around the house that suits you, not arrive without notice. An additional physical boundary here would be not allowing the ex to enter your home.
  • The ex will not ask to borrow your money, especially if they haven’t returned previous loans. You are not financially responsible for your stepkids.

2. Set Up a Schedule That Works for You, Too!

If the ex’s time management skills are creating friction, it may be time to take matters into your own hands. Set up a custody schedule that works for you, them, your partner, and the kids, making sure everyone has provided their input and it doesn’t all fall on you! 

Don’t take on more than you ought to, including taking responsibility when the ex drops the ball, again. Every time you jump in to save the day, you’re also saying, “It’s okay, I’ll sort out the issue next time, too!” Ultimately, this will lead straight back to you being the go-to last-minute driver and babysitter, which may not work for you at all.

3. Play Your Part

It’s reflection time. How have you been contributing to any difficult behavior? If some of your behavior toward the ex has been less-than-respectful, this may be causing a rift between the two of you, your families, and the kids! 

That’s not to say that you need to be best friends with the ex, but do try to keep things cordial or friendly. Even if they continue to be hostile, at least you’re doing your part and being a good role model for the kids. Sometimes, that’s the best we can do as stepparents when co-parenting with a difficult ex!

If there is a specific situation that you played a less-than-honorable part in, consider apologizing to clear the air. It’s possible the ex is holding onto some resentment that is now playing out in other situations and interactions.

4. Get Your Partner on Board

When going head to head with a difficult ex, there is one person you absolutely need on your team, your partner. You’re dealing with their ex, after all!

In some instances, your partner may actually be the one who needs to set boundaries and a workable schedule with the ex. Or play their part and apologize to “keep the peace” (within reason). 

If unresolved arguments and problems between them are causing issues for you, it’s definitely time to sit down and talk to your partner about how they can help!

5. Don’t be Afraid to Step Back

Don’t be afraid to step away from the situation or toxic interactions with the ex if they are disrupting your peace.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, overly involved, attacked, or have just had a boundary violated, it’s totally okay to take a breather or detach. You have every right to prioritize your peace!

6. Talk to an Expert

Nothing beats expert advice, especially from a person who knows how to co-parent with a difficult ex. If you’ve tried everything to no avail or feel out of your depth tackling the issue by yourself, consult an expert!

My job as a stepmom coach is to advise you on what is and isn’t a healthy reaction or interaction, explain boundaries, and teach you invaluable coping strategies.

If you’re searching for a therapist or counselor instead of a coach, make sure to ask if they’re well-versed in blended families. Bonus points if they’re a stepparent themselves because much of the advice you’ll need is specific to being a stepmom!

7. Take Legal Action, if Necessary

If you find yourself dealing with a scary ex who is beyond difficult, don’t be afraid to take action. When necessary, call in law enforcement, child protection services, or take legal action. 

If the ex is violent, dangerous, or breaking the law, you 100% have a right to protect yourself and the kids from harm!

Here are some examples of unlawful or dangerous behaviors:

  • Damage to your property, including your premises and vehicles
  • Stalking
  • Harassment, including persistent abusive or threatening calls, emails, and texts
  • Damaging slander, especially to your or your partner’s employer
  • Verbal threats to your life, or the lives of your pets or family
  • Illegal drug abuse, especially around the kids
  • Physical attacks, with or without a weapon
  • Theft, including not paying back loans or stealing your personal belongings
  • Drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs, especially with the kids in the vehicle
  • Trespassing, particularly on your properties or at your place of work/business
  • Arson

8. Don’t Expect the Ex to Change

Unfortunately, we can’t force other people to change. We can only change ourselves, communicate our needs to others, uphold our boundaries or the law, and hope for the best. 

When teaching how to co-parent with a difficult ex, I often give this as point number one to my coaching clients. Expecting a difficult ex to change their colors usually sets you up for failure.

If necessary, rely on your boundaries and parallel parenting when co-parenting with a difficult ex. Minimal communication and collaboration, strong personal boundaries, a healthy self-care routine, and open and direct communication with your partner will help you to find peace, no matter what a difficult ex may throw your way.

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P.S. Is it possible you’re contributing to a difficult co-parenting relationship because there are unhealthy boundaries with the ex?

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