If you have a difficult co-parent you will have to set some limits or your situation may get worse. A few examples of co-parenting behaviors that need limits include the following:
- Calling or sending text too often
- Making requests through the children
- Not allowing a phone call to come to an end
- Not allowing you to have a different opinion
- Creating a conflict that your child may over-hear
It is not uncommon that a co-parent who is a bully or demanding will be attracted to someone who avoids making waves. This of course reinforces and encourages their disrespectful behaviors. So it is likely you have not set limits because of fear that the situation will get worse. However, when we avoid problems they come back ten times worse! You will first need to face the fact that you are part of the problem.
Clarify Your Expectations. The first step to setting limits is to let the person know exactly what you are asking for or what you will not tolerate. As a parent you might say to your child, “I expect you to do your homework before you watch TV.’ With your co-parent it might be “If we get into a conflict and our child is around I will end the conversation and get back to you later.”
Give a “Heads-Up” Before Making a Change. Just like with parenting, we should inform the individual that we are about to start doing things differently (but not as a threat). A parenting example might be, “When you come home past curfew you will lose the same amount of time off the next night’s curfew.” We all realize that as a parent it is essential to follow through or you will lose your child’s respect and your word will mean absolutely nothing. We all know the key is consistency. We have to ensure that our word means something. We can be predictable. Unless we do this with our children or anyone else, we are not going to gain their respect.
Determine if You Have Leverage. For example, if you do not want to communicate with your co-parent daily ask yourself if there is anything you can do about it. The obvious fact is you do not need to respond to their email. If you do respond, you have not set any limits. Now it is important not to get carried away and think you can punish or set parenting consequences on your co-parent. Consider what you can do- what you have the power to do. Warn them about the change. For example, “When you raise your voice to me I will be ending our phone calls.” Remember when you change the rules you should expect an even stronger attack. Just as children usually escalate to test the new limits so might your co-parent. Their goal is to manipulate you into going back to being your former push-over self!
Plan Your Exit Line. If your co-parent tries to keep you on the phone when you cannot talk, you simply prepare for this pattern with a single statement such as, “I need to run but let’s talk about this more tomorrow.” Period. Then end your call without waiting for their approval. Realize no one can make you remain on the phone.
Communication Limits. If your co-parent sends long attacking email you can ignore the email or respond to the useful sections and ignore the rest. This takes lots of emotional control. If you have asked your co-parent to only send email on Sunday nights but they continue to send email throughout the week, do not open the email on other days. Remember, curiosity killed the cat. For example, “I notice you keep sending email and text whenever you want in spite of my request for weekly email. I have requested you only text for emergencies. So starting this week I will not respond to any text that is not urgent or any email that is not sent on Sunday. Thanks” Now make your word mean something or you will never get them to back off.
Changing Subjects to Distract. When your co-parent changes the subject when trying to resolve a parenting issue say, “That is important to talk about. However, let’s finish this issue first and then come back to that topic.”
Using Your Child to Manipulate. Your co-parent may have the annoying and manipulative pattern of asking your child about doing something together on your time prior to speaking with you. This is a set up to make you the bad guy but it will reinforce your co-parent’s bad behavior if you keep giving in when you are manipulated. Instead let the co-parent know that no matter what they try to arrange with the child prior to getting it worked out with you, you will have to decline every time. If appropriate, inform your older child that you will no longer be set up to say yes to these requests. Let them know you really want to say yes but will say no until the other parent asks you directly. Your child may not like this plan but on some level they already know you are too easy and you are being manipulated. There is no time like the present to model grown up behaviors including courage.
Remember your child is learning and you are his/her greatest teacher!
Widely known for her expertise in the area of divorce and the family, she provides training to educators, family law and mental health professionals, as well as “High-conflict divorce” and “Parenting Coordination”.She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination. Respected in their field, Susan has conducted numerous seminars on the international, national, state and local levels on topics such as parental alienation and visitation refusal, interviewing children, therapeutic and supervised visitation and developmentally appropriate time-sharing plans.
She has been awarded clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of multiple organizations including the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.Mrs. Boyan maintains a private practice in Georgia.
Latest posts by Susan Boyan (see all)
- Seek and You Shall Find;Confirmation Bias with Divorce - July 1, 2015
- King Solomon’s Advice on Co-Parenting - June 3, 2015
- Part II. Different Paths to Seek a Divorce - May 21, 2015