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Dealing with a Toxic Ex-Spouse

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

Cooperating with a toxic ex-spouse is frustrating at best and unworkable at worst. A toxic ex-partner doesn't respect the other parent's boundaries and sets out to make you upset and miserable.

A toxic ex-husband or wife never lets go of their partner and uses their children as pawns. They target you rather than your kids, even though they put the kids in the middle of their game.

If your ex is abusing your kids or making it burdensome to raise your children peacefully, you may need to take legal action. Dealing with a toxic ex-spouse starts with recognizing the behavior and tell-tale signs of one.

What are the Signs of a Toxic Ex?

According to professionals, a toxic ex-husband or wife is a co-partner that creates difficulty and loyalty conflicts for your children.

In case your ex-parent is engaging in toxic communication and behavior, they may:

· Try to interfere with your and your child's communication.

· Attempt to erase or substitute you with another person.

· Say negative things about you to the children.

· Saying one thing and doing another.

· Receiving phone calls or texts at odd times.

· Undermine or eliminate your authority over your children.

· Pushing off responsibility to you.

· Try to convince your child that you're unworthy and untrustworthy.

· Inconsistently taking care of the kids.

These behaviors can deteriorate your relationship with your children. Many younger children lack the emotional intelligence and life experience necessary to recognize the signs and patterns of a toxic parent.

Why Does Positive Co-Parenting Matter?

It's no secret: co-parenting can be challenging. But all the work and emotional labor you put in to sort things out will pay off when your kids grow up healthy and happy. Successful co-parenting focuses on helping your kids understand that your love and bond with them will not change. Your kids may feel unsure and unstable after learning about their parent's separation or divorce but maintaining a cooperative relationship is essential to ensure kids:

Feel More Secure

Children who trust their parents' love adjust quickly to new situations and have better self-esteem.

Demonstrate Better Problem Solving

Children learn from their parents' example of cooperating and working together.

Are Mentally and Emotionally Healthier

Children who experience conflict between co-parents are likely to develop mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and ADHD.

Understanding the Problems Everyone Faces

Cooperating with a toxic ex-partner may cause you to feel stuck in the middle, create problems for your ex, and make you feel guilty. With a cluttered mind, you probably won't be able to take appropriate actions or satisfy your new partner. Let's discuss the problems everyone involved may face while dealing with a toxic ex:

The Problem for the Children

Let's discuss issues problems may face during a divorce:

· They may blame themselves and feel helpless.

· Children of different ages may act out.

A child who acts out or starts throwing tantrums may give your ex-spouse a reason to make you feel guilty about the kids.

The Problem for the Ex-Partner

Your ex-wife or husband may experience the following problems:

· Jealousy

· Helplessness

· Regret

· Unresolved Emotions

· Vengeful Thoughts

Your ex-spouse may also feel like they compete if the kids accept their new stepmom or stepdad.

The Problem for the New Partner

These include:

· Being involved in raising their partner's children while the kid's allegiance remains with someone else

· Feeling unappreciated

The Do's and Don'ts of Dealing with Toxic Ex-spouse

Let's discuss the basic do's and don'ts of dealing with a toxic ex-wife or husband:

· Poor communication requires you to spell out every aspect of visitation times with the children. Ensure you specify the pick-ups and drop-offs to the minute but offer a 15 to a 30-minute grace period.

· There must be clear language in the lawsuit that neither partner can criticize the other in front of the children.

· If you and your ex-partner cannot deal with issues civilly, then you must put everything in writing.

· Ensure your ex-parent does not videotape your exchanges with your children.

· Try to have witnesses during pick-up and drop-off times to prevent false allegations.

· Avoid topics and situations that trigger your ex.

· Allow your kids have guilt-free and healthy relationships with their other parent.

· Deal successfully with extracurricular activities by ensuring everyone involved is appropriately notified.

· Create your home as a safe and welcoming place where kids can relax and enjoy their time with you.

· Avoid turning your children into friends or support groups where you vent about your ex.

Trouble Signs of a Toxic Ex-Spouse

Co-parenting with a toxic ex-husband and wife can be challenging. Let's discuss the top eight signs of a toxic ex-spouse:

Ignoring the Other Parent's Rules

Rules, boundaries, and routines are integral for raising children in divorced or separation situations. But creating a structure becomes even more essential once you consider the emotional turmoil a divorce brings.

If one parent ignores the rules and boundaries, it may cause chaos with the children. It may also create a situation where the children use the parents to get their way.

Running Down their Ex-Spouse

Successful co-parenting relationships rely on effective and positive communication. If one parent starts trashing or being mean, you must set new boundaries.

Unfortunately, this behavior puts you down in front of the child. It may even make you question your worth and parenting skills.

Failing to Compromise

While setting strict rules and boundaries is essential, remember to leave some room for compromise.

Unexpected circumstances or changing schedules can arise suddenly. A toxic ex who refuses to be flexible can negatively impact your co-parenting relationship and the child's self-esteem.

Being Rude in Public

When you and your ex meet in public, you must be civil and polite with each other, especially in front of the kids.

In messy divorces, ex-spouses find it impossible to be cordial and humane with their ex, leading to further problems.

Such toxic behavior can create tension and stress and set a bad example for adult relationships. No matter the cause of the separation, parents must present a united front to ensure kids feel reassured and happy.

Sending Sexually Charged Texts

Some exes send sexually charged texts and inappropriate messages to woo them back. Unfortunately, this behavior can be incredibly toxic.

These messages are not only disturbing but may even make you question your decision about leaving your ex-spouse. It may ruin your relationship with your new partner.

Using Your Children Against You

A toxic ex-spouse may try to turn your children against you by bad-mouthing your actions. Or they may abandon their children to punish you or get back at you.

Trying to Plant Seeds of Doubt

Your toxic ex-spouse may make comments projecting failure on your part as your inability to hold the marriage together.

A toxic ex-wife or husband will say and do whatever they please to undermine your goals and achievements. They may even predict failure for the future goals your children set.

Using You to Excuse Their Behavior

A toxic ex-spouse may choose to ignore the needs and wishes of their children to get back at you.

Typically, toxic ex-partners try to alleviate the guilt of their bad choices by making it appear as though they had no other option.

Best Tips for Dealing with a Toxic Ex-Spouse

When you're stuck in a toxic relationship, it's near impossible to see and avoid the red flags. An emotionally abusive partner may show the following signs:

· Lack of Support

· Toxic Communication

· Envy or Dishonesty

· Controlling Behavior

· Resentment

· Patterns of Disrespect

· Negative Financial Behavior

· Constant Stress

· Ignoring Your Needs

· Hoping for Change

Let's discuss the best ways you can deal with a toxic ex-spouse:

1. Creating a Plan and Sticking with It

Developing a comprehensive and successful parenting plan requires thinking and work, but it totally pays off. Take some time to create clear boundaries, establish best practices, and identify expectations with your ex.

This way, you can eliminate a lot of miscommunication, problems, and guesswork from co-parenting. Curate a co-parenting argument outlining exchanges procedures, ways to handle time requests, and when you'll communicate and share information about the kids.

Once you create a co-parenting plan, remember to stick to it. It ensures your children don't have to keep readjusting their expectations and routines to unexpected changes.

2. Keeping it Positive

Every child deserves a positive and healthy relationship with their parents. So, don't take ill about your toxic ex-spouse in front of your child.

It may be tempting to yell about how frustrating or toxic your ex is, but it's always a wise idea to save your anger for a family member or friend.

3. Establishing Clear Boundaries

A toxic ex-partner may either try to break or set boundaries. Creating clear boundaries around the school, home, and society will encourage less toxicity in you and your child's relationship.

4. Filing for a Court Order

Before filing for a court order, take time to plan out what you want. Start by checking your state's typical parenting plan and modify it to match your children's best interest.

While creating a co-parenting agreement plan, ensure you go line-by-line and consider how your ex may twist your words to control your life further. Avoid leaving any potential loopholes and unclear communications within the plan.

5. Taking the High Road

If you're the one who made the difficult decision of filing for a divorce, your ex-partner may feel small and disempowered.

As a result, your toxic ex may blame you for their bad decisions and misery and promise revenge. Divorce is unlikely to stop the vicious habit of abuse in your ex. Instead, your ex-spouse may start criticizing your parenting style, become rude and cruel to you, and try to manipulate you.

Even if it's tempting to believe their lies, resist the urge and act with integrity. Do not give your toxic ex-spouse the pleasure of going beyond your boiling point. Choose not to respond and vent your frustrations to a close friend or family member.

6. Putting Your Kids First

Putting your children's needs first is a priority. It's also something divorced couples must remember during the heat of the moment.

Keeping your kid's security, stability, and happiness before your differences and past fights is critical to successful co-parenting.

Take the necessary steps to ensure your kid's health and wellness. You may even work with a family therapist or seek counseling to facilitate conversation between you and your ex-spouse.

Remember, putting your kids first means never putting your children in the middle. Never use your kids as messengers, support systems, or go-betweens in you and your toxic exes' drama.

7. Making Children Accept the Bitter Reality

Children who are close and equally dependent on both parents are unlikely to accept the news of the family breaking apart. Although children don't have a say in such matters, they are most likely to get severely affected.

Divorcing parents have to convince their children and believe that they will remain a family. You and your ex-spouse's responsibility is to reassure your kids that your love and care for them will stay unaffected.

8. Preparing Yourself for the Worst

Expect your toxic ex-partner to make false allegations, spread rumors, and create abuse reports. Remember that most of these lies will appear in the form of accusations like, 'You're insecure!' or 'You're a bad parent.'

Here's the thing: this behavior matches gaslighting. Don't let your toxic ex-spouse make you question your reality or defend yourself. Stand firm in your truth and never make decisions out of fear.

9. Securing Your Digital Life

Try to remember if you ever shared passwords or usernames with your ex-spouse while you both were still together.

A situation like this can be dangerous since vengeful and resenting exes will explore your digital profiles to ruin your reputation.

For instance, they may post fake messages on your social media account or send your follower personal photos to destroy your image.

Ensure you reset all your passwords in your social media accounts, email, and financial statements. Moreover, delete any private photos or steamy messages you previously sent.

10. Not Competing with Your Ex

Sharing the majority of time with your children means you'll be responsible for the burden of discipline, chores, and schoolwork. It may limit your time as the 'fun-parent.'

Don't let this turn into jealousy that restricts your children from meeting their other parents. Allow your kids to be happy and excited about seeing their ex. Encourage and support them and comfort them when they're hurting.

11. Keeping Contact Basic and Professional

When it comes to communicating with a toxic ex-husband or wife, it's always a wise idea to avoid engaging in conversations straying outside essential information exchanges.

If you're planning to email or text them, restrict your communication to critical details like when you're picking up your child or when a sports event will begin.

Indulging a toxic ex-partner in a lengthy conversation may end up discussing old arguments or your ex-spouse creating imaginary complaints.

12. Allowing Children to Communicate with Your Ex-Spouse

If your ex is toxic with you, it's not necessary to reflect the toxicity on their children. So, avoid hindering the communication or bonding between you and your ex-spouse.

Ensure your children and ex-partner can visit each other on all occasions. Moreover, be mindful of how you speak of your partner in front of your child.

13. Staying in the Loop

One drawback of co-parenting is that it comes with excessive FOMO. So, if your kid is doing something new, unique, or fun like going to their first day of school or riding their bike, take a photo or video to share with your ex.

This way, you can reduce potential competitiveness between you and your ex while allowing them to experience special moments.

14. Living Your Life

Here's the thing: you deserve happiness, pleasure, and fun just like any other autonomous human being. You're allowed to make mistakes, have room to grow, and not be perfect.

There's no reason to stuff yourself in a box created by your toxic ex back when you were together. You're allowed to learn and change.

Focus on seeking counseling and practicing proper self-care. Take time to bond with your children, surround yourself with positive people, and become you authentically.

Is Cooperating with a Toxic Ex Even Possible?

If your ex is a narcissistic or gaslighting co-parent, you'll likely encounter a high-conflict parenting situation. In these cases, the co-parents are antagonistic and try to rile you up so they can get your attention back. Alternatively, cooperating with a toxic ex who sets your children up against you can be impossible.

The Bottom Line

According to insightful research, approximately 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce. Toxic communications and behavior patterns with an ex-spouse can erode the foundations of your relationship.

Divorce, especially with a toxic partner, can be frustrating and impossible. Ensure you keep yourself healthy mentally and talk to one of our therapists for the best ways to provide your children with a safe environment.


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