My husband and I have always established and enforced these 10 rules when it came to his divorce and co-parenting in a high-conflict situation.
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When it comes to divorce and co-parenting, sometimes you get lucky and everyone can get along for the sake of the kids but then there is the unlucky (and this is, unfortunately, more popular) situation where a parent or both parents just cannot get along even if it is in the children’s best interest. It is so much better for you and your spouse to stick with these 10 rules. It will help keep your relationship going forward while dealing with the down-sides of the ex.
We created our 10 rules because we knew that our mental health, physical health, and relationship was worth it. Save our 10 rules or take some and make your own, just make sure you have some when you are dealing with a high-conflict situation.
The one thing you have to remember, that is not in our 10 rules but just something to always remember is when dealing with a high-conflict ex you cannot put the children in the middle. They did not ask for the parents to get a divorce. They did not ask for the pain they both caused. They love both of their parents. They did not cause the divorce and they do not deserve to feel the pain from the divorce. It will be hard enough with the massive change they were just put through so putting the anger you hold and the pain you feel on them will only hurt them more. It will not make you feel better.
10 Rules To Stick To When Dealing With A Toxic Co-Parenting Relationship
Rule #1 of our 10 rules – Using a COURT-APPROVED parenting app
This was a must and something my husband suggested that he use to co-parent and it has been one of the best ideas he had which is why it had to be on our 10 rules list. When it comes to co-parenting when there is high-conflict from the other parent, having everything on a court-approved app where nothing can be altered or deleted was a must.
Having this as part of our 10 rules has been so helpful because then the only contact you have to have is through the app and everything is recorded.
Our Family Wizard is probably the best one out there right now. It has a section for a calendar to keep track of all holidays, pick-ups/drop-offs, extra-curricular activities, etc. It allows you to add any expenses that are shared which just helps with the communication. You can message back and forth and it is set up similar to an email.
You can add any lawyers, GAL’s, mediators, etc to the app to help with any issues the two of you might be having. The Our Family Wizard literally has everything you need making it so you and the other parent never need to directly communicate in-person or via text (unless in an emergency with the kids, obviously).
Rule #2 of our 10 rules – We stick to their court order
If you don’t have a legal court order then stop right now, turn around, and go get one! Once you have it, come back and finish reading our 10 rules.
Even if you and your ex are able to co-parent in a civil way, the best thing to do is to have a court order signed by a judge. This way, if there is any disagreement, just go look back to what the court order says and that is what needs to be followed. Legal protection is key when you are co-parenting with a high-conflict toxic ex.
We stick with the court order my husband has about 99% of the time. The only times that we change it, is if it is truly in the best interest of the kids or in an emergency.
Rule #3 of our 10 rules – Keep messages short and open
The keep messages short aspect of this rule:
I have spoken to so many parents and stepparents that co-parent and one of the first things they tell me are “my toxic ex cannot stop sending long messages that have nothing to do with the children involved in the divorce and just spends so much time bashing me or my significant other or our lives”.
Yeah, I get it. Trust me!
We have been receiving those messages, emails, texts, phone calls, etc. for years and it has never stopped. My husband decided that he would just stop responding to unnecessary conversations. He decided his responses would be either no response at all if it literally was just pointless ramblings and just more of stalking and harassing or he would just respond by answering what he needed to regarding the kids in a short civil response.
Yes, we understand that it is hard to just sit back and read all the lies and stories that get made up by the high-conflict ex but that is what a narcissistic parent is looking for. They want those long drawn out responses because that is what keeps them going. They get full from the drama they created and got you to participate in. Don’t sink to their level as best as you can.
The open aspect of this rule:
My husband has always been 100% open with the messages that are sent between him and the ex. I never asked him to be nor did I tell him to show me their messages. He has chosen to and it has strengthened our relationship so much more.
Not only does it keep the trust strong in our relationship, it always keeps our household steady. If there is ever a change in their schedule that needs to happen or if either of the kids is sick, or has appointments, or is out of medicine, I need to know those things. So I can keep our household on track and all of our 6 schedules updated. Just having that open communication between us has truly helped and something we plan to stick with for the long haul. Having this as part of our 10 rules to co-parenting has been a relationship saver!
Rule #4 of our 10 rules – Keeping our lives separate & sticking with Parallel Parenting
My husband’s parenting style is by using the Parallel Parenting method because of the high-conflict surrounding us. So we keep our lives completely separate from the ex. The only thing we have in common our the children and even then, it is separate. This is one of the 10 rules that we don’t see changing anytime soon, and that is okay.
What is Parallel Parenting? It is a technique that parents who share children wish to avoid contact themselves so they limit their interactions. It works best for high-conflict divorces and situations where one (or maybe even both) parents need to get past that relationship and make amends or get help before being able to speak directly with the other in a civil manner. This allows for the parents to still have a great and meaningful relationship with the children but be completely disengaged from each other.
How to Parallel Parent if my ex is a narcissist? Dealing with a narcissist as your co-parent just makes co-parenting 10x harder which is why Parallel Parenting is so common when one parent is a narcissist.
What is a narcissist? Someone who suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized especially by an exaggerated sense of self-importance, persistent need for admiration, lack of empathy for others, excessive pride in achievements, and snobbish, disdainful, or patronizing attitudes.
If your ex is a narcissist, the last thing you want to do is give into everything they are saying or let them know what is going on in your life. They are going to argue with you, just to argue because they know it is upsetting you. They will turn everything in your life into something negative because they cannot see the positive in anything unless it is hurting you.
Narcissists enjoy seeing others in pain, they enjoy putting others down because to them, it makes them feel like the winner. They will think to themselves “I have the better life, I win!” or “I called this person a name, they must feel like crap, I am awesome!”. Who cares what they say or what they call you, just remember you left them. You took them out of your life, you won.
Do not let the narcissist into your personal life, that is what they want and what they feed off of.
That is where the Parallel Parenting style comes into play. Keep the distance. A narcissist will obsess over your life and whoever else is in it. They will go to great lengths to finding out whatever they can about you and try to use it against you. Do not let them and if they do find things out, just let it go and do not engage in it, as hard as it is! It is not worth it. They have a personality disorder, not you. They need professional help, not you.
Go back to rule #3, keep messages short and to the point and only in regard to the children. That is what has helped my husband with his high-conflict situation.
How to Parallel Parent – it is simple. Your house, your rules. Their house, their rules. You both share equal responsibility over the children but no one has more control. Do not get into the debate of “why do you let XYZ go to bed at 9pm, her bedtime is 8 here and that is better!”. It is not your house, that is your ex’s house. They have equal responsibility and if they believe the child does fine at 9pm, so be it. If you choose for it to be 8pm, the other parent does not have a say either.
Parallel Parenting is sticking to the parenting agreement, keeping all communication in writing and keeping it brief and about the children, keeping holidays and birthdays separate, individual parenting styles, resisting competition, and keeping your lives completely separate.
Rule #5 of our 10 rules – We Take Breaks
When there is a high-conflict divorce and the co-parenting is just as high-conflict, you need to take breaks. Whether it for a day or a night or even a weekend.
Dealing with the stress behind co-parenting and becoming a blended family, life sometimes seems to just be spinning in circles and you can’t standstill. Stop. Stop everything you are doing, stop responding to those high-conflict messages, stop dealing with the drama, just stop.
It is okay to put your mental health first. You need to or it will start affecting your physical health as well. My husband and I always say, that if we both or just one of us need a break, to take it. He says “I got a message but I will deal with it later. It is not critical.” or sometimes he will ask my opinion on something that his attorney needs and I will tell him that I can’t right now and that we will need to handle it after a free weekend. We both have come together and have created this understanding that if we need a break, then we need a break from it.
If you feel yourself just spinning in circles, constantly in a battle, dealing with court issues all the time, or even just a crazy blended household. Take a break. Your spouse, your kids, and yourself will thank you for it. You cannot parent and be yourself if you are just running around constantly. Explain to your spouse why and how you need a break. Let them take breaks. Maybe even take a family break and just spend it doing something all of you will love, with phones down and eyes off screens. Trust me, kids need breaks too. Out of all of our 10 rules, this one needs to be taken any time you need it.
Rule #6 of our 10 Rules – Stick Together
When you are dealing with a high-conflict ex (or exes), you need to stick together with your partner. When you have a high-conflict ex who has narcissistic traits, you may find them trying to turn your spouse, family, or even friends against you. Your true friends will be there for you. Your true family members will support you and your spouse knows that it is just jealousy and sadness in that person’s life. Do not let them bring you or your relationship down.
They will probably threaten things like “I will contact so and so and tell them this!” or “I will show them screenshots of our conversations” and then those screenshots are usually from years ago, ones they made up, or even had their a friend fake with them. All to just create drama in your life. Do not let them.
Stick together. This is one of the most important rules of our 10 rules. My husband and I are incredibly strong and it took a lot of hard work and commitment to get to the place we are now. We are a team, we go through everything together, he supports me and I support him through everything, even the ugly. It is not easy to receive things that try and put a hole in our marriage but we both know that nothing can break us. We both know that our love is stronger than the past and lies and stories that we have thrown at us.
Rule #7 of our 10 Rules – Respect the Children’s love for their other parent
This might be one of the hardest out of the 10 rules but it is so worth it. You may not like the high-conflict ex who tries to make your life miserable, but the children love them. You need to respect that.
At the beginning of my and my husband’s relationship, we would often talk about how we didn’t understand how the children could love that person. Why they would want to be with them. How will they grow up with such hate surrounding them? But, then we stopped. We stopped questioning their love and accepted it and now we respect the love they have.
You may have so many ill feelings toward your ex or their family or whomever else is in your children’s lives but they love them and it is good for them to love them and it is okay for them to love them.
We stopped trying to protect them from the hurtful things we saw because the hurtful things we saw was honestly just aimed at us. Yes, the children may be told things but we know they love us unconditionally and we know that will never change and they love their other parent unconditionally and that will never change. Children deserve to feel their other parent is respected and that is what we have chosen to show.
Once we started to respect their relationship, it healed us too. We stopped twisting and turning little things and started to let them grow and feel safe which helped us grow and feel better. We stopped thinking that their two homes were a competition and realized their two homes are just more for them to love and have. We stopped thinking “is our home good enough?” and started saying “our home is perfect for them” and once we did that, our home, our love, our relationship and our children seems so much more relaxed and happy.
Even if you get those nasty messages of trying to make you feel like your home is worthless or less than – you will be able to brush it off, look around, and smile because you know the truth and you learned how to respect yourselves, your children and how to respect the high-conflict ex which in itself gives you so much strength.
Rule #8 of our 10 Rules – Do Not Compare Lives (or past lives!)
This is probably one of the most important rules out of the 10 rules because it is so important for your mental health. This is something that can be so hard to do but it will only make you feel worse.
When my husband and I first got together, I was so scared because he had done this before. He was married, he had a wife in his life, he had a mother to his children, and at one point he had a lover. How could I measure up? Would this be too different for him? Will he miss what he had? Am I not doing this right? When in reality, I should have been thinking about how everything he had before, he left. He got a divorce. He did not want what he had because he was not happy, he was not loved, he did not love, there was so much damage and pain and no happiness.
What I didn’t know was that he, was thinking the same thing though our situations were different, he still wondered if he would measure up, if he would love me enough or make me happy enough.
He found all of that in me and me in him. The reason we are together is that we found love, for once in our lives, we found true passionate love. There is no comparison.
What was in our past is our past for a reason. What we have now is what we have for a reason. We have such an amazing connection and I know, without a doubt, that I give him what he needs and wants and that he gives me what I need and want. We are so incredibly happy, even on days where we have arguments, it will always end in us in each other’s arms and telling each other how much we love each other and how thankful we are that we found one another.
You may be the complete opposite of what he had before but you are exactly what your spouse needs and loves. Remember that.
Rule #9 of our 10 Rules – Get outside support
When dealing with high-conflict parenting, do not hesitate to get outside support. Not only for your own mental health but also for everyone around you.
Go to therapy. Go talk to your best friend. Whoever is your supporter and someone you feel completely comfortable with talking to, go to them.
My husband and I have been seeing the same therapist for the last 3 years, off and on. At first, it was every week because the high-conflict was so dang hard to deal with but with the help of our therapist, we grew stronger and were able to deal with the hard times in a much different way. Now, we only have a session when there is a situation that we don’t really know how to handle or what to do with and it is so incredibly helpful.
If you need help finding a therapist, search here!
Rule #10 of our 10 Rules – Be the bigger person
With the high-conflict surrounding you, it can be hard to remain the bigger person. When you constantly are receiving messages, emails, texts, or whatever else that is immature, just remember that you do not need to be immature back.
Believe me, I know how hard it is not to play the same game as the high-conflict ex or how not to stoop down and say the same things that they say but it really is pointless.
Be the bigger person. You’ve heard the saying – “kill them with kindness.” That is exactly what you should live by. It doesn’t take much work to respond with immature comments back but it takes plenty of work to respond with kindness. This is how my husband and I choose to handle our situation and it has helped so much.