7 Tips for Co-parenting With a Challenging, Narcissistic, or High-Conflict Ex
Once you accept that you can only control your own behavior – not that of a person with a difficult or high conflict personality – your life will greatly improve.
While co-parenting is a great opportunity for children to spend time with both parents – to feel it’s okay to be loved by both of their parents – there are some circumstances that make it problematic. For instance, it can be a challenge if you have a high-conflict ex who thrives on conflict, has a difficult personality, or a personality disorder. Certainly, experts agree that the outcomes for children of divorce improve when they have positive bonds with both parents. The potential benefits of co-parenting include a child or adolescent achieving better psychological and behavioral adjustment, and enhanced academic performance. However, few experts discuss the drawbacks of co-parenting when one parent is challenging, has a high conflict personality, or has a personality disorder such as a Narcissism. For example, Marissa, 45, and Tom, 48, have been co-parenting for three years and they reached a gridlock recently. Tom considers Marissa to be a challenging person who is demanding of his personal time and has little concern for his feelings. While Tom has moved on from his divorce, Marissa continues to ask him to do yardwork and household repairs; and to spend most holidays, birthdays, and special occasions with her and their three children. Meanwhile, Tom announced his engagement to Lillian, 40, and he’s been setting more boundaries on his time, including having separate holidays and celebrations. He also asked Marissa to hire a lawn service and to stop calling him to fix appliances in her home. Unhappy with Tom’s new boundaries, Lillian has been texting him daily with complaints and invited herself to his home on Thanksgiving. Truth be told, moving on from a divorce is hard, but it’s especially hard for someone with a difficult personality or personality disorder. In fact, some disordered people seek to harass their exes long after the breakup, making moving on very challenging. It’s also problematic for children in these homes because they often experience loyalty conflicts or feel stuck in the middle between two hostile parents. When Marissa and Tom agreed to attend co-parenting sessions, I encouraged them to focus on the well being of their children and to attempt to model cooperation rather than exposing them to high conflict. After meeting for eight sessions, both parents were able to compromise and come to some agreements that they could live with and would also benefit their children. Marissa hired a lawn service and was doing better at accepting that she needed to move on from her divorce, stop harassing Tom, and accept that he would soon be remarried.