Dear Dr. Jann,
I think my ex is a narcissist because it is impossible to co-parent with him. What can I do?
– ’Impossible to coParent’
Dear ‘Impossible to coParent’,
A true narcissist cannot feel empathy and has no remorse when there’s a disagreement. Although that sounds like most exes, most are not narcissists. Narcissism is a serious personality disorder that should be diagnosed by a physician or a therapist. What you probably mean is that your ex is difficult, and you may have to find alternative ways of problem-solving than merely picking up the phone and comparing notes.
One of the things you can do to lessen conflict is to communicate only through writing. That way you have proof of what is said, which lessens the chance of the “I didn’t say that/yes, you did” factor when interacting. Email and texting provide you with that proof. However, an easier and better solution would be to use a specialized coParenting app. There is one specifically designed for parents with coParenting situations just like yous. The coParenter app can help reduce conflict by letting you and your ex get to the task of raising your child.
The app offers a well-organized, easy-to-access record of interaction. Each time there’s something to note, both parents can enter it into the app and it can be viewed by the other parent. You will have a record of upcoming doctors appointments, extra-curricular activities, and custody schedules (just to name a few). There is an endless amount of information that you can enter and document in the coParenting app. No more searching for proof that something was said or agreed upon. It’s right there in the app.
Even when using the coParenting app, here are some other things you can do to lessen conflict with a difficult ex:
1. Approach interaction like a business relationship.
Be mature, keep your emotions to a minimum, and try not to anticipate how you think the interaction will go prior to any meeting—virtual or in person. If your ex becomes angry and starts to use profanity or call you names, do not reciprocate. The meeting will become about disagreeing and not about the issue at hand. Besides, an argument takes two people and if you remain calm and collective throughout, your coParent may too.
2. Come to the table with a suggestion.
People are often conditioned to acknowledge there’s a problem, but they aren’t conditioned to make suggestions on how to solve it. If your ex is difficult, simply naming the problem will put him or her on the defense and the discussion will become “It’s your fault… no, it’s your fault.” Rather than… “An 8pm return time is too late. It needs to be 7pm.”
Try saying this: “I understand how important your time with our son is, and I know that having him awake longer gives you more time to spend with him, but exchanges at 8pm on a school night doesn’t allow him to get as much sleep as he needs. How about changing the pick-up time to 7pm, and you can take him an hour earlier so you have the same amount of time together?
3. Stay on subject.
It is too easy to get off of the topic-at-hand, and you shouldn’t let past issues get you into arguments now. If the discussion is about exchange times, don’t let it become about child support. You can’t move forward if you dwell on past issues.
4. Negotiate in good faith.
No matter how difficult an ex can be, it’s not about the ex, it’s about your child. Period.
5. Compromise whenever possible.
A small tweak to your solution may be all that’s needed to get an agreement. Be open to their suggestions.
6. Walk a mile in their shoes.
Being a parent is about understanding and compromise, and so is being a coParent. It’s also about doing what is in the best interest of the children. Trying and/or being able to understand the other coParents perspective can be an invaluable experience. You may not agree with what they believe is best but you owe it to your kids to make every attempt to understand the other coParent. Remember, compassion and understanding make working with others much easier.
Incorporating the above strategies and using the app to communicate with a difficult ex will make it much easier to find solutions to problems that may have been impossible to solve before the technology was available. Click here to try it!