Dear Dr. Jann: I get the impression from most of the articles you write that you think that all parents should coParent after a break-up. What if you can’t? What if your ex is a screaming narcissist and everything is all about him? At the beginning, he was charming and charismatic. As an ex he’s conceded, self-centered, and manipulative. I’m at my wits end. Now what do I do?
Dr. Jann: Although many would categorize their ex as a narcissist because after a break-up, just about any disagreement seems to be “all about them,” only 6 percent of the US population actually fit that diagnosis.
However, some of the tactics suggested for dealing with a Narcissist work for dealing with others who may be responding based on revenge, jealousy, and blame. At that point, the behaviors look very much the same. “I’m right, and the fact that you’re even questioning my point of view is ridiculous.” Sounds like an ex to me.
Here are some tried and true tricks to help you co-parent with a challenging ex:
1. Identify what’s most important.
Truth is, it’s all about your child. The rest is just garbage. (Ex-etiquette for Parents Rule #1, “Put the children first.”)
2. Establish a communication style.
Exes love to push your buttons. Don’t give them ammunition.
- ·Stick to facts and do your best to leave emotions out of your part of the discussion.
- ·Use email or texting rather than the phone—and don’t get into text wars. (Everything will be written down so there will be proof of your craziness just like there will be proof of his or hers.)
- ·Stay off of social media!
- ·Establish set times that the other parent may call the child. A common tactic to upset the apple cart? The other parent must speak with the child several times during the child’s time with you. Don’t fall for it. Be especially cautious of this if your child has a cell phone.
3. Set appropriate boundaries.
When strict boundaries are set, an entitled ex is likely to rant to try to intimidate you. Just remember, your ex is responsible, not you, for how he or she feels or behaves. If you make your boundaries clear—and stick to them–he/she will eventually come around.
4. Learn to identify what triggers negative reactions in your ex—and in you, as well.
For example, angry tirades over being five minutes late when picking up the kids can easily turn into a name calling confrontation at exchanges. By knowing what upsets him/her you can develop options to manage your responses. Check yourself. In other words, don’t be late if it bugs you when he’s late.
5. Use appropriate language.
There are words, when used properly, that will get you a more positive response than others. For example, “Could you pick up Billy from Sports Camp?” may get you excuses. “I guess, but first I have to pick up the cleaning.” “Could” implies “is it a possibility?” Would you pick up Billy? asks a favor.
6. Pick your battles.
Let the little things go. If your child is not safe or is being emotionally or physically abused, call in the army. The rest of the time, breathe. This too shall pass.