First off, ‘toxic’ is an easy descriptor when talking about an ex. Some people casually throw it around and use it as a synonym for ‘unhealthy’ or simply bad which makes it hard to talk about co-parenting tactics unless you define what ‘toxic’ really means.
“By definition, a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner.
While a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy. A healthy relationship involves mutual caring, respect, and compassion, an interest in our partner’s welfare and growth, an ability to share control and decision-making, in short, a shared desire for each other’s happiness. A healthy relationship is a safe relationship, a relationship where we can be ourselves without fear, a place where we feel comfortable and secure.
A toxic relationship, on the other hand, is not a safe place. A toxic relationship is characterized by insecurity, self-centeredness, dominance, control. We risk our very being by staying in such a relationship. To say a toxic relationship is dysfunctional is, at best, an understatement.” ~Thomas L. Cory, Ph.D.
If you are walking away from a toxic relationship that involves any form of abuse, or addiction; co-parenting is not an option. The negative effects of their dysfunction effectively cancel out the benefits of trying to foster a co-parenting family structure. As another disclaimer, if you are walking away from a truly narcissistic relationship where your spouse has all the telltale signs, again, co-parenting is not for your family. It is not in the best interest of your children. If you have any question whether or not your ex falls into these categories you should seek professional counseling.
If you have made a careful assessment that leaving a high conflict relationship is best and co-parenting is possible and best for the children, there are a few things you will need to do to begin to manage your evolving family across two different homes. Perhaps the ‘toxicity’ was between you and your ex, but now -moving forward, you are forever mindful of this scarlet letter while trying to support the potential benefits of your children maintaining a relationship with both parents.
Be clear with your ex and ‘new co-parent’ that your priorities are with making decisions that are in the best interest of the children. This sets an important precedent, it also implies that the children will not be in the middle of the arguments but the center of their parents’ world.
This is the foundation of what we do at coParenter every single day. We spend our days help co-parenting couples take the poison out of their communication (*with live on-demand ‘GetHelp’) and keep their focus on the health and well being of their children.
Stand clear of negative triggers
You know what they are. If you are in a conflict-riddled relationship be mindful of what sets you both off and keep your tone ‘business friendly’. This may be a new tone for you, but it works. Business-friendly is not an emotional tone. Business-friendly leaves behind the drama, you can express the drama in many ways but you have nothing to gain by letting them feed your fire. And if they respond by trying to push your buttons, keep the interaction short and focused on the kids.
What is most important to raising the children
It can be easy to find yourself in a cycle of bickering, shouting and doling out retorts during kid exchanges. Quite simply, stop it. The child has nothing to gain from these stressful exchanges. Maintain a new higher level of harmony for the sake of the child and keep the communication to what is needed to raise healthy, happy children.
Never speak negatively about your ex in front of your children
Your kids love both their parents, biologically speaking they represent 50% of them. To bash your ex is to bash them. It causes stress, confusion, and sadness.
Foster a two home, one family policy
This is the bedrock of successful co-parenting. Assuming your co-parent is not an addict or an abuser, you should help your child foster their relationship with both parents.
Co-parenting is tough at the beginning, no doubt. If you are in a high conflict co-parenting situation that does not work, consider disengaging from your toxic co-parent and pursuing parallel parenting.