By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Are you trying to cope with a negative, confrontational co-parent after your divorce or breakup? It can be enormously challenging at best.
Most people acknowledge that staying positive and “taking the high road” is the best way to handle difficult people. But that’s much easier said than done.
It’s tough to stay positive when your co-parent exudes negativity toward you with every encounter. Repeated contact with the same stressful outcome will inevitably bring you down. It also drains your energy, bombarding your consciousness with self-doubt and insecurity. A negative, argumentative or disrespectful co-parent can be especially challenging when you are trying to be a positive role model for your children.
It’s important to remember: we can’t change other people, much as we would like to. This is particularly true for difficult people who are used to bullying their way through life.
What we can do is change our approach and attitude toward their behavior. This isn’t a magic formula that works with extreme narcissistic or sociopathic personalities. But these sound suggestions will shift your energy and mind-set when you’re dealing with a negative co-parent:
- Don’t engage in direct arguments with your co-parent. Avoid trying to make your point or convince them of your wisdom. That only adds fuel to the fire, strengthening their mood, especially for those who feed off of conflict. Instead, remain silent and wait till the negative energy passes. That may mean a few minutes or a few days. Either way, by stopping the conflict you keep the negativity from intensifying so the situation doesn’t get worse. You’re also showing your co-parent that you won’t play by their old rules any longer, opening the door for them to shift their behavior patterns.
- Focus on the injured person within them who is usually emotionally wounded and needing of love. You do that by listening to what they are trying to tell you behind the rage or frustration. Acknowledge their feelings by saying something like, “You sound very angry right now.” Then ask how you can help them. Find something in their demand or statement that you can agree with or address to show you’re listening and care. Negative people have difficulty receiving acceptance and positive treatment from others. Often they change their response and demands when they don’t feel heard, accepted or respected.
- Find something positive about them and focus on that. Are they a loving parent, generous with the kids, punctual about appointments, responsible about financial commitments? Can you compliment their cooking, home-repair skills or involvement in kids’ sports teams? Negative people often resist finding anything positive in life, so pointing out some positive things about them during your conversations can be a breath of fresh air and a mood-changer for them.
- Address their negative generalizations. Sweeping statements about “all women,” “all men,” or comments that start with “you always” or “you never”… are common ways negative people communicate. It’s a form of exaggeration and distorted thinking. Instead of denying and refuting, try asking for more specifics. “When was the last time I did something untrustworthy? “Did I forget to call you when I got back from my parents’ house?” This will help to hone in on the real issues or become too much effort to explain away, often changing the tone of the conversation.
- Learn how to build strong boundaries and detach emotionally from your co-parent. Don’t take their comments and behavior personally. Nor should you waste time trying to change them. That only builds more resistance. Instead you can try agreeing with what they say. What you resist persists. When you agree with their comments, “Well, that may be so. I can imagine how frustrating that was. You have a right to feel that way” … they often tire of the conversation and their mood shifts.
Behaviors never change overnight. However, when you change your usual responses and your approach to communicating with your co-parent it opens the door to new energy in your co-parenting relationship. Use this opportunity to clear the air, own your behavior, make reasonable requests and suggest new agreements on behalf of your children. That can result in meaningful shifts in how you get along and how effectively you co-parent in the future.
Isn’t it worth the effort to produce a more harmonious co-parent relationship? Your children will be the winners in the long term.
*** *** ***
Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books, e-courses and programs on divorcing with children and co-parenting successfully. For instant download of her FREE EBOOK on Doing Co-Parenting Right: Success Strategies For Avoiding Painful Mistakes! go to: childcentereddivorce.com/book
Please share this article on social media!