How To Effectively Co-Parent With A Bully During Divorce
3 tips to help you mitigate the meltdowns while co-parenting during divorce.
A typical divorce is dramatic and traumatic for everyone involved. Divorce means that lives get changed forever – first and foremost your life, your kids’ lives, and your soon-to-be-ex’s (S2BX) life.
Although for some people the thought of things never being the same is a blessing. The blessing is no longer having to deal on a daily basis with temper tantrums, intimidation, insinuations, inquisitions, bossiness, or put-downs – the hallmarks of an emotional bully.
These people yearn for freedom from the drama and trauma of their marriage. They look forward to the end of walking on eggshells around their spouse so they can rebuild both their self-esteem and their self-confidence.
As much as you are looking forward to being divorced, your kids aren’t. They love both their parents. For them the thought of being separated from either of you is painful and scary.
Learning to co-parent with a bully is critical. Your kids deserve to feel as safe and loved as possible during your divorce. Co-parenting is the quickest way to achieve that. And the hard truth is that as the non-bully the bulk of this learning will fall on your shoulders.
Co-parenting is the term used to describe an ideal type of parenting during and after divorce. It implies that the parents are able to work together for the sake of the kids. Although, few parents are able to achieve this during the divorce process, it’s still an excellent model to work toward.
But, when divorcing an emotional bully things generally get worse before they get better. That’s because big changes like divorce can bring out the worst in all of us. Bullies know they can get what they want through coercion and threats. They’ll usually step up their efforts before they ever consider changing tactics.
Most people who divorce a bully feel powerless when the bullying behavior escalates during divorce. Even though you’ve probably been living with your bully for years and have developed your way of coping with it, it’s still pretty normal to feel powerless now.
You just need a few new ideas and skills to work through all that divorce brings with it and to take care of your kids.
You can easily find all kinds of information about how to co-parent. And as great as this information is, there’s a problem with it. Every last bit of it assumes that neither parent is a bully.
So how do you effectively co-parent with a bully?
You take the basics that are out there and you overlay these three tips.
- Keep your communication brief, Informative, friendly, firm (BIFF), and avoid apologies. Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq. is the President of High Conflict Institute. His book BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns gives over 20 examples of BIFF responses for all kinds of situations. Learning to communicate in this way will decrease the chances of your bully having a total meltdown based on something you said, texted, or posted.
- Keep your eye on your end game. This tip is all about strategy. Reaching a divorce settlement requires negotiation. With any negotiation, you need to know your minimum requirements and what you’re willing to give on. Once you know what you must have, it’s much easier to determine how you want to interact with your S2BX. You’ll be able to evaluate your actions and responses against how they might impact your end game.
- Keep clear about what is and isn’t OK with you. Knowing and respecting your boundaries is important not only for your self-esteem, but also for how you’re modeling adult behavior. Remember, your kids are watching your every move and learning tons about being an adult from you and from their other parent.
Now, just because you are divorcing it doesn’t mean that your S2BX stopped being a bully or that you suddenly know how to deal with them (even after reading this article). You’re going to make mistakes and that’s OK. It’s just all to easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior especially when you’re feeling anxious, stressed, powerless, exhausted, lonely and overwhelmed as you’re dealing with your divorce and learning to co-parent.
So, if you happen to make a mistake and wind up on the receiving end of a temper tantrum from hell, remember that it’s OK and breathe. You’re still learning and this is just another lesson. Your lesson might be to remember that you can’t control how your S2BX behaves. Or your lesson might be there’s no sense in assigning blame to either of you because blame just makes you a victim. Or it might just be that your BIFF communication wasn’t quite as non-inflammatory as you thought.
Regardless of your lesson, remember that it’s OK. You can achieve the freedom you desire for yourself and your kids. You just might need to ask for some help or support to co-parent with a bully during divorce.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.