How To Effectively Co-Parent With A Bully During Divorce

Divorcing couple wondering how they'll ever co-parent.

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 adviceIf you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

If you’re looking for more help on how to deal with the challenges of your life now. read more articles about Life After Divorce.

3 Signs Your Ex Is An Emotional Bully (And How To Handle It)

Man drinking coffee, holding a cigarette and being an emotional bully.

Feeling beat up every time you talk to your ex? Don’t let them get to you anymore.

Do you feel drained after every conversation, text, or email with your ex? If so, you might be dealing with an emotional bully.

For most of us, divorce is already a very emotionally difficult time. We’re grieving the losses and loneliness. We’re afraid we’re not good enough and we even wonder if anyone will ever really love us.

Brené Brown says that the twin fears of ‘not being good enough’ and ‘fear of disconnection’ are at the root of shame. Leveraging these natural shame-based fears against us during divorce is exactly the tactic emotional bullies use.

Emotional bullies manipulate through shame and blame. They’re masters of creating even more misery during a time when we’re already vulnerable.

So, how do you know if your ex is an emotional bully? Here are three of their tactics (and how to deal with them):

  1. Nothing you do is ever good enough. Your ex makes statements like “… and you say you put the kids first,” “you should be ashamed of yourself,” and, “you never were any good at ____.”To deal with this type of bullying, you must do two things. First, remember you are always doing your best no matter what your ex thinks or says. Second, you can respond with either silence or you might say something like, “Interesting perspective, but I disagree,” and then (this is the hard part) leave it at that.
  2. They throw a fit when you don’t do exactly what they want, when/how they want you to do it. In this case, your ex is bullying you by using your fear of disconnection. I know this may sound weird, but if their fit throwing bothers you, then you actually do care what they think of you, and on some level you want connection with them.Dealing with this type of behavior requires that you accept that the divorce disconnected the two of you. It’s time to establish some healthy boundaries for yourself.
  3. Your ex acts like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You do one little thing they don’t agree with and they have a meltdown that’s completely out of proportion with the situation. But when you offer them any type of praise, they relax with happiness or visible satisfaction.This behavior exposes an emotional bully’s Achilles heel—They also have huge fears about feeling disconnected and not good enough. (Yup, deep down they harbour the same fears they’re preying upon. How ironic.) In fact, they probably feel inferior to you. Knowing this, you can use appropriate praise to defuse potential blow ups.

Of course, these tips seem easy to implement when you’re in a peaceful place reading them. But, I know that when you’re facing a bully, acting rationally isn’t always what happens. Most of us want to defend ourselves (or flee). Unfortunately, all both do is escalate or enable the situation.

The best long-term defense against an emotional bully is to bolster your self-esteem. The better you feel about yourself the less their behavior impacts you.

Feeling good about yourself means you won’t easily fall for your ex’s tactics of shame and blame, taking their bullying power away. If they can’t bully you, they’ll need to interact with you differently. Hopefully, that will (eventually) include respect.

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 ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.