Maybe you didn’t expect to have a particularly amicable relationship with your co-parent after your divorce. However, their behavior is worse than you imagined. It’s not unusual for spouses who don’t accept the end of their marriage to become “toxic” ex-spouses – whether their behavior was particularly egregious during the marriage or not.
The problem with toxic ex-spouses is that if you’re trying to co-parent with one, it’s often the children who end up being hurt the most. So how do you recognize a toxic ex and take the necessary steps to deal with them?
Note that we’re not talking about anyone who’s violent. That’s another matter for which you need to take immediate steps to keep your children and yourself safe. Following are a few examples of toxic behavior in co-parents and how it affects kids:
They don’t respect boundaries or privacy
They feel like they have a right to know what you’re doing and who you spend time with. This can get particularly bad once you start dating.
They’ll probably grill the kids to get the information you won’t give them or to avoid asking you. This can leave children in a difficult position where they want to please that parent, but they may feel like they’re betraying the other one.
They try to turn the kids against their other parent
They may tell children things about you that are personal and that it does them no good to hear. Worse, they may lie about you – often to try to get kids to believe that they are the better, more caring parent. This is sometimes called parental alienation, and it can be disastrous for a family.
They find excuses to go back to court
Some exes feel like this keeps them more connected to their former spouse, but it just ends up costing everyone time and money. They may accuse you of violating orders or intentionally violate them so that you have no choice but to take legal action.
If you’re not able to get your co-parent to see the harm they’re doing to your children, you may want to try asking their family or friends to step in and try to talk some sense into them (or get them to seek therapy). If that doesn’t work, be sure to document all instances of this behavior, highlighting how it’s affected your children and your relationship with them. Then find out what legal options you may have to do what’s best for your children.