6 Tips to Coparenting With a Toxic Ex

coparenting with a toxic ex

By Jenna Noble and Monique Mason, Co-Parenting and Reunification Coaches, Co-Founders, Pathways Family Coaching

The breakdown of a marriage or serious romantic relationship can be traumatic for everyone, the most vulnerable of which are the children who get stuck in the middle of contentious separations. For those in the process of leaving a toxic or willfully harmful spouse, the stress of coparenting with a toxic ex can be traumatic, frustrating, and very difficult. Knowing how to create a secure coparenting plan is essential for minimizing the pain and heartache for all parties involved.

Whether your ex’s toxic behavior stems from a mental illness like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), anger, or even just a disregard for the emotions of others, it’s important to remember that the best way you can protect yourself, as well as your children, is to stay strong, be informed, and have an action plan moving forward.

Here are 6 important tips for coparenting with a toxic ex:

1. Set Healthy Boundaries

Boundaries are integral in any separation and for every coparenting plan, but they are non-negotiable when it comes to coparenting with a toxic ex. These boundaries aren’t just in place to protect yourself; they should always be intended to set the best foundation for your children and everyone involved to create a stable dynamic going forward.

Your shared parenting boundaries should define any responsibilities and expectations for both parents with regard to custody agreements, pick-up and drop-off schedules, core decision-making factors for both minor and major daily details (everything from how to discipline to how to approach dating in the future, etc), healthcare and essential well-being decision making, financial obligations and more.

Remember: the more ambiguous your rules and boundaries are, the more likely you are to encounter conflict in the future. Make sure everything is formally documented, with all revisions being agreed upon and signed off on by both parties in a mutually decided manner (be that something as informal as a shared text or a legal document notarized by a third party).

2. Put the Kids First

As aggravating as it can be to deal with a toxic co-parent, it’s important that every aspect of your co-parenting plan focuses on what matters most: your children. Ensure that any previous or current conflicts do not influence any decisions you make with regard to your children, and make sure that every detail has their health, safety, and happiness in mind.


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3. Limit Communication (Mind Your Manners)

When going through a high-conflict separation, keeping your communication limited to matters that directly involve your children and utilizing agreed-upon communication methods (text-only, phone calls, minimal face-to-face visitation, etc), is a strong way to limit additional aggravating factors. Keep your own conduct above board at all times (no name-calling or accusations), and try to use tools like email or parenting apps to maintain a written record of communications and avoid face-to-face confrontations wherever possible.

4. Give Things Time to Cool Off/Pick Your Battles

If your separation is fairly new, or if you’re dealing with a particularly volatile former spouse, it’s understandable to be emotionally elevated and upset. With that being said, it’s important to remember that, when it comes to protecting your kids, entertaining anger and resentment towards the other parent is far more likely to cause additional harm than it is to help.

Give yourself space and time to heal, and remember that, as much as they may be difficult, your ex is navigating a new situation as well. Not all situations need to result in an argument or standoff, and choosing your battles wisely helps to insulate your children from damaging animosity that can affect them well into their adult years. No matter how much your ex may try to get a rise out of you, remember that remaining calm protects those you love most, and helps you from carrying extra burdens you do not need during this time of transition.

5. Seek Professional Support

Divorce and legal separations are hard, and learning how to co-parent after the dissolution of a previous relationship is stressful in even the most amicable of breakups. Family coaching and individual therapy sessions for parents can help to reduce anxiety and instability during a vulnerable time for everyone. Family Coaches like the team at Pathways Family Coaching can also help you draft co-parenting plans that encompass commonly missed details and considerations, setting everyone up for success in the long run.

6. Consider Parallel Parenting

Finally, if your ex refuses to commit to a reasonable co-parenting plan, you may want to consider pursuing a parallel parenting arrangement instead. Unlike co-parenting, parallel parenting involves minimal contact between parents and relies on a firmly established set of rules and guidelines (inclusive of repercussions for non-compliance) to moderate separate parenting styles and reduce active conflict between parents and their children.

Find the Right Path Forward with Pathways Family Coaching

Jenna Noble
Jenna Noble, Reunification Coach, Co-Founder, Pathways Family Coaching
Monique Mason
Monique Mason, Reunification Coach, Co-Founder, Pathways Family Coaching

At Pathways, we understand that every family dynamic is unique and that navigating the uncertain waters of co-parenting can be challenging without guidance you can trust.

We offer a wide variety of online courses and one-on-one professional coaching to help prepare you for co-parenting and minimizing the disruption and emotional distress caused by high-conflict divorces. From Pathways Through Conflict to our Behavioral Pattern Finder and tailored solutions, we’re here to guide you through healthy separate parenting, one step at a time.

Request a free consultation today, or contact us to learn more about our resources.

Like this article? Check out, “What is Reunification Therapy and How Does it Work?”

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