Although breaking up when kids are involved is never an easy situation, some situations are easier to handle than others. Time is definitely a healer, but when you are in the thick of an ugly divorce, it is easy to forget that nothing stays the same in life, and eventually things will return to some state of normality.
I have heard of high conflict situations that go on for 10 plus years, so although it is easy to say that it WILL work out, I know that for some parents it is a long and difficult road.
When I am coaching stepmums or the biological father, this is one area that comes up most, and so if it is an area you are struggling with personally, please know that you are not alone. Please know that even if the situation or person you are having a hard time with does not or cannot change, you always have the power to.
Peace always begins from within. Make that mental note that EVERYTHING begins from within in life, not just blended family life.
1) ACCEPT THAT YOU CANNOT CHANGE YOUR CO-PARENT
The honest truth is that there is no point wasting precious time and energy hoping he or she will change. It is hard enough to change ourselves, let alone change another person who we have no control over. It is important to remember that although you may have children with someone, you have no control over what their other parent says or does.
Once you realise and accept that you cannot change the ex, you will stop wasting your time on this and start proactively working on yourself, your mindset and own actions.
Amazing things happen when we take responsibility for ourselves and the direction of our own life.
Ask yourself, do you really want to be where you are now this time next year, or do you want to make change?
If you haven't seen it already, check out my FREE workbook on HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR STEPFAMILY LIFE IN 2021. There are lots of mindset technique and stepfamily strategies that will help you make change in your current situation, wherever you may be right now.
Remember where you are right now, is not where you need to end up. But it is up to you to make that change.
Try and reframe the situation from wishing and hoping that it was different, to realising you have the power to still be happy and peaceful, regardless of what is going on.
2) WORK ON YOUR COMMUNICATION AND REACTIONS
Remember that matching the ex's anger, bitterness or resentment is a recipe for disaster and will make the conflict worse. I know it is hard if you feel you are being taken advantage of or abused in a situation, but taking the high road for your own sanity is always the best way forward.
You do not need to share personal feelings or emotions as the other parent will likely feed into this and maybe get a kick out of it, only leading them to do it again and again. Stick to the facts and don't show you are bothered even though this may be hard.
In high conflict situations, sometimes the less communication you have the better. There are many different options where you do not have to communicate verbally such as using family apps or email. Although you want to put the children first, it can be really hard when the other person just doesn't want to go down an amicable route. Remember thing may change in time, but if you are in the midst of conflict, it is better to protect your own wellbeing so that you can be a better parent to your child in the time you see them. If you have a breakdown with it all, then this could affect them too.
Try not to respond to messages when you are in pain. Wait a few hours or even a day (if it isn't urgent) so that you can reply from a place of calm and peace, rather than anger and frustration.
3) DO NOT TAKE THE OTHERS BEHAVIOUR PERSONALLY
Us human beings are complicated creatures and very much affected by our childhood and past experiences. Although this is no excuse, but if you are dealing with a high conflict person, that other person is probably projecting their own inner wounds and issues onto you. They may have had a difficult childhood or had traumatic experiences in their life which has shaped the person they are now.
Do not try and understand them or rationalise their behaviour as you are most likely not trained in this area or know all the details of their life prior to you. As much as you can, show empathy and compassion (maybe not to their face though!) for your own inner healing and path forwards. This will bring you a great sense of peace that it is not about you. It is about them and their own path in life.
The key to mentally disengaging is to realise that you cannot change the ex's view on you or the situation, because how they are reacting is their own personal responsibility. A lot of conflict calms down, when we stop reacting to the other person. If the change isn't coming from them, then it has to come from you.
4) SET STRONG BOUNDARIES AND STICK TO THEM
If you are experiencing a high conflict situation, it is likely that the other person likes to push boundaries, get a reaction and keep you engaged in drama. You may have started to match their own level of drama and become involved in a game of intense ping pong, with each of you taking it in turns to react rather than respond to situations.
Remember, you do not need to respond immediately to messages, it is better that you wait until you feel calmer and more level headed. No good response ever comes from reacting to what another person has done in a negative way.
It is your home, your life and your rules. You set the tone for how you want the relationship to be. Be honest with yourself, are you playing into the drama and making things worse than they need to be? Or are you acting with peace and making that your primary motive?
You do not need to get one over on the ex, this never works.
Limit the ex's access to your home life - physically, mentally and emotionally.
You do not have anything to prove about how good a parent or stepparent you are. Remember you are good and worthy enough to (step) parent the children.
If you really cannot handle the situation, it is best to get a solicitor involved, whilst continuing to work on your own healing and mindset.
5) KEEP COMMUNICATION OPEN BUT KIND WITH YOUR (STEP) KIDS
In no circumstances is it ever ok to say anything bad about the other parent. This doesn't make you any better than them. Your (step) kids may be wondering what is going on if their parents don't get along, but they should never have to hear anything bad about their parents.
Remember children are 50% each of their parents, and in badmouthing their other parent, you also hurt a part of them that might them tell them they are not good enough or are bad people.
Kids deserve to love both their parents. As a stepparent, we must always respect the father and mother of the children.
It is not always best not to say anything as whatever age the children are at, they will sense something with their emotions that tells them the relationship between their parents is not right. They might learn to ignore their own feelings in future, if they are taught to ignore them now.
Younger kids could be told that although one parent feels a certain way, their other parent does not, and both of their parents feelings about the situation are valid. We are entitled to our feelings and allowed to see life from a different perspective. They should never be told their other parent is bad or wrong, but you could say that they are upset or angry.
Older kids can be taught to question the reality they see and if one parent is feeling a certain way about the situation, you can ask them how they feel about it. Again, you can confirm that the other parents feelings are very real, but feelings do not make that that situation is truthful. The other parent is basing the situation on their own personal view of it. You can tell them they have every right, regardless of the relationship between their parents, to have a loving relationship with each, and that they are allowed to speak their mind about this.
As with everything in life, we set the tone for our external relationships by working on our inner world. If you are finding it difficult to co-parent, working on self-worth, self-love, setting boundaries and learning not to react or engage is vital.
Miracles happen when we love ourselves enough to say I am not living my life this way anymore and I deserve better.