The biggest challenge I have as a single parent is not the choices I make in regards to parenting my kids, it is dealing with a hostile ex-wife regularly. Not just dealing with her, but HAVING to work with her to make decisions regarding the kids.
After two years of dating and living together, five years of marriage, and 3 1/2 years of being apart, I think I have a pretty good handle on this topic. I am betting the issues and solutions I will outline here are pretty universal to single dads everywhere dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting.
So is there a “best” approach to dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting?
Even in my situation, there is no one “best” way to do this. Extrapolate that over the countless situations like this (like maybe your’s if you are reading this) and I think it is fair to say the answer is no.
What I would say is that I think there is a process, or recipe if you will, that can usually be followed that gets results that will work for you. That is an important point, so let me stress it here:
Your job is not to make everyone happy. You cannot do that in any relationship. Let your ex worry about herself. If you can both be satisfied with the result that is great, but it needs to start with you being happy. If that is not the result you get, the result does not work. Period!
So now I am sure you are starting to wonder what the recipe is that you can follow when dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting. One of my hobbies is flying. I have been a private pilot for over twenty years. (Shameless plug for my piloting website!) This is a pastime that is filled with acronyms to help you remember all manner of things, sometimes in a situation where you may not otherwise be thinking clearly like an emergency of some kind.
One of the most common ones is ABC:
Put simply, this means to make sure you are still flying the plane first (and not getting distracted from that by other things or events), then figure out where you are going, then tell people about that. This does not mean that the second and third items are not valuable, it means that without item one, the other two will not matter a whole lot.
And this means what for a single parent dealing with a hostile ex:
In the chaos, confusion, anger, frustration, and exasperation of dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting, remain calm and logical and keep your eyes on the result you are trying to achieve at all times!
You wish it was not like this, but if it is….
I think it would be great if my ex and I got along better. Just as I learned in my marriage, if both parties are not willing to make that happen, all of your efforts will most likely be in vain. For me, that is the real paradox:
We got divorced for a reason. It is not as if those issues just went away after the divorce, yet it stands to reason that neither of us are working on the issues nearly as much as we did when we were married and trying to save our marriage.
Now I do not want you to abandon all hope that your relationship can improve, but this is an article about when it has not and how to handle that.
I should also point out that this article most likely applies to whether or not your ex is a man or a woman. I’m guessing that when one party is continuously hostile and combative, the tips I provide here will provide a good road map no matter what.
Don’t take the bait from a hostile ex-wife
Oh, man is this a tough one!! I think that my ex likes to fight. Why?
Because when someone is unsatisfied with their situation, the EASIEST thing to do is find someone else to blame.
So when she tries to start a fight, and I respond in kind, she is trying to say to herself, “see, he is the one with the problem.”
Now I freely admit I have my own issues, but again, I will stress that it is not your job to solve your ex’s problems, only work on your own.
If you have been there with an ex that you feel says and does things just to get you riled up, do the following:
- Do NOT respond in kind
- Stop and take a breath and try to understand WHY she is taking this approach
- Decide what you want from this situation, take into account her approach, and then respond accordingly even if that means a delayed response or no response at all
- Unless this is some sort of emergency, remember there is no time limit. Do not respond to the text. Hang up the phone. Leave the room. DO NOT TAKE THE BAIT!!
Think as your hostile ex-wife does
So instead of “hitting” back with a dig of your own, think as poker players do:
The key to the game is playing the man, not the cards
In other words, do not focus on WHAT she is saying but rather WHY she is saying it and WHAT SHE EXPECTS TO GET.
I mean if you already know the plot of the movie because you have a copy of the script, it makes it pretty easy to say your lines.
So with that in mind, there are usually only three possible scenarios that can be happening when dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting in any initial contact I receive from her:
- She is asking a genuine, honest question and expecting a similar answer (not hostile, yet…)
- She is pissed off and is masking that as an honest question hoping my answer will “light the fuse”
- Her first contact is guns-a-blazin!!
Now admittedly, it can be tough to tell the difference between the first two (the third is usually pretty easy to spot)! In either case, think three or four moves down the road before you craft your answer. In other words, if the question is, “can you pick up the kids at 11 instead of noon,” ask yourself WHY this is being asked.
If she is asking three days before the day in question, answer as you see fit. If she is asking at 10 a.m that day…BEWARE!!
This is the classic case where you say yes (which she fully expects you should without question) or you say no, in which case you open yourself to a “woe is me” response, followed most likely by a string of “Fu** You” type texts.
Again, go back to point 1…Don’t Take The Bait!!
Know when to fish or cut bait
It is the most natural thing in the world to get into the “fight” cycle. I mean it really does feel good sometimes to say the “mean” things.
I had a marriage counselor who likened it to a record (anybody remember those?). She says something then you say something back, and then the dance to that record begins.
The solution was to scratch the record so it would not play anymore. That was when you were both trying to (theoretically) accomplish the same thing-a healthy relationship.
You may still be trying to do that after you split, but again, that is not what this article is about. So that brings us to:
Know when to stop, shut up, not respond….bite your tongue!
Sometimes the answer, as frustrating and maddening as it might be, is just not to say anything. There have been plenty of times when I have received a text and then went through the first two steps. I saw she was trying to start trouble and why. My solution:
Think about it for a second. If there is nothing constructive to be gained by a conversation, why have the conversation? If the best possible outcome is that you can get in a couple of “zingers” how does that help you?
It is like eating something you know is bad for you. You feel good short term and feel terrible long term. The REAL benefit of this is that you are, in essence, training your ex. When she sees that this type of BS will simply get no response at all, chances are it will if not stop altogether, slow down considerably.
Once again, this is not your changing her, this is her changing based on your behavior towards her. Understand that when dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting there is no guarantee this will work nor is this a one-time-and-your-done thing.
This is what YOU can control, so take action in every dealing with your ex to make the relationship that YOU want.
Remember getting better at dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting is for your kids’ well-being
I know that I said this article is not about couples who get along or about her feelings and thoughts. That being said it should still be your goal, as it is mine. What I have learned is that the only way that will happen is if you both change, and in turn, you change the way you co-exist and co-parent.
You do not need to be BFF’s but having a civil and even cordial relationship is not only good for you, but it is also good for your kids.
So how does that apply in dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting? Because how you choose to deal with a hostile ex is all about YOU.
As I said, the issues that split you up did not magically go away when you split. You cannot change anybody else, you can only change yourself.
So do that in your interaction with a hostile ex. Do not worry about what she does, worry about how you respond. That in and of itself will change the nature of your relationship.
What do you do when you “slip” when dealing with a hostile ex-wife?
This is like losing weight. You need to eat properly and exercise consistently. If you do, you should steadily, if not remarkably, lose some weight.
If you slip up, do you just quit? Well, you can but what good would that do (unless you really want to gain weight). Just get back on the horse and re-double your efforts.
You WILL slip. I did it just a couple of days ago in a firey text thread. Do not beat yourself up, but learn from it and get better the next time.
Is couples counseling for those that are not “couples” a good idea?
I think that getting professional help for any part of your life is a good idea. Why not learn from someone that is more knowledgeable about something than you?
Now I will stress that this needs to be something you BOTH are committed to. If not? Well, that is a waste of both of your time. If you are? Heck, why not. If your goal in dealing with a hostile ex-wife when it comes to parenting is to make the situation better, don’t assign blame (that will not really benefit you), find a solution.