Dealing with high conflict in co-parenting

Sadly many people go through high conflict divorces; equally unfortunately this can often transition in to a high conflict situation for co-parenting. High conflict in the context of marriage, divorce and co-parenting generally refers to aggression, tension and bad feeling between parents. Something I’ve talked about before is doing your best to shield your children from these kinds of environments and consequently the importance of exhibiting behavior and values you wish your offspring to emulate.

In cases of extremely high conflict, this can be incredibly hard and it may be next to impossible to improve communication with your ex-partner, or at least for now. Sometimes you are more than happy to try and communicate and come to a solution; however it doesn’t take both parents in order to create conflict. Regrettably high conflict disputes usually result in court action and potentially court ordered provisions in terms of conflict resolution and custody sharing. Conflict often obstructs positive progress being made in terms of shared custody arrangements. Acknowledging the level of conflict you share with your ex-partner is the first course of action you should take and then you can consider methods of improving your situation.


Triggers and starting again


By identifying triggers you can identify the source of your problems with your ex, most likely differences in opinion in regards to raising your children or emotional baggage left over from your past relationship.

During interactions with your co-parent don’t take things personally but do recognize triggers and stop those knee jerk reactions! At the same time learn to expect your ex’s reactions, you know each other well and should be aware of each other’s behavior patterns. If you know something unnecessary you say will cause conflict, use a different phrase. Think before you act, will what you’re going to do improve the situation or make it worse?

There’s nothing harder than forgetting the past actions of someone who has really hurt you. You were partners then, now you are partners in a completely different light. You need to put aside your difference for the sake of creating an ideal co-parenting setup for your children. Judging your ex-spouse on their past behaviour will not influence changes in their current attitudes or behavior! You cannot expect big changes and you need to accept that you cannot change certain aspects of a person. We are human, unique, we think differently that’s just nature and it doesn’t automatically mean the way you approach things is the correct and only way.

When starting afresh for the sake of your co-parenting relationship it is vital that you establish boundaries. Initially minimizing direct contact can be a way of ensuring conflict remains low whilst emotions settle and everybody gets into the routine of the parenting plan.  Don’t aim to match your co-parents intensity or aggression, if you’re upset wait a while before responding. Keep your private life private and that goes for your day to day parenting activities too, there is no need to create potential disagreements over insignificant details. Limit social interactions; social media, friend groups, anything personal. These boundaries may seem unnecessary but they help limit conflict.


In summary


Divorce and co-parenting are two areas prone to conflict, that being said it can be managed effectively.  You need to control your actions as they’re your responsibility and self-control leads to reduced conflict. Focus on what you can regulate, your own behavior. The good news is that although it only takes one parent to cause conflict it can only take one parent to begin to heal that situation and move towards a healthier co-parenting relationship. Think about the consequences of continuing a high conflict co-parenting setup, the potential financial and emotional costs are high and in nobody’s interests. Hopefully that is something you and your co-parent can both agree on.

Parallel parenting is a final option if co-parenting still seems out of reach as a viable possibility. If parents are unable to communicate respectfully then this is a good option. Parallel parenting is a more disengaged form of co-parenting; both parents remain engaged with their children, just not with each other. A parenting plan is still used to maintain structure and a schedule but direct communication between parents is avoided and thus so is the inevitable conflict.

Whatever your circumstances you need to be motivated to co-operate for the mental well-being of your children. Consider mediation and counseling, try your best to negotiate and above all focus on the needs of your children. The last thing you want is them feeling they’re in the middle of conflict and like they have to pick sides.


Krishan Smith is the new senior editor at Custody X Change, a custody software specialist company.