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Co-parenting with a jealous ex

Updated: May 31, 2022

Co-parenting is hard enough without the added complication of having your ex being jealous of your new partner!

The tirade of insults, outbursts, and poisonous remarks about you to your children, puts your stomach in knots anticipating an attack at every drop off and pickup. You feel like you are walking in a minefield dodging insults or on a military mission to swoop in to collect the kids to get out of there evading the anticipated ambush.

There may be blasts of text messages, emotional phone calls, or bad mouthing you to the children.

It is hard enough for you as an adult but the impacts on the children are tenfold as they see the two most important people in their lives who they love, in conflict with hateful words and punishing acts.

The key is to be a great role model, have a strong relationship with your children and have compassion for your ex.

Sounds hard right, when you are under attack? but you know you can’t change your ex’s behaviour, no matter how much you have argued telling them to move on and get a life. The key is for you to change your behaviour towards them.

Your ex may have already been a jealous person throughout your marriage, restricting you going out without them, vetting the people you talk to or see, checking your phone for secret messages or even suspecting your potential to cheat due to someone looking at you whilst you are out together which ends up in an argument as ‘you must have been looking at them to encourage them’ or ‘you must know them for them to be looking at you’. This insecurity may stem from how your ex feels about themself, not good enough, low self-esteem & self-worth.

If your ex wasn’t jealous throughout the marriage but the marriage ended with infidelity this triggers significant pain to your ex as they feel so betrayed as they trusted you with their life and feel they devoted and committed to you until death do you part whereby this promise has been broken.

As a coparenting coach I tell my clients the three guiding principles to manage a jealous ex, to understand, anticipate, and create compassionate solutions.

Understand that when you separated your ex may not have been at the same stage of grief as you were. They may have felt shocked, in denial or angry that their world was turned upside down. Their sense of what they thought their future was has just been shattered, been plunged into the depths of uncertainty where they feel the loss of the family unit, the marriage, the home, and financial security. The separation could have triggered childhood trauma of abandonment or rejection. On the other hand, you may have been grieving the demise of the marriage whilst you were still in it, trying to make it work, feeling you weren’t appreciated, unloved and for your own mental health made the tough decision to leave as you felt you couldn’t spend the rest of your life being unhappy. You may have started a new life in parallel to your current one and found a new partner that makes you feel like you are amazing, something you haven’t felt in a very long time. If this is the case then ask how you may have felt being traded in for someone else. Your self-worth certainly plummets as the person you trusted with your life betrayed you. It is always important to walk in someone else’s shoes to gain a true understanding of how they feel and why they may be acting the way they are.

Anticipate possible jealous reactions from your ex. You need to think about your intended actions and what the outcome of those actions may be. It may have given you some satisfaction previously to prod the angry bear but it is important to not only think of you, but think of the impact on the children. Your actions may get a reaction but you get to walk away, your kids are caught in the middle of the conflict and suffer seeing the other parent upset, angry and sad.

Create compassionate solutions by looking at what actions trigger a jealous outrage and identify various options you could take to reduce the conflict and create a better outcome.

Example 1 – If you are going to pick up the kids on your way home from an outing with your new partner look at the options and the possible outcomes –

  1. You and your partner pick them up as it is on your way home. This may seem logical and less time wasted but the outcome could be seen as insensitive and ignite conflict.

  2. You may decide to drop the new partner at home, then pick up the kids on your own to keep the new partner out of sight to avoid conflict.

  3. You may decide before the outing to pick up the kids directly from school to avoid contact with the ex-completely and have your parents babysit whilst you are out for the evening with your new partner.

Example 2 – It is your child’s birthday and you wonder how you should handle having your ex and new partner together at the event. Options and possible outcomes –

  1. You and your new partner buy separate gifts for the child so as not to enrage the ex with the perception of the new partner replacing them in the joint present.

  2. You may decide to be sensitive to your ex and opt to go to your child’s birthday celebration on your own reducing the possibility of any conflict at the party spoiling the special day for your child.

  3. You and your new partner may decide to have a separate birthday celebration with your child doing something you have always enjoyed doing together. The child gets to have two happy birthday celebrations.

Example 3 – You want to create a family unit with your new partner and your children and want them to call your new partner ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’. Options and possible outcomes –

  1. You and your partner pick a different name to ‘Mum’ or ‘Dad’ as their biological parent cannot be replaced but they can have a very special bond and relationship with the new partner i.e. ‘Ma or Pa’ but biological stay as ‘Mum and Dad’. Each adult has own endearing name.

  2. If your ex has re- partnered too have a discussion and agreement on what you may like your new partners to be called by the children i.e. ‘Mumma jane or daddy Dave’.

  3. It is always important for the children to decide on what they want to call new ‘step parents’ as they may not want to call them ‘mum or dad’ as they already have a mum and dad.

Example 4 – Bombarded with vicious text messages and emotional phone calls. Options and possible outcomes –

  1. Let phone calls go to voicemail to assess if there is an emergency or whether it is just venting that you don’t want to buy into getting into an argument. Don’t feed the drama buy responding. If you ignore, they will soon see it gets no reaction and they will reduce their effort to get one.

  2. Respond to text message advising you only want to discuss anything to do with the children and put their needs as the focus of any conversation. This sets the expectation you aren’t going to retaliate. Ensure you don’t reply with an angry message as it can be used against you as evidence of abuse. Ensure all communication is respectful with the children’s needs as highest focus.

  3. If you answer phone calls and it becomes heated, say you don’t want to discuss it further until you have both calmed down and resume the discussion tomorrow. This sets the boundary of respectful communication.

Your romantic relationship with your ex is over but the co-parenting relationship is for the lifetime of the children. It is important to create a successful co-parenting relationship with two loving homes for your children to thrive in. A civil coparenting relationship will reduce anxiety, stress and conflict.

The ‘Parenting after Separation’ program demonstrates your commitment to creating a successful coparenting relationship. For more details go here

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