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How to grey rock your high conflict co-parent!


If your ex feeds on drama and conflict you may be feeling apprehensive about having contact with them and wish you could cut them out your life. This isn’t always possible when you need to have an ongoing co-parenting relationship. It’s important to know that you cannot change them nor their behaviour.


Their manipulative and controlling ways create high conflict which can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. This behaviour may have been triggered as the result of the breakup as they want to punish you or gain control in the midst of uncertainty. Conversely, they may have always been this way throughout your relationship resulting in your desire to leave for the sake of your own mental health.


The drama can unfold at handovers, through constant phone calls or texts with a barrage of abuse as a way to get a reaction from you. These reactions or retaliations to their behaviour continues to feed this perpetual cycle of conflict.


So, what can you do? You want to see your kids but you just wish you didn’t have to deal with the ex!


According to Ellen Biros, a therapist in Georgia, using a technique called grey rocking enables you to be unresponsive and detached preventing you fuelling their toxic behaviour. Biros says “This strategy involves becoming the most boring and uninteresting person you can be when interacting with a manipulative person”[1]


Using the grey rock method gives you back control to set boundaries and not enable yourself to be manipulated by their behaviour. Let’s face it, they are toxic people with or without a diagnosis who seek attention, so don’t give it to them!


So how do you use the grey rock technique?


Just imagine meeting your coparent at McDonalds to collect the kids. Your ex lunges into a tirade of abuse as soon as they clap eyes on you, they may even be videoing the altercation with their phone to capture supporting evidence of your impending reaction or they may be bad mouthing you in front of the kids. You may start to feel agitated, annoyed, even angry………. STOP……….. remember this is what they want!


Activate the grey rock method by not even giving them eye contact, use bland short one word responses to abuse or accusatory questions with ‘hmm’. According to clinical psychologist, Dr Ove Heradstveit, ph. D the grey rock method helps you become unresponsive and uninteresting.[2] Your conversation needs to be short and focused on when the kids will be brought back i.e. ‘Will drop kids back at 4pm, bye’. Try to avoid asking the toxic person any questions as this just keeps you engaged in conversation. The aim is to just get the kids into the car and remove yourself from the verbal attack. If your ex asks you questions remember you don’t want to take any bait into conflict, so only respond if it is questions about the children’s health or upcoming school or friend’s activities. Keep your response short and your tone of voice flat and calm. This will enable you to disengage and disconnect from the interaction but moreover help you break the emotional connection with your ex, if you haven’t already. Try to look at the situation as an observer looking in, this could also be through your kids’ eyes. What do they see? They see the other parent ranting and raving whilst you are calm and polite. As a role model, you are demonstrating to your kids that you are not going to be ‘mean’ as well, you are actually going to demonstrate that you are strong enough to walk away.


It’s really important to not tell your ex that you are grey rocking them, let your actions define your strategy.


Disconnecting with your emotions and feelings during interaction with difficult people can impact your healthy relationships too. It is important to seek help from a counsellor if you feel you are becoming disconnected with others who are important in your life such as new partners, family members or work colleagues.


Setting boundaries with your toxic ex can help you disempower them. If they constantly call you or text you, you want to avoid always been at their beck and call. Being ‘available’ at all times puts them in control of seeking your attention. You may decide to text them once to say ‘Busy right now, kids are fine, they will call you at 6pm tonight’ and ignore subsequent texts and calls as you have set the boundary that contact will not take place until 6pm tonight.


The aim is to keep conversations short; child focused and not buy into drama. Do not give them any information about yourself, your life or what you think or feel. This will just give them information to feed their need to create drama and conflict which will be used against you in the future.


If your ex gets upset with your disengaged stance, this can be normal in an attempt to increase the chance of getting a reaction from you. If you don’t falter with your stance, they may eventually realise you are not going to react and this is the new norm for interaction with you. If your ex has a history of physical violence then the grey rock method should NOT be used as this could make your interaction become unsafe as their tactics to control resort to physical means.


Author – Cheryl Duffy, Divorce Coach, Mediator & Author

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