Co-parenting after a separation or divorce is difficult in the best of situations, but how do you handle dealing with a narcissistic ex-spouse to boot? Several pros weighed in on the matter, and here are some of their suggestions:
Liliana Wolf, Ph.D.
A Florida licensed psychotherapist, international relationship expert, and former professor of psychology. Dr. Wolf, The Relationship Prof. is a certified provider of online premarital courses. Find her at Drlilianawolf.com
Do not engage in direct confrontation
First, if you haven’t dealt with the anger, pain, and sorrow that narcissists tend to leave along the way, do so for your sake and that of your children.
Understand that narcissists only care about themselves. Their motives, desires, ideas are more important than anyone else’s in their book, and that includes their children. Preoccupied with power, beauty, fame, money, they will seek to be admired. They have a ‘what is in there for me’ mentality when it comes to co-parenting.
Having this in mind, as a parent, you will be dealing with a losing battle if you engage in direct confrontation. “This is your child too!” will get you nowhere.
Having said that, [if] you are looking for him to help fund extracurricular activities, for instance:
“….Jimmy is doing great in school, but he needs a tutor to excel in math” will play into his need to be admired for having a child who could end up being a math genius.
“….Susy is very flexible, she tried ballet and the teacher thinks she has amazing potential. Who knows, she could be a great dancer one day.”
You can’t force love, so do not even try to appeal to that emotion or seek for him to be genuinely empathetic with you or his (your children). It will always be about him. He will be interested in getting credit too, so give him credit for his share when credit is due.
Tell your child in his presence: “Dad paid for your __________classes. It’s amazing to see how much you have benefited from them.” Your child does not need to know that dad’s main motivation was to use his or her talent to elevate his ego.
Set legalities, Minimize contact and take good care of yourself
If wishes could come true, not having to deal with a toxic ex, especially a narcissistic one, is a dream come true. Unfortunately for some, reaching out for the sake of the kids you had with an ex is necessary. In my experience as a relationship expert, my advice is that while making peace for the sake of the kids is important, protecting yourself and your children should come first.
Set legalities. Before anything else, set legal parameters when it comes to child custody. Narcissists are high conflict exes and tend to manipulate every situation, have every detail written out; who pays for the child’s medical needs and education. Detail visitation rights if you have custody, and when it’s your turn to have the kids, state clearly that you want to have a set schedule when your ex can call your child.
Minimize contact. Have little to no contact with your ex. You don’t have to deal with them, and if you have to, keep it to a minimum. When discussing your child’s welfare, do so through email or have it documented. Keep emails, screenshot texts, or online messaging receipts as much as possible. Narcissists love psychological drama, refrain from indulging them.
Take time to heal. You and your kids come first, that’s why you need to take good care of yourself. Not only does this apply to your physical, mental, and emotional health, taking care of your close relationships benefits your kids as well. Being in a relationship with a narcissist can cut you off from your support system. Reach out to friends and family who you can trust. Reach out to them before dealing with your narcissistic ex.
Jamie Kurtz is an attorney at Online Divorce. She is a member of the State Bar of California and the LA County Bar Association. Jamie received the Juris Doctorate degree in 2007, and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 2004. After going through her own divorce, Jamie helps spouses cope with dissolution.
Lawyers should participate in creating the plan
Narcissists are prone to manipulation and mainly their actions are aimed at attracting as much attention to their person as possible. Sometimes this behavior can be overwhelming or even traumatic for the child. A weighty argument in any dispute is the parenting plan. This document should include all aspects of maintenance costs, parental time allocation, and living conditions of the child.
Lawyers should participate in creating the plan to take into account all the nuances and pitfalls. Signed by two parents, it is legally binding and protects the rights of the child. Narcissists love to break boundaries and engage the other person in dramatic arguments. Therefore, it is best to avoid heated debates and try not to respond to provocations. Also, look for a parent coordinator in a court. These are the professionals who are responsible for ensuring that the best interests of the child are achieved. They can help you communicate with your ex about custody and reduce the degree of tension.
Record your spouse’s actions. If they do not show up at the appointment, write a note about it, indicating the date and time. If you are going to record phone calls, then you must notify the ex; otherwise, the court will not accept this as evidence.
It is also worth consulting with your lawyer [about] what other methods of taking notes may be available so that they are accepted by the court. Use the services of Guardian ad Litem (GAL). This is a court-appointed specialist who will get acquainted with your situation, the conditions of the child and will give the court the best recommendations regarding the custody division. Another powerful tool for resolving disputes is the use of mediators. Their main task is to help spouses find an effective solution that would satisfy both parties and does not violate the interests of the child.
My guidance to clients facing co-parenting dilemmas with their narcissist ex is two-fold. First, we work to become an expert on the ex’s operating system. What this means is that most narcissists are predictable in their behavior. As a result, we can usually anticipate the type of response we will get from a co-parenting conversation. With that in mind, we can create a communication strategy that incorporates the High Conflict Institute’s concepts and deliver our information in a Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm (BIFF) manner. We expect the push back, the blame, and the superiority from our ex, and we create communication that essentially [barricades] ourselves from the inevitable return assault.
Second, becoming comfortable with setting limits is a vital part of co-parenting life with a narcissist. Doing so in a way that does not further inflame your ex or expose yourself to additional attacks is a learned skill. Couching those limits in a way that essentially affirms or in some way celebrates the narcissist while also giving a non-anxious, calm, deliberate limit is a great starting place.
Andrea Hipps, LBSW
Andrea Hipps, LBSW, a CDC® Certified Divorce Coach who helps parents all along the divorce continuum resolve their divorce debris and create beautiful two-address families for their kids. Find her at Andreahippsdivorcecoach.com
Be consistent in your communications with them.
This is less about frequently talking to them and more about having a diplomatic tone, maintaining boundaries, and avoiding emotional arguments. A narcissist co-parent only cares about themselves and will use any opportunity they have to negatively impact your well-being. Therefore, it’s best to approach communication with them like you would in a business meeting. Keep everything brief and to the point.
Try to communicate in writing.
This allows you to maintain a professional demeanor with your narcissistic ex. It also leaves little room for them to be able to manipulate what you’ve stated plus you’re able to document your interactions. Unfortunately, you may not know if and/or when you’ll need it.
Frame your suggestions as if it benefits them.
Remember, a narcissist is likely to reject and criticize any idea that they don’t think will be in their best interest. Therefore, try to pitch what you believe to be best for the children in a way that makes it appear as if they are “winning.”
Refuse to fight. Stick to the facts.
I’ve learned that being polite, clear, and to the point works well. Keep it in writing so everything stays aboveboard and documented. I stay grounded and non-reactive while holding my boundaries. That’s been the best way forward to co-parent with a narcissistic ex. I refuse to fight. Stick to the facts. Don’t respond or react in haste if they’re trying to elicit a response to create drama. Leave it. Do what you need to do, and let them cool down. Some messages don’t require a response at all. Skip it. If they genuinely need a reply, they’ll find a better way to ask.
Responding in a sensible timeframe to their texts about schedules, plans, etc., and skipping over their nonsense results in fewer nonsensical messages from them overall. They stop using those methods when they see that they don’t work as a way to get a rise out of you or throw you off balance. Your goal is to communicate, protect yourself, and be fair to them and your children. If a judge read your response would it be obvious that you’re trying to be fair, polite, and focus on what’s best for the kids? If not, don’t send it. Take the high road regardless of what your ex does. Your children are watching and you have to sleep at night.
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