10 Ways to Better Deal with a Difficult Ex

Divorce is excruciating under the best of circumstances. But throw in some substance abuse, narcissistic personality traits or any other unhealthy pattern of behavior and it becomes almost unbearable.

Over this past year as I have navigated the scary territory of co-parenting with a difficult at best, impossible at worst ex, I have learned a few things. It never gets easy because wrapped up in the dysfunction of the current situation is the love that lead us here. It may not ever be easy, but there are ways to make it more tolerable for everyone. Sometimes we nail it. Many times we struggle. But it’s getting better.

No situation is the same and there are many unknown variables in every relationship; but generally, I believe these things can help make a difficult situation slightly more manageable. When I do these things, life is smoother.

VISIT BLVDKICKS.COM_GIVEAWAYFOR MORE1. Remember that love does not and cannot always equal marriage.

I loved my husband, and I believe to the best of his ability, he loved me too. There is still love between us. But as much as I wanted love to be enough, it simply isn’t. Accompanying love, there must be trust, mutual respect, and partnership. There must be shared values and mutual goals. And there must be two people, endlessly committed to each other above themselves.

When there are still feelings of love involved, the water can get muddied and it becomes harder to be sure you’re doing the right thing. But simply loving someone does not mean you can sustain a life together. There’s a reason it didn’t work. Trust it.

2. They’re not your friend.

Over the course of my relationship with my husband, I realized that he was not the friend I hoped he’d be for me. A friend is someone you can confide in and trust with your heart. With your whole self. Although I wanted it to be him, that person for me was not my husband unfortunately.

Nonetheless, after so many years with someone, creating a family and a life; even if the relationship is less than healthy, your spouse is your person. When you go through a divorce, you lose all of that. Not only is your spouse no longer your person, but in many cases they are the exact opposite.

It can be easy, especially with things surrounding your children, to think you can be friends and partners again. Don’t take the bait. While you can and should be friendly to each other whenever possible, your ex should not be your go to person when you need to talk, are feeling lonely, or want some advice. Maybe they were that person before, but it’s time to find a new one (and I don’t mean a new relationship).

3. Don’t use them as a punching bag.

While it’s easy to fall into the friend trap, it’s even easier to fall into the enemy trap. After all, there’s a reason the divorce is happening and most likely, there are some ill feelings. Even if you’ve been able to forgive the past, there may be behaviors happening in the present that make it difficult to treat your ex with dignity and respect.

But they are not yours to punch. It’s not useful, productive or appropriate to use your ex as your own personal stress reliever. While they may deserve whatever hostility you’re holding, it’s not fair, or smart, to unleash on them. (In fact, if you did this before, it may have contributed to where you are now, just sayin’.)

Your main goal is to be as healthy together as you can for your children, if at all possible. In some cases, it’s not possible. But if it is, using each other as personal punching bags is not going to help anyone. So put down your dukes and hit the gym instead.

4. Apologize when necessary.

Inevitably, there will be times where you will take things out on your spouse. Maybe rightfully so. When this happens, simply apologize. It can be very hard to swallow your pride and apologize to the one person who likely has hurt you most in life, and who probably owes you a lot of apologies you’ll never get. But, this is an opportunity to take the high road and be the bigger person. Rise above your circumstances, your stress and your pain, and apologize if you make a mistake. Your children are watching.

5. Keep the conversations strictly about the kids.

As referenced in number 2, you’re really not friends anymore. If you and your ex get along, it can be tempting to talk about other things and enjoy each other’s company if you’re bored or lonely. But is that smart? It’s definitely not in my case. If it is in yours, more power to you, but think before you travel that road. In my experience, it always ends in smoke.

6. Stay focused on reality, not the dream.

This one has been a hard one for me. Because I so desperately wanted to believe my husband could be the man I always wanted him to be, I held onto the dream and chased after it every time he showed signs of it being possible. Inevitably, I am always slapped across the face by reality a few days later. So to avoid that sting, just stay focused on reality. Reality may be painful, but it’s much less painful than the dream whiplash.

7. Always keep the best interest of the kids your priority, whatever that may mean.

Each situation has different details, but the one thing that is the same no matter what, is that what’s best for the children should always take precedence. Put your guns down, your pride away, and your hurt aside and do what’s best for them. But also, fight like hell if need be. Do whatever is best for your babies, even if that means going against what other people think you should be doing.

8. Focus on yourself and what you’re doing, not them and what they’re doing…unless it affects your kids.

With an alcoholic ex, it’s very hard to not get wrapped up in his behaviors. But I have learned that unless he is with my sons or his behavior is directly affecting them, not only is there nothing I can do about it, legally or otherwise; it’s none of my business. He’s no longer mine to worry about. So I have to let go of him and focus on myself. It’s the only way to survive. (It’s haaaard though!)

9. Release your need for total control.

Remember the little ditty “sharing is caring?” It applies here. It’s the hardest thing in the world to share your kids, the most valuable thing you love, with the one person in the world who likely shattered your heart the most. But you might not get any other options. So when your children are with your spouse, release the reigns. You can’t control it anyway, so don’t frustrate yourself by trying. They’ll survive and so will you, and when you get them back, you can do things your way.

10. Don’t allow the edges of your broken heart to stab others, especially your children.

Divorce is painful all around. But don’t allow your hurt, anger and pain to begin affecting the way you treat others, especially your kids. They need you most now. They need you fully present and whole. So do the work on yourself to give that, both to them and yourself. The more you heal, the better you’ll be for everyone.

What has helped you deal with the difficult relationships in your life?

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27 thoughts on “10 Ways to Better Deal with a Difficult Ex

  1. This is an awesome post. I have recently started following you on Facebook and love your insight! Being a mom to three boys as well, I can identify. I fell into the trap of number 6 many times over the past years. Realizing that my dreams are not reality was a hard pill to swallow.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Amy! It is a very hard pill to swallow and it takes a long time to get it all the way down. I’m still working on it some days. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this but I’m glad you are here. You are not alone in the struggle, and you are getting stronger every day!

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  2. Sage advice, a better part of which I know quite well about. After years and years, I have been dealing with new wrinkles and making choices I didn’t really want to have to make, but the kids’ emotional well-being came into play, so…me, the one who did everything humanly possible to keep the kids’ relationship to bio dad alive has had to pull back and protect and grapple with feeling like the bad guy and not getting bitter. Sigh. So…long spiel aside, great post here and vitally important. Even to us seasoned tough gals. Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Marisa. I know you’re further along this road than I am but you seem to have found the path to strength. God is guiding and you are the best mama for those babies. They are blessed to have you as you do whats best for them, regardless of bio dad’s role at the moment.

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  3. Boy oh boy is this a hard road to walk. I too have been there and it is rough. But you are so right on the need to focus on what is best for you and your kids not on the other person. My daughter today is past the angry and hurt and values her dad in the areas she can. It is never what I would have chosen but it was what we had so we made the best of the situation. My heart goes out to you and you kids. Keep your chin up !!!

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  4. This is a great list. I would have a horrible time with #’s 8 and 9 if I were in those situations . It would be hard to not get mad at certain behaviors…especially when I would have to drop the kids off…

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    • Oh, don’t get me wrong my friend…. I get mad!!! Haha, I just try hard (as much as possible) not to take that anger out on him, or anyone else. Sometimes I say things I maybe shouldn’t if it’s just too much, but i ahve gotten better as time has gone on. It’s a learning curve for sure!

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  5. Some great points here! I had/have the hardest time with #8… even after years of separation I analyze conversations, trying to figure out if he is using again or not. I try to remind myself it is none of my business, but it can be really hard! Deep down inside I want him to be sober and happy I guess. Like you said it is hard to just stop caring…

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    • Exactly… I think if he walked away and was out of our lives for good, I’d still care but it would be easier to stay away from being sucked into what he’s doing or not doing. But the half in half out game makes it hard to stay uninvolved or uninterested in his behavior because it directly impacts and affects me and my sons. That’s the hard part! It’s a long process and we just do the best we can. Sounds like you’ve handled things as well as can be expected!

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  6. Going off of point #2. I completely agree with what you’ve written, just want to encourage you. Having not been through divorce myself, but rather, a child of divorced parents, I can say, there is hope to this point you’ve made. After 25 years, I can say that my mother and father are not just friendly, and even more than friendly acquaintances. The hurt has melted and all that’s left is a mutual love for their children. My parents can come together for family events, always ask how the other family members are doing, and mean it, hug like they’re hugging a long lost friend, and there isn’t an ounce of awkward. My mom always invites my dad and his family over when I bring my boys up to visit, or we have a birthday celebration for my boys. I love that both sets of grandparents can be together. I say all that to say, dont settle for “it will always be difficult” because you never know how God can work. It may take 10 years, like it did for my parents, but I’m so glad it did. As a child of divorced parents, it so refreshing that there isn’t that taboo or awkwardness there any longer. You’re right, every story is different. Mine is just one. But God CAN change things 😉

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    • Thank you Becky! This is encouraging and I am so glad your parents have been able to be friends and get along. That is what I want and hope for….and honestly, I think we have that to an extent. But because there is alcohol involved, things are not rational and most things are a game for him. So I have to play carefully…. But as much as possible, we are “friends.” For us though, it’s easier to stay out of each other’s lives right now because the water gets too muddied by simple little things and he’s not really able to handle a friendship. Maybe some day when and if he gets healthy. But right now, it’s all a lot of careful eggshell walking. I know it’s important to have a good relationship as much as possible though for the kids and even ourselves, so I work toward that as much as posible. Thank you for your insight on this!<3

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  7. What an insightful post. You are obviously more evolved than many people. It is inspirational how you are willing to be gracious for the sake of the children

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  8. This is all great advice. The point that hit me the hardest is #1.

    “I loved my husband, and I believe to the best of his ability, he loved me too. There is still love between us. But as much as I wanted love to be enough, it simply isn’t. Accompanying love, there must be trust, mutual respect, and partnership. There must be shared values and mutual goals. And there must be two people, endlessly committed to each other above themselves.”

    You know when someone writes something and you could say EXACTLY the same thing?!!! Yeah… that. Super post!

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  9. Great post but I don’t think that I am there yet however I will have to be the day he is allowed visitation but for now he is not. This gives me enough time to get strong and keep focusing on our children (20 months and 2 months) and their well being and healthy new environment. Of course he tried to take a shortcut from the Court ordered classes he has to take before he can see our children (he threatened to kill them in a drug induced rage) I did not let up and still will not (which I guess is the fight like hell) until I know my kids are as safe as possible even if that means him not seeing them for awhile. Until then I try to prepare myself and know one day soon I will have to share them and I feel a stab in my stomach at the thought. I would love to use him as a literal punching bag (especially his ugly nose) but I won’t and will hit the gym instead 🙂 Thank you for sharing and for giving me some hope as to dealing with this narcissist

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh! I know your fear and am so sorry you’re going through this. My heart and stomach ache for you. I’m so glad you’re fighting like hell on behalf of your children and I pray the court upholds and honors that. What a horrible situation to be in. I pray that since this things are going well for you and that you have gained strength and your children are doing well. Would love to hear an update… I’m so glad this post was helpful to you! You’re in my thoughts and prayers!

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    • I appreciate that so much. Thank you!!! I haven’t been perfect at it, but I’m learnign and doing my best and things are definitely getting slightly easier as I get stronger and smarter!

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