Have you got a toxic ex-spouse? What can you do about it?

The phrase "toxic ex-spouse" is a term used to describe a former partner who exhibits harmful, damaging, or destructive behaviour towards their ex-partner and their children.

The term "toxic ex-spouse" has become more common in recent years as people have become more aware of the negative impact that a toxic ex-spouse can have on their lives and the lives of their children.

The phrase is used to describe a range of behaviours, including manipulation, controlling behaviour, character assassination, parental alienation, and using the court system to stay connected with their ex-partner. The term has been popularised by articles, blogs, and social media posts that aim to help people recognise the signs of a toxic ex-spouse and provide strategies for dealing with them.

Here are some signs that your ex-spouse may be toxic, they don't all have to apply to your circumstances but they are indicators you should be aware of

1.      They make you question your own abilities: A toxic ex-spouse may make you feel inadequate and plant seeds of doubt that make you question your capabilities as a parent.

2.      They sabotage your new relationships: If your ex-spouse cannot stand to see you moving on with a new relationship, they may do everything possible to interfere with it.

3.      They use the court system to stay connected with you: A toxic ex-spouse may work the court system to maintain contact with you well after the divorce is over, defying court orders including child maintenance and contact arrangements to get you to take them back to court.

4.      They manipulate you: Toxic behaviour can manifest itself through manipulation, where your ex-spouse might use guilt, blame, or even your own emotions against you to control situations or outcomes.

5.      They interfere with your communication with your child: A toxic ex-spouse may try to create a loyalty conflict for your children by interfering with the communication you have with them, saying negative things about you to them, and even trying to erase you in your child's life.

There are several reasons why an ex-spouse may become toxic. Here are some of them

·      Unresolved emotional dependence: Even when your ex is the one who initiated the divorce, unless they have worked with a skilled therapist or other professional and learned how to emotionally separate from their former partner, they will still find the need to stay connected to them.

·      Addiction: Toxic relationships are "like an addiction," which often means dealing with a lot of drama and unpredictability. They are often characterised by extreme highs, during which relationships seem perfect and magical, followed by crashing lows, which are usually caused by a partner pulling away or acting out. After the breakup, it is normal to crave this unpredictability.

·      Manipulation: Toxic behaviour can manifest itself through manipulation, where the ex-spouse might use guilt, blame, or even your own emotions against you to try and control you.

If you are dealing with a toxic ex-spouse, it is important to set boundaries and keep contact basic and professional. Avoid engaging them in conversations and communications that are not related to your children or other important matters.

Remember that their behaviour is not your fault and seek support from a therapist, counsellor or coach if needed.

Dealing with a toxic ex-spouse can be challenging, but there are steps you can take to make the situation more manageable. Here are some tips

·      Recognise the dynamic and cycle of the toxic behaviour

·      Establish new boundaries and stick to them

·      Prioritise self-care and seek professional help if needed

·      Keep communication to a minimum and eliminate unnecessary communication

·      Seek social support from friends and family

·      Document any toxic behaviour just in case you need to consider legal action

How to protect your children from a toxic ex-spouse

Focus on building a positive relationship with your children. A toxic ex-spouse may try to create a loyalty conflict for your children by interfering with the communication you have with them and saying negative things about you to them. Focus on building a positive relationship with your children and avoid engaging in a negative battle with your ex-spouse.

Here are some tips to protect your children from a toxic ex-spouse:

·      Communicate openly and honestly with your children

·      Encourage your children to have positive relationships with both parents

·      Establish healthy boundaries for yourself and the toxic ex-spouse

·      Prioritise the well-being of your children

·      Stay consistent with schedules and rules to provide stability for your children

·      Avoid talking badly about the other parent in front of your children

·      Model compassion and positive behaviour for your children

·      Focus on your children's well-being and put them first. Consider whether one of the great parenting courses now available could help.

It is important to remember that co-parenting or parallel parenting with a toxic ex-spouse can be emotionally draining, it is essential to prioritise your mental health and the well-being of your children. Seek help from professionals if needed and surround yourself with positive people who can support you through this difficult time. By implementing these strategies, you can create an environment that promotes your children’s emotional well-being and allows them to thrive despite the challenges they may face.

When creating a parenting plan consider

·      Being flexible and focus on the best interests of the children

·      Consulting with a mediator or family law professional to ensure the plan is fair and effective

·      Setting clear boundaries

·      Customising the plan to fit your unique situation

·      Include details on the time your child/children will spend with each of you, communication methods, and decision-making processes – amongst other important issues

·      Stay calm and assertive when communicating with your ex-spouse

Remember that creating a co-parenting plan with a toxic ex-spouse requires patience, flexibility, and a focus on the well-being of your children.

Family mediation can be an effective way of creating a parenting plan with a toxic ex-spouse. The mediator will be responsible for managing the meetings and will agree an agenda for each meeting with you. You do not even need to be in the same room, whether that be face-to-face or virtually, by using shuttle mediation so that you are both in separate rooms if that feels more manageable. What mediation will do is keep you out of court and focus on what is in the best interests of your child/children, mediators can also recommend other professionals that they think might be helpful. If you think we can help, book a free call on our website www.familymediationandmentoring.co.uk or call us on 0800 206 2258 or email hello@familymandm.co.uk.

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