One aspect of co-parenting with a high-conflict personality that’s challenging is that the advice you find online, and often in therapy, suggests the best way to deal with such a person is to leave and have no contact with them ever again.
It’s referred to as “no contact.” But with a co-parent, you can’t exactly do that.
You have kids to raise, together (in some shape or form, as is most often the case).
So you have to adapt the “no contact” rule to “low contact.”
You have to ignore everything that is not directly related to co-parenting your children.
It’s hard, I know. I live it.
I try to only respond to communications that are directly related to our child or aspects of parenting that are covered under our custody guidelines.
That’s usually stuff like health updates, any important behavioral problems, coordinating school forms, or basic questions about who has the rain boots, what time karate ends, etc. Any other messages, especially ones that attack my parenting style and are blatantly untrue, I completely ignore.
When I receive messages from my ex that are unpleasant, I try telling myself, “nothing I respond with will make a difference. My words will only be used against me in ways that rational people like myself couldn’t even begin to predict.”
That’s because I’m not crazy and I can’t think like a narcissist all the time (it’s a good thing, really).
And it’s true, it doesn’t matter what you say to defend yourself. You know the truth and even when you present legit evidence, it still won’t convince your ex that his truth is wrong. Keep the evidence and file it away for when you go back to court, but don’t engage in banter with him about it.
It can make you feel out of control to receive communications from your ex because you feel like you just want to set things straight, or you don’t want to have conflict, or you are so enraged by the lies. But the only control you have is in deciding how to respond, and more often than not, the power lies in not responding at all.
Narcissists hate to be ignored. Like really hate it.
Back in undergrad, we learned about behavior modification. I try to go back to the examples we observed while training lab rats. Basic reinforcement stuff, like the quickest way to get rid of an undesired behavior is to give absolutely no reaction (positive, or negative).
You’ve probably learned this from raising kids too. Apply the same theory to managing your reactions and responses to your ex’s behavior and/or communications. Don’t be baited.
I do still get messages from my ex that seem relevant, so I’ll answer, but then it later becomes clear that it’s just my ex being difficult, or lies. Once it hits me, I then switch the flip to “ignore,” and try not to beat myself up too badly about it.
I also read a lot about co-parenting with a high-conflict individual. And I keep reading about it as a reminder, because I find the busier I get and the more time that passes, I can easily fall back into my old pattern of approaching communications with my ex, and you absolutely cannot do this. It’s low contact for good.
Check out author Shadida Arabi if you need a good place to start on reading material.