8 Tips for Co Parenting with a Controlling Ex

You finally did it. You broke away from a controlling marriage and are ready to start a new life. But as exhilarating as this may be, if you have kids together, you will still need to have contact with your ex as the co-parent of your children.

Whether your ex is controlling by nature or using it as competition or retaliation, understanding and managing the situation will make your post-divorce life a lot less stressful, both for you and your kids.

Signs of a controlling personality

Your co-parenting relationship will extend through your kids’ childhood and beyond. And if your ex was a controlling spouse, they will most likely continue to be a controlling co-parent. 

People with controlling personalities are often:

  • Fault finders: Everything will be your fault when co-parenting with this person.
  • Intimidators: Unless you agree to their way, they will try to intimidate you into submission.
  • Criticizers: They have no problem criticizing everything you do, even in front of your kids. 
  • Gaslighters: If you question their actions, they are adept at getting you to doubt reality and yourself. 
  • Boundary pushers: They will disrespect your boundaries and your privacy.
  • Guilt-trippers: Acting sullen, moody, and passive-aggressive is their key to getting their own way.
  • Score-keepers: They will remind you of everything they’ve ever done for you and what you owe them. 
  • Drama queens: They will push all your emotional buttons and create drama to get you to react.
  • Abusers: Unfortunately, there is a fine line between a controller and an abuser. You may have already experienced that line. 

While your ex has been adept at controlling you, you may have allowed yourself to become an easy target to keep the peace. But this is a new chapter. Take ownership of your own role in this dynamic so you don’t continue to be a victim of your ex. 

Controlling behavior explained

Interestingly enough, controlling behavior is usually not about aggression or dominance. In fact, it’s about the opposite. 

Controllers often act out of anxiety, fear, and a chronic phobia of abandonment that may stem from their childhood. They feel insecure and out of control in their personal lives and exercise control over others to make up for their own sense of powerlessness. When feeling out of control, their highly charged emotions can hijack them, and they fall into controlling habits that have worked for them in the past to get the power they need.

But regardless of the reason, controlling behavior can hurt everyone, especially if it crosses the line into abuse. While it can help to understand why your co-parent is the way they are, you must still find constructive ways to deal with it so you can reach a place of calm for yourself and your children.


8 tips for dealing with a controlling co-parent

If you’re co-parenting with a controlling ex, the more you can understand and manage your situation, the easier it will be for everyone, especially your kids.

1. Recognize the pattern, and react accordingly

What triggers your ex’s controlling behavior, and how does your reaction escalate the situation? When you feel you’re being manipulated, give the situation some time and space. Leave your response for another time when cooler heads can prevail. 

2. Take responsibility for your own role

A controller wants someone who can be easily controlled. Don’t be that person any longer. Cultivate the self-respect you deserve. 

3. Establish boundaries

Chances are your boundaries were broken down during your marriage to this person. But this is a new life, and you deserve a better future. Be clear about what you expect, and back that up with action. 

4. Have a well-developed parenting plan, and stick with that plan

Establish and stick to ground rules that leave no room for interpretation or last-minute alterations.

5. Be calm and reasonable

If possible, don’t engage in the conflict as it’s happening. Allow yourself time to consider a practical solution instead of a reaction. 

6. Realize that your ex will probably not change

Unfortunately, you may have spent much of your marriage hoping your spouse would change. It didn’t happen then, and it probably won’t happen now. 

7. Take the high ground, and model good behavior for your kids

Co-parenting is not a competition, and the best end game is for your kids to feel happy and secure with both parents. This will require a united front and cooperative spirit, and there will be many times when compromise will be necessary. Try to develop ways to do this without feeling like you’ve been controlled or manipulated. 

8. Get help

If you’re struggling to co-parent with a controlling ex, don’t try to navigate it alone. Get the help of a therapist or support group. Consider a mediator who can work with you and your ex toward a solution in your kids’ best interests. 

Watch: Hello Divorce founder and CEO Erin Levine discusses How Emotional Support Groups Can Help You with Divorce

Co-parenting is challenging, especially with someone who has been controlling throughout your marriage. Managing your co-parenting relationship with your ex may be tricky at first, but time has a way of taking the edge off these behaviors. The more you can find ways to hold your own and weigh your responses, the sooner that time may come. 

At Hello Divorce, we understand the complexities of divorce and offer services and resources for people navigating the divorce process, from mediation to divorce coaching. You are not alone. Schedule a free 15-minute call to see how we can help.