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Co-parenting with a difficult Ex?

August 1, 2016
By Jen Zbozny - Mirror Moms , Mirror Moms

When people marry and have children, they may envision bright futures. But it gets tough when their visions dissolve due to divorce.

Bill Krill, a licensed professional counselor with Blair Family Solutions, has 35 years of experience practicing "family counseling, child welfare, addiction, just about everything."

Krill offered insights on co-parenting with a difficult ex-spouse.

"Lots of people get legal divorces but very few get emotional ones. I try to help people lower their emotional reactivity," he said.

Reactivity is a reaction ocurring in response to stress or emotional upset.

"Divorce brings out higher emotions," Krill said. "What's best for children is to lower the emotions - the reactivity. Negative emotions lead to the kind of reactivity that results in negative behaviors, making a situation far worse for children."

Fact Box

At a glance

Bill Krill, LCP, offers the following tips for how a healthy parent can learn to interact with a difficult spouse. He said these things "are not hard to learn but they are hard for people to remember to put into practice."

1. Learn how to limit your own emotional reactivity.

2. Normalize your ex's difficult behaviors.

3. Focus on making your own life safe, serene and satisfying.

4. Listen to your children. Be vigilant and really listen.

Krill always encourages divorcing parents "to seek the therapist before they seek a judge. Going into court expecting a judge to satisfy you doesn't work. Parents need to work on finding a genuine human connection in order to find healthy ways to interact."

However, Krill said, "if neither parent can reduce his or her own reactivity, then the children have a difficult time adjusting to being in the middle. Kids want to love both parents."

That difficulty leads to adjustment disorder.

What are significant signs of adjustment disorder?

"Every child may have some symptoms but this would be amplified, like a regression into bedwetting, sleep problems or developing behavioral problems in school," Krill said.

But, if you're seeing amplified behaviors such as those, "it's OK to bring your kids in to have a professional perspective."

He added, "When I'm hearing about big adjustment disorders in children, I often suggest that the parents come in and leave the child at home. The root of the problem is usually due to the parents."

How parents are able to communicate can determine whether they co-parent or parallel parent.

"I encourage people to learn to reduce negativity together."

What happens when one parent is willing to engage in therapy and can maintain behaviors but the other parent won't?

"Then I help the parent who is willing to work with me and that leads to parallel parenting," Krill said.

He added that "the un-healthier parent often refuses to seek help or stay in therapy" so he advises the willing parent to "normalize behaviors - stop applying energy in trying to change the other parent. Accept that you can't change their behaviors and instead work on being the best, healthiest parent you can be.

"I firmly believe as long as one parent gets help and can maintain themselves then things will continue to get better and better for the children," he said.

When children are with the other parent, Krill recommends, "don't dwell on it, work on yourself, but of course pay attention like you would when your children come home from camp or anything else - look for bruises, be vigilant."

He's careful to add, "married couples aren't co-parenting necessarily either ... but with divorce, it's a pretty rare thing in my experience."

What about custody arrangements?

Krill is adamantly opposed to 50/50 arrangements. "That's for the parent, that's not what's best for children," he said. "In summers it's different, you can vary a little, but a child needs to be in the same bed every night, especially during the school year. 50/50 is extremely stressful for children, even well into teen years."



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