It’s already difficult to have a strong, healthy marriage without navigating the minefield of co-parenting with your ex as well. If you have a plan though, you can work through the conflict to make your marriage stronger.
The Struggles of Remarriage and Co-Parenting with an Ex
Mr. B and I just celebrated our 8th anniversary. And honestly, I feel like we should be allowed to say it’s our 15th or 20th. Shouldn’t we get to add bonus years for every family conflict we make it through with our marriage still intact? You know… add a year when y’all get snowed in for a week together and still make it out liking each other. Add 5 years for making it through a long-term co-parenting conflict still married. Add 6 months for every family vacation trip.
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Some probably thought we were doomed from the beginning. If divorce rates for first marriages are high, they just get higher with each one. The divorce rate for first marriages still tops out at 50% but in case you didn’t know, second marriages and third marriages have an even higher divorce rate, as high as 67% and 74%, respectively!
Just in our experience, I can guess two main reasons.
(1) People jump into the next marriage way too soon. Either on a rebound or before really doing any healing and growing
(2) The struggle to navigate a blended family situation is very real. I had a conversation with a family attorney once who told me, “You would be surprised how many custody/child support/other blended family cases I do where I turn around not long after and do the (second) divorce.” That made me so sad. The pressure on a marriage to deal with co-parenting issues, not even including lawsuits is overwhelming and even marriage crushing.
Parenting is difficult enough with a husband that you love let alone with an ex-husband, especially if you feel very differently about parenting. And what’s important as far as beliefs and values. It will come to (verbal) blows at times. After all, if you and your ex-husband had the same ideas about parenting and your values were aligned and you never had conflict, you’d probably still be married, right?
It’s even more proof that you can’t balance two men at the same time!
So How Can You Have a Strong Marriage While Having to Co-Parent with an Ex?
Date Nights (where your ex is not allowed)
I can see your face right now. Why would I ever allow my ex on a date night?
During times of hardship and conflict, once you get away from the kids (because you aren’t talking about this stuff in front of your kids, right?), it is so easy to unload at the first sign of adult time. Don’t do it!
Date night is only for date night. Talk about your hopes and dreams. Favorite memories. Goals for the next week, month, year. Keep the home management talk to a bare minimum. And do NOT. I repeat do NOT allow issues with your ex into the conversation. I remember some seasons where Mr. B and I felt like it was the only time to have important conversations where there was no chance of little ears hearing things. In that case…
We’ve had a number of date nights. a large percentage actually where we discuss and/or fight about whatever conflict we are currently dealing with on the way to the restaurant. We have a nice little 45-minute drive into Downtown Atlanta so that was always fun. At the beginning, I would allow it to wreck the whole evening.
A very expensive evening of silence.
I see your judging eyes. I’m not proud of it.
Let’s move on.
In recent years, I got to a point of “let’s do this but we will put it all aside when we get to where we are going.” I felt good about that but when I mentioned it to Mr. B, he admitted that he actually hates that.
So I was scheduling in a fight night on our way to date night thinking it would help me unload and enjoy myself and Mr. B is sitting over in the driver’s seat thinking “There goes lucky Saturday.”
I felt awful!
So once date night starts now, no conflicts. If it starts to seep its way into the conversation, we stop talking about it and set aside time specifically to deal with the conflict.
Another boundary to set is with your ex. When crises arise, decisions need to be made and information is found out, it is not uncommon for it to feel like you are dealing with the issues ALL.DAY.LONG. It is emotionally and physically draining. It can be difficult because you feel like you need to address the issues promptly but then that leads to feeling like you are supposed to be at the beckon call of your ex (or the situation.)
3 Steps for Setting Boundaries with an Ex When It Feels All-Consuming
(1) Acknowledge (not ignore) your ex.
“I understand you want to talk about [insert problem that seems like an emergency but really isn’t] right now.”
(2) Set up a time to discuss it if you are not able to at the moment.
“I can talk to you about this tonight/tomorrow night/whenever.”
Being a stay-at-home mom with three little people at home is so difficult for this. Just because I don’t have a “job” doesn’t mean I can discuss things any time and all the time. If your kids are anything like Munchkin and Punkin, talking on the phone is dangerous. My house looks like a tornado came through whenever I get off the phone.
(3) Stick to that time.
Whatever you promise, follow through. Make it a priority. Keep your promise. If something comes up (and I don’t mean margaritas with the girls), reschedule. You may have conflict and even at times you don’t like your ex but as your children’s father, you should respect him.
Full disclosure here. Please don’t think I’m a parenting expert here. I am teaching from my foibles more than my successes.
I hate going into conversations where there is a high likelihood of conflict. These are my goals all of the time, I push myself to meet them most of the time, and I fail miserably at it a good portion as well. I know to set these boundaries because when I commit to keeping them, we do not have as much rocky terrain to navigate in the aftermath.
Kids are a Priority (But not over your marriage)
Do you remember the lady who suggested I put my children first when I was getting married to Mr. B? I talk about that a lot, don’t I? It had such a lasting impression on me. While the kids are a priority it is easy to make them a priority over your marriage especially when you feel like you need to protect them. After all, they are just kids. They didn’t ask for this.
Mom guilt is real, y’all!
But we need to protect them in other ways as well. They cannot handle the kind of freedom and responsibility that comes with being set as equals in your marriage (or your relationship with your ex).
To help them feel stable, let them see how strong your marriage is and allow them to be children. After all, they will be grown before you know it. They have plenty of time to live as an adult. Let them be kids.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Kids struggle. Even now (over ten years after their father and I divorced), Bug has mentioned that she wishes we were still married despite realizing things would not be healthy. Kids want stability. They struggle with loyalty. They want to wear their favorite pair of shoes that they left at their dad’s house and can’t wear to school today even though they told their friend they would be twinsies. When your kids get worked up and upset, love them. Try not to match their lashing out with yours. They may just need a hug and some alone time with you.
Have Some Alone Time
I already discussed alone time with your hubby. And you need to make sure you get your own time alone. (This introverted stay-at-home mom needs to be super intentional about it!)
What I’m talking about is having alone time with your kids.
Figure out their love language (yes, there is a The 5 Love Languages of Children book), pay attention to what they are watching, what they are listening to, and the activities they love. Make sure the alone time with your kids is about them. Do not force your likes onto them. Let them lead.
Have Time Together as a Family
Not only is it important to spend alone time. It’s important to build your relationship as a family. Do things together that you all enjoy. Find TV shows to watch together, activities around town to do together, screen-free time together. Get to know each other. With the hustle and bustle of life with kids (especially in busy seasons), it is easy to live together and not really know each other.
These are simple steps to take but not easy things to do when emotions run high. These steps require intentionality on a day-to-day basis. But the work you put into it will help you get through conflict when (not if) it arises. Your marriage (and especially your family) will be better off for it.