Relationships with Ex-Spouses – Considerations When Children Are Involved

co-parenting-during-divorceThe “Divorce” is in process and you wonder what kind of relationship should I have with my soon to be Ex? You are thinking I have children with this person, so how does this work?  I see families in my practice that are in the process of a divorce or who have recently undergone this change in their family structure.  When children are involved it adds another layer of complexity as to what kind of relationship one should have with their ex-husband or ex-wife. I have found that what works for one family may not work for another. There are many different kinds of situations and unique details for each family. But, I do think there are some general things that are important for almost all families that are going through this major shift in the family structure when it comes to your post marriage relationship.   So here are some things to consider.

Consider the BIG question. ” What is most helpful for my children?”

  • Children need developmentally appropriate information about what is going on with your relationship with their mother or father. This means letting them know what is going on in a way that they can understand for their age. For example: A young preschool aged child may just need to know that mommy and daddy are not happy living together any more and that they feel they will be happier if they live in two separate houses.  More information can be shared as you feel it is needed or when they ask.
  • It ,of course. is not helpful for children to know the intricate details of what has happened.  Sharing information about an affair that has taken place is not helpful. Or sharing information about all of your soon to be ex or ex’s faults and inappropriate behaviors will not help. This simple advice is not simple in that as children get older they will ask more questions and want more specific answers. The bottom line is to try not to bash the other parent, as your child will need to have a healthy relationship with the other parent.  Sometimes just relaying that you had grown up problems that made it too hard to live together any more will work, at least initially.  Deciding together what you want the children to know and sticking with this agreed upon explanation is best. Yes this might be hard, but the most helpful for children. As children age, you may feel it is needed to share more information about the relationship that ended.  This information needs to be given in a thoughtful and mindful way. It may be that more details are needed by children or teens.  If you are not prepared, when your child asks you can tell them you want to think about the best way to answer their questions and then you can followup after some careful consideration.
  • As to the relationship with your soon to be ex or your ex, this may look different for different families. One thing to consider is if the relationship you want or have is confusing for your children. For example: In most cases, continuing to live in the same house can be confusing, if the marital relationship has ended. There may be exceptions, but in general this is hard for children to understand. As to how much time do you spend with your ex-wife or ex husband and your child together. This really does vary with each family.  For some children they think mom and dad are getting back together when many activities are done together. It is a complex question and there is not a simple answer. There also is what you feel is most comfortable. If it was a mutually agreed upon divorce, it is easier. But if one of you wanted the relationship and the other did not, this is more complex. Again being thoughtful and mindful as you create this new co-parent relationship will help.

Another question to consider, “What is best for you?”

  • If your spouse is trying to keep you in the relationship and you know it is not possible, consider how to help them accept this in a way that is least painful.  Acknowledging your part in the relationship ending can help in later forging a new co-parenting relationship. 
  • When someone new comes into your life, more potential shifts may need to happen with your spouse. Lots of good, open communication with all parties will go a long way.
  • If you find your situation is complex, find a good therapist to help you process and come up with what might work best for you. 
  • Being realistic as to what will work and not work is a reality. Again, you will have your own unique situation and you will do the best  you can with it. That is all we can do.

If your children can see their parents have a co-parenting relationship of respect and cooperation this is ideal. If there are circumstances with safety issues, etc. it may not be perfect, but your compassion and respectful language in regard to the other parent will help. Best wishes in finding ways to form this new relationship that is most helpful to your children, yourself and your ex-spouse.