Co-parenting with a toxic ex: how to protect yourself and your child?

Co-parenting with a toxic ex: how to protect yourself and your child?

When there is a child involved, separation from a toxic spouse does not always end the psychological suffering. Caroline Bréhat, psychotherapist specializing in toxic bonds, describes for us the common mechanism and how to best preserve ourselves.

Separated, but not necessarily protected. In a family, when one of the partners is a toxic person, parental separation does not instantly end the toxic bond, which will continue in questions of custody, decisions, etc. A breach into which the tyrant parent readily rushes: denigration, refusal of cooperation, manipulation of the child are among the weapons that are often put in place. And that it is better to understand as Caroline Bréhat, psychotherapist and author of Remaining a Parent with a Toxic Ex, teaches us, to be published on March 28 (Ed. Eyrolles). We asked him our questions.

Separating from a parent who turns out to be toxic, what difference does that make?

Caroline Bréhat. When there is a separation, the fact of “co-parenting” with a toxic person changes everything in the situation since there is the child in the middle. We cannot therefore completely free ourselves from the influence put in place. What I also notice very often is the omnipresence of fear: the “healthy” parent as I call them, is afraid of the future, of what the child will experience above all, and they quickly understand that the other will not respect the fundamental needs of the child, including security. He also fears that the child will become like the toxic parent, through contact with him, or that he will experience psycho-trauma, which is probable.

Is using the child to get at your ex so common for a toxic personality?

It’s not frequent, it’s systematic with such a personality, since she doesn’t know how to function otherwise. If she used control, surveillance, humiliation in her relationship, it is almost systematic that she does not know how to respond to the emotional needs of the child, nor respects his other needs. It ranges from neglect to abuse depending on the degree. But what is certain is that the healthy parent will have to repair and constantly fix things to restore balance. He has this obligation to become the “good” parent.

How can we put limits on this painful situation?

It’s not easy, but there are different steps. Already, the first thing to do to face this situation is to carry out (supported) mourning work: mourning for the ideal family, mourning for a functional couple who help each other and consult together even during the separation… The more realistic we are , the more we can be in action and in “standing guard” to protect our child.

Secondly, it is also about taking care of yourself, to face the other, to repair the psycho-trauma that the ex can cause to your child, you have to be well yourself. We must therefore not forget ourselves.

Finally, it is also essential to find a good lawyer, a specialist in these issues of perversion, and to establish a strong custody agreement that leaves nothing to chance: custody schedules, vacations. And if we have the impression that things are going badly with the child, we immediately create a file. This is often the only way to properly frame a situation that gets out of control.

Good in his body, good in his head!

How can we protect the child in its construction despite everything?

The idea is to impose a coherent framework on him that he does not have with the other parent. This is called emotional attunement. That is to say that the “healthy” mother or father will have to constantly help the child to put emotions into words in this complicated context, to help him reveal his sensations. This requires being available as much as possible.

There is also work on reassuring limits, a framework, rules to provide to the child, who no longer really knows what is right and wrong because of the toxic parent.

Finally, we know today that children who have access, thanks to their parents, to a strong imagination (via drawing, culture, etc.) are more inclined to represent the traumas of which they are victims but also more receptive to therapy , and even more resistant to influence. Teaching them to symbolize their emotions as early as possible is therefore important.

One last obvious thing: we do not expose the child to all our adult problems, without filter. We preserve his carefreeness as much as possible, but on the other hand, we can lead him to think for himself and make him aware of healthy relationships.