In our last post, we began a discussion about how to protect yourself and your children when trying to co-parent with an ex-spouse who insists on being combative. One of the most effective strategies (as discussed in our previous post) is to communicate in writing as much as possible.

The second tip for dealing with a combative co-parent is to remember that you don’t have to engage when provoked. Like the schoolyard bullies of your childhood, a combative ex is often seeking to control the situation and derive power by making you upset. Deciding not to engage is perhaps the surest way to discourage the behavior and keep you on equal footing.

When your co-parent sends an angry email response to something you sent, for example, you should look over your original message to see that you were clear and appropriately cordial. If so, there is no need to respond to the angry email you received.

The same goes for things your ex says directly to you or says about you to your children. If you can remain businesslike and keep emotional judgments to yourself, this essentially shuts down the hostility before it can escalate.

When it comes to things said to your kids, you can’t necessarily prevent your ex from bad-mouthing you. But you can show your children how to be the bigger person. You can say to your kids: “I’m sorry that you had to hear that from him/her. It’s not fair for either of us to put you in the middle of an argument.”

As a final note, your spouse may engage in certain behaviors or say certain things that cross the line and require legal intervention. He or she may try to violate the child custody agreement or custodial schedule, for instance. If and when this happens, you may need to get your attorney involved. But by keeping most of your interactions in writing and choosing not to engage when provoked, you may be able to avoid most of the drama that comes with having a combative co-parent.

Source: The Huffington Post, “10 Steps to Dealing With a Combative Ex: How to Protect Your Children,” Sherrie Campbell, April 21, 2014