Seeking Counseling when Co-Parenting with an Abusive Ex

How Counseling Can Help You Navigate the Difficulties of Co-Parenting with an Ex who is Abusive or Narcissistic

Deciding to end an abusive relationship is a difficult and scary step, one that is made even harder when there are children involved.  Instead of things getting better right away, the abuse can escalate and the children can become tools for the abuser to keep manipulating and controlling the situation.  In my most recent blog post, Co-Parenting with an Abusive Ex, I described practical steps that someone can take to minimize risk and increase safety when trying to co-parent with an abusive ex.

In this post, I wanted to share another, sometimes overlooked, tip that can be helpful when dealing with an abusive or narcissistic ex when co-parenting: seeking emotional support.  You’ve probably thought about counseling before, but figured that you didn’t have the time.  You, like most of us, are probably used to putting yourself last.  You’re so used to running around, trying to make sure your kids have what they need. You’re juggling multiple appointments with your work and their school schedule. And you’ve got your ex to deal with, which can feel like another full time job in itself.  On top of that, you’ve been taught by your ex that your needs don’t matter and that you’re just a crazy mess.  So it can be easy to dismiss the idea of seeking therapy and support.

In reality, it’s probably one of the best things you can do for yourself, and for your kids.

The primary goal of domestic violence for the abusive partner is to maintain power and control. There are several ways they do this, including the non-stop verbal and emotional abuse that is designed to make sure that your self-esteem becomes non-existent.  Often times, it seems impossible to make even the simplest of decisions, such as which brand of cereal to buy at the grocery store.  Second-guessing yourself becomes second nature, and that doesn’t automatically change just because you’ve decided to end the relationship.  As the abuse continues, so does the feeling of uncertainty, and its not uncommon for people to question what they’re doing, if it’s the right decision, if success is even possible, or if it’s all worth it.

It’s also natural to experience a roller coaster of emotions when you’ve decided to end a relationship.  Most people will experience feelings of relief and gratefulness that they are no longer in a direct cycle of abuse; anger and anxiety about the situation they are now in; and other emotions such as grief and guilt. It’s perfectly normal to miss a partner, even one who was abusive. When children are involved, there are often feelings of guilt for not keeping the family together; creating separate households for the kids; and worry about their safety when they’re away from you.

Questioning your decision to leave becomes even more intense during these moments, so it’s important to have someone who can support you, validate you, and back you up as you move through this process.

Your family or friends may helpful in a lot of different ways (hopefully you are lucky enough to have these people in your life, but not everyone does), but they probably won’t understand why you still miss your ex, and how you could be reconsidering all the steps you’ve taken. Talking about these things to someone outside of the situation, like a therapist, might be awkward at first, but it can also help you feel more normal, less crazy, and more confident that you can do what you need to do.  A therapist can also help you find resources and help you safety plan as needed, something that is paramount when dealing with manipulative and controlling exes.

Seeking support for your children can be equally as important.

A lot of kids don’t really like talking to their parents about most things, let alone about their feelings regarding the end of their parents’ relationship. They might be confused, angry, anxious, and unsure of their place or of what’s going to happen next.  It’s also pretty likely that if your ex does have abusive or narcissistic traits, they are badmouthing you and your choices in front of your kids.  As much as you might want to defend yourself or tell your kids the truth about their other parent, and as hard as it might be to not do so, its really important that you don’t.  Instead, find someone outside of the situation that your kids can talk to.  Just like having a therapist for yourself to be heard and supported, having a therapist for your kids to talk to is also a good idea.  A therapist can help them identify, understand and cope with the feelings and confusion that they’re experiencing.  They can also help both you and your kids safety plan in an age-appropriate manner if needed.  Getting help for your kids is one way to make sure they have the skills they need to be resilient and bounce back.

As you try to navigate life after an abusive relationship, it can feel like a roller coaster with its twists and turns, leaving you feeling like your life has been turned upside down. Finding a counselor or therapist who is knowledgeable about the dynamics of abuse and domestic violence can help. They can provide support and link you to resources as you begin to reestablish your independence. Equally important, they can be a source of reassurance and hope as you navigate the difficulties of co-parenting with your abusive ex.  It’s scary and overwhelming enough to decide to leave, but you don’t have to do it all alone.


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