When couples without children break-up, they can decide if they want to continue being present in each other’s lives. 1
But, what happens when a divorcing couple has children?
What happens when you’re co-parents, more specifically high conflict co-parents?
Since there are kids involved, you have to deal with your ex with very little time to heal.
There are visitation exchanges, possible court appearances and many other in person, face-to-face meetings with an ex you may just want to go away and forget about.
And, it isn’t uncommon for one or both co-parents in a high conflict relationship to have anxiety when interacting with the other one.
What if Feels Like to be an Anxious Co-Parent:
Feeling anxious when facing your ex can cause you to feel:
- Unable to control your emotions. You may get angry and lash out. You may become paralyzed and not know how to act or what to say.
- Like everything is your fault. You may have thoughts that say you caused your family to be broken apart.
- Hopeless, no one else has or ever will experience what you’re going through. You may start to believe that your situation will never change.
- Inferior to your ex. That little voice in your head may say that your ex is smarter, wiser, an all-knowing better parent than you.
These anxious feelings may take form in your body and behavior by:
- causing your heart to race
- stuttering when trying to talk
- your brain feeling foggy, not able to think clearly
- feeling lethargic, possible muscle spasms
Seems pretty extreme for all of this to happen with someone you were once close with, right?
I can recall having several of these feelings the first few years after my divorce.
Visitation exchanges would hit me pretty hard…at least a week before the actual exchange!
Knowing that I would have to interact with my ex would cause heart palpitations, muscle tension, and brain fogginess. I can recall packing my kids bags and rechecking multiple times to make sure I included everything they needed.
After much research and a bit of counseling, I was able to figure out why I felt this way and what I could do about it.
So, why do some co-parents get anxious when interacting with their exes?
In high conflict co-parenting:
- one or both co-parents can feel inferior to the other
- one or both co-parents feel guilty, blaming themselves for the break-up
- feel the need to prove the other co-parent wrong
- one or both co-parents are insecure
What can an anxious co-parent do to feel less anxious around their ex?
Before I get to what you can do to feel less anxious, I need to be clear with you.
After my divorce, I felt so much anxiety when interacting with my ex. I didn’t feel like my normal self. I eventually eased my way into researching and seeking help. Three years after the divorce, I began to feel normal again, more in control of myself.
Feeling less anxious around your ex will take time.
Your anxiety did not build overnight and it will not get better overnight.
So, what’s an anxious co-parent to do?
In order to reduce anxious feelings around your ex, you must find your triggers.
A trigger is something, an event or situation, real or imagined, that causes you to react. Everyone has triggers and it’s important that you find yours when it comes to your high conflict ex.
What is it about him/her that pushes your buttons?
Once you’ve identified your triggers, you must dig deeper and ask yourself:
- What are the 3 most frequent triggers I feel when I am around my ex?
- Why do you feel anxious when the triggers are present?
- What negative thoughts are you having that may be fueling these triggers?
- Look at yourself in the mirror. Think about the situation with your ex. Challenge those negative thoughts by going against what they are saying, how they are making you feel. Google anxiety quotes and keep at least 2 -3 with you (written on a card, in the Note section of your phone, etc.) to remind yourself that you can challenge any negative thoughts when they pop into your head.
Before continuing with your deep dive, remember:
- To do some breathing exercises. This will help to clear your mind and give you the momentum to keep digging deeper into developing a plan to deal with the anxiety.
- Anxiety is real and comprised of several thoughts and beliefs we tell ourselves. With the right help, you can control anxiety instead of it controlling you.
Let’s keep going.
- Can you imagine a positive outcome? Can you imagine how you would feel during the visitation exchange, at your child’s event or whatever the situation?
- After you imagined a positive outcome, how are you feeling? Did your anxiety decrease?
High conflict co-parenting anxiety can be emotionally derailing, don’t think that you’re alone in this.
Anxiety is something that should be taken seriously. This was just one way to examine the anxieties you may have in your life. It is important to seek the help of a licensed professional to fully examine and help you deal with the anxiety.
Have you ever felt anxiety when interacting with your ex?