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My Ex/ Co-Parent Is Trying to Manipulate Me; What Do I Do?

Posted by Tom Holland | Feb 14, 2023 | 0 Comments

My Ex/ Co-Parent Is Trying to Manipulate Me; What Do I Do?
Getting divorced is difficult, but getting a divorce when you have children can be exponentially more complicated. This is especially true in the case of a contentious divorce. Every action you take after the divorce may be fuel to the fire for your ex, and it may motivate them to make co-parenting a difficult experience for you – and very possibly for your child as well. If this is the case, there are some steps to try before seeking legal help.

From getting your finances separated, to speaking as little as possible with your ex, to documenting all communications between you and your ex, these steps may help to lessen the negative effects of the manipulation tactics your former spouse may attempt, and they may also simply show your ex that manipulating you will not change things between the two of you, or between you and your child.

What are the signs of emotional manipulation?

If you are unsure as to whether what your former spouse is attempting to manipulate you, there are some key signs that demonstrate that your ex is trying to force you into doing what they want, how they want. Some of these signs include:

  • This is when your ex keeps denying the fact that the two of you are separated or divorced, and continues to try and act in a way that implies a relationship. They're in denial, and trying to manipulate you into trying to go back on the separation or divorce.
  • This is one of the more troubling types of manipulation. Your ex-spouse says things that make you doubt your own reality, your own memory of events. Maybe they try to make you believe that the reason you two are divorced is all your own fault somehow, even though you remember it differently. You may feel confused or stupid, but it is simply a way for them to control you.
  • Grand promises. Your ex may be so desperate to return to the likely unhealthy relationship with you that they promise you things such as trips to exotic places with the kids and big family outings. They may say that they'll promise to be a better person, to change. In reality, they will not change, they won't fulfill these promises. They're focused on themselves and what they want, not necessarily what is best for the family. These may go hand-in-hand with quick fixes – where they think they've figured out exactly what was wrong with them or the relationship, and know exactly how to make it better.
  • Excessive apologizing. Your ex may apologize for everything that drove you away, for all the mistakes they made, for hurting the family – leading to aforementioned promises of changing and becoming a better person. These apologies are false, and they may even prove that to you before you might agree to get back together by refusing to talk to you, or acting out in anger and telling you to get over whatever caused you two to separate.
  • Many people are motivated by the desire to make things better. And if someone is guilting you to attempt to get you back into a relationship, that is playing on that desire. Your ex may say something like “I'll act better, but only if you promise to…” or “if you would just do this, we can make things work…” It takes the guilt from their own shoulders and places it on yours, making you feel like the bad guy in the relationship, and that you owe them something.
  • This is when your ex coerces you into contacting them, baiting you into talking to them or reaching out to them, when you may be trying to do the healthy thing and have as little contact as possible. When your ex does this, they are manipulating you to be the one to reach out, which leads us to the next sign.
  • Power playing. If your ex reaches out to you, then gives you the silent treatment, that's a power play. They make it seem like they're being cooperative when they're really playing by their own rules. Maybe they reach out to ask to visit the kids, and when you reply, they suddenly go quiet for days or weeks, only to contact you again, stating when they're going to come over and visit. They're manipulating you to allow them to have their way, showing you that they can do what they like.
  • This is one of the more insidious ways your ex can manipulate you. This is where they psychoanalyze you, and try to get into your head. They use their knowledge of your weaknesses and vulnerabilities against you. They mention that your anxiety and depression factored into the separation, that now you're just a divorcee, and who would ever want someone who has been “used.” These are all manipulation tactics on their part because they'll convince you that you need them.
  • Your ex may threaten a long legal battle if you go through with the divorce, or they may threaten to never let you see your children again. These are meant to scare you into returning to them, but it is critical that you do not fall to this manipulative technique.

The first step in stopping your ex's manipulation is recognizing it. Once you've done that, there are further steps you can take to take control of the situation and to dissuade your ex from continuing to harass you, and lead to a happier and healthier life for you and your family.

7 steps to take to counter your ex's manipulation

In a recent Newsweek article, a woman details her troubles with her husband's manipulative ex. Not only was the ex-wife demonstrating a power play technique by asking the stepmother to provide last-minute childcare for her and her former husband's children, but if the ex did not get her way, she would threaten to withhold the children from seeing their father altogether, even if it was for just a few days.

The woman in the article stated, “If there is something she [the ex] really wants to do but can't, she gets very nasty and will sometimes refuse to let [ the husband] see them [his kids] the next time he's due to.'”Not only is the ex using threats, but she's also making the children victims of her manipulative tactics by preventing them from seeing their father.

If you are in a situation similar to this, there are some steps you can take to help curb those behaviors and tactics from your ex-spouse. DivorcedMoms, it's best that you begin treating the relationship between you and your ex like a business. The steps you can take to do this include:

  1. Separate your finances from your ex as soon as possible. Do not allow them to use money as a part of their manipulation tactics.
  2. Limit communication (texts, calls, conversations) with your ex.
  3. Though you may wish to block them out, keep your ex involved in your children's lives, at home, and academically. Both parents are important to your children, and it is your children who come first.
  4. Keep communication documented; if possible only communicate in writing, by email or text. This can then be reviewed by your legal team and used as evidence if required.
  5. Never act out in anger when communicating with your ex. Even if they lash out, you must remain calm and composed. If you need to take some time to calm yourself before responding to a text or message, do so. You cannot retaliate because your ex will likely use that against you, and possibly the children. It is important to think of what's in the best interest of the children first over your own desire to fight back. When you do communicate or interact with your ex, keep it brief and cordial, even when dropping off or picking up the children.
  6. Don't let your ex convince you to change the schedule for formally court-ordered visitation. It is critical that you keep to that schedule because it can be held against you in future proceedings.
  7. While it may be tempting to hold onto your children to show your manipulative ex what it feels like, respect their visitation time as ordered by the court.

A divorce is not only hard on us, but on our children as well. Divorcees with difficult exes as co-parents may find it tempting to focus on anger or fear or resentment, but the focus should be on healing yourself so that you can enter this new life on the right foot; and your children should be made the priority over any fights.

If your ex continues to harass and threaten and manipulate, you may be able to  modify child custody to change visitation rights or custody of the child altogether with help of your family law attorney. If you can prove that changing the order will be in the best interest of the children, then the modification is more likely to be granted.

These tricky situations can cause a lot of stress in your and your children's lives. Don't let your ex run your new life into the ground, or allow them to hold you back. If you're being manipulated by your ex, recognize the signs, and take action as best as you can. However, if in the end, nothing seems to be deterring your former spouse from disrupting your child custody agreement, it may be best to contact an order modification lawyer. At Holland Law LLC, we have experienced and compassionate attorneys who will ensure that every option is considered to determine which best serves you and your family. To schedule an appointment, call us at 803-219-2630 or use our contact page. Our firm has offices located in Fort Mill and Rock Hill. We also proudly serve the people of York, Chester, and Lancaster Counties.

About the Author

Tom Holland

Experienced Divorce, DUI, and Criminal Defense Attorney While I've been primarily focused on the practice of divorce and family law for the past decade, my experience as a criminal prosecutor has continued to serve my clients well. I previously served as the General Counsel for the Lancaster Cou...


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