Dealing with an unresponsive co-parent can be an incredibly difficult and frustrating experience. It takes two people to make a team work, and if the other parent is unwilling to communicate or cooperate, it can feel like an insurmountable challenge. However, the information in this blog may help you navigate this difficult situation. It can also help you persuade your co-parent to collaborate with you in finding solutions.
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Reasons Why Your Co-Parent Might Be Resistant to Solving Problems
While some co-parents are eager to problem-solve, others avoid it despite recognizing its importance for their children. When your co-parent isn’t stepping up to the problem-solving plate, it can be tough to know what to do. It’s important to recognize that there may be reasons for their reluctance. Understanding why your co-parent is behaving a certain way can help you approach them in a way that leads to functional problem-solving.
Here are four common reasons why a co-parent might refuse to solve problems.
Your co-parent may be avoiding problem-solving because they are intimidated by conflict and confrontation. Avoidance happens more readily if discussions between you tend to get heated or are disrespectful. However, it can also occur even if conversations between you are inclined to be respectful. Co-parents may avoid conflict for various reasons, such as anxiety, fear of judgment, criticism, blame, retaliation, lack of communication skills, or a desire to maintain harmony.
Avoiding conflict is essentially a “head in the sand”/”ostrich approach”. Ignoring a problem usually does not lead to a good child-centered solution.
It’s important to understand that avoiding conflict is a natural defence mechanism when the body perceives danger, according to Gottman a well known relationship expert. Whether that danger is real or perceived, where it leads to avoiding, it creates difficulty when co-parenting.
Another reason co-parents avoid conflict is when they feel hopeless, have given up and have decided that nothing will ever change. In this state, they might feel exhausted and defeated, so they don’t say anything.
Inability to Express Themselves
Another reason a co-parent may avoid problem-solving is that they may have trouble expressing themselves for various reasons, even if they want to. They may also have difficulty with constructive dialogue and problem-solving. Some people may struggle with finding the right words to express their thoughts and feelings effectively. They may not know what they think about the problem yet fail to ask for more information or let you lead if they don’t know the best course of action. If this is the case, you likely saw it manifest during your partnership. Being at a loss for words can be frustrating and challenging for both parties when a problem that needs input or solving is on the table.
Misapplication of Co-Parenting Boundaries
While boundaries are an essential aspect of any healthy relationship, they can be misunderstood and misapplied, especially in co-parenting arrangements. Co-parent boundaries are designed to ensure all parties involved feel respected and safe. Examples of this type of boundary can include refusing to ever discuss certain topics, or only discussing issues in writing. Another example is not talking about issues when the children are present
However, when one parent avoids problem-solving or refuses to discuss certain topics, this is a wall, not a boundary. Such a wall is damaging to the co-parenting relationship and the best interest of children.
If a co-parent avoids problem-solving, it can signal a power struggle, where they may try to control the situation or the other co-parent. Keeping someone in the dark about important information is a way to restrict the cooperative parent’s ability to address issues for the children. This can be unfair and unsettling and may lead to negative outcomes for the children. To co-parent effectively, it’s important to create a safe and respectful environment for both parties to express their needs. If issues of control are ongoing, educate yourself about post-separation abuse and control dynamics. It can be tricky to address this problem directly with your co-parent and do so only if you feel safe and are not concerned that they will create more controlling difficulty.
Dealing with an Unresponsive Co-parent
Here are some tips for dealing with an unresponsive co-parent. Please note, if you are in a co-parenting dynamic that is abusive and controlling seek advice appropriate to your circumstances. Educate yourself about post separation abuse as you may be advised to consider alternate approaches.
Set The Stage And be Proactive
Get ahead of the game by letting your co-parent know in advance that a decision needs to be made, and that you appreciate and respect their time. Strive to limit the conversation to a reasonable timeframe, such as 15 minutes, and ask them what information they need to come to the table informed. Set a deadline for the decision that needs to be made, and communicate that you will respect a hard stop to the conversation where required. This way they will know it won’t drag on indefinitely. If the discussion needs more time, suggest setting another time to continue the conversation. This approach can help ensure that the conversation stays focused and productive, while also respecting the time of both parties.
Soften The Start-Up of Conversations
It’s essential to start conversations on a positive note, particularly when dealing with an unresponsive co-parent. One way to do this is by using a soft start-up to conversations. Softening the start-up of conversations is crucial to resolving conflicts, according to Dr. Gottman. Try to rephrase your “You” statements into “I” statements, describe what is happening without evaluation or judgment, and express your thoughts to your co-parent in positive terms. For example, use phrases such as “I understand that we both want what is best for the children. I would like to work together to figure out a solution that works for us all” or “I value your opinion and input. Can we please talk about how we can reach a compromise”.
Ask Them What They Need to Make Discussions Easier
One way to help bring your co-parent to the table is by asking them what they need to make conversations easier. By doing so, you create an opportunity for them to more comfortably express themselves and be heard. This approach can lead to more productive and creative conversations, and improve the overall quality of the co-parenting relationship by fostering mutual respect, trust, and understanding. You might be surprised by what you hear and may uncover something simple that makes a significant difference.
When You Need a Quick Response
If the situation requires a quick decision, try to reach out to your co-parent and explain the situation. Make sure to explain how the decision needs to be addressed urgently, and that it would be beneficial for the kids if both parents could be involved in the decision-making process. Express your needs and feelings in a respectful and non-judgmental way. Let your co-parent know that you are open to listening and understanding their perspective. You can also offer to do some of the problem-solving together so that they don’t feel overwhelmed or intimidated.
If you have exhausted all other options and have not been able to get a response, consider setting a reasonable deadline for your co-parent to provide their input. Inform them that after this date you will move forward with a decision. If your co-parent still does not respond, you may need to actually make that decision on your own to prevent harm to your children. However, it is important to ensure that you are not breaking any court-ordered parenting agreements in the process. Document your efforts and your co-parent’s responses, in case you need to demonstrate to a court or other professional that you have attempted to co-parent in good faith.
Get Clear on How Much Input You Need
While it’s important to strive for collaboration in co-parenting, it’s also crucial to acknowledge when it’s not possible. If you’ve tried to engage your co-parent in discussions but they continue to avoid them, it’s time to assess how much input you actually need from them. Provided you are not breaking any court orders or parenting agreements, consider handling it on your own. This can mean becoming more self-sufficient, such as signing the field trip form and informing your co-parent that you handled it. It can also mean finding alternative solutions, such as seeking the help of other family members for rides for the kids or to adjust kids activities so that they fall on your own parenting time and do not require collaboration with your co-parent. Remember, while solving problems with your co-parent is ideal, it’s not always possible, and it’s okay to prioritize the well-being of your child and your own sanity.
Seek Outside Help
If you feel like you’ve exhausted all your efforts to engage your co-parent, consider seeking the help of a neutral third party, such as a mediator, co-parenting coach or co-parenting coordinator. They may be able to help facilitate productive communication and find common ground on important issues. It may be that you will need to speak with a lawyer and consider adjusting your parenting plan. Co-parenting does not work well unless both parties are willing to engage in productive ways to come to decisions for your kids or to solve problems when they arise. It’s essential to prioritize the best interests of your children and find ways to collaborate, even if it requires outside help or legal intervention.
Professional help is not always an option for everyone, whether it’s due to financial or other constraints. But don’t despair, there are alternative solutions and resources that can still be helpful. Online support groups, parenting classes, and community resources for co-parenting are all great options to explore. These can provide a supportive community and helpful tips for navigating challenging co-parenting situations. Reach out and seek support in whatever way is accessible and feasible for you.
Remember to take care of yourself
It is understandable that you may feel angry if your co-parent is not engaging. When a co-parent is unwilling to solve problems, it can be a difficult and challenging situation and one that is not good for the kids.
It is important to make sure you are taking care of yourself by setting healthy boundaries and expressing your needs in a healthy way. Try to stay focused on the issue at hand rather than getting weighed down with blame or resentment.
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist if you need it. Again, online support groups, parenting classes, and community resources for co-parenting are all great options to explore. Write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal to help you process your emotions and to brainstorm ideas.
Prioritize taking care of yourself by setting healthy boundaries and expressing your needs in a constructive manner. Take a break. Get out in the fresh air. Make life about more than co-parenting.
Focus on your children’s well-being and prioritize their needs above any personal conflicts with your co-parent.
In conclusion, co-parenting can be a tough journey, especially when one co-parent refuses to solve problems. However, it’s essential to prioritize your child’s well-being above any personal conflicts with your co-parent. Understanding why your co-parent is resistant to solving problems can help you approach them in a way that leads to functional problem-solving.
It can be easy to feel discouraged and worry about the impact that difficult co-parenting will have on your children. Instead, make your home a place where they can rest, feel loved, and break from dysfunction. Be the parent who gets it, who is emotionally in tune, validating, and has intact parent-child boundaries; these will make a significant difference in helping your children navigate the challenges of a broken co-parenting dynamic and thrive in their lives.
Written by Glenda Lux M.A., R. Psych.Take me to the online course: Difficult Co-Parenting: Advice You Won’t Forge