Children can make a marriage more complicated, changing the dynamics of a relationship and introducing more stress and responsibilities into the household. However, they can also make the option of divorce more complicated; as many as 25 percent of all married couples are currently staying together for the sake of the children.
If your marriage is undergoing immense strain, and your relationships is faltering, you shouldn’t have to make yourself miserable just to give your child a healthy environment to learn and grow. If you have a reasonable enough relationship with your spouse, and a mutual desire to give your child the best possible environment, it is possible to be civil co-parents, and go your separate ways.
As co-parents, you’ll no longer be in a relationship with one another, but you may be free to pursue other relationships. However, you’ll both be considered “main” parents for your child, and will share custody, with or without the need for a legal custody agreement. The specifics of the new relationship are up to you, as there are no formal rules that dictate what co-parenting is or can be.
How to Become Successful Co-Parents
There are some ways you can make sure your co-parenting relationship works for everybody:
Choose the right type of split. First, you need to understand that there are multiple legally distinct ways to separate from your marriage. For example, if you get fully divorced, you’ll each be able to marry other people, but if you’re only legally separated, you’ll be allowed to file taxes separately and live separately, but will stay formally married to each other. Do your research and choose the mode that best suits your current lifestyles, preferences, and outlook for the future.
- Proactively communicate rules and expectations. One of the biggest keys to navigating the world of co-parenting successfully is proactively setting expectations and communicating what conduct is acceptable. For example, you’ll want to negotiate things like who has custody (and when), who is responsible for what financial requirements, and how to handle exceptions. Talk these things out in detail, and come to a mutual agreement, if possible. If you can’t come to an agreement, you may need mediation or legal intervention.
- Make the child your first priority. Throughout the process, you both need to commit to making the child your top priority. No matter what your individual interests are, your child’s health and happiness must be your top concern. With that as a foundation, you’ll be able to make better mutual decisions, and you’ll be able to understand any differing perspectives you encounter in the future.
- Refuse to trash talk. After splitting up, you’ll likely feel some resentment, or even hostility, toward your spouse. However, it’s important to avoid expressing these negative sentiments in front of your child—even if you’re talking to someone else. These negative feelings can have a detrimental effect on your child’s development, and relationship with their other parent.
- Remember your ex’s positive qualities. Instead, try to focus on your ex’s positive qualities—they must have some, or you wouldn’t have gotten together in the first place. Emphasize these qualities, and remember them when you face an inevitable dispute.
Compromise where possible. Successful co-parenting won’t always be easy to navigate. You’ll encounter disagreements and disputes, almost certainly, and when you do, you’ll both need to be ready and willing to compromise. Set a tone for compromise from the beginning of the new relationship.
- Don’t let new relationships interfere with how you raise the child. You and your ex-spouse will be the primary parents for your child, so if you find someone new, it’s important that you don’t let that person change your initial agreement or interfere with your child’s parental relationships. The new figure may bond and form a relationship with your child, but you can’t allow yourself to abandon your original agreement just because someone new has entered your life.
If you follow these strategies, and remain cooperative with one another, you can ease the pain of the breakup and continue to be successful parents for your child. Once you’re both in a happier environment, with better self-care, you may be able to give your child an even better environment than you could have given them when you were together.