Q&A from "The Ex Files: How and why to get along with your former mate"

Wise Readers, How and why can Exes *avoid* the expense and pain of court for custody issues?   How can you set boundaries without legal involvement?  Or handle things when the other parent is a no-show, or the child doesn’t want to see him or her?  Do kids *really* need two parents—and how to make that happen?  Do the rules need to be the same at both houses?   

Read on!


—Why Duana And Joan Are Co-Authors This Week—

From Duana:  Joan Norton, J.D., is Da Woman

Wise Readers, how do couples—even under the bitterest circumstances— make their divorce work where their marriage wrecked? The answer is, many of them do, and I’ve long wanted to write an article about how it happens—and why, if you want to be happy, it *must*.  

Then it occurred to me: The right author for this piece is someone every avid Love Science reader already knows through her relevant comments on many an article: Joan Norton, J.D. Through her creation of, a website offering online resources to divorced, separated and never-married parents, Joan developed expertise on the topic.

I thank you for continuing the discussion with both Joan and me in this week’s Q&A.  Here we go. 



—Repeat The Mantra: Kindness & Respect—

—From Sally-Page Stuck:  Courtesy & Respect Are For Everyone (Even If We Never Had Kids)

Treating each other with courtesy and respect is important even if the couple no longer has children. It is very upsetting to me when people speak poorly of my ex. That is an insult to my judgment and taste.

Duana’s response:

Sally-Page, what an excellent observation. Whatever may have gone wrong, you two did love each other once, and you chose each other for good reasons.

I like your clear emphasis on Kindness & Respect—whether from others or (implied) from you. One of the things that really got to me in this article is the observation, yet again, that all adult relationships require Kindness & Respect.

We can behave that way during the marriage while intimacy is high, or after the divorce, when intimacy needs to disengage—but eventually, K&R is where we’re headed if we want to be happy.

You also bring up a really interesting point about couples who still speak post-divorce when children were not part of the marriage. It’s unusual enough that I haven’t found much to read about it; most of the research has focused on former partners who are parents. Am wondering what your experience has been, or if you know more about the case where childless couples still connect post-divorce?


—How (& How Long It Takes) To Become Business-Like With Your Ex, No Matter What—

—From Misty R: I’m Trying, But It’s Been 5 Years!!!

I must have loved him once, or was it just circumstances. I was 1 month away from being married, and my fiancé was killed in front of me. I found comfort in the arms of his best friend.  Over a year later we were married and expecting. He was 10 years older than me, and his mom HATED me. After 2 years of fighting for the marriage, we talked for 3 years about a divorce (even while enduring his abusive tendencies I still fought for the relationship because I had vowed to).  At the end we both had an affair and both of us ended up expecting, but not each other’s baby. (We tried for 3 years to have another baby, and FAILED, so this was a huge shock to both of us)…

We have been divorced for over 5 years now… I am still VERY HAPPILY married to the same guy I had the affair with and we have more children. It was the best mistake of my life and I truly believe it was a blessing in disguise.

My ex and I still don’t get along and we share a child together. It’s been over 5 years and I still cringe at anything that has anything to remotely do with him, directly or indirectly.


—Duana’s response: 

Misty, that’s a lot of trauma to go through, what with witnessing your first fiancé’s murder, marrying his friend under stress of pregnancy and hostile in-laws, then enduring a marriage-and-divorce situation rife with drama.

The 18-month “alarms-off” figure given in the article is best-case. Your case was far from that ideal—there was just too much change and trauma. No wonder you still cringe, it’s taken five years, and the negative intimacy is still there!

I wonder, though, if using the techniques in this article will help. I’ve known cases of people who have gone through mountains of unkindness, disrespect, abuse (whether or substances or people)—and still followed the U-Turn to create a more distant, but still kind and respectful relationship that made their divorce workable even though their marriage had not been. I’ve written much more about that in my comment to Gillian, below.

Joan has prepared some information about how to progress away from the negative intimacy towards the business-relationship it sounds like you and your Ex might still need. Joan, you want to jump in?


Joan’s response:  How To Set Your Boundaries

Misty, my heart goes out to you for all the trauma you have endured and overcome.

Researching this article taught me a lot of establishing boundaries. Basically, anytime the temperature rises — in you or in your ex— it’s time for the discussion to end.

You should not accept abusive treatment from your ex, and that includes raised angry voices, sarcasm, disrespectful remarks, and the like. When this starts, you can leave the scene or say, “I’m going to hang-up now. We can resume this discussion when we’re both feeling a little more calm.”


It takes 2 to fight, and your ex just lost his or her fighting partner. Do this enough times and eventually your ex will get the message that you’re not going to engage. We can’t change our ex’s behavior, but we CAN change our own. If you refuse to take the bait, it will change the dynamic in your relationship.

A key thing is to get clear is which topics are open for discussion, and which ones aren’t. Gillian (below), in the case of your family members, you know the areas of disagreement that cause you distress. Simply politely refuse to talk about those. (Oh, let’s not go into that. But I’d love to hear about your trip …)

Likewise, with your ex, certain topics are off-limits. In fact, *many* topics are off-limits: Anything that doesn’t directly relate to raising your children is hereby out-of-bounds.

Some acceptable topics are:
*Child’s health
*Child’s education and school performance
*The parenting time schedule

Some unacceptable topics are:
*Your ex’s dating habits
*Past mistakes
*Attacking your ex’s character


Duana’s response:

Hear hear, Joan! Love the delineation of what does and does not belong in a business-like relationship between former mates.

Love even more? Your clear, concise description of how *not* to get drawn in when an Ex (or anyone else) becomes unkind, disrespectful, or outright abusive. No, we don’t have to be push-overs to keep out of a fight—nor do we have to get down on the other person’s level.

I think I’m going to memorize this statement of yours and use it like a broken record: 
“”I’m going to hang-up now. We can resume this discussion when we’re both feeling a little more calm.”


—From Joan:  Characteristics of an Acquaintance or Business-Like Relationship

Here’s a handy list I found extremely helpful in researching this article:

· No assumptions
· Formal courtesies, public meetings
· Explicit agreements and written contracts
· Little confrontation, low risk, low emotional intensity
· High personal privacy, low personal disclosure
· Common goal 
· Well-defined boundaries
· Communication is limited to certain topics 
· Parties treat each other with courtesy and respect no matter what
· Negotiation of differences upon disagreement, or when a new circumstance arises
· Both parties are committed to a win-win relationship

A few examples:

Business associates make appointments to meet one another and discuss matters related to their common goal, in this case, the children. They do not show up unannounced at someone’s worksite and demand to speak with him. They do not call a person repeatedly on the telephone to harass her. While some flexibility may exist, business partners hold periodic staff meetings to receive and provide information, and they stick to the business at hand. “How did Luke do in the Science Fair?” and “Let’s talk about the summer camp schedule” are acceptable topics; “Who are you dating now?” and “Why are you still so lazy?” are not.

Writes social scientist and divorced parenting expert Emery: “I admit that it may seem awkward to tell the person with whom you once shared a home and a family and your most intimate thoughts and dreams that she cannot phone you at work, stop by your new apartment unannounced, or open the mail that’s still being delivered to the family home. Yet you must.”


—*Can’t* Get Along?  Consider Putting All Communication In Writing—

—From Joan: Why Courts Order All Communication In Writing (Sometimes), and Why It May Make Sense For YOU

In extreme cases, parents have found it helpful to stop the phone calls and face-to-face communication entirely. Instead, they communicate only in writing.

Writing forces us to slow down and choose our words more carefully. It’s less likely we’ll write something we’ll later regret. While it might be easy to fire off a hot email, if you use paper and pen, you can always hold the letter for 24 hours and then see if you still want to send it.

Interestingly, some courts are now asking divorced parents to communicate only in writing. There are several new softwares such as Our Family Wizard that aid divorced families to manage their shared parenting time, communicate important matters related to the children, and track expenses. 

Sometimes court-ordered in high conflict cases, the parents must log on to the system, which the court can monitor, and communicate with one another only in writing. Quite an interesting concept.


—Misty’s response: 

I find a weakness sometimes where I feel obligated to vomit my life on him. I will write an email like we haven’t talked in years…and I tell him EVERYTHING…. This has bitten me several times. Then I am beating myself up over it and swear I will never do it again, and then next week “here goes motor mouth”…

However, I have figured out a way to control it. I copy my current husband on the conversation. If it seems inappropriate or not in reference to our child only, I delete it. So by the time the 2 page email is ready to go out, it’s only like 5 sentences, sometimes less, and neither knows any difference.

My current husband has to coach me on dealing with my ex all the time. I have too much compassion and it ends up hurting me. Compassion is my weakness, my Achilles heel!

Like you said…We only communicate in writing so EVERYTHING is documented with good reason…and face-to-face contact is only if it is unavoidable. And I still have to be so very careful not to fall into his trap of giving up too much ORAL information. Especially when I don’t have the time to respond appropriately.

Joan thanks for the business relationship examples…I am definitely going to try to put these in play!


Duana’s response: 

Misty, sounds like your new husband is your very own “Our Family Wizard”! How wonderful.

Joan, that is really fascinating that some courts are requiring 100% traceable, written communication. That should cool some heels, and I mean that in more ways than one.



—Another Perspective On How To Set Boundaries In Really Difficult Circumstances—


From Gillian:

How cool to have a guest author!

I love the information on setting boundaries.

My ex and I didn’t have children (and I never see him), but there are plenty of other people (a/k/a family members) who push my buttons. I’m wondering: where’s the line between cooperating and being a pushover? While intellectually I see the value in cooperating, my emotions sometimes want to get in that person’s face and tell her a thing or 2 … or 5.

Duana, you mention many people make their divorces work even under the bitterest circumstances … Then surely I could learn to set some boundaries in my daily life and with my other family members. …Can you give us more examples and info how to do that?


Duana’s response:  A Three-Step Approach To Setting Boundaries When It Seems Impossible/In An Abusive Situation  

Hi, Gillian,

How good to have you back! I agree Joan is a great guest author. Actually, she’s the only person I have ever asked to do a guest blog here; her expertise made her a clear choice for the topic, and her voice is consistent with the goals of Love Science.

Now, to boundaries, whether in marriage, divorce, or any relationship.  Joan gave a great answer above, and here is a supplemental reply:

By design, relationship conflict involves *both* people. Just as in tug-of-war, *both* people have to pull at opposite ends of a rope to make or continue a fight.

When people are negatively intimate, they tend to feel they must pick up the rope and pull about a lot of things, including non-essentials. Their emotional entanglement means they no longer see that we have the choice to *not pick up the rope* sometimes. Other times, rope-pulling is a must, but even then, it can be done with Kindness & Respect.


So the quick-n-dirty secret of establishing business-like boundaries and avoiding fights while *not* getting stepped-on or enmeshed in a war is three-fold:

a) Define, very clearly, what your boundaries are (it should be a short but well-defined list).

b) Kindly and respectfully and generously Give everything you can that does not violate a boundary (don’t pick up the rope when you don’t have to!).

c) When your clear boundary is violated, pick up the rope and win (in the kindest and most-respectful way).

You can use these steps with almost any scenario, but I’ll use a divorce/custody example for today.  With permission, I share the following.

A former client (“Toni”) ran away from an alcoholic with an extensive record, and the alcoholic insisted on and won equal custody of the kids. She talked with me about her fears that he would hurt the kids by driving drunk with them, or that he would fail to take care of them (the littlest had bad asthma that required an involved medical and household-cleaning regimen). 

a) Toni established her clear, short and non-negotiable list of boundaries.

Toni was not asserting that the Ex had no right to be with the kids. In fact, she agreed he was a loving father and that the kids benefited from spending time with him. So, her boundary became: The kids will not get into any vehicle the Ex is then driving, nor will they spend the night with him or travel with him unsupervised.

Now, her state law didn’t agree, but that didn’t matter; like most people who actually work things out, she didn’t try to get the courts to determine her family’s fate. She had a traditional, dual-custody divorce decree and she decided she was going to abide by only part of it, without involving the courts any further; that even if sued, she would go to jail rather than hand over the kids in unsafe circumstances.

Courts are the *last resort* for working out your differences in child custody. 
As the books Joan links below (esp. the outstanding “Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life”—which I’ve read and highly recommend) point out, courts are a terrible place to try to hammer out family decisions. The judges don’t know you and your situation as well as you do; the decision will be impersonal and perhaps not at all related to your circumstances; and the adversarial nature of the legal system itself creates more of the hell, hate and discontent you got divorced to avoid! On top of that, you pay dearly for the privilege of having your personal life decided by strangers.

So, you are nearly always better-off behaving in a less-adversarial manner and working things out yourself. Which brings us back to the point of Toni’s boundaries.

She decided to ask her Ex to abide by her boundaries. She specifically said that she valued and would in every possible way support his presence in their children’s lives, but that she could not release them to him for driving or for overnight, unsupervised visits at his place because he had a very long history of drinking.

Did he like this? No. He was angry and said he refused. She ignored the refusal and reiterated her boundaries, and set up the next time he’d see the kids. Although she did not say so to him, Toni was willing to go to jail for it rather than turn over her kids to him and see them driven off by someone who could be drinking.

*Her boundaries were simple, clear, brief—and she was willing to pay whatever price she had to for them.*

b) Next, Toni gave her Ex all she could, all the time—as long as it didn’t violate her boundaries. She went out of her way to be kind and respectful, and to give her Ex what he wanted *aside* from boundaries violations.

For instance, if her Ex wanted to go to the movies, the zoo or the park with the kids, she not only didn’t balk—she drove everyone there and picked them back up at the end of the outing. For special occasions, like Father’s Day or the Ex’s birthday, she chauffeured the crew to special destinations. She offered to fly with the kids to visit the Ex’s in-laws in another state. She (and her new partner) welcomed the Ex into their home for one night a week, one full day every weekend, all family occasions (Christmas, birthdays, ball games, etc.) and anytime the Ex just said he might want to come over.

*She didn’t pull the rope unless she had to! And he relaxed and stopped fighting.*

c) Toni picked up the rope any time the Ex threatened the boundaries—and only then—and she was Kind & Respectful even then.

In Toni’s scenario, her Ex would occasionally say things about wanting to take the kids places by himself; she would offer to meet him. He would sometimes complain that she was controlling, unfair and keeping him from his rights; she would point out that she was hugely in favor of his daily presence in the kids’ lives, that she had done a lot to help that to happen and always would, and that she valued his role as a father. He would point-blank ask to take the kids out of state. She would counter-offer that she was willing to fly them there and stay in a hotel with them, and that she would deliver the kids wherever he wanted them to be each day.

She was willing to go to jail for these boundaries, but she didn’t have to say so. She just had to know so. Resolve is needed, not just internal clarity, for boundaries to stick.

What happened?

Toni got what she wanted: Happiness and safety for her and her children; an involved father for the kids (from then on, the kids got their dad when he was at his very best; they are now grown and have a close relationship with both parents); and an end to almost all conflict. She saved untold thousands of dollars and tears for all parties. And she did it, not through the legal system, but through the three steps above.

Are the steps easy? No. They required Toni a lot of thought and courage, and they required her to be yielding and compassionate during some times when she was angry. They required a high level of maturity and self-control. Then again, a happy, successful life among others requires all of that.

But the steps are clear. And yes, even in bitter divorces (and other relationships), they work.

Thanks for a great question!


 —What If A Person Is Giving To Others As A Way To *Avoid* Grieving?—


—From Monica:  Healing Post-Divorce: 

Awesome article, Joan. I did wonder about the section on “giving to others”…

Most of the time, when I see someone doing this, they are pretty much using the activity to avoid dealing with their own situation. So many of them are in denial and are suppressing their feelings by focusing on others and “keeping busy”. At what point is this seriously counter-productive, and how would one balance this part of healing?


—Duana’s response: 

Hi, Monica, 
Joan had asked me to field any questions pertaining to grief, which I believe yours does. There’s a normal grief process I’ve briefly outlined at this article:

And there is more information on grief at the corresponding Q&A:

Short answer: Grief seems to happen whether or not we busy ourselves, and the denial you wrote about is in fact the first acknowledged step most people go through in grieving; it’s followed, sometimes not in this order, by anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Denial cushions us from an emotional impact we are not ready to bear. To answer your question for how long this can/should go on, if a person is unable to move past grief (or any stage prior to acceptance) for more than a year, it is time to seek a good counselor or grief group.

The resources at Joan’s website can help a lot for separating or divorcing/divorced parents, no matter where they live. Please see the links and resources at


The research Joan referred to on keeping busy, by the way, is from another source she and I both appreciate and recommend, Martin Seligman’s summary of the positive psychology movement and what scientists know about why and how people become happy. His book is called “Authentic Happiness” (linked in today’s references), and his website ( lets people take quizzes free of charge to find their own road to greater fulfillment.

Happy people aren’t those who live for their own pleasure, or who have more money than they can spend, or who have few problems in life. Which is a good thing, since few of us are given such options!

Instead, just about anyone can be happy who chooses to be—but that choice requires embracing our roles and duties, and deriving *meaning* from them.  All of us have roles and duties, so that’s good news.  

So for parents who may be too busy to mow a lawn or volunteer, for instance, they can find happiness by finding meaning in the roles they already have that involve caring for others—such as being as helpful and supportive as possible in their work and parenting careers.

Thank you for your highly relevant question.


—Don’t Tell *Me* You Can’t Get Along With Your Horrible Ex!—

—From Carson:  I Get Along With An Ex Who Called Child Protective Services On Me Without Cause, So Don’t Tell Me You Can’t Get Along With Your Ex!

Joan and Duana, I get really tweaked when I’m dating a man who is bitter about his ex, says she is horrible, he can’t get along with her, etc. I went through my own messy divorce plus kids. My ex was like Toni’s, Duana, I had lived that example! He was an alcoholic and when I began dating after the divorce, he had a conniption fit and got drunk and called Child Protective Services to charge me with child abuse. Imagine my surprise when the guy at the door was not the pizza deliveryman, but the CPS case worker.

Anyway, I had not read this article yet of course, but I had learned a couple things and one was not to feed the tiger. I did not call my ex and yell at him for bringing a false charge. I mastered myself and when my ex eventually sobered up and called me, I was calm and polite and said, “Oh, by the way, CPS was here last night.” And then the phone got real quiet. He admitted he had called them, and I said, “Oh, well, that’s a relief, I couldn’t imagine who had done it.”

The charges were all dropped b/c CPS said it was clearly a false call. But I promise you, if I had had a fit or shown I was upset, my ex would have called CPS to control me anytime he felt like it. He has never called them again.  We get along well, because I don’t pick up the rope or get over-heated about things, and now he’s trained not to even head in that direction.

So you can see why I’m not thrilled when men tell me they cannot find a way to tolerate their ex. If I could do it with an alcoholic who called CPS, I figure it is possible for these guys, too. I have told a couple of them I thought so, and they seemed to consider it. Maybe I’ll email them the article.


Misty’s response: 

Carson:  Awesome inspiration right there!

I over-react very quickly. I love how cool you were about it.

My Ex has even gone the lengths of kidnapping my daughter for months at a time when going through the divorce. I’m not sure I would have been so cool about CPS. But I hope that stays in my mind, I must find a way to break his control of my emotions.

Thank you for sharing.


Duana’s response: 

Carson, does the “C” actually stand for “cool”? That incident with CPS was very well-played. Sounds like you were able to use the rope-dropping/business-relationship techniques to the ultimate betterment of your and your kids’ lives.

Moreover, when I was reading Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift Of Fear” book recently, he pointed out that threats only have as much power as the intended victim gives them. You responded with such unflappable cool, such unruffled ease, that your Ex lost the perception that he could threaten you. And he stopped. Kudos~you’re an inspiration.


—Why Courts Are Your *Last* And Worst Resort—And How To Avoid Them—

—From Joan:  Alternatives To The Courthouse

Absolutely, Duana. Great point about the courts (above, to Gillian).

As an attorney (now non-practicing - sorry, no legal advice here :-) , I have great respect for the job our judges are asked to do, and the limited time and resources they have to do it. As some have observed, “We have the worst legal system in the world, EXCEPT for all the others…”

No matter how hard a judge tries, he or she simply cannot customize a solution for every case. It’s the couple themselves who are in the best situation to determine a divorce arrangement that will work for their family, rather than having one imposed on them by court. Litigating through the courts is adversarial (winner/losers), time-consuming, and expensive. Plus, all the documents are public record.

Some good alternatives to the courthouse are:

(1) a mediated divorce settlement, where a neutral 3rd party helps the husband and wife reach an agreement, but cannot give them legal advice; and

(2) the collaborative law approach , where the parties are represented by attorneys who agree upfront to collaborate and settle the case, with no threat of litigation.

Personally, I love the collaborative law approach. It is more expensive than a mediation, but you get legal advice.  And it is LESS expensive than traditional litigation. It can apply to the initial divorce filing, as well as the later problems regarding custody and visitation that may crop up afterwards. Going to court with your ex is by far the most expensive, emotionally draining, and least satisfying solution when there are children involved.

You can learn more about collaborative law and mediation at


S.T.’s response:

My ex-husband used to have supervised visits. Now his visits are unsupervised but we still use the neutral exchange service. It works out ok, there are no problems, but I like what happened in Toni’s case. We still have some bad feelings about going to court.


Duana’s response: 

Joan, that is outstanding advice. Custody issues are *the* most frequent reason Ex-couples *return* to court even years after the decree ink has dried. For all the reasons you named and more, those issues are best decided in mediation, collaborative law, or a third option:

Work It Out Yourselves.

Fact is, as long as both parties agree to compromise—or at least, not to bring the disagreements that arise to the attention of the legal system—the courts are not going to intervene. Effectively, no matter what a custody decree *says*, co-parents can do what they want as long as nobody litigates further.

Which means you avoid all the negative consequences of the court system, all the financial costs of any of the other methods, and (bonus!) you maintain maximum latitude over the co-parenting relationship.

To wit, Toni’s situation. Legally, she was not granted full custody—yet in practice if not theory, that’s what occurred.  By giving as much kindness, respect, and kid contact to her Ex as she felt she safely could, and by bending over backwards to accommodate her Ex and his (and the kids’ needs!) to spend time with the kids wherever it was safe to do so, she built up a reservoir of goodwill and trust with her Ex where she could so easily have created a war zone.

She thereby avoided a financially and emotionally costly court battle over an issue that sends a lot of people back into the legal system. (As you pointed out, S.T., she also avoided some bitterness so common in litigated custody scenarios. And see below for Toni’s *Ex’s* eventual positive perception of the outcome of their off-the-record boundary negotiation.)

Of course, Toni’s way is but one. For those requiring professional assistance, mediation and collaborative law are major avenues many Exes now use to Work It Out Themselves. The website Joan recommended is a further resource. And one I’ve directed so many towards is the book Joan and I both referenced earlier: “How To Get Divorced Without Ruining Your Life”. The book does what it says it will do :).


—Should Parental Rights Ever Be Revoked?  Do Courts Usually Take Away Parents’ Rights?  Do Kids Really Need Two Parents?—

 —From Duana:  There Is NO One-Size Solution, But There Are Many Ways To Give Kids The Two Parents Kids NEED

Hi, all,
I just removed one reader’s comments because he asked me to, privately. However, his concerns—that parents of either sex should never remove custody from the other parent, and that mothers consistently abuse the legal system to revoke paternal rights—should still be addressed.

Research conclusively shows that kids need (not just want) two loving parents who get along if the kids are to develop at their best. Based on this body of evidence, courts finally stopped routinely awarding sole custody to mothers, and began routinely awarding custody to both partners decades ago.

In fact, despite commonly voiced fears that men will be blocked from parenting because of women’s spurious claims of abuse, the current data indicate the opposite: Courts now award joint custody to *both* parties as a rule, even when one has been charged with or even found guilty of abuses.

That sounds really good whenyou consider that dual custody *helps* kids when both parents are non-abusive; in most divorces, both parents meet that desired standard.  

However, this one-size-fits-all approach falls down any time one parent is abusive of either people or substances; then, kids are best-served by living with the non-abusive parent. Abusers who have control of others’ lives are bad for the people around them. Period. That most definitely (especially?) applies to their kids.


So back to my example with Toni and her boundary-setting. That for-instance was not given to advocate for either sex’s haphazard or utter removal (formally or informally) of the other parents’ rights and involvement with the kids. 

And of course, there should be and is legal recourse available to a parent whose rights are so violated.

Yet because courts usually cannot/will not make a decision to limit dangerous contact until a child is actually harmed, which many of us deem an unacceptable situation, in abusive scenarios parents are in the position of choosing between the law and their child’s well-being. Many choose the child’s well-being.

Toni’s former husband could have pursued legal avenues at any time. But he elected not to, because his parental rights were *not* being fully (or even mostly, in his and in Toni’s view, as I found in interviews with them over the years) revoked. At my request, she never shared with him her motivation to go to jail rather than permit him to drive the kids or keep them alone with him overnight; she just needed to have that resolve for her own benefit, because it was a price she could easily have had to pay if her Ex had determined to press the legal advantage that was his.

Instead, her Ex became clear about his boundaries, too—and they did not revolve around where the kids spent the night or who drove them places. Essentially, he also gave all *he* could, which was via saying Yes to his Ex’s request that she keep the kids overnight and drive them places. Again, did he like it at first? No. But neither did Toni like spending huge amounts of time with her Ex so that the kids would have him in their lives.

*Both people gave up some things. That is how compromise works!*

His non-negotiable boundaries concerned being an active part of his children’s lives, and his being welcome any time he wanted to be around them. Toni completely honored those boundaries. They lived with an imperfect arrangement—but one that worked much better for everyone than the one-size-fits-few court-ordered solution.

In the case of Toni et al., the outcome for over a decade, until the children were fully grown, was positive for all concerned. Toni, the kids, and yes, the dad all wound up liking the arrangement. The dad’s fear of being kicked out of his kids’ lives was neutralized, as was Toni’s fear for the kids’ safety. And the kids had the joy of growing up with both parents, and parents who got along, at that. Today, the kids enjoy close relationships with *both* parents.


Misty’s response:  What Happened Because My Mom Lied To Me About My Dad, And Kept Us Apart  

My mom [took my father away from me and lied to me about him]. What a slap in the face….My mom said this to me…

——Your dad never wanted you, so he signed his rights away….
——-He had another baby, you weren’t good enough. (I have a sister a few months younger than me, he had an affair and got her pregnant while my mom was pregnant with me.)
——-He held a gun to my (mom) head and beat me trying to get rid of you.
——-He wanted me to abort you.
——-He never cared for you or he would have found you.
——-He doesn’t call or send birthday cards cause he never cared to be a part of your life. 
——-If you see this man (shows me a picture) run, if he sees you he will steal you and hurt you to get back at me…

I met him when I turned 16…. This man I feared and cried countless nights over was nothing like what my mom told me. He loved me, he tried to find me. He had a broken heart because he couldn’t find me. I did have a sister, a few months from my age, and he still avoids answering that question.  He tells me my mom made that choice to remove me from his life and we disappeared. He sent cards to my grandfather house for me and gifts. (I never got these.)

Yeah, from experience, this has cause great HELL in my life. I have had countless anger management therapy. I still have MAJOR anger issues. I still have MAJOR daddy issues.

Today, he is still in my life….. We aren’t as close as we should be, but he is there.

[I am not making this mistake with my daughter.]  As much as I hate my X, my daughter loves him, and I know and encourage it. She sees him every chance he wants to, unfortunately she is not his top priority. I let him show his colors to her. I never want to be blamed for his actions. I send him all her school schedules, softball schedules and whatever…He chooses how much he wants to be a part of her life. It breaks my heart when I have to wipe her tears because of him, but I tell you what no one understands those tears like I do…and I pray that his stupidity and selfishness doesn’t hurt her like mine did me….


David’s response: 

Misty, things began to improve when my x and I studied the trauma of parent removal together [Her father had been taken from her, too.]  I salvaged 3 out of 4 of my children. The battle continues today, but the rewards have proven to be far more valuable than every sacrifice I endured….

A place to start [healing] is within.  Maybe while you inform yourself on this topic, you will find a particularly excellent study you can share with your x. Have your daughter place calls to him regularly. Break him down with kindness. You can’t always get what you want, but you’ll get what you need!


Duana’s response:  What To Say To Your Kid When Your Ex Doesn’t Show

Misty, I want to congratulate both you and David on welcoming your Exes’ participation in your children’s lives regardless of how you may personally view the former spouse.

Misty, you learned from very sad example how awful it is to be separated from your other parent by lies. You’ll never know what could have been, but you’ll see to it that your daughter does not have that same issue. Just as David and his Ex prevented that issue for their children.

Now let’s help her not to have *other* issues surrounding her dad’s no-show days.

I agree with David’s recommendation to help your daughter be kind and respectful to your Ex.

While you’re doing that, help her to understand that when your Ex fails to show interest in her (or doesn’t show up at all), that is *not* her fault. A safe thing to say is, “Dad isn’t here today, but it is not because of anything you did or did not do. You are a great kid.  Let’s find something else to do today!”

While researching the abuse articles, I came across some research-based recommendations that you not cover up for your Ex by lying on his behalf. Lying for him can teach your child to distrust her intuition and herself.

For instance, just as it’s inappropriate to say anything mean-spirited about him, it’s also a disservice to your daughter if you lie and say he had a business call at the last minute and could not get to your house to pick her up.

Instead, the recommendation is to tell her it’s not her fault, and leave it at that. I know a little girl whose dad has done this so well when the mom doesn’t show, that at the tender age of 10 that child is now able to say: “Oh, well, Mom didn’t come today. Let’s go to the park.” If you ask her how she feels, she says, “I love Mom and I know she loves me, but sometimes she does not show up when she says she will and it’s not my fault.”

Well done, Dad!

And because he doesn’t pick a fight with the mom—or tell his daughter horrific things about her—everyone is getting along.


Joan’s response: A Good Dad Is Irreplaceable  

Research supports the idea that children need time with both parents. Children in *non-abusive* situations do benefit vastly from dual custody and from knowing the love, support, and guidance of both parents. The course at presents an entire section on “Why Two Parents Matter.”


There are many reasons, but here’s one that stuck with me: Children look to both of their parents to develop a sense of their roots and to discover more about themselves. Children need contact with their parents in order to develop their own objective view of their parents’ strengths and weaknesses. A great deal of a person’s traits and talents are hereditary. Children make comparisons between themselves and their parents. Knowing one’s parents well helps a child sort out his or her own identity in relation to each parent.

When a parent is unavailable to his or her child, the child feels anxiety and self-blame. “What is wrong with me?” “What did I do wrong?” “Why doesn’t Mom (or Dad) love me …?”


Other important reasons for the continued (non-abusive) involvement: Boys in particular need their fathers to have someone who understands the unique experience and feelings of growing up as a male. They benefit from time spent with their fathers learning about male interests, skills, activities and social behaviors. Studies have shown the father’s involvement in nurturing his children to be so important it is irreplaceable by any substitute, whether the substitute is the state, a grandparent, male friend, or stepparent.


Additionally, children with 2 involved parents have a better chance of financial security, stronger self-image, and increased scholastic performance. They experience less anxiety, less negative feelings about themselves and others, less social and behavioral problems, and feel better about life in general.


Benefit to the Parent

Involvement in the child’s life not only benefits the child; it benefits the parent. The absence of a parent works against a happy and satisfying life for the children. Similarly, the absence of one’s child from a parent’s life usually represents a painful guilt, longing, and emptiness. Sometimes neither the parent nor the child recognizes that they are missing a part of themselves, and that they need to know each other to be healthy and whole.

The mother’s welcoming of the father’s participation makes a huge difference in his effectiveness as a father. When a mother promotes a relationship between the child and the father, she is more likely to strengthen her own relationship with the child because the child will not feel resentment that she has attempted to prevent the child from knowing the father.

The above information is excerpted from The Texas Cooperative Parenting Course Online, chapter 2 “Why 2 Parents Matter.”

For more information and articles, links to free resources, or to take the course online please visit I *especially* recommend the free video “Kids in the Crossfire,” which shows the effects of parental fighting from the child’s viewpoint. Powerful with a capital “P.” Go to and click the link on the right-hand side. Only about 3-4 minutes long.

Duana, thank you for allowing me to be a guest author at Love Science. I’m a huge fan of your work. You have helped me many times, and I enjoy learning and improving. You have a fantastic group of readers and contributors, as well. Best wishes to everyone.

<p><A href=”http:// “> The Texas Cooperative Parenting Course Online </A> – Happy Children, 2 Homes™, a parenting course online made for Texans, equips divorced, separating, or never-married parents with skills to end conflict and successfully co-parent children between 2 homes.</p>


Duana’s response: 

Perfectly summarized, Joan. Parents need their kids—kids need both their parents. As for admiration, the feeling is mootual. Thank you for all the in-depth work you’ve done and shared here with Love Science’s Wise Readers.


—My Son Doesn’t Want To Go With His Father.  What Now?—

—From Sharla T.

I would like to know what to do with my son when he doesn’t want to go with his father. I feel bad when I have to make him go. I think my ex just ignores him. Sometimes my son says he gets yelled out. Well. I can see that because my ex doesn’t know how to handle frustrations. I like this column. I wish I would have known some things years ago. Thank you to Duana Welch from Sharla T. 


Duana’s response: 

Hi, Sharla, 
Thank you for a question I’m sure many share. I would start by recommending the books by Isolina Ricci (Mom’s House, Dad’s House book series linked below in Recommended Reading), and also finding out what all the root causes are for your son not wanting to see his father.

Once you know, with certainty, what your son’s objections are, you and Dad are in a good position to mutually determine the best way to make Dad’s house and environment more inviting to your son. If you can’t mutually agree, then Joan’s recommendation about mediation is a great way to go.

Two more points related to your comment are these:

—A lot of parents get into blow-ups because the other partner is doing things differently from how they would prefer; a major source of parental fights is argument over whose way should prevail at both houses. But kids can and do adapt to different parenting styles in different households; and they can do it much more easily if Mom and Dad will keep the kids *out* of the middle and if Mom and Dad will have the business-like relationship that precludes fighting to begin with.

Sooner or later, whether we stay married or not, our kids have the option of *not* spending time with us unless the child wants it. In families where parents stay married, this choice may not seem obvious to the kids until they are grown and independent. But in homes of divorce, kids figure out much more readily that actually, they don’t have to spend time with a monstrous person unless the kid wants to! The courts commonly take *the child’s preference* into account by the time children are 10 years old.

So, a 15-year-old in a traditional intact family would not usually deduce a way to avoid Mom or Dad. But that same 15-year-old whose parents are divorced will decide, usually with full legal backing, not to spend time with a parent who is unkind, disrespectful, etc.

This is not said to indicate that parents should be kowtowing toadies to their children; kids need both parents, and it’s best if both parents insist on responsible, kind and respectful behavior from the children.   

But the reward of responsive, responsible, loving and engaged parenting is kids who actually choose to spend time with us once they are grown. Kids of divorce may make the choice even sooner than others.

Kindness & Respect…Kindness & Respect…Kindness & Respect… there’s just no way around it, whether we’re talking about how we treat other adults or our own children.

Thank you for your question, Sharla, and for letting me delve a bit into those additional areas.


Joan’s response:

Dear Sharla: I agree 100% with Duana’s recommendations, and would like to add a few comments.

First, some very good things are already happening here: Your son has a Mom who cares about his happiness and well-being, and a Dad who’s willing to be involved his life. Granted, we would like to improve the quality of the environment with Dad, but the fact that he’s willing to participate is *huge*.

As quoted in The Texas Cooperative Parenting Course online at

Studies show that 2 years after parental separation or divorce, nearly 50% of non-custodial parents see their children only once a year or less.”

Tragic! Because as explained in previous posts, both mother and father are essential to a child’s development and well-being. Let’s find a way to get your ex positively and happily involved, so father and son can enjoy their time together.


As Duana suggests, I agree you could do some detective work to find out why your son objects to his “Dad time.” Just ask him. Once you figure out the sticking points, you can work with your ex (using the mantra “Kindness and Respect”) to solve it.

As suggested in the course, using neutral language that focuses on the child’s needs could be your key to success. For example, “Junior feels ignored when he just watches TV at your house. What do you think about taking him hiking?” Compare that to, “You NEVER pay any attention to Junior!! What kind of rotten father are you …?” and you see the point.

If yelling is the problem, you could say, “Junior feels upset when he’s yelled at. I’d like to know more about your expectations when he’s at your house … I’d like us to agree on ways to discipline and guide our son without yelling.” You get the idea.


Also, try to look at it from your ex’s perspective. Junior may not have communicated with him; your Ex may not have any idea that anything is wrong. Hence, a cardinal rule of your new business-like relationship: No assumptions.

Maybe you’ll discover the uncomfortable feeling is nothing your son can exactly put his finger on. Could it be he feels like a visitor at his Dad’s house ? As the course suggests, every child needs some space in each home that is his alone, even if it is merely a corner or section of a room, and not a whole room. Ask your ex to allow your son to set up a place for his memorabilia, artwork, and pictures. Also, have some items such as a toothbrush, toiletries, and clothing that stay at your ex’s house. In these ways, your son will feel more at home in 2 homes.

(And, by the way, I agree with Duana’s recommendation of the book “Mom’s House, Dad’s House.” It’s full of such practical tips.)

Another idea is to keep the connection going between visits. Encourage your son to call, email, or text his Dad during the week to let him know good news like a good grade at school or an upcoming sports event. If your ex is good at math, could he help your son with a homework problem, even over the phone? Your ex will feel more included if you can get him involved in your son’s school. I don’ t know your son’s age, but younger kids love it when parents have lunch with them at school, or participate in school programs such as “Watch Dog Dads,” science fairs, career days, and the like.

Try to find the skill your ex has where he can shine, and where he can teach something important to your son (camping? building? learning to swim?). Even if they start with playing “Jeopardy” together on the Wii (or some other game they enjoy) at least they’re interacting. Then, they can move away from the TV and on to board games, outdoor activities, and maybe group sports. Maybe it’s just errands around town or yard work, but encourage your ex to make one-on-one time a priority. (“Wow! You guys bagged 20 bags of leaves. That’s some awesome teamwork!)


Thank you for writing, Sharla, and I hope these suggestions from both Duana and me gave you some ideas. You are the expert on your own son, so use your intuition and ask questions to identify what’s really bothering him. And then use kindness and respect to speak with your ex and see how you can turn this thing around to create a win/win situation for your son *and* his parents.

P.S. While working this out yourselves is ideal, a neutral 3rd party can be a great help, too. Sometimes it’s easier to hear information from an “authority” rather than from our ex. There are resources listed at

Additionally, your child’s school counselor may be willing to meet with your ex to discuss your son’s situation. I’ve learned that some schools will do this, especially when the home situation is affecting the child’s school performance. Some districts have discussion/counseling groups for the students having difficulty due to divorce. Best wishes to you, Sharla.


Cheers, Joan & Duana


Related Love Science article:

The Ex Files:  How and why to get along with your former mate: 


The authors wish to acknowledge the following scientists and sources:  

 Interparental Discord and Child Adjustment: Prospective Investigations of Emotional Security as an Explanatory Mechanism (Child Development, vol. 77, issue 1, pp. 132-152 Jan/Feb 2006) by 

 The Truth About Children and Divorce: Dealing with the Emotions So You and Your Children Can Thrive  by Robert E. Emery, Ph.D.  You can buy the book as linked, or access his website, where Dr. Emery answers your questions, at

 Marital Conflict and Support Seeking by Parents in Adolescence: Empirical Support for the Parentification Construct by Tara S. Peris, Marcie C. Goeke-Morey, E. Mark Cummings, and Robert E. Emery 

Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., for his research on Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment and its relationship to doing for others

Child Trends for summarizing research findings on the relationship between father involvement and child outcomes. 


Recommended Reading: 

Getting Divorced Without Ruining Your Life: A Reasoned, Practical Guide to the Legal, Emotional and Financial Ins and Outs of Negotiating a Divorce Settlement  by Sam Margulies, Ph.D., J.D.

 Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making Two Homes for Your Child  by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. 

Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids: Feeling at Home in One Home or Two  by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.


If this article inspired, educated, assisted or elevated your understanding of relationships, please click “share article” below to distribute to your favorite social media websites. 

Do you have a question for Duana?  Email her at


 All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and Love Science Media, 2011.

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