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‘My No Contact Stinks’

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Dear Chump Lady,

My no contact stinks. You have discussed no contact in your book and on your website. Many of the CN regulars speak of NC in the comments and have given sound advice. It sounds great, I don’t know how this is accomplished with my situation.

My cheater ex works as a physician and I work in law enforcement. Our work situation is very dynamic and takes some “teamwork” to coordinate our schedules for childcare. I have 50/50 child custody and my boys are 8 and 9 years old. So far we have been successful in this coordination. Unfortunately, that coordination has come at the cost of nearly daily contact.

So what’s my grievance? I hate texting with my ex! (my only form of contact) (emphasis added to hate!!!!) I dread it because every time we communicate (schedule only), she is in my head. And, when she is in my head I start to think about “us.”

“US” is the devil’s hopium and I know I can’t subscribe. The way I see it, I have a parole-able life sentence with the ex (10+ years of prison). I currently can’t imagine sucking it up for the next 10 years. This seems like an impossible task to maintain my sanity. Every time I think about it, I get depressed. 10 years? My god, will it ever end? You get it…

I’m curious your thoughts and WTF can I do to maintain some semblance of a sane life?

My Best,

Average Joe

P.S. I discovered that I wasn’t as average as I thought. I have a law degree. I have an amazing job. And, as it turns out, I’m actually in great shape and attractive. I thought all the opposite when I was married to my negative life force.

Dear Joe,

Two words: Virtual assistant. Get one. What’s your sanity worth? How much time on this do you actually spend a week texting with your ex? For $25 an hour, you could be outsourcing this.

“Please direct all child scheduling communications to my assistant, Betty.”

Betty:

Don’t like that idea? Too cumbersome? Hey, your ex thrills to triangles!

You just need to remove yourself from the equation and add a buffer. Most people accomplish this with scheduling software developed exactly for these hostage drop-offs coparenting situations. Here, Parents magazine reviewed 8 of them. Give it to the robots, Joe! Give it to Jesus. Really, hand it off to anyone but your ex.

There is no reason she needs to be contacting you every. single. day. Or you her. Unless your child has a major medical condition, or fell down a well, what requires so much communication? Your kids are still fairly young, but they can tell you if they forgot their shoes, or have a science project due, or have a playdate.

Are you sure this is complicated (ever shifting daily?!) work schedules, or do you just have shitty boundaries? Are you still playing the role of husband appliance?

I hate texting with my ex! (my only form of contact) (emphasis added to hate!!!!) I dread it because every time we communicate (schedule only), she is in my head. And, when she is in my head I start to think about “us.”

“Us” is over. If this is hopium, kick the habit. No matter how successful and attractive you say you are, your future relationships will be doomed if you can’t get over your ex, or manage strong boundaries. No healthy person wants to pick me dance.

Yes, you have children together. The kids are your focus, as they should be. And she’s their mother. But this doesn’t give her carte blanche access to your life. Reconsider your schedule. If it’s your week, it’s your week. So if you can’t cover something, or the “schedule shifts” you call another parent or a babysitter. Same thing on her week.

Then on your off week, attractive lawyer self gets a life. In between, attractive lawyer self uses scheduling software, or Betty the Virtual Assistant. Protect your burgeoning new life. You will indeed go insane if you have fluid, amorphous boundaries with your ex and not a firm firewall. Because just letting this person in your life — even in as significant a role as Mother of Your Children — is painful.

The contrast between what it is (this person cheated on you, traumatized you, and broke up the family in the worst possible way) and what is seems (a pleasant person exchanging pleasantries and cute little boys) is a mindfuck. It’s a hopium hallucination of One Big Happy Family. You’ve got to reframe this — you’re a happy family, you and your boys — and she is peripheral. Put DISTANCE between you and your business partner. Shove her OUT of your circle. (Betty wears pointy boots. She can help.)

Not every text requires your response. There’s a radical thought! Communication doesn’t have to occur through texting. There’s another radical thought! You don’t have to be the point person every time she “needs” something. Wow!

I know sharing parenting with a fuckwit is hard. It’s very, very hard. I won’t lie. But the cure is to build the strongest most independent life you can for yourself. You’ve got all the raw materials. Go be a smashing success.

And forward all your calls to Betty.

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Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
  • I feel this. I already coparent with my 8 year old and now I’m facing coparenting with a DIFFERENT more horrible more narcissistic guy with our one year old. It truly feels like I have a 17 year prison sentence. But I’ve learned a few things from coparenting with my first ex. We have shockingly been getting along bc but when we didn’t I would only email with him and it was all business. I treated him like a coworker and pretended my emails could be read by the boss (judge) at any time. Be boring, matter of fact and of something doesn’t need an immediate response don’t respond. It’s exhausting but it helped me create distance and I wouldn’t panic every time I saw a text pop up from him. I would legit get heart palpitations.

    With my most recent ex (what is my life?) I made sure Our Family Wizard was court ordered for communication. He hasn’t started using it of course and loves to message me unnecessarily but he gets back cold, business like responses in return. Don’t feed the beast and it usually backs off. Good luck.

    • Omg! Before I blocked my ex, a text from him would trigger anxiety too! We don’t have children, and we weren’t married, but I still made up reasons for why I had to leave the lines of communication open (closure, not wanting to be rude, hopium- I was a fool). Finally, I just blocked him. I felt anxiety about that too! But I’m currently 16 days no contact, and it feels great! I still get the guilty feeling sometimes, but I can feel myself slowly untangling himself from my mind and my life.

      I know our situations aren’t at all comparable, but I just wanted to say that textfromcheatingex-anxiety is real!

      • It definitely is! Good job on the blocking. If I could never talk to either of my ex’s again I would so you’re very fortunate to not have to coparent! I actually deleted his name on my phone so only his number shows up and not his name. Somehow that mentally helped instead of seeing his stupid name on my screen all the time haha

      • Yay! Good for you. I went no contact on April 8 (once we sold our house and untangled most of the finances) and feel better. Can even manage a balance pose in yoga now!

        That’s not to say he doesn’t email me. Sometimes he threatens. Sometimes he tries to be nice. I forward ALL emails to my lawyer. I never respond.

        Anyway, my kids are adults–one with a child of her own–so I don’t have the co-parenting albatross, which must truly suck. I can’t imagine dealing with that. But, you know what also sucks? Staying with someone until the kids are adults. I wish I’d extricated myself from my STBX years ago. I know I would have had to deal with the custody issues, but then again, I wouldn’t have 35 years of sunk cost to contend with.

        So maybe your glass is half full.

        Good luck!

    • OFW is court ordered but he isn’t using it!? Shut that shit down. Send him a message and state that on June xxx, you will be blocking his phone number and emails and will only be communicating through the app. Let him know a third party that he can contact in case of emergency.

      I used to use the theme song for Jaws as his ringtone before switching to the app, but it is so much better now. (fellow 17 year prison sentence buddy here)

    • Another hand raised… I still get heart palpitation and those shots of adrenaline through my legs when I see an email in my inbox. The shameful part is that I am 3.5 years from divorce and 5 years from the final Dday. It has gotten better though. during the divorce he sent a threatening text on day and I had to run to the bathroom (at work!) where I threw up.

  • Get Our Family Wizard, put your schedule on autopilot, hire a babysitter or find a friend to help watch the kids when your schedule gets crazy and quit depending on your ex when it’s your week and vise versa. It’s time to cut the cord. Also, not EVERY text deserves a response….YES! This is so very true….to reprogram your brain you should change your mindset to: I can only respond in an emergency after you put your schedule on autopilot. I’m speaking from 7 yrs from my narc asshole ex….the first 3 were extraordinarily bullshitish because he insisted we work together and communicate and blah blah blah….and the courts, fucktwits therapist, etc. insisted (shoot me in the head🙄). During that time the abuse continued bc if I didn’t adhere to his bullshit he “punished” me or took it out on the kids. FINALLY the courts recognized the pattern and formally insisted I could uphold my boundaries while dickhead got thrown under the bus. Since then, it’s been good. Boundaries are beautiful! Use them!!!!!

    • It took three years of documentation of boundaries broken to get remediation? I already use the schedule, communication is through the app, responses are not immediate. Still the daily, multiple times, missives about ???? He’s losing control and double down the effort.

      I’m ordered to be our children’s caregiver on Disney daddy’s week during his scheduled work. I’m okay with more custody time. I’m not okay with the dripping down of schedule information. Disney daddy is supposed to provide it.

  • I soooo needed this right now. Talk about timely advice, as my sentence is of a similar duration and I have to be court ordered on call child caregiver whenever Disney daddy works. I’m not kidding here.

    I’m also harassed about things despite using OFW. I have complained to the lawyer and gotten crickets for a response. Yes, the one I pay for my legal issues. I build boundaries and watch him smash them. It is a life sentence. I’m sorry I wish I could give you a hug and helpful advice.

  • I also don’t ask for any favors. I stick to the parenting plan. If I need help then I hire help. The only time I deviate from the plan is when it’s an overnight issue bc we have first right of refusal for overnights. If your schedules constantly change then maybe a nanny would be helpful. I don’t see a need to text every day and I have an infant. My ex would LOVE it if we were friends that could text about our kid, send photos and updates etc because then it helps his image and his story of what happened. In a perfect world I’d like that too but I have to maintain distance so I don’t get sucked into the mind games. We will never be friends. Research parallel parenting too.

  • When it is her week with the boys, then she has a ring tone (just in case there is a car wreck, or someone falls down a well) but it is VERY soft. Or obnoxious (whip cracking? baby crying?) enough to keep you from replying straightaway. When it is YOUR week with the boys, she is on “silent”.

    Maybe Tracy or Mr. CL can be made into a special $0.99 – $4.99 ring tone saying, “Trust that they suck!”?

    Betty sounds like a dream. Or Jerome. Whomever will keep the freak at bay. You need a bouncer for your life. You can’t handle every little thing that comes up!

    • Can we do a fun Friday where we all suggest ring tones related to the situation that brings us together?
      Trust that they suck!
      Is this acceptable to you?
      Etc.
      Name your favorite!

    • I use womanizer to describe him on my contacts, and Brittany Spears song “womanizer”. Fits that cheating fuckwit exactly, as he IS a womanizer. One time I had to screen shot him back because he denied recalling a text convo and he lost his shit when he saw his name was listed as womanizer!! THAT was great!!!

    • I actually have this on Patreon. One for “he sucks” and one for “she sucks”. Downloadable if you support the blog. 🙂

      And everyone who does support — thank you. I don’t say it enough. THANK YOU.

      • I am a Patreon patron, but I am also a luddite who hasn’t the faintest notion how to download a ringtone, so I had forgotten about that perk!

        Remember folks – it works on troublesome co-workers as well as Fuckwits.

  • Yep. My ex wouldnt use Family Wizard either. It was just so horrible. But it gets better the older they get. Take the advice here. Hire someone to take those messages from your ex and filter them to you. Or perhaps a family member like a sister could do it for you? You could use a Google phone number and tell her you change your number. That way whenever that phone line alerts you know it’s her and you can decide not to check it . You could give your kids cell phone so that they can call you when they are with mom or if there is an emergency. At least you will have a sense if there is anything legitimate going on . Do some fun stuff in ur free time. Heck I’d go out with you if you were close to me! (((Hugs)))))

  • Start saving for a car for your oldest. There also comes a time when kids are old enough to be home alone for a few hours. Teach them to be independent. I’m 5 years in to shared custody with 2 to go. My youngest just became mobile and it’s a game changer. Teaching kids to take care of themselves may take some pressure off you. The first few years I hired a high school kid to pick my kids up and get them to after school activities etc. Worth every penny.

    • Great advice! You may need to do a lot of schedule coordination now, but by the time your first child is 13-14, they can manage a lot of the scheduling adjustments (as long as they communicate with you!), and at 16, when the oldest begins to drive, you’ll be off the hook entirely (for better or worse). So, you may be on parole, but not quite for the sentence you are imagining.

  • Average Joe, Family wizard, Family wizard, Family wizard. If she objects you file and ask the judge. Your kids are not babies and even with your schedule there is no need. This is her way to control you and keep tabs on you. You are not going to be able to move forward. No potential partner is going to want an ex around every day all day. She is manipulating you and you need to put a stop to it. CL is right. There is no us. Get going to today and get this family wizard set up and to her.

  • (music by Jim Croce, lyrics by Average Joe)

    Operator, well could you help me screen this call?
    See, I’m trying to no-contact, and I’m exhausted
    She’s fucking with my head, with the texting that I dread
    Time to let her know that she’s getting frosted

    Isn’t that the way they say it goes? Well, let’s forget all that
    And tell her from now on she talks to Betty
    So I can breathe and begin to forget and to show
    I ain’t no Average Joe, I’ve learned to do self-care
    I only wish that Betty could be everywhere
    So that I could be free, but that’s not reality

  • This is Chump lady, a blog for Chump’s who have been cheated on.

    Your comment doesn’t belong here, find somewhere else.

  • I certainly don’t endorse this. You are kidding???? How does this help a chump? They go to jail. Children lose their parent or parents if this actually happens! WTF are you thinking!

  • My exhusband and I didn’t have children, so my heart goes out to those that have children and still have to coparent with their ex-cheaters. If you’re communicating everyday about schedules, it sounds more like she’s still getting her cake. She really needs to learn to live life without relying on you.

    I’m in favor of the assistant more so than the scheduling software. I’d just hate to have to manage the software (personal preference). Also, I’d definitely change her name in your phone (and picture). You could pick literally anything: Miserable Person, Witch, Loser, etc.

    Once you take back control and set boundaries, you’d be amazed at how free you feel.

  • I have a super detailed parenting plan that I researched and wrote just to avoid the daily discussions. My ex and his lawyer acted like it was the craziest, my unnecc thing ever. My daughters therapist thought it was consistent great…seeing how I documented my sources and relied heavily upon “building a parenting plan the works” zemmelman.
    So many people told me things would calm down and I knew they wouldnt….and I was right. The parenting plan and OFW are the only reason I am sane.
    OP, it sounds like you and ex are financially capable of having paid care when you cant provide care during your timeshare. And that’s what should be happening. My ex has first right of refusal if I will be absent for 48 hours of more. Otherwise, I stick the the schedule EXACTLY and get a family member or babysitter to cover.
    This whole “fluid” situation is BS and addressable, but that would give her less leverage and ability to interfere with your life……which is exactly what she wants and what she is getting.

    • I’m soon going to be going back to mediation or court to set up a parenting plan for my one year old. I have one in my place for my older son but I’d love to know the best things you included in yours that have helped if you don’t mind sharing.

  • Comments like this concern me. Murder is never okay to endorse. Also, not all law enforcement workers are evil. Please don’t solve hate with more hate, it’s not the answer.

  • His name in my phone is BIFF.

    It stands for Brief Informative Friendly Firm.

    It is a visual reminder how to talk to him every time my phone rings.

    Handily, it also refers to Biff Tannen, from Back to the Future, who is smarter than the X/AH but just as mean-streaked. Another good reminder.

    The picture for him on my phone is a picture of him drinking, lots of bottles of different varieties of poison, on the table in front of him, taken on a trip while he was claiming to be sober, to remind me DO NOT WRESTLE WITH THE 800 POUND GORILLA. Do not feed the the monsters!

    I don’t text. AT ALL. Only email, sometimes phone calls. I do not say ANYTHING to him unless it is absolutely essential. NOT. ONE. WORD. The topics I will utter words about, sparingly, are CHILD MONEY DIVORCE BUSINESS. Otherwise, CRICKETS. Pretend your words are gold coins. I give him as few as possible.

    Texting can lead too easily to saying too much and getting uncivilized.

    Also, depending on the issue, I can CC the therapists involved.

    Here’s Anne Katherine’s newest book on TECH BOUNDARIES, also very helpful. She is my favorite expert on the subject of boundaries.

    Boundaries in an Overconnected World: Setting Limits to Preserve Your Focus, Privacy, Relationships, and Sanity https://www.amazon.com/dp/1608681904/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_i_W07ZEbV7BMFDW

    • PLUS, wait 24 hours whenever you can before responding, IF you respond.

      I also do not talk to him outside of business hours
      (9-5) unless of course it was an emergency situation. Discussing anything emotionally charged or talking with a person who is an emotional trigger after hours is A BAD IDEA.
      If you’ve ever watched Cops all the incidents are after the sun goes down and everyone’s in their leisure wear….

      • Wait overnight before responding. Always. Half the time when I look at my response the next day, I realize that I don’t really need to answer, and I just delete it. Since XW is incapable of de-escalating, my not answering is the only thing keeping our post-divorce relationship from spiraling even further downward.

  • It gets easier.

    And the little victories like learning/using new parenting tools help build confidence. I have some strict boundaries; “email only unless emergency” for example. And after a while, as the pain and anger settle down, it just begins to feel like normal life. Not always, but more and more.

    I focus on the time I have the kids (they are older) and miss them when they are with their mother. But my parenting skills having gotten better ten-fold and the relationship Im building with them is all mine (mistakes and all).

    Build some boundaries. Parallel parent. Move forward. It gets better.

  • Not funny Pita.
    Not clever either.
    How about you just go sit in the timeout chair and think about how this might make you feel if you had been threatened with violence by your spouse?
    You can get up when you can tell me three ways you could support chumps in their recovery.
    Toddle off now.

  • This is huge. I would get so worked up by my ex, it affected my second marriage 9 years later.
    He a personality disorder and was infuriating to deal with.
    I remember our first year after breaking up he asked me to take the kids on his week so he could take someone out on Valentine’s Day!
    It’s not always that simple I know. He would leave our young children with people he just met and I would’ve preferred that he asked me as their mother to help out. It’s challenging on many levels when you have the best interest of your children at heart and don’t want to pass off your parenting responsibilities on other parents.
    I hated people thinking we were friends. He insisted on sitting next to me at soccer games, school events etc. In addition he often insisted in talking on the phone rather than texting or emailing.
    He also insisted on coming into the house to pick up and drop off the kids rather than waiting outside the front door.
    He would not except my boundaries and it’s not like you want to start fighting in front of your children when you are separated.
    In retrospect, I should have kept looking until I found a good therapist. I worked with one who wasn’t very helpful -I should have tried again. These situations need ongoing support.
    If I had known about scheduling software, that would’ve saved a lot of grief.
    If you absolutely must communicate via technology I suggest picking one time every week etc via email so that you don’t have to see texts all the time , and you let each other know when
    the check in time is.
    Communicating with an ex who caused you grief is so incredibly unhealthy and keeps you stuck. I’ve realized now after years that sometimes even though there could be losses around things when we don’t communicate for practical purposes, sometimes it’s just not worth it.
    I never was comfortable with completely abdicating my responsibilities on my off weeks because at the end of the day they were my children. It’s tough and can be a slippery slope. I agree with Clady, if you can ideally your off weeks are your off weeks and you’re no longer a team player because she broke the team .
    Keep working on getting her out of your system so that when someone great comes along you are MEH about the ex.
    It helped me to think about how it can always be worse. No father in their life would have been worse even though he was incredibly difficult to deal with. There will be an end to all of this as the kids get older. My eldest is off to med school now.

    • They can “insist.”

      We don’t have to give in.

      It’s not a boundary if it goes away because a f*ckwit doesn’t “accept” it.

      This is one of the lessons of Gavin De Becker’s “The Gift of Fear,” in which he points out that when a predator/abuser rings the phone 75 time, if you pick up (that is, give in) on ring #76, you’ve just taught the abuser how many rings it takes for you to cave. Definitely read that book if you are dealing with someone who “insists.”

      No, of course, is a complete sentence.

      • Gavin de Becker “protecting the gift” expands on the gift of fear. It’s geared towards women and children and protecting the gift of intuition.

        It’s an eye opener.

  • Hey Average Joe!

    You’ve had some good advice so far. Let me emphasize some of it again because it’s worth repeating for new Chumps.

    First, I totally get that law enforcement professionals can have their schedules blow up on very short notice. And physicians can also find that their schedules are terrible, though the degree tends to depend significantly upon their area of specialization. I can absolutely see that either of you can find yourselves unable to make pick-up or drop-off or be called away.

    Second, it’s natural to want to reach out to the X because the X is also your children’s parent. However, you really need to stop this.

    Third, the parenting plan is your friend. It defines the boundaries of your interactions with your former spouse. Use it! This means that if she texts you that she can’t pick the boys up because she’s been called into surgery and can you two work a switch–well, the answer is no. You can’t. If you want to take the children on your off week, sure, but never, ever trade. Trading creates hell with everyone’s schedule and that is not good for the kids. Kids need a regular schedule.

    Plus, you have zero way to know if the reason your X wants you to take the kids is due to work. She may be using that time to sneak out with her current squeeze. You can’t trust her to tell you the truth as to why she wants you to be flexible with the children.

    Insist on scheduling software or Betty, your new virtual assistant. Don’t accept texts. If she texts you, then respond either through the scheduling software or through Betty. The point is that all this communication becomes documented. You need to record the times she can’t take the kids in order to track her time with them. If she is less than 50%, then that can affect child support. Initially she will fight you on this, but if you have a calendar with your weeks, her weeks, and all the kids’ medical appointments and sports practices and music lessons–well, everyone will know what’s expected. If your parenting plan allows it, check to see if there is some kind of babysitting in the area for professionals. You’re not the only other person who has to deal with this, even in the middle of a global pandemic.If you have a relative who could watch the kids, that would work, too.

    The point is that you don’t budge on your side from the plan unless there is a true emergency. You can take the kids on her time if and only if you want, but otherwise letting her know that she’s responsible for dealing with those children during her time. She will squawk. Remember you do not need to respond, nor should you return texts. Responses are by email (or parenting software) only. Eventually she will catch on that she’s no longer holding up her end of the agreement and that this could have a financial impact.

    Best of luck!

    • Once this email and parenting app/scheduling site is establish. block her on your email. Then you don’t have to worry about returning texts from her. Get all her communication into the Cheater Comms Corral.

  • I hope you are able to try scheduling software, but I am also sympathetic if your EX makes it impossible to use. Mine did. I could use it all I wanted, but I couldn’t control my EX’s behavior. The trick is that if you are willing to set a schedule and abide by it without adjustments, you can probably get court support for your EX to do the same. But if you want flexibility, you’ll probably have to put up with your EX getting more freedom to manipulate things than is preferable.

    The fact is, it sounds like you two are still pretty intertwined because you are dependent on each other to pick up the slack over scheduling irregularities. Until your kids are old enough to be alone some of the time or until you hire someone to pick up the kids and watch them during your “regular” times while you unexpectedly work, you have to communicate.

    You may find it is worth the expense to get some help with the kids and maintain a more regular schedule–for your own sanity. (Be prepared for your EX to criticize you for getting any help you need and maybe even trying to claim more custody.)

  • I changed my ex’s text and phone custom ring tone to a duck quacking from the custom tone I had been using because I found that every time I heard that, I would start to panic/get anxious (it still catches me off guard if I hear it on someone else’s phone). That really helped to break the cycle of my reactions because I would just laugh when I heard the duck. If he starts sending a bunch of texts in a row (and my kiddo isn’t with him), I’ll mute him for a few minutes so that I don’t hear anything.

    I agree, realizing that you don’t have to answer every text right away is a life-changer.

    Also, I hate to tell you all this, but in my experience, at least, I still have to deal with my ex regarding our daughter who is in college, so 18 isn’t exactly the magic number. I’m hoping that once she graduates, it will really drop off because he won’t have his share of her tuition to not pay on time or somehow pay the wrong amount.

  • I see what you’re trying to say and *think* you’re trying to let some anger out that we’d all agree needs to be released. but its not appropriate here.

  • Average. Joe.

    10 years. Seems a lot now but on a timeline of say 2,020 years it’s a millisecond.

    Imagine if you’d invested 4 decades.

    You can afford the software Bro.
    There’s 3 actions you can choose.

    Do it
    Delegate it
    Dump it (dismissal)

    It’s All you now Sheriff

  • Pita,
    The name fits, troll. (Pain In The Ass). Go away now, you are not wanted nor respected at all.

  • I use Appclose to communicate child issues with the ex. My ex seems the opposite of yours and never really communicates anything. In the beginning he was angry about some divorce issues and would send me harassing texts. I asked a few times to stop texting me except for emergencies, but he kept on texting saying “I know you said only emergencies, but…” I finally blocked him because like others, I would get anxiety seeing a text from him pop up. That solved that problem. Using the app, I also turned off the banner notifications on my phone. I check the app maybe once a day, maybe once every other and if I am triggered by anything he sends, I wait at least 12 hours before responding…often this sets him off more. “The rules” are that I am to respond immediately and he can take a several days or more or never. Those double standards suck and I have been learning to not respond immediately ever. Boundaries matter.

    For scheduling, I use a google calendar. He never schedules anything. It’s only me using it. Over time, I’ve put less and less info on it as I am not his personal assistant. The info I do put on there is to dot my i’s and cross my t’s.

    When I do have to send him a message, I keep it as formal as possible. All messages begin with “Hello X,” never hi, never nicknames. All messages end with “Thank you, CC” never thanks or any other informal sign off. Since I started doing that, it helps keep me in a good frame of when messaging and give him less to get angry about. But it doesn’t always solve that issue as any random topic at any time could set him off. Example: I recently sent him a message informing him of our daughter’s 5th grade music choice (they HAVE to pick one of 4 options). It turned into him accusing our daughter of plotting to quit piano, wasting her 4 years of piano to take percussion (which btw piano is required to take), calling her a quitter at things she isn’t good at and saying he wants to force her to take piano until she is 18. Sigh. Responses like that remind me why we are divorced.

    Also, since I have started the formal messages, he occasionally tries to copy the format. I say tries because he never gets it all the way. It’s amusing at least.

    If you can’t outsource your scheduling as CL recommended, I would recommend a once a month scheduling if both your schedules allows. Also, as others have said, try to never deviate from the custody schedule. In my experience, asking for favors has aways bit me in the a**. I never ask any more and I never give them. These are not normal people we are dealing with. We can’t treat them as if they are.

    • I also try to be polite in email (always address my XW by name, and sign my name at the end). XW doesn’t, of course – just sends a one-line demand. This annoyed me for a while, until I realized that whenever I get a polite email from her (full sentences, salutation, punctuation, etc.) it always means she is cc’ing someone else (a teacher, lawyer, or her AP). So in the end it’s actually pretty useful, because I can always tell when she is sending me a communication that is destined for public view and I know to be on the lookout for a trap.

      • Brilliant!
        In my case, when ex is trying to be polite, it’s usually because he wants something or is hiding something.

      • Thank you! This strategy will help. I get a minor panic attack every time I see a message from FW pop up. There are still riots/violence/protestors here in Mpls, so I want to check the message, but I know I need to wait for my own sanity.

  • I found it too hard to communicate in person with ex the moment we separated. Slowly started things up but I always made sure I text/email because that way there’s a record (he was insanely good at gaslighting so it helped with standing firm when he backtracked). The texting stopped helping because he would text me constantly over the same stuff. I had told him that I prefer emails for communication and texting is for emergencies but he obviously didn’t pay attention to that. For example, I put child in nursery and and several times a week he would message me saying he looks sad at nursery (from nursery photos). I knew he isn’t sad because he’s with me the rest of the time, always a happy child, and I always asked the nursery teachers if he’s sad, but my ex would keep asking me to ask the admin folks if he’s happy despite my assurances. Then he would text/call my mom and dad to ask if my child is ok though I had told him to contact me directly since the child is in my care. Finally the accusations started about how I am depriving child of a father, categorically untrue because I lived where I live after verbal agreement from ex. At this point I blocked texting and switched entirely to email. Working well so far!!

  • Thank you CL and CN for your most helpful responses! I like the virtual assistant idea! You all are correct, I need to build a higher wall to protect my psychological self and enforce a strict boundary. I also believe I’ve significantly let my guard down during this pandemic. There have been times where I’ve felt some comaraderie with ex, which has been a costly mistake. Reading these comments having given me the resolve to regroup. Thanks for helping me and encouraging me to stop the insanity!

    • I’d bet you weren’t talking that much about your kids while you were married. Think on that long and hard. Even children with chronic medical problems do not require that much talk between parents on a daily basis.

      This is nothing more than you failing to assert clear boundaries and a narc ex doing what narcs do – usurping your life and demanding attention.

      You can put a stop to that any time you want to. Not saying it will be easy and do be prepared for a huge tantrum and escalation. Look at a narc like at a two year old – they’ll scream and scream louder and thrown themselves on the floor and roll around but if you stick to and enforce the rules, they’ll quit and comply in the end. You just have to ride out their fit and persevere with calm and patience, but without wavering on enforcing rules. With adult narcs, she’ll simply redirect her psycho onto another target once she knows you will not be it for her anymore.

      So no, it’s not a 10 year prison sentence. You can bring this down to size and make it easy on yourself in the long run. Distance and hard, unwavering boundaries that you never ever step away from will do the trick.

    • It can be very difficult to maintain a strong boundary with someone who you once trusted and loved, and with whom you have children. I totally get it and struggle with that too. But make that a personal struggle that you endure behind closed doors. Meanwhile, no contact. You do your custody time, and she does hers. You confer on only the most essential of things. You get those extra pairs of shoes and supplies for your house so there’s no back-and-forth when something is “forgotten.” You hire help and revise your schedule as needed and insist that she do the same. You keep your side of the street clean and do all of this without trash talking your ex or disparaging her in front pf the kids. End of story.

      It is Very Tough Work…so you have to be tougher. You can do it.

    • “Camaraderie”? That’s a true slippery slope toward “she’s involved with someone else and keeping me on the string for her amusement.”

      This is why you never, ever text. What you have with this woman now is business. Treat it that way.

  • From the Nutbag playbook…. Flip it. Flip the mind movie channel. I used to have my (female sexy voiced ) office mate call for me once in a while…scripted of course..” Hi this is Donna Nutbag asked me to call you to say xyz and although I haven’t met your kids yet they sound like we’d get along famously” oh my God you’d think the gates of hell opened up…to wit it say ?” Doesn’t she sound nice?!” Then the baseless threats and yada yada came just it time for my dramatic hang up!

  • One of the challenges I find with using the parenting application with my XW is that she just fails to use it. She inputs things at the last minute and doesn’t read what I put into the schedule. If you’re lucky enough to have an EX who can manage small details then consider yourself lucky.

    • And the answer to those snarky comments (which are a bid for your attention) is…….[crickets].

  • Is it immature that i refuse to meet my cheating ex to pick up pur child? I always have a family member meet her and she has recently started throwing remarks at me thru appclose (great parenting app) about how i don’t prioritize our child. We have been seperated for almost 2 yrs and Divorced since Jan. I know i shouldn’t still be bothered by her presence but I’m not there yet. It either puts me into a seething hatred fueled rage, tailspins of anxiety and depression, or a blissfully spackled drunken stupor.

    • No, not immature at all. You owe it to yourself to have peace and if that means a family member doing the pick up/drop off, so be it. This is really more common than you think and quite common for courts to actually order this done through intermediaries during divorce/custody hearings.

      If your ex is making these comments, they are simply trying to get under your skin. You know the game – do not react, do not respond, do not get goaded into a reaction, grey rock it. If you must say anything, say “sorry you feel that way.” Turn it back on them and say absolutely nothing else. Remember that when narcs are trying to goad you, they are doing a lot of projecting of their own feelings. When you respond with “sorry YOU feel that way” you are defanging them and making them look at their feelings….they’ll run away screaming from that and leave you alone.

      • I always forget that I’m dealing with a narc. It is very difficult to try and frame my mind around that and she fooled me all the way up to finding some guy getting dressed in the bedroom. I love what you said though. I’m sorry that YOU feel that way 🤷‍♂️
        CN is great.

    • It is not immature to send someone else. This is about self-preservation and emotional safety.
      Let’s say your ex is the emotional equivalent of the coronavirus. You send your family member because they have a full hazmat suit, top of the line respirator and an airlock.
      You, on the other hand, are very vulnerable to respiratory viruses. You are still recovering from a serious years long asthma attack resulting from ex hoarding cats and smoking six packs a day and intentionally pumping your house full of pollen, dust mites and whatever else you are allergic to.
      My metaphor is running away with me here, but you get the picture.
      Sending someone else is the responsible way to handle this.

    • Nope, this is perfectly acceptable. You created a reasonable boundary and are exercising it. Don’t let your ex’s narc fits dissuade you. In fact, save them in case you need evidence in the future of your ex’s lack of reasonability.

    • I refuse to have custody exchanges at my house or his. They are at a nearby gas station. Recently ex moved just down the street from me (ugh) and then wanted to change the exchange location. NOPE. Sometimes I think it would be easier to have her drop her off here, but I get anxiety when he is near my home. He belittles me for not allowing him to drop off here, but IDGAF. It’s MY boundary and it’s for a reason.

      • My ex has been known to just show up at my house because she was “running early” or some stupid shit. I can’t wait to move and make sure she never knows where the hell my residency is again. I feel so much more peace and further away from pain and disappointment when i go weeks or months without seeing her or minimal interactions.

        • You can teach her a lesson or two if you refuse to come to the door until the time for exchange comes. She can stand out on the porch or wait in the car.

    • I am 3 years out. I don’t feel safe around my ex alone. I got the pickup spot ordered as a police station. My dad offered to drop off and pickup- so he does this. If your family does this you are lucky! Don’t care what your Ex says-it’s a control tactic.

  • This is one of the most difficult things to do: co-parenting with a fuck-wit. I have found myself really struggling particularly during COVID. I have to turn over my young children over to the fuck-wit and his ho-worker where they get to play happy family whilst I am left self-isolating. Alone.
    Here’s a great example. He sends me a video they all made which they want to submit to the school talent show. Sure I was tempted to ignore, but I took this opportunity to be a learning moment (albeit for someone who never learns) and wrote this:
    “Do not send me ANYTHING that even remotely involves that person. That includes videos of our children such as this one.
    You demonstrate you absolutely have no common sense or sensitivity to why I may find that triggering to watch.
    This demonstrates you continue to have no empathy, and that you lack self-actualization and awareness of the acute and long-lasting harm you have both done with your actions despite the fact I vocalize this often.
    I am convinced you do this on purpose to distress me. No one in their right mind would do this unless they were intentionally trying to harm someone for their own amusement. As you both have a track record of having a good laugh at my expense, I should not be surprised at your behaviour. But I am stating this now: STOP.”

    • Of course they are doing this on purpose. And you played into their hands exactly the way they wanted. You got triggered, and you responded to them. You CANNOT control their actions, you can only control your response. And that response should be silence. Utter silence. Empty air. A chorus of crickets.

      In the rare case where they are just clueless idiots who cannot comprehend and remember requests this advice is also applicable.

      Scream into your pillow, write out the rage in a journal, kick box the laundry bag….but DO NOT respond to them, and if you have to respond due to some information that relates directly to the kids, do not respond emotionally in any way. THAT will drive them nuts and they will eventually stop doing it because they won’t be getting the kibbles that they want from you.

      • Yea, don’t respond. That response was a bucket of kibble. Just file into some email folder in case you need all these emails one day as some sort of legal evidence, and move on.

    • [crickets] is the right response (meaning, you can hear the crickets chirping because you, dear Iris, are silent.

      Remember also that both of these jackasses love a triangle. And if their hypotenuse is deeply wounded and bleeding on the ground, so much the better. If the video came through text, time to block him and use some other messaging app, which you can ignore other than essential communication. If it came through dedicated email or a dedicated app, and you see it’s a video, delete delete delate.

  • Does “virtual assistant” mean literally virtual like Siri or Alexa? Or do you mean another person?
    If it’s a person, how do you go about finding them?

  • I always forget that I’m dealing with a narc. It is very difficult to try and frame my mind around that and she fooled me all the way up to finding some guy getting dressed in the bedroom. I love what you said though. I’m sorry that YOU feel that way 🤷‍♂️
    CN is great.

  • I concur with many comments above that you need a consistent parenting/custody plan that assigns time, then stick to it. If you need help during your time, hire it or find it. Vice versa for her. Stop pretending like “you’re in it together.”

    This can be done without animosity, nastiness, or any major impacts to your children. Ask me how I know. Will you be exhausted? Yes. Will it suck sometimes? Absolutely. But it’s totally doable. And, IMO, worth it to avoid regular contact with your ex.

    Also consider that your personal and professional schedule may need to be revised, at least for the time being, to better accommodate your custody time. It’s part of the shit sandwich of this whole gig. Life will change. Eventually though, once everyone adjusts and kids get older, hopefully you can shift back.

    On average, I text with my ex about our kid like once every two to three weeks. Mostly I just email updates on pertinent parenting info that he might not be privy to without my telling him. It’s not a perfect “no contact” situation, but I can’t imagine daily interactions. That would be horrible.

  • This isn’t rocket science.

    1. You have 50/50. Presumably you made a schedule when you got to the 50/50. Stick to the schedule. If you have the kids Sun-Wed afternoon and she has the kids Wed afternon-Saturday, you don’t switch custody days, ever. If she wants a switch and you can watch the kids, you take them. On your time, you don’t switch out.

    Even there is shift work involved, you should have a clearly defined calendar for every month. And then all you need is to live by the custody order yourself. You don’t ever change dates unless it’s something like a funeral. If she wants you to cover, you take the kids if you can. If you can’t—you email or message through the parenting software “That won’t work for me.” That’s it. You know how to live by a schedule. You do it all the time on the job. The point of not changing your times is that YOU aren’t in negotiations with her. If you need to go to an evening work activity, you get you mother if she’s around or have a regular sitter, as any parent would. Many people here are fine with the X dumping the kids; it’s like getting more custody time,

    If her job interferes with her parenting time, it’s not up to you to trash the court order to accommodate her. If things have changed with her job or yours and the order needs to be adjusted, regularize it so the court order reflects the new reality (You’re a lawyer; I shouldn’t have to tell you this. But if you don’t follow the courtt order, you are putting yourself into a situation that is essentially chaos.)

    There is ZERO need to text with your X. That’s like a sewer pipe running into your brain. That gives her way too much immediate access. Use email only for kids’ business. Don’t answer random messages or fishing expeditions. You answer about custody, about finances per the court order, or about kids’ health. Occasionally you may want to discuss the unforeseen (kid wants to play football, etc.). But email makes an easy record .

    You need an email dedicated only to your X (even if you use an assistant). If you want an emergency contact # for when the kids are with her, get a second line on your phone, with its own ring tone. NEVER PICK UP. If it’s an emergency, she will leave a message, right? Decide on a messaging app to only be used if a pick up or drop off will be late. FB Messenger works. There are lots of others out there.

    But keep your regular phone #, your regular text messaging, and your regular emails Cheater-free. My guess? The contact is a habit and you’re having trouble giving it up. You’re a smart guy. Stick to the custody schedule, modify it if necessary but then…you’re done. You live by it. You benefit if she can’t. And you take the big step of severing your everyday life from hers.

    • Oh, and once you have a dedicated phone, email and message app set up, you block her in your real life.

  • Dear Average Joe,

    It’s time for you to set impenetrable boundaries and practice excellent self-care; you need some victories right about now.

    I couldn’t agree more with CL; if you want to maintain your sanity, stop the constant triggering, and really start to heal, you must offload all communication with your ex to an objective third-party. Not a friend. Not a relative. No one who either of you knows. Someone impartial who won’t be triggered, biased, or vulnerable to being pressured.

    If CL’s suggestion about using “Betty, The Virtual Assistant” doesn’t appeal to you, then please transition over to an arms’ length communication app like those listed on the website CL included (https://www.parents.com/parenting/best-co-parenting-apps/).

    I hope you find some peace very soon.

  • How sad that my kids will have to grow up suffering the consequences of their pathological narcissistic dad….and how did I get here? How did we go from a perfect family to this mess? And how can’t he see that I will never understand. It’s like he is truly possessed by the devil. Yesterday he took 45 minutes to go down with my kids leaving me waiting, and all the energy that it takes from me to not reacting is draining me. I do not look forward to the future and who can blame me? The daily emails of motions, petitions and lawyer fees are not helping either…this is no way to live. I cannot imagine growing up with my parents hating each other and behaving like enemies.

    • It will get better. Find a therapist who understands narcissistic abuse. Be the sane parent. I had a lot of bites of the shit sandwich, but the divorce is final and the kids are with me for 86% of the year. The rugs gets pulled out from under you, but leaving a cheater and gaining a life doesn’t happen overnight.

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