The first thing to remember is: you divorced them for a reason. They are not healthy for you and/or they need help.
The second thing to remember: you’re not the right person to help them. In fact, you’re the one who needs help right now. Your responsibility is to yourself and your own well-being.
Your first step is connect with emotional support. It’s particularly important to find someone who understands what it’s like to have lived with and to be separating from someone whose behavior is toxic. Friends or family who’ve been through it and are now doing well, peer support groups or a counselor are all good options.
If you have kids
Never, ever speak ill of the other parent in front of the kids. It’s harmful to their mental health, because a child’s brain just can’t handle complex emotional dilemmas like the divided loyalties that arise when they have feuding parents and they think they have to pick sides.
Validate their feelings
If the other parent has done something hurtful to the child—for example, not showing up for an important occasion—it’s important to validate the child’s feelings. Affirm the facts, and validate the child’s emotions.
For example, “Yes, that’s right. Mama/Daddy didn’t come today when they promised they would. Yes, I know you feel sad. It’s disappointing when they don’t do what they say they are going to. Of course you would feel sad about that.” And offer a hug while they have a cry.
Validation is essential to a child’s mental health. Parents define reality for their kids. Kids trust their parents and are dependent on them. It’s a betrayal of that trust to try to get them to go against what they know in their gut.
Denying their emotions and experience makes them distrust themselves and confuses them, leading to stress and anxious feelings. It also impairs their ability to discern for themselves what’s really going on in a situation and make good decisions based on accurate information.
Take the high road
When you take the high road by setting good boundaries, staying calm and responding rather than reacting, with time it will become clear to all the people around you, your children included, exactly what is going on.
You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Stay calm—walk away if you have to, and come back to the issue or situation later—and that will allow the space for your ex to reveal themselves for who they truly are.
It will take everything you’ve got not to rise to the bait. Your ex will push all your buttons and then some. Staying calm in this kind of situation calls for extreme measures.
Even if you’re not the kind of person to reach out, when dealing with a toxic ex, support is essential. You will need a place to rant because, quite naturally, you’ll get mad and frustrated. You’ll need to get unbiased feedback and make healthy plans for each step along the path of separation, divorce and possibly co-parenting with a toxic ex.