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3 Tips For Dealing With An Unreasonable Ex

What toddlers can teach you about managing this complicated relationship.
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Child with angry expression
Child with angry expression

When I think of the word unreasonable, two types of people come to mind: bitter ex spouses and toddlers. They both display similar characteristics and behaviors, including big tantrums, stubbornness, screaming for something very minor, yelling about anything and complete inability to reason.

If you have ever been in the presence of a toddler for long periods of time, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't experienced a toddler, but do have an unreasonable ex spouse, consider yourself prepared for parenthood.

Here are the top three ways to deal with an unreasonable ex:

1. Redirect: This is the classic go-to move for toddlers. You notice your kid lurching for the electric socket and you turn the kid right back around to some noisy, light up "learning" toy. It still won't give you total peace (you can't have peace with loud awful music and flashing lights) but it does distract little Einstein away from the electrical outlet.

The same theory works with the ex. The ex calls requesting that you pay for half of the summer camp fees. In order to redirect, you must quickly pop back with this: "Oh my gosh, I forgot to tell you -- we can switch weekends in March. Can you remind me again what weekend that was? Oh geez, I've got to go. Can you just text me those dates and I'll be happy to switch? Bye." Now the summer camp money is all forgotten and you've got good credit for switching weekends. Everyone's happy.

2. Time Out: When children become unruly or have tantrums, the new punishment of choice is the time out. For example, when Cindy throws a fit because she can't have any more candy, her parents put her in a time out for three minutes. She has to sit on a special stool and "think" about what it is she's done. We hope this will allow Cindy to make better choices in the future, but chances are good this three year old will be at it again next week.

Likewise with the ex. You've seen this behavior before and you know you are going to see it again, but it's unacceptable for you to tolerate it all the time. Here comes the time out: "Bill, I'm sorry, but I don't like the way you are speaking to me. I am going to hang up now and when you feel ready to speak in a productive manner, we can talk again." Then you hang up. Easy as pie. You were calm with your two sentences and in so many words, you gave your ex an indefinite time out.

3. Ignore: This is usually the last resort, but it is most effective on the stubborn ones. I have a feisty seven-year-old daughter. Her unspoken motto is, "it's my way or the highway." Being a responsible parent who doesn't want to raise one of those awful, entitled children, I can't let her have her way all the time. I've tried redirection, I've tried time outs. Those don't really work all that well on Ms. Feistykins. The only way to really make her understand that she cannot throw a fit every time she doesn't get her way is to ignore her. I calmly let her know that her behavior is unacceptable and I refuse to deal with her until she can be reasonable. So, I'm not saying no negotiation. I'm saying no negotiation until you can be reasonable.

This strategy also works on adults. Let's say your ex-wife refuses to even speak to you about your daughter's prom dress without yelling and screaming insults. You just have to ignore her. "Sorry crazy ex-wife, I can't talk to you until you stop being unreasonable (read: crazy)." Then you don't speak to her until she calls you without screaming your name. You can just remind her each time, "you know the rules." Pretty soon, she'll come around. Or she won't. You can't predict crazy.

Let me know if any of these work for you. If not, pass them along to the nearest parent of a toddler. Toddlers are easier to predict.

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