One of the most frustrating challenges when it comes to co-parenting is trying to get along with the other parent when they don’t really want to get along. You want to do what is best for your children and keep things as positive and cooperative as possible; but that isn’t always what the other parent wants to do. Many people struggle with maintaining a reasonably positive relationship with a co-parent who employs the tactic of passive aggressiveness to create conflict. This leads to negative emotions associated with the simplest of tasks, and a sense of being unable to ensure the psychological wellbeing of your children. In many cases, parents end up in court over such negative interactions, though this isn’t always the best course of action. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to regain control of your situation.
Why Going to Family Court is Not Always the Right Answer
Unfortunately, you cannot solve all problems with a co-parent by taking them to family court. When it comes to passive aggressive behaviors, the courts frequently view this as a simple matter of not getting along with each other, and they are not likely to make any changes in custody or visitation because of this. Rather, going to court could make the situation worse without creating any solutions. The passive aggressive parent might simply see further opportunity for conflict and even justification for their behavior. Naturally, when your children’s best interests are your main goal, this could be counterproductive.
Understanding and Recognizing Passive Aggressive Behaviors
Passive aggressive behavior involves a generally negative attitude, indirect hostility, and passive resistance to the expectations and needs of others. Many don’t know that when this type of behavior impacts all areas of a person’s life and personality, it can actually be diagnosed as passive aggressive personality disorder. Having said that, the presence of such behavior in a co-parent does not necessarily indicate that this disorder is a factor. Anyone can behave passive aggressively in a given situation without meeting the diagnostic criteria. However, the behaviors associated with that diagnosis can certainly help you to identify passive aggressiveness and respond appropriately, rather than feeding into it or making it worse.
The most common forms of passive aggressive behavior in co-parenting situations include intentional procrastination of expected behaviors, pervasive sarcasm, and stubbornness when it comes to getting their own way or refusing to meet the expectations of others. It can also include criticizing the other parent, ignoring the other parent, intentionally being late for appointments to inconvenience the other parent, and sulking when unhappy about something or for no other reason than to upset the other parent.
A parent may behave this way to create conflict indirectly. In other words, they may engage in such behaviors in order to cause you to start an outright conflict while pretending to be innocent of any wrongdoing themselves. You may get upset by their passive aggressiveness and start an argument, but might be unable to prove that the other parent actually engaged in such behaviors intentionally. The other parent can then act as if you are the unreasonable one and he or she is the victim. This is why it is often best to ignore these behaviors and communicate with the other parent as though they aren’t being difficult at all.
Responding to Passive Aggressive Behaviors in Co-Parenting Situations
When you know that someone is intentionally trying to start conflict without actually being the one to ‘officially’ start it, then you need to be aware of those intentions. Understanding that the other parent is being hostile, even in a passive way, can help you to deal with it. It is common for people who are facing passive aggressive behavior in others to feel like they are going crazy or like the other parent is trying to make them look crazy. Don’t take the bait. You do not have to respond to the behavior the way that the other parent is hoping you will.
In such situations, it is essential to avoid rising to the occasion with contentious behaviors or words. You don’t want to engage in a struggle for power or control with the other parent, especially because this is exactly what passive aggressive behavior is trying to accomplish. At the same time, you don’t want to let the other parent walk all over you because you’re doing everything you can to avoid conflict. For this reason, you have to learn to assert yourself without hostility or disrespect. Don’t respond by engaging in the conflict. Rather, ignore the behavior to the best of your ability and reassert your point as needed.
For example, if the other parent is not showing up when he or she should, you can reassert that the parent needs to do so, without accusing them of anything for not doing so. Always avoid engaging in arguments or responding with passive aggressive behavior of your own. When you respond the way that the passive aggressive parent wants you to, with anger and frustration, then this plays right into their plans of making you look like the bad guy and making themselves look like the victim. They want you to get angry and respond in kind.
It can be very tempting to respond in argument with things like false accusations, but you have to remember that the other parent already knows that their accusation is false. For instance, if the other parent says that they knew you’d behave a certain way, and that this is why they behaved the way that they did, you don’t have to argue that what they are saying is untrue or even ridiculous. They already know that, and they’re just trying to upset you to get you to argue to defend yourself, so they can further accuse you of being argumentative.
When to Talk to a South Carolina Family Law Attorney
It is very difficult to win with a passive aggressive co-parent. This is why it’s always better to avoid playing their games, altogether. Ignoring the behavior and working around it is usually the best option to keep the peace in your own life. However, there are some times when you need to contact a determined South Carolina family law attorney and try to address the situation from a legal standpoint. It may be necessary to change how you are required to communicate, or how you co-parent and share custody. Contact the Elliot Frazier Law Firm for more advice.
Angela Elliot Frazier is a Family Law Attorney who practices in Greenville, SC. She graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and has been practicing law for 14 years now. Angela Frazier believes in helping you through one of the most stressful times of your life. Learn more about her experience by clicking here.