An issue that unfortunately comes up a lot in divorce is one spouse bad-mouthing the other one, often in front of or to the children.  This is so detrimental to the kids and to the relationships between all parties.  I can’t stress enough how damaging this is. 

I understand that there can be a lot of anger and hostility involved, but saying nasty things (true or untrue) about the other person will not help in any way.  Even if there is momentary satisfaction from hurting the other person, it will not last and it will only cause more problems in the end, particularly with the children.

If your ex partner is saying nasty things about you, what can you do about it?  You can’t make them stop, but you can control how you respond and how you model mature adult behavior to your children.  First, do NOT respond in kind.  No matter what they say, do not allow yourself to be dragged into an argument.  It’s perfectly okay to say “I will be happy to discuss this with you when you are ready to talk calmly and constructively”, and then excuse yourself from the situation.

If your child is present, definitely remove yourself and your child as quickly as possible, but do not say bad things to your child about what just happened.  Instead, explain that “daddy” or “mommy” is obviously upset and that sometimes when people are upset they say things that are mean or don’t make sense.  You can also let your child know that you know it’s hard for them to understand and you’re sorry that it makes them feel bad.

If your child voices to you that they don’t like hearing their other parent say bad things about you, you can let them know that it’s okay to voice their feelings to the other parent if they want to (if it’s safe).  They can tell the other parent that they love both of you and don’t like hearing either of you say mean things about the other.  Just be careful with this because you don’t want it to sound like the message is coming from you – it needs to come from your child if he/she is comfortable delivering it and wants to.

Contact your former spouse after an incident to let him/her know that you do not want your children exposed to your arguments or negative comments.  Don’t be pushy or confrontational because that will only egg them on.  Simply state that you are concerned about the effect it will have on your kids and that you’d like to keep them out of what is between the two of you.  Let him/her know that you’re willing to talk about whatever they want to discuss and you’d like to work together as much as possible since you’re going to have to interact for years to come.

Don’t contact your ex when you are upset.  Do something to calm down first so that you can be logical and reasonable.  Take deep breaths, exercise, go for a walk outside, listen to uplifting or calming music, do yoga – do whatever works for you.  Remind yourself why you’re choosing to be positive and cooperative.  If it helps, hold a photo of your child in front of you while you talk with your ex.  Whatever helps you stay focused and clear so that you can avoid getting defensive or aggressive is key.

I also suggest letting your ex know that you do not, and will not, say bad things about him/her to your children, regardless of what happens between you.  Don’t say it in a way that makes it sound like you’re better than them because that will likely piss them off or cause them to get defensive. 

Simply say something like this: “I really don’t want [children’s names] to feel caught in the middle between us and I think it’s important for them know we both love them.  Even though I’m not very happy with you right now, I know they love you and I don’t ever want to interfere with that.  So I just want you to know that I don’t say negative things about you to them, and I’m not going to, because I think it would make them feel bad.”  

Do you see how that takes the pressure off your ex and puts the emphasis on your kids, and wanting them to feel good?  It also reassures your former spouse that you aren’t bad-mouthing them when the kids are with you.  Often people just assume that the other parent is saying bad things about them, so they do it to in an attempt to “level the playing field”, not realizing the damage they’re doing to the children.  So by taking away that fear, you may also take away their need to talk badly about you.

I also encourage you to keep your negative comments about your ex to a minimum with your friends and family.  It’s okay to tell close friends or family members about what’s going on in your life, but think about whether you’re just bashing your ex because you’re angry, or whether you’re describing the events that have occurred because you need support and/or a shoulder to lean on. 

Venting can be helpful as long as you don’t go overboard.  Having someone you trust that you can say anything to and get things off your chest can be wonderful.  Conversely, telling anyone who will listen how awful your ex spouse is, just increases the negativity in your life and keeps you focused on what you DON’T want.  Tell that one trusted person or write in a journal so you can let the incident go…then start focusing on the outcome you DO want and put your energy there.