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Co-Parenting with an Unhealthy Spouse

The issues of Co-Parenting with an Unhealthy Spouse

Relationship Coach Sharmen Kimbrough MA at the Marriage Recovery Center discusses the various issues mom’s face when co-parenting with an unhealthy spouse.

The Issues of Co-Parenting with an Unhealthy Spouse

Co-parenting is rarely easy, but it becomes infinitely more challenging when one of the parents is angry, belittling, demeaning, dismissive, or even a bully. This presents a major concern for many parents, especially moms, who are often left wondering how to protect their children from the harm caused by such behavior. The fear of their children becoming like the unhealthy spouse and the possibility of the spouse gaining full custody can be paralyzing. In this article, we’ll address these concerns and provide guidance on co-parenting in difficult circumstances.

The Reality

It’s essential to acknowledge a harsh reality: you cannot control your spouse’s behavior, especially if they are an angry, controlling, or violent individual. Attempts to change them are likely to be futile. Rather than trying to control them, it is more productive to focus on creating a safe and peaceful environment for your children.

Your primary concern should be the emotional and psychological well-being of your children. You might not have control over your spouse’s actions, but you can influence your children’s experiences by providing them with an alternative environment.

Your Environment

Assess your current environment and identify areas where you can introduce elements of respite and safety. This can be in the form of routines, counseling, or emotional support. Your role is not to change your spouse but to build a cocoon of stability and love for your children.

Build Connection

In the midst of chaos, it’s crucial to teach your children the importance of building healthy connections. Emphasize values such as empathy, understanding, and communication. These values are the foundations of strong relationships and will help your children navigate the difficulties they encounter.

By modeling these behaviors in your own life, you show your children that there are alternative ways to interact with the world. Demonstrate that nurturing positive connections can lead to a more fulfilling life.

Use What Works

Children often adapt to their surroundings to protect themselves. Teenagers and young adults, in particular, might lean towards the unhealthy parent if it seems safer or more rewarding. This is a natural response to a challenging environment. Instead of condemning them for this, focus on teaching them alternative ways to navigate life.

Encourage them to be discerning, and educate them about the value of authentic and genuine connections. Let them know that it’s okay to love and respect their other parent but that they can also set their boundaries.


Teaching your children about boundaries is essential. These boundaries are not about creating walls but rather about inviting a deeper, healthier relationship. Boundaries help in maintaining respect and creating a safe space where everyone can thrive. Encourage your children to set their boundaries and learn how to engage in a relationship without being overpowered by a destructive influence.

Help Normalize Kids’ Feelings

It’s vital to normalize your children’s feelings during this difficult period. Let them know that feeling angry, confused, or sad is entirely normal. Children often blame themselves for their parents’ conflicts, so assure them that it’s not their fault.

Normalize their emotions, but also teach them healthy ways to cope with them. Encourage them to express their feelings without resorting to destructive behavior. Show them that their emotions can be a driving force for positive change.

Keep Your Eyes on God

Maintaining your faith is crucial, not just for you but for your children as well. Remind them that even in the midst of chaos, God is still in control. Faith can provide comfort and a sense of purpose in times of distress.

Your belief in a higher power can help anchor your children and provide them with a sense of security. Let them know that they are not alone and that there is a guiding force in their lives, even when everything seems uncertain.

You Love Them Too Much

Reinforce the message that you love your children too much to accept destructive behavior. Even if they momentarily follow the unhealthy parent’s lead, remind them that you expect more from them. This loving affirmation will encourage them to think about their actions and their impact on others.

We Are in This Together

Let your children know that you are a team. Show them that you will face these challenges together and find solutions as a family. Assure them that they are not alone, and that you will always support them in navigating the complexities of co-parenting with an unhealthy spouse.


Co-parenting with an unhealthy spouse can be one of the most difficult challenges a parent can face. It’s essential to remember that while you may not be able to change your spouse’s behavior, you can influence your children’s experiences and provide them with the tools they need to thrive in a challenging environment.

By teaching your children the value of healthy connections, boundaries, and faith, and by normalizing their feelings and providing them with unwavering support, you can help them develop the resilience and strength needed to navigate this challenging situation. Remember that you are not alone, and together, as a family, you can work towards a better future for your children.

To learn how we can help, reach out to us at (206) 219-0145 or info@marriagerecoverycenter.com to speak with a Client Care Specialist

Also read: The 5 Pillars Needed for Change

About Dr. Hawkins:

The internet is inundated with hyperbole and misinformation about narcissism, leaving many people confused and hopeless. Get the facts on narcissism and emotional abuse from someone who has been researching, writing about and treating narcissism and emotional abuse for over a decade.

Dr. Hawkins is a best-selling author and clinical psychologist with over three decades of experience helping people break unhealthy patterns and build healthier relationships.

He is the founder and director of the Marriage Recovery Center and the Emotional Abuse Institute which offers education, training and counseling for people who want to break free of, and heal from, emotional abuse. Whether the perpetrator of the abuse is your spouse, partner, parent, boss, friend or family member, we offer practical advice for anyone trapped in a toxic, destructive relationship.

In addition to narcissism & emotional abuse, you’ll learn about the lesser known forms of abuse, including covert abuse, reactive abuse, spiritual abuse, secondary abuse, relationship trauma and much more.


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