An emotionally-charged relationship is the fast lane to disaster when dealing with your child’s parent who lives separately.

When the brain is emotionally charged, our decisions are reactive instead of deliberate. The rush to fight or flee robs us of the will-power to slow down and think things out. Unmanaged emotions disrupt the informed decision–making process. The best thing you can do for yourself is to change your relationship with the other parent to one that is less intimate and intense. You may not think a relationship with so much negativity is “intimate” but the truth is that love and hate are on the most intimate end of the relationship scale.

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We have no emotional attachment to strangers. We may empathize, based on how we would feel in a similar situation, but we do not form an intimate relationship based on that. We feel somewhat attached to acquaintances and business or social contacts, but the relationship is courteous not intimate. The intensity and intimacy level rises as people become our friends.

The most intense and intimate relationship, of course is that of lovers. On the negative side, rivalries share the same end of the scale. When a positive intimate relationship ends, we do not stop having feelings. Because of the value and promise we once saw in the relationship, our feelings remain engaged and flip to the negative. Partners in active combat are as intimately and intensely entwined as people in love. People don’t put everything at stake, including their child, in less intense relationships.

When one of you decides the relationship is over, it’s healthy to reduce the intensity of the relationship. How far you need to dial back depends on the potential benefits of staying engaged in a positive manner. Some parents living separately do well as friends. They have been able to reduce the intimacy of the relationship over time.

Friendship is not comfortable for everyone. If you are in an intense relationship now, it may be best to step back to the role of acquaintances for now. There may be a desire to make your child’s other parent a stranger, but that option is not available to you as long as your child is a minor. The parent-child relationship endows your child with legal rights to expect care, support and access to other resources from both parents.

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About Kathleen Bird

Kathleen Bird, JD is a mediator, parent educator, former judge, and family lawyer. Her book, Self-Centered Co-Parenting, is the result of her experience working with thousands of frustrated parents to find a self-empowering method for quality parenting and decision-making.