How much communication between your partner and his ex-wife is “too much”?

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Communicating with exClients ask me all the time, how much communication between my partner and his ex is normal and necessary? Obviously this depends on the age of the kids, whether or not there are mental/physical/emotional issues that require more frequent communication, and how healthy the relationship between your partner and his ex is. Younger kids will require more frequent communications, while by the age of 16 most communication can be directly between teen and parent.

In his book “Keeping Kids Out of the Middle,” Benjamin Garber, PhD gives some excellent guidelines around communication, advising co-parents on exactly what is “too much.”

  1. It’s too much when it’s constant. Barring emergencies, most co-parents seldom need to communicate more than once a day. Many manage with a single communication each week or each parenting period, whichever is briefer.” So unless there’s a constant crisis at your home, those multiple texts a day are unnecessary.
  2. It’s too much when it’s intrusive. Co-parenting communications that edge beyond the kids’ needs, interest, successes and failures and into adult personal matters aren’t necessary.” As soon as a co-parent starts to wander into topics outside of the kids (assuming the other parent isn’t interested), it’s time to shut down communication.
  3. It’s too much when it serves to keep you artificially connected. We must never use our children and our mutual responsibility as their caregivers as an excuse to maintain adult relationships.” Some ex-wives love to use their kids as an excuse to stay connected to their ex. They’ll share inappropriate, personal details of their lives, believing that sharing a child with someone gives them lifelong rights to invade their ex’s personal space with continued, unwanted communications. They might invite them to dinner or ask them for drinks, because it’s “best for the kids.” No. What’s “best for the kids” is a conflict-free home. And that often means limited communication if you’re dealing with a difficult ex.
  4. It’s too much when it becomes harassing, abusive, intimidating or otherwise destructive.” Insults, judgements, continuously bringing up the past and past grievances, blaming and accusing – these are all destructive and may require extreme boundaries, such as a communication restraining order.

If co-parents have  a mutually respectful, friendly relationship and communicating more often works for them and their current spouses, then great! Otherwise, these guidelines are helpful in letting parents know that you don’t need to be in constant contact about the kids to be effective co-parents.

© 2015 Jenna Korf     All Rights Reserved

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27 thoughts on “How much communication between your partner and his ex-wife is “too much”?

  1. For the first year or so of my relationship with my husband, his ex was always trying to communicate with him far more frequently than was necessary. Yes, their kids were young at the time, but that didn’t mean she needed to talk with him daily and she certainly did not need to bring up memories from their past. Always the good memories, of course. And, she once or twice suggested that they meet for a drink. Really? He was remarried! To me! But, that didn’t seem to deter her. Her relationship with her boyfriend at the time was not very stable, and it sure seemed obvious that she was trying to get my husband back. What I appreciated, was my husband’s ability to shut her efforts down quickly. God bless her, she kept trying, but he was very clear that he had no interest in going down that road. Luckily, it eventually stopped… Fun times! 🙂

    • Yep. Many women don’t get the fact that he actually remarried, moved on and isn’t interested in continuing any sort of relationship other than one that is strictly about the kids. In many cases, even when they’re told directly that they don’t want to communicate – or in extreme cases when they’ve had to block their ex – it somehow *still* doesn’t sink in and they continue the communication attempts. Lucky for you she eventually took the hint! 🙂

      • “…in extreme cases when they’ve had to block their ex – it somehow *still* doesn’t sink in and they continue the communication attempts.”

        Yep, that’s what happened with my husband and I and his ex! Blocked. We try and consider it a useful mental exercise trying to find ways to keep her within civilized boundaries.

          • My husband’s ex has recently renewed her telephone communication attempts and tried to get around this by making anonymous calls. Due to that my husband and I are paying an additional $10 a month to enable anonymous call blocking. Our handset is supposed to be able to do this but the function doesn’t work unfortunately.

            On top of that, she’s also started sending little gifts to us (really my husband) with messages via the step kids of the gifts’ significance in terms of my husband’s likes/dislikes or by referencing their past. It’s going to be an interesting exercise to figure out how to put stop to this, ideally without upsetting the kids!

  2. Yep… My husbands ex wife was sending up to 30-50 text a day. Literally telling him what he needed to every single time it was his week to get kids. As if it was the FIRST TIME he had ever done it. When he has been the main care taker of the kids since she decided to have an affair with a married man, when their daughter was 6 and son was 2. That affair went on secretly until the mans wife caught them. She has never really ever taken any parental responsibility for the children since they were born (the youngest was adopted)
    What is crazy is how she acts like she is mom of the year. And she must tell my husband how to do everything. Even tho she knows he has been doing it all. I don’t know if she is delusional or if she knows she has been a lousy parent and somehow telling him what he “needs” to be doing when he has the kids makes her feel better. Even tho we all know she never really even keeps the kids. After they leave our home, they stay with their grandmother or her sister, and lately the oldest stays with friends. I

  3. Pingback: How much is “too much” communication between co-parents? | StepMom Nation

  4. This is perfect for one of my friends who is dealing with an ex-wife. She will constantly hold their child as a bargaining chip and not allow my friend to see his own kid unless he does something for the ex first. I’m going to share this with him. Thanks Jenna!

  5. Hi Lauren, it’s so sad when a parent uses their own child for their gain. I’m glad you’ll be sharing this article – hopefully it will help. 🙂 As far as him “not being allowed” to see his child, I hope they get a legal custody agreement so she can’t do that. And then, if she attempts to, he can take her to court for violating it. I wish parents knew the damage they were doing to the kids by withholding visitation.

  6. My husbands ex wife just recently put me in a position that was uncalled for. She text me ONE TEXT regarding their daughter (my stepdaughter who is 11) while my husband is away for work. I don’t reply back anymore. I made that mistake twice in the past. We’ve been together 4 years, married 3 years. The ex wife uses their daughter to get what she wants if she can’t get it herself at first. He’s been divorced 9 years. Well like I said, I didn’t reply back and the next day my stepdaughter texts me with same question and with “my mom was trying to get ahold of you ALL day yesterday”. I was really upset over this tactic because I love my stepdaughter and I never ignore her or any communication with her. Thanks to your articles I realized no matter if I ignored the SD text or answer SD text, the ex wife will STILL tell SD “see your stepmom ignores you” or “your Stepmom answers you and not me so I told you she’s mean”. So I text my SD back and let go of what I can’t control with hope that it doesn’t interfere with my relationship with SD. She’s a smart 11 year old and knows mommy is crazy with her bipolar. I never said this to SD she’s known this because her own mom tells her. I hate being put in that position. I did talk with my husband and I also sent him the conversations. We came to the conclusion that after a few months of no games or crazy ups and downs with ex that she’s winding up the gears for another round of what buttons can be pushed to make them start a fight with me. After so many times of this, and us never reacting one would think she would give up already. Thank you again for your articles, I come to them every time I need sanity and advise.

    • You’re welcome, Kelly! And you’re right to stay firm with your boundaries and not respond to her. Time after time she will likely try different methods of manipulation, all in an attempt to get you to engage. The best thing you can do is what you’re doing: be consistent and don’t respond. The worst thing you can do is respond because it teaches her that manipulations work; that she just has to push you *harder* and then you’ll respond.

  7. It’s been a few years now but my husband and I were surprised how little communication regarding the children is actually required once we started parallel parenting. We found, and still do, that most communication initiated by the ex can go ignored, otherwise we’d be embroiled in unnecessary minutiae of her and the kids’ lives all day every day. Once her communication attempts were controlled it became clear that the vast majority of it was designed to get attention, gain control over our household and interfere in our lives.

  8. My husband and ex were not friendly 10 years ago when I first met him. Now they are in constant contact. He has given her a small role in our company and they have discussed details of our marriage. It is unbearable. I have told him it is distressing but he gets angry and dimisses me.

  9. Ok, I need advice please. I am dating a guy with an 8 year old son. he and his is say they co-parent. she is involved with somebody and has been for two years. Ive met her and we get along. My issue is…..my boyfriend and his ex talk daily. I dont know what they talk about, whether or not its just about the kid or about other things also. One day my ex and I were house hunting and she called to tell him what time she is dropping his son off and she asked how the house hunting went.
    Which tells me, they talk about allot more than the child.
    I dont know if this should bother me, or not. To some degree, I feel like he is sharing his life with her still. hes told me he doesnt love her and that he only married her as she fell pregnant from a one night stand they had.
    He comes from a broken home and has no contact with either of his parents, so I feel he overcompensates with his son.
    We also get his son every friday night and every second weekend, when I even suggest a friday night to ourselves – he loses it.
    Ive tried bonding with the kid, and revamped his room at us in star wars and I bought him a star wars build a bear teddy. Ive really tried but I feel like im never going to bond with the child and my boyfriend is never not going to talk to his ex.
    this exact thing destroyed his previous relationship.
    Any advice please.

    • girl you are fighting a losing battle….I know because I have lived it almost 18 years. My husband told me when we were dating he visits his ex in laws and stays at his ex wifes house to visit for hours at a time…even watches the football game with them and the race. He used to bring his son over when he was a baby but because his son did not want to be away from his mom and would cry to go home…my husband would visit him there instead of making him stay at our house…His son has grown to hate me because my husband tells them I don’t want him staying over there. His son is 18 now btw and his mom has let a 17 year old girl live there and sleep in the bed with him and she is pregnant now we just found out my husband will be a grandpa and everyone is so happy!!!! ……So hubby will be spending even more time over there with the new grandbaby that will be raised to hate me and I won’t get to be a grandparent to. We have fought over this for years, he tells me I am crazy, paranoid and have mental problems and there is something wrong with me for not accepting this. I do not have a problem for his going by to see his son briefly or picking him up to take him deer hunting or fishing but see no need for prolonged visits. It irritates me to no end. He has went to all their holiday dinners and cook outs and I’ve tolerated all of this and it’s kept me so upset. I’ve cooked holiday dinners and he won’t bring his son. I’m so depressed. Not to mention my husband has cheated on me multiple times with other married women so yes I worry he is cheating with the ex wife. He told me once she tried to have sex with him while he was there. I think he just told me to get my reaction. And he got one. And he denied doing anything but I don’t believe him. Once he called me from an unrecognizable number and said oh I’m sorry I thought I was calling so and so…And I didn’t tell him I caught him but he was most likely keeping an extra cell phone to call his mistress but accidentally called his wife! I’m sorry for you because this will be a life of hell. You will be a walking living doormat. It’s such a shame. I’ve had a life of pure depression. We have teen son together he shows him no attention. And when he does he is yelling at him, calling him an idiot, or acting stupid, or dumb. He has grabbed him and shook him, told him he would beat his ass. He’s done all these things to me. He wanted me to stay home and not work because he didn’t want me around men. But in last couple years took me off checking acct, now I am penniless. Now he says get my lazy ass a job and get out and oh I can’t take the car….he wants me to take our old piece of crap car with no a/c and clutch is slipping and smells like a chicken farm because it’s his old work car, and has a ton of miles on it. And he doesn’t want me to have the house that we bought together that will be paid for in two years that I traded my mobile home in for that I made payments on. Since all this has happened, my identity has been stolen online I assume, credit is ruined, and I am having hard time finding work. I took student loans to make repairs in the house and buy that old work car he drives. So I owe $15,000 in loans he helped rack up. I got a couple of minimum wage jobs that were so stressful and the boss was a bully that I just could not take it….I was already such a nervous wreck. I need to pull myself together….I need to make a move and get out. I’m trying to take the steps but it’s hard…I’ve been codependent for so long and have no outside family help….and it hurts when I get even more hurtful comments…ppl just don’t understand unless they are in your shoes. Sorry I ranted so much….just needed to get this out…..But really my advice is either you accept it and don’t say another word, but it will eat you alive for the rest of your marriage or try to set boundaries which won’t go over well and if you don’t accept it then move on.

      • Please vent away. Well done that post, he kicked me out if the place we were living together. He did it over whatsapp and couldn’t even face me. I still don’t know why, he says it’s partly my issue with his ex and my pms moods, my helping my mother, my visiting my dogs, the dogs I left at my mom to live with him. He says I never put him first. I’m heartbroken honestly. He went on holiday with his ex wife, her boyfriend of two years and the kids. I’m sorry but that’s weird. Anyways I’m heartbroken!! I’m so sorry that you have been put through this and that your son has also. I pray you get a brilliant job and that you can leave this unappreciative sod

  10. I looked up this question because I have some unsettling feelings regarding my husbands ex. Both him and I have children from previous relationships and our girls are the same age -teenagers. The ex calls him every day multiple times a day and will talk for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes each time. She also texts him if not calls him. She tells him what he should and shouldn’t be saying and doing with their 3 girls and my children, makes dogmatic comments about me to him and their kids, talks about things sometimes that no how relate to the kids. For instance, how many companies are in her name, how she plans on buying a new house, how her bf treats her, etc. She will call every time her and their oldest daughter will get into an argument even if it’s something like, “I asked her to do the dishes and she bla bla bla” is that really necessary? I understand if the kids are in trouble the punishments need to be upheld in both homes but does she need to say EVERY little detail about disagreements that goes on at her house between her and the kids?

    • Hi Steph, he needs to create some boundaries ASAP. There’s no need for him to pick up every time she calls or texts. Especially if the kids are teenagers. He can just let her know that he’s uninterested in hearing the details of everything other than what pertains to the kids. So if she starts to go off point, he’ll end the conversation. AND, he doesn’t need the details of every argument she has with the kids, unless he does need to know for some reason. He should make this clear to her, and then follow through with it. It’s too intrusive otherwise.

  11. My bf and his ex are separated and they have a 2 1/2 year old son. The separation was not pretty (infidelity) and she moved a couple hours away to be closer to family. My bf is devastated that his son is far away now and he only sees him every other weekend. I am trying to be so understanding of his situation because I know it’s hard for him. The thing that bothers me is that he calls and Skypes with his son two times a day – morning and evening. That is a lot. And of course because he is so young, it’s not him communicating with his son it is him and his ex communicating the whole time – the kid never says anything. I obviously understand the importance of the contact with his son, but it leaves a bad feeling inside and I can’t help that. I can’t control how I feel. I guess it just feels invasive and I just think it is SO intense – twice a day! Is it always going to be like this? Because if he and I live together one day and I’m around that all the time, that is going to be a hard pill to swallow. I’m trying to cope with it, but I’m not sure how. It makes me feel icky inside and I get sad and a little withdrawn I’m not sure why. I don’t act out or anything, but he gets mad because he can tell I’m upset. He gets pissed that I’m upset that he’s talking to his son (when again, it’s not really him talking to his son it’s him and his ex just chit chatting). IT’S JUST SO HARD. I want to get over it but I’m not sure how. Help!!

    • Hi OW, there’s no telling if it will always be like that, but his son is SO young, so if you move forward with this relationship you should expect there to a lot of communication between co-parents. Also, you never know how things might change. The son could end up living with you guys full time, you and mom could end up moving closer to each other again, etc… This is a super hard role to be in. For now, I suggest you make sure you’re not around when he skypes. It’s true, that your feelings about this can make him feel like you don’t support his relationship with son, which of course isn’t true, but him talking to his ex is the only way right now b/c his son is so young. And since you have a problem with that, he sees it as you having a problem with his and his son. It’s hard work to get a hold of the jealous feelings, but keep focusing on the fact that he’s with you, not her. This is all about his child, not her. You’ll probably have to remind yourself a hundred times a day. Also, if he and his ex have a good relationship, as difficult as that is for you, it’s really great for the kids, and actually good for you too, even though you can’t see that now. If you read more of my blogs, you’ll see how horrible it would be for you if mom was abusive, disrespectful etc to you and your boyfriend. So try to keep that in mind too. It’s really best for the child that his parents can get along and communicate. But it’s also good for you to know that this is really bothersome to you and may not be where you want to be in the future. So really get clear with yourself if you think this is something you can handle for the rest of your life. For many women it’s not, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  12. I’ve been with my boyfriend close to 8 years now. His son is 22, graduated college and is working full time with a part time job for the discount! He seems like a responsible kid, right? Sort of. Sadly, my BF still feels gulity for his divorce and made a very healthy life style for his son and ex. In the beginning of our relationship, he’d tell me all the issues between he & his ex. One that stood out the most nearly floored me. She asked my BF, to pay the expenses to put back on the spolier on her car because their son is embarrassed to be seen in it. Now, here’s the thing, when they divorced, he paid her out where she purchased a condo with no mortgage. She had no other car payment and she has a full-time job that pays well. Now my BF, had lost his high-paying job but still managed to pay them a pretty hefty child support monthly. Even though he could have very easily well have modified the support he chose not to. Since then when their child needs something either he pays for it all or there’s a split usually 60/40. Even to this very day, she will ask him to purchase things or have things repaired. Now let me add this his college was completely paid for except his last semester he had to take out a small student loan of $8,000 because he chose to go Paris to study in the abroad program which left them a deficit of $8,000. The ex continues to text over silly little manners that can be handled by herself or their son. One thing that bothers me the most is the fact that she will remind my BF that their son is still the number one and he needs to remember that. I have two children of my own and the four of us live together she manages to play this guilt on him and still strive to be the number one in his life as well. Behind my back they will go out to dinner he will go to her house and the three of them will talk. I don’t mind a healthy relationship but when it comes to this I do mind he has no balls to stand up to her and let her go. Just recently he did not receive an offer to come back to the full-time job he has and he’s been quite down she has been dwelling on this and feeding and enabling his I feel sorry for myself Behavior which then leaves my BF feeling guilty. Knowing her because he’s living at home she’s going to want some type of support and helping to pay the bills from him. But in the meantime in the last three years, the woman has had a tummy tuck facial plastic surgery and an eye surgery all because he makes their life comfortable. I don’t know how and where to put my foot down because in his mind it’s none of my business true to a point but one is enough is enough I finally want to be number one rather than his ex and the guilt I wish just would go find a boyfriend. And believe me there are so much more stories to tell this is just barely the tip of the iceberg

  13. When my husband and I first started dating, his ex wife would call him every day, multiple times a day. It was always under the guise of having something to do with the children, but usually was about her and how hard her life was. She would text him and say “Call me ASAP” only to enter into small talk when he would call, with no actual issues to discuss. He would take the calls because he had put up with her so long that he just dealt with it. I think he also figured that taking on some of her emotional neediness would make life easier on his children. She was also always having “emergencies” that he needed to attend to – usually involving her going away and not being able to care for the children on her weekends or some early morning meeting that she forgot about that required him to go to her home (40 miles away from where he was living, because she moved farther away) to take care of the children. She insisted that she have full custody and my husband only have every other weekend, but when we met it was a regular occurrence for him to take time off from work because her weekend plans ran over. All this was happening, despite the fact that she filed for divorce, so she could marry someone else and her current husband is a “stay at home dad” (according to her) to my two stepsons and his son from a previous relationship. I pointed out to my husband (while we were still dating) that his ex wife was still using him as an emotional outlet and that as her EX-husband, he was no longer obligated to make her feel better about her life. He successfully cut her off after she insisted on a mediation session for some unknown issue and he was able to get it written into their parenting plan that they only communicate by email and text. As I was looking through old emails to help him prepare for his mediation, I came across one from six months prior where she suggested that they only correspond in writing because every time they spoke on the phone things got heated…but of course, she forgot all about this. Even though she had originally suggested this and even though she approved this change in writing, she still railed against it, saying he was a deadbeat dad and it was child neglect if she didn’t take his phone calls. Telling him repeatedly in person that “I won’t follow that part of our parenting plan.” He showed her that he would take her phone calls in an emergency when her sister had a heart attack and he called to see if she needed help with the kids. In response to this call, she launched into a conversation about some slight she perceived had come from me, instead of actually talking about her emergency situation. When it became clear that he was not planning to talk to her on the phone, she started texting him – for hours at a time! He would regularly come home and show me text streams she sent him at work that went on for a span of 2-3 hours. All this might be more tolerable, if she actually ever gave him any information about his children, but she doesn’t. She refused to send him copies of their report cards and then told him “they both did better than last term, just responding to your request for more information about their education”. She also did not respond to his questions about when parent conferences were and forget his getting any information on medical issues. Other than her requests for more money to cover medical costs for which she has no receipts, he gets nothing. When she was calling daily, she didn’t provide any actual info, either. When he told her (after a parent conference that I scheduled for him), that his children were not handing in their homework, she replied by saying “you’re always so mean to me. you’re just saying that because you hate me. why can’t you ever say anything nice to me.” When he told her he would pay his child support on time rather than paying it two weeks early at her request (she makes six figures, so she is not poor), her reply was “you’re just saying no, because you hate me!” Her latest thing is that she tells the children “your father hates me, he won’t return my texts, and he won’t take my phone calls.” He told her that he was going to stop all communication with her if she continued to put his children in the middle and told her he was so angry that she would do that. In response, she said she was so hurt that he couldn’t be nicer to her. I told him that he needed to notice that he thinks they are having a conversation about their children, but she is making it about her. It’s absolutely infuriating. They have been divorced for four years, separated for five, and she has been married to someone else for almost three years. Why can’t she move on?! She loves to tell my ex husband how miserable she was when they were married, so why can’t she just let him go and be happy that she doesn’t have to deal with him anymore. I’d love to know what her husband thinks about all this. Does he care that his wife spends hours each week (formerly hours each day) thinking about what another man thinks about her? This has caused so many fights between my husband and I because I want him to stop responding, but he gets so angry with her when she involves their children, that he’ll send her texts telling her he’s angry, which just lead to more texts from her about how mean he is. It’s so childish and I’m so angry that I have this toxic energy in my life. Sometimes, I think I should have run when he told me that his ex wife would call him multiple times a day…

  14. Hi. My BF has a 3 year old with an ex. We now have a 4 month old and live together. His ex spends every holiday with his family and says nothing good about me. She constantly calls him and questions when we have his mother over or when my BF goes to my children’s school events. She even had him come to her home one night because she thought their son had a tick on him which was just a mole! Help.

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