The “difficult ex” - I think every divorced couple goes through at least a stage of complaining about this. I hear it in nearly every couple I work with, and I had my share of this pain too. It seemed to me for years that my husband’s ex-wife looked right through me as if I didn’t exist, and refused to acknowledge me. This really hurt, since we had known each other beforehand as acquaintances and had been friendly.

I had remained in good communication with my ex-husband, which was really valuable for co-parenting my son. So, internally I told myself stories about why she ignored me, and most of the stories didn’t help the situation - even though I did have the good manners to continue smiling and being friendly anyway (which paid off in the end!) Could it have been that she did not know how to react to me, or was protecting herself from her own hurt by looking past me? Did I really consider what was going on inside her then?

Eventually, we worked it out, learned to cooperate, and are friends again - I felt enormous satisfaction when this spring, she and I went to an event together (without either my stepdaughter or my husband) and actually had a great time! (Believe me when I tell you that I would have bet a LOT of money against that being even a remote possibility ten or twelve years ago - it is true, miracles can happen!)

When there’s acrimony between the two parents, it’s the child who suffers when that anger or bitterness shows in their attitudes towards one another. And when negative comments are made about the other parent in front of the child, that’s badmouthing.
It’s one of the worst things you can do to your child.

Divorce is harder on children than we realize. The impact of it affects a child for a long time (see for more information and statistics). However, the research shows that the children who fare the best after divorce are the ones whose parents set aside their differences and agree to co-parent, putting the child’s interests in first place in their interactions. It might be difficult, but it’s worth it for your child’s sake.

Jeannette Lofas, founder of Stepfamily Foundation, explains it this way: the child is produced from half of the father’s DNA and half of the mother’s DNA. This means that no matter what happens, the child’s identity comes partly from each parent. So if one parent bad-mouths the other, he or she is essentially telling their child that half of him or her is no-good. This may not be conscious, but there’s no way to avoid this unconscious effect. In order for the child to grow up feeling whole and self-confident, it is necessary for him to honor and love both of his parents. It’s just not in the child’s best interest to have to choose which parent is right, or good.

Although we have an ego-stake in getting our child on “our side” and on showing ourselves to be “right”, that ego satisfaction has a serious down-side for our children. And it can be hard to let go of our anger or resentment, but the up-side of that is tremendous for our own happiness and for that of our children.

This is definitely a tough problem, and it can seem to be out of your control. But there are special techniques to solve the badmouthing problem. An excellent podcast can be found specifically dealing with this, on

Author's Bio: 

Joan Sarin, M.S. is a Master Coach trained by the Stepfamily Foundation, the most renowned and experienced group in the field of stepfamily dynamics. She has personally done the hard work of developing a successful stepfamily and understands the stepfamily structure from the inside. Register for her free eCourse "Stepparent Success Secrets" at