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Communicating with a Narcissistic Co-parent

One of our experienced family law practitioners, Bianca McDuff discusses communication strategy methods that may assist. 

Navigating parenting arrangements and communicating with the other parent can be difficult following separation. Separation in itself brings about a number of heightened emotions. These emotions do not always resolve with the passing of time.

Communication issues often escalate when you are dealing with a parent who has narcissistic tendencies. In an ideal world, no parent would be forced to co-parent with a narcissist however, this option is rarely available to parents in Australia’s Family Law system.

When communicating with the other parent about the simplest of matters starts to feel like engaging in psychological warfare, it is perhaps time to revise your communication strategy with one of below methods.

Grey Rock Method

The first strategy is referred to as the ‘Grey Rock’ method. As the name suggests, it entails becoming as uninterested and unengaged in your communication with the other parent as possible. The idea behind this method stems from removing a narcissist’s fuel, being their desire for attention and control. In short, this involves limiting your communication to short and unemotive responses as possible.

Just like a grey rock, you do not attract attention, you do not show emotions during a conversation, you are cool to the touch and remain aloof. The school of thought behind this is that over time, the other parent will lose interest and look for someone else to target or cease their damaging behaviour.

When implementing the Grey Rock method with the other parent you: –

  1. stay as neutral and disengaged as possible;
  2. do not give the other parent your attention;
  3. keep your interactions short and to the point; and
  4. avoid discussing personal information about your life or your personal opinions on topics.

To demonstrate the Grey Rock method in practice, we will use the example of a child leaving their soccer boots at the other parent’s house. When parent A realises this, they message parent B and attempt to arrange a mutually convenient time to collect the soccer boots before the child’s soccer game. Parent B, who has narcissistic traits, sends a scathing response refusing to return the child’s soccer boots as Parent A was 5 minutes late to changeover. In this instance, Parent A would not engage in Parent’s B attempt of psychological warfare and instead perhaps respond with “Am I correctly understanding you that you are not agreeable to returning the child’s soccer boots before (his/her) game”.

The Grey Rock method is not without its risk. It can lead to an escalation of a person’s negative behaviour. From a Family Law perspective, the Grey Rock method can result in a deterioration of the co-parenting relationship and make you appear cold, rigid and uncompromising.

Yellow Rock Method

The second strategy is the ‘Yellow Rock’ method. Founded in the basic principles of the Grey Rock method, the Yellow Rock method maintains the same calm, cool and collected strategy but adopts a friendlier, warmer and more inviting coating than a grey rock.

From a Family Law perspective, the Yellow Rock method is typically viewed as more favourable as you are seen to be more reasonable and courteous.

Unlike the Grey Rock method, you do not simply ignore the personal digs and/or poor behaviour of the narcissistic parent. Instead, you take control of the false narrative and steer the conversation in a productive direction. Common phrases in the Yellow Rock method are such responses as: –

  • I disagree with your version of your events and prefer to put this behind us. Can we keep our communication focused on the children”;
  • I think we may need to agree to disagree”;
  • I want to understand your position, but I sense that emotions are high right now. Let’s revisit this next week”; and
  • I’m hoping we can both take time away from this topic to regroup as we are not going in a positive or productive direction”.

Although a common theme between both the Grey and Yellow Rock method is the removal of emotional language, communication utilising the Yellow Rock method is done so consciously. Parties approach their communication as if a judge or family law professional will be reading their communication.

When communicating with a narcissistic co-parent, it is preferable to have an array of strategies. Whilst at times it can seem less confronting or upsetting to use the children to relay important information or updates to the other parent, regardless of a child’s age, this is not appropriate. The emotional effects of doing so have the potential to greatly disturb a child’s self-worth, academic performance and relationship with their friends and family.

This information is provided as general guidance only and should not be used or relied upon by any person without obtaining legal advice in relation to their own circumstances.

Why not call Bianca to further discuss how she may be able to assist you personally on 07 5522 5777.