If you are in the midst of separation and divorce, you may wonder, truly, if you are losing your mind in managing communication with your soon-to-be-ex. Although you should consult a therapist if you experience pervasive depression or anxiety, it is likely this state of mind is based on this stressful life transition. In order to maintain perspective, and keep your cool under pressure, for you and your kids, you need a way to manage your contact with the ex on a daily basis.
Your Ex Knows How to Push Your Hot Buttons
Sane communication in divorce doesn’t mean you need to be perfect. It means you need positive coping skills, which are just tools you use when facing a stressful situation and need to avoid escalating or worsening the problem that exists. If your spouse pushes your buttons, you need a response that doesn’t push back immediately, as that may continue or even escalate the conflict cycle.
You need a way to decompress on your own and then respond, with neutrality and civility, even when, in the moment, it seems impossible and undesirable.
Now, let’s be clear. The civil and neutral response to your spouse doesn’t mean you haven’t had the opportunity to understand how outrageous, toxic, ridiculous, petty, or mean-spirited their text, email, phone call, letter or pigeon courier message is.
It just means you will take the time to process the message, privately or with support, before responding. This is important because, if you have children, you will have many interactions with your soon-to-be-ex for years to come. If you can create a way to focus on what you most want, while recognizing that your soon-to-be-ex has priorities too and a real interest in your kids also, you can likely do better now and in the future.
Positive Coping Skills are Critical
Over time, and it may be a long time, you will find it is the only way to lessen the likelihood of your ex’s aggressive negative communication with you. And, even if it never stops, you will be in a better place for you and for your children. You can help your children cope with a contentious divorce.
But, really, how can you process what a disgruntled soon-to-be-ex communicates, and respond in a neutral fashion? This is when positive coping skills are critical.
Take the time, in the moment, to follow three simple steps to lower your escalation, decide upon a response, and then respond, if necessary. Keep this list handy–in your phone, on your bulletin board, in your head, so that it becomes a sort of reflex for you.
Remember, communication with your ex does not have to be viewed as a zero sum game in which only one of you wins. In fact, the goal, for your kids, should be allowing both of you the ability to serve your children’s best interests.
Your Sane Communication Game Plan
As with most of life’s most challenges, this is easier said than done. But, with a few effective tools, you can succeed if you stick to a simple game plan.
Tip 1: Understand the Message
What, really, are they asking you? Take a deep breath and slow down. Is it simply a statement of anger, confrontation or an attempt to shame you during a time of emotional overwhelm? If so, no response required. Simply save the communication in a manner that does not require you to repeatedly see it and move forward with your day. Is it time sensitive? Perhaps it’s a request about the kids or something else that requires a response within a reasonable time period. Even so, take time before you reply.
Tip 2: Reflect Upon the Statement
Process the communication before responding. If it’s only a statement of emotions, don’t dwell upon it. You cannot pretend it doesn’t exist but don’t allow yourself to become too “bogged down” in their emotion. Allow them to feel their own “stuff” and know that you don’t have to feel the same way. It is very easy to return to a negative engagement style you may have had as a couple rather than create a new plan moving forward in your new life. If you are angry at your spouse, that does not mean you need to express it. You should deal only with the matter at hand and not allow them the satisfaction, either, of they upset you.
If it’s a lot of emotion in their email, and a time sensitive matter, write a first response (don’t forget this is a draft) and don’t send it. Even if the ion was by telephone or text, it likely makes sense to summarize what they have said in writing and respond by email. It gives you more distance and a better record of a response than a verbal or text response and is likely more thoughtful too. Text messages, in general, should be used only for the most urgent ions as it is too easy to respond with too much emotion and too little thought.
First, write down what you are thinking but will never send. Don’t forget to remove their email address from the draft reply, as an accidental send is unhelpful. Then, delete the message. Now, frame your response to say only what is needed about the matter at hand and nothing else. Not allowing their emotional catharsis to be reflected back in your response is far more impactful than a response in kind. It is difficult in the moment but serves you much better in the long run.
Tip 3: Reply With a Short, Neutral Response
Remember, don’t respond if it’s simply an emotional diatribe about their feelings. It’s their issue and not yours.
If the message received requires a response, save a draft before sending it. Give yourself as long as you might have, even five minutes if that’s all you’ve got, to think about it. Return to the communication, finalize it and send it.
There is so much to process, intellectually and emotionally in divorce that having a “go to” plan for how you express yourself is key. Reacting in the moment is sure to add complications that are costly, often in legal and other fees and draining your already fragile emotional reserves. Give yourself the room–time and distance– to both process your reaction and not use it in your communication with your spouse.
Make certain you have your own support team when a message is so outrageous that it requires someone else’s eyes or ears. If it may impact the legal outcome, send it to your lawyer. More often, however, it may be information directed at you to make you feel bad. Asking a friend to read it, or just sharing it with them, may help.
In the event you have exhausted your friends and family or prefer not to do so, consider asking your divorce coach to help. A divorce coach can help you decide, based on the framework you’ve created at the beginning of the work you do together, how to best process, and then respond to, much of what you will experience in divorce. This is often even better than a friend or family member who means well, but doesn’t know how to help. A coach is on your side, never exhausted by your demands, and not charging a lawyer’s rates to help you create an effective plan when you do not need legal advice.
You Can Decide How to Proceed
Remember, you can decide how to proceed in your separation and divorce. You will never control your soon-to-be-ex spouse but you can control your response, which will, in the long run, help you manage yourself and your emotions better. In the long run, sane communication in divorce serves you and your children. Start right now to change the way you communicate in your divorce and you will see better results in the long run.
Going through divorce is tough, and we’ve got your back. Read Hard Facts About How Men Deal with Divorce. Need some comic relief? Check out 4 Middle-Aged Divorced Guy Mistakes to Avoid Like the Plague.
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