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Communicating with a High Conflict Co-parent

To establish effective communication, consistency and autonomy with a high-conflict co-parent, it is crucial to establish clear boundaries. When managing communication, start with setting specific dates and times on your calendar dedicated to addressing co-parenting issues. Take into account the age of the children; typically, younger children require more frequent communication. There are no rigid guidelines here; rather, it's about considering various factors to determine an appropriate schedule.
Before engaging in potentially challenging conversations, it is beneficial to center oneself. Engaging in a brief meditation, getting some fresh air, or taking a walk can be highly beneficial. Sometimes, adopting a perspective similar to a part-time job, with set times for communication, can help in compartmentalizing discussions.
Maintaining a clear understanding of your truth is paramount. High-conflict individuals often employ tactics such as distorting reality and manipulation, which can lead to self-doubt. It is crucial to stand firm on a foundation of truth in all aspects of life. Regular journaling and reaffirmation of personal truths can be instrumental in this regard.
Communication Guidelines
The majority of communication with your ex-partner will likely occur in written formats such as text messages, WhatsApp, emails, or voicemails, making it challenging to retract statements once made. Approach communication as if addressing a judge in a courtroom, ensuring mindfulness in crafting messages and responding only when emotions are tempered.
Suggestions to follow:
- If confronted with a hurtful message that triggers an impulse response, consider stepping away, taking a breath, and engaging in a different activity. Always avoid communication when you are emotional or frustrated.
- Written communication tends to be the preferred mode of interaction. Whenever possible, avoid phone calls and face-to-face encounters. Exceptions may arise, such as emergencies involving your child spending time at the other parent's residence.
- When receiving a voicemail, assess whether a response is necessary. If so, opt for written communication via email or text message.
- Avoid the temptation to respond hastily. Delayed responses allow for a more measured and composed reply.
- Keep responses concise, focusing on factual details and maintaining a neutral, business-like tone.
Negative communication dynamics vary across relationships, with some characterized by patronizing or insulting messages, while others involve threats or attempts at control. Tailoring responses to the specifics of each situation is best.
Imagine a scenario where your co-parent’s message contains accusations and insults while inquiring about your child’s drop-off arrangements. Avoid feeling compelled to defend or explain oneself. Focus solely on addressing the practical aspects of the message while ignoring the rest.
Proofreading communication is a valuable practice to ensure clarity and effectiveness. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is my message brief and focused? Make sure your message is as concise as possible. As mentioned, no long explanations are necessary. When you see yourself writing long responses with the word “because” or “that’s why”, rethink the message again. A long response invites more communication, causes confusion and allows space for the conversation to escalate. 

2. Am I addressing only the factual elements of the message? Be clear and specific in your response. Remove any emotions or personal opinions from the message. 
3. Does my message convey assertiveness without aggression? You are not trying to insult or demean the other party, you are asserting your boundaries and relaying your message with confidence. 
4. Is my communication polite and respectful? Your communication should be courteous and amicable, without necessitating excessive familiarity.
While navigating communication with a high-conflict co-parent is undeniably challenging, adhering to the mentioned proofreading principles can facilitate the drafting of more effective messages. Guidance and practice can further enhance proficiency in responding to specific situations.

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