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Communicating with a High Conflict Ex

Alright, beloved souls, let's talk about a subject close to many hearts - how to communicate with your high conflict co-parent.It’s crucial to establish boundaries with ourselves as we rebuild our lives. For starters, when it comes to sifting through messages, it's essential to compartmentalize the communication. Set dates and times on your calendar for dealing with co-parenting matters. When figuring out communication schedules, consider the age of the children - the younger they are, the more frequent the communication. There's no rulebook here; it's all about considering variables for an appropriate schedule.

Before diving into those potentially challenging conversations, remember to center yourself. A quick meditation, some fresh air, or a walk around the block can do wonders. Sometimes, it can be helpful to view this like a part-time job - clocking in and out, compartmentalizing the communication.


Know your truth

High conflict individuals are skilled at twisting reality, manipulation and changing past events - leaving you questioning your sanity. You need to stand on a firm foundation of truth in every aspect of life. Journal and reaffirm your truths everyday. 


Communication guidelines

Most of the communication with your ex will be in  written format through text, whatsapp messages, emails or voicemails, so it's pretty much impossible to take back what you said. I always tell my clients, you have to act as if you are not only messaging your ex, you are communicating with the Judge. You are mainly messaging the Judge and CCing your ex. With this mindset, you are more mindful of what you write and you only respond when you are calm. 


Consider these tips:

  • If you read a hurtful message and you are compelled to respond quickly out of anger, please put the phone down, take a breath and go do something else. Never communicate when you are emotional or frustrated.  

  • Generally, written communication is best. Try to avoid phone communications and face-to-face interactions as much as possible. There are always exceptions - for example, if you have a young child spending the weekend at your ex’s place, you will have to pick up the phone in case there is an emergency. In most cases, it's best not to answer when you don't need to and do not call back unless necessary. 

  • If they leave you a voice message, ask yourself: is there anything in this message that requires a response? If there is, respond by email or text message. 

  • Don't make it a habit to respond quickly. Usually when they send you a message, they are in the mood to engage you. You can respond within one day, if the matter is not urgent or an emergency concerning the children. SO TAKE YOUR TIME.

  • Always respond in as few words as possible.  Ask yourself: is there anything that can be cut out from my message? Responses should be short and in a neutral, stoic tone . Strictly business. 


There is a lot to discuss when it comes to communication and every relationship is unique and communication styles vary between different relationships. Some are patronizing and insulting messages. Some are more intense and involve threats and accusations and some are meant to exert control. The approach I suggest depends on each case, the degree of conflict within the divorce and how difficult the person on the other end is. However, I will discuss the basics that I would like you to consider.


Imagine you receive a message from your ex, inquiring about when you'll be dropping off the children. Within that message are accusations and insults. Remember there is no need to defend or explain yourself. This is a common initial reaction, but what your ex thinks of you does not matter anymore. Your ex’s opinion or thoughts simply do not define you. All that matters to you are the practical, factual details of the message after cleaning away all the debris from it. 


Proofread your communication

So how do you do this? You need to proofread your message and ensure you ask yourself the following 4 questions:


First question: is my message short and to the point? Make sure your message is as concise as possible. As mentioned, you do not need to explain or defend yourself, so 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 gives your ex ammunition to escalate the conversation. 


Second question: am I only responding to the factual details in the message? Be clear and specific in your response. Remove any emotions or opinions from the message. 


Third question: does my message read as assertive and confident and not aggressive? You are not trying to insult or demean the other party, you are asserting your boundaries and relaying your message with confidence. 


Fourth question: is my message polite and respectful? You do not want the message to escalate to an ugly conversation. You don't have to be buddy buddy, but your message should be polite and pleasant. 


Ofcourse, all this isn’t easy and the best responses vary depending on the case. I usually guide my clients through their particular situations until they become pros in their responses. However, keeping these proofreading tips handy can really help you when drafting your message.

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