Quick Tips for Controlling Communications with a Hostile Ex

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© 2914 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.

Divorce, separation or ending any relationship is tough. It just plain hurts and it can be hard to eat, sleep, work or focus. If your ex (or soon-to-be-ex) is a High-Conflict Person (HCP) you not only need to deal with your own emotions, you may be faced with daily barrages of hostile calls, texts and/or emails. If you have children, then you can’t even look forward to the day when the split is complete and you don’t have to talk to the ex anymore.  So how can you regain a sense of control and peace for your own sake and for the kids?

Start With Yourself

It takes two to Tango, so take a good hard look at how you have been initiating tricky discussions and responding to your ex. As hard as it sometimes is to look inward, it’s a must-do if you want to break the cycle of irate communications.

  • Do you come on strong, complain, defend and vent?

  • Do you try to convince your ex why s/he’s wrong?

  • Have your threatened to restrict visitation or sic your lawyer on your ex?

  • Have you discovered yourself yelling at your ex on the phone?

We might do these things when we feel unreasonably accused. If you have, ask yourself; did anything change when you responded this way? Did the ex back off or finally see the light? Did you feel any better afterward?  I’ve been down that road, but one day I started to realize that I was making it harder on myself.

How Do You Get Out of This Rut?

Recognize that you have choices in how the communications play out.  Take this scenario, for example:

It’s your day off and you are sitting in the park on a sunny day watching your kids splash around in the fountain.  You’re enjoying yourself and not thinking much about anything when your phone beeps and you look down to see that you just got a text from the ex. Suddenly, the divorce floods back into your consciousness along with a great deal of anxiety. You can’t stop yourself from reading it.

Suzie left her homework at my place again, so you need to come get it today.  You know I won’t have time to bring it over, so don’t even go there. You were supposed to talk to her about that. By the way,  I just got off the phone with my new lawyer.  He said you’ll never get a dime for child support because I’ll get custody. I’m not going to pay you any alimony either, so you better go get a real job because that part-time thing you do won’t cut it with the judge. This lawyer is a real pit bull so if you try to fight me again, you’ll just lose everything.

Option 1:

You call him and say, “You don’t know what you’re’ talking about and neither does your new guy. You’ve already been ordered to pay up!  Does he know that YOU are the one who wanted me to stay home with the kids and not work, so that now I have no job skills? Did you tell him you always do stupid stuff like forgetting her homework? What judge is going to give a horrible parent like you custody?  Dream on, drop dead and leave us alone.”

Option 2:

You are really PO’d . This whole divorce is his fault. You start to reply, but then delete it so you can think about what to say.

Option 3:

Do nothing.  He’s being a creep and you are not going to let it get to you.

What’s The Best Choice?

I think we can agree that Option 1 is out.   You might be thinking and feeling all that negativity, but saying it aloud will keep the argument going, keep you stressed to the max, and your kids will hear it all.

Option 2 is my pick.  By delaying responding, you give yourself the opportunity to get over the initial shock of the message before saying anything.  Once you are calmer, you can dissect the message for any factual issue you feel needs addressing, such as homework. A sample of a BIFF Response® is:

Thanks  for letting me know about the homework, unfortunately I won’t be able to pick it up today.  Since this is turning out to be a recurring issue, I propose that we let Suzie learn responsibility for remembering her own homework. She will have time do the assignment again tomorrow and she’s old enough to grasp the consequences of forgetting to bring it and having to do it twice.  I’ll go ahead with this plan and discuss it with Suzie unless you let me know another proposal by 7:00 this evening.

Notice that your BIFF Response® ignores the remarks about the divorce. You will never win a court case by text message, and if there is a motion made in court you can respond to it in that venue.  It’s a choice you make to reply in a way that redirects the discussion to problems you might be able tosolve by text (and away from hostile exchanges).  You made a proposal and gave your ex the choice to either say nothing, or come up with another plan.  If you get another suggestion veiled in further abuse, you can write another BIFF Response and make proposals until you reach some agreement.

Option 3 is a viable choice, although I prefer number 2.  Often you can totally ignore hostile texts if the writer is blowing smoke and there is no real substance to the message.  In this case, it’s likely that the demand about homework was simply a pretext for being able to blast you with the rest of it, but it may be something deserving a reply  if only to cut off further angry texts demanding to know when you plan to arrive.

When you are feeling attacked, the key is to take the time you need to consider your choices then reply accordingly to get the result you want. There is more to a BIFF Response® than just deciding to use one, however. If you know what to expect and are prepared, it’s a lot easier. Get the details about writing a good BIFF Response® in our BIFF Response® book.

Other  Resources:

  • Divorce and co-parenting can be hard and protecting children from parental conflict can be challenging. Visit the OurFamilyWizard® website for help with Co-parenting and shared/joint child custody management for divorced or unmarried parents. Parenting time, visitation schedules, activities, expenses, messaging, journals and more.

  • New Ways for Families is a short-term method for strengthening conflict skills for parents in separation or divorce, whether married or never married. It’s designed to save courts time, to save parents money, and to protect children as their families re-organize in new ways.

Bill Eddy headshotBILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high-conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic, developed methods for managing high-conflict disputes, and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries. He is also co-host of the popular podcast, It’s All Your Fault, and writes a popular blog on Psychology Today.

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