How Do I Handle Hostile Communications From My Ex?

How Do I Handle Hostile Communications From My Ex?

Whether in the middle of a divorce/custody case or after the legal dust has cleared, you may be plagued by hostile communications from your ex.  It may be text messages, emails, phone calls, or over social media. Most of it probably has little, if any, legal significance so you can simply ignore it. It cannot have any power over you unless you let it and often it is more an indication of the writer’s emotional state than anything else.  Responding with similar or like-kind emotion is probably the worst thing you can do and will usually only serve to escalate things. However, since emails and other communications can find their way into court files and litigation, you may feel compelled to respond.  If you do feel compelled to respond, it is important to keep these rules in mind.

1.  Keep it brief.  Say only what you absolutely need to say to fulfill your legal obligations or correct inaccuracies and then be done. The more you write, the more material the other side has to use against you. Keeping responses short will often help diffuse the situation and, hopefully, end the harassment (at least temporarily).

2.  Stick to the facts.  Do not allow yourself to be drug down to the level of your harasser. If you have to respond, keep your responses factual and informative.  Remember, the point is often to simply correct misinformation in previous communications. Correct the error and be done.  For example, “Just to be clear, the children were not left alone. My mother came and stayed with them while I was out of town.”

Avoid being argumentative. Do not use sarcasm or negative comments. Avoid threats and profanity (both of which always seem much worse when seen in the printed word). Do not use personal attacks like name calling or insulting their intelligence.  If they are a high conflict personality, it will only throw fuel on the fire and increase the harassment.

3.  Kill them with kindness. When the other side is hostile, you respond with civility. Although you may be tempted to anger, you will achieve your case much better by keeping the tone of your responses friendly. If they are shown in court it will help to highlight the contrast between how you handle the situation like a reasonable adult as opposed to your ex.

There is no need to be syrupy sweet as that can come back around to sounding sarcastic. Just keep the tone relaxed and non-antagonistic. Acknowledge their concerns and then address them. Continuing from the example above, “I understand that you were worried about the children, but mother had things under control.”

4.  Be firm.  In a very matter of fact sort of way, communicate to the other person your position on the issue and be done. Think Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Avoid comments that invite discussion, negotiation or anything that would continue the conversation. Comments like “I think you would agree. . .” or anything involving a question like “who,” “what,” “when,” where,” “why,” or “how” will only invite a response from the other person which is what you are trying to avoid.

It is important that you sound confident and avoid asking for information if you want to end the back and forth. A confident person is less likely to be challenged with further communications. If you are challenged, and feel the need to respond, make this response even shorter than the first and do not emotionally engage.

Whether it is on your work or personal email, handling communications from your ex with these rules in mind will help minimize the emotional anguish it causes you.

Photo courtesy of AJ Cann

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