Julie is in my office again, frustrated with herself because she blew her cool with her ex, and found herself horrified at the words pouring out from her mouth! He’d said just one thing that triggered her, “I understand what you’re going through.” Of course, he didn’t! How could even think he understood the pressure of part-time work and looking after a 3-year-old. Julie was devastated. He’d walked away from their relationship and ‘just got on with his life’.
The worst of it was all happened in front of her daughter. The one thing she said she would never do, she had just done, again.
We worked out the essentials for her to stop wanting to kill her ex (figuratively speaking) and better manage his self-absorbed, entitled attitude to his parenting.
How to keep calm communication with your ex partner
1. Limit face to face communication
Avoid all but the most necessary contact. Decide what communication works best for you and your ex: phone, text, email or a co-parenting app. Don’t respond immediately if these are inflammatory; wait till you’re calm. If you meet 1:1 use a public location and plan ahead how long you will stay; less than 60 minutes. Decide at what point and howl you will leave if it gets heated.
Julie settled for email contact. It meant she could vent and cool off for a day before she responded. Texts were only for emergencies.
2. Change your pattern – stay with your values
Julie felt like she became a banshee when David pushed her buttons, and she felt a bully. When David became sternly inflexible, she’d panic, give in and he’d get his way.
Julie’ most important value was respect. She wanted to teach her daughter this. She would firmly end any conversation when there was a hint of abusive comment. No matter how David behaved, she would choose a steady, polite response.
3. Plan for the upset – Know your triggers
There is a predictable pattern of tactics that push your buttons. Even when these seem unpredictable, they’re probably not. Work out your strategies. Write these down.
Julie stopped being so flexible when David wanted last-minute changes due to work pressures. Julie decided to not adjust her schedule. We rehearsed, “I’m not able to change my arrangements with such short notice. I’m confident you’ll find a workable solution to this problem.” She stuck with it and it worked.
4. Stay off Facebook. Don’t text. Journal instead!
Social media stalking is a no-no. Angry texts escalate the conflict. Journaling is a wonderful strategy. Write everything down to get the frustration and madness out. You have permission to write whatever you want and not apologise! When you look back later, you’ll see things differently.
Julie found this are a great way to let things go. When she was done with the fighting and felt she had her confidence back, she burnt the journal.
5. Pause. Breathe. Take your time.
When your heart is racing you can’t think straight and it can also take 20-30 minutes to calm. Look after your own well-being first. Know your self-care strategies.
Julie felt she made rushed, regrettable responses when she was feeling emotional. When she could feel her heart beat increasing, Julie learnt to breathe slowly and take her time. She practised saying “I’ll need to think about it”, so she could regain control and make the decision she really wanted.
6. Edit emotional words
Use concise, ‘information only’, statements. Avoid long winded, defensive explanations, especially about what you don’t want. These will trip you up.
Julie eventually aced keeping to the facts needed to make joint decisions. Revealing how she felt about things didn’t help in any negotiation and gave David potential ammunition to manipulate her.
7. Plan for the escalation
When you change your habitual patterns, it takes time to work effectively. Often a difficult ex will try to maintain the upset, angry relationship history. Plan for the potential escalations while you change your patterns. Use repetition to reinforce your new message.
David was a master at ‘Bomb Dropping’. The unexpected dramatic or emotive statement designed to get Julie upset or confused. Julie got angry, and David was smug about her overreaction. We worked out a few of his ‘classic lines’, and how Julie could ignore or address these so she remained strong and respectful.
8. Book time with a therapist
There is no shame in getting help, whether you are stuck in the middle of a combative divorce or you are still unhappily fighting years later. A good therapist can help you handle your difficult emotions, learn conflict confidence and keep your perspective.
Julie found venting with me allowed her to explore why she got so wound up and learn new strategies. She could plan ahead for what was important to her and practice these skills safely in my office. It took some time but Julie never regretted investing in her wellbeing.