By Colleen Honquest
The most frequent types of questions that I hear from people who are separated, or divorcing are those that involve how to respond to an ex-spouse whose calls, texts, and emails are negative and harassing in nature. Usually, there has been a pattern of abuse in the marriage and the separation or divorce tends to escalate the abusive behavior as the ex-spouse feels a loss of control.
Should I respond or not?
The spouse who is the target of the harassment doesn’t know if they need to respond and often feels compelled to respond so as not to be seen as non-communicative by the Court. If they are working with a lawyer, they are often not given clear direction as to how to respond in a way that shows that they want to co-parent and communicate but not on the abuser’s terms.
I tell my clients that when they receive a message from an abusive ex-spouse, always pause. Take a breath. Is it even necessary to respond? Unless there is an issue that directly concerns your child’s acute emotional or physical health, there is no urgency. No need to respond. Simple. File the texts or emails away in a folder that you can find later. Documentation shows patterns of behavior. I advise clients to document but to do it in the simplest manner that does not take a lot of their time and keeps all information in one place. Not all messages require responses. I often hear, «If I don’t respond, then am I saying that what he’s doing is ok?» No. It’s important to be able to set limits and not feel constantly at the mercy of your ex and their unchecked emotions. Your efforts should be to remain the non-emotional and rational person rather than a part of the “he said, she said” chaos. If you do participate and respond to every negative text and email, not only will your energy be drained but the Judge may believe, because they simply have no way of knowing the truth, that BOTH parties are the problem. Don’t write angry emails or texts that may somehow be used against you.
Is there an app that I can use to communicate with my Ex?
I recommend setting up guidelines for communication early on in the separation or pending divorce. You can utilize an app that will enable you to capture all of your documentation in one place such as Our Family Wizard(OFW). If there has been abuse, be clear to your spouse that all communication should be via email so that you can maintain clear records and easily look up important dates, times, and information that these may contain. No phone calls or texts. Phone calls are not recommended as a person can claim that someone said something that they did not. Ask your lawyer how to get this written in a court order so that both parties must use the communication app. This is a positive thing for both parties as it cuts down on the chaos. Clearly define what an emergency is and that you will be using OFW and send it to your ex in an email. It is all about creating less stress and re-claiming your quality of life as you move forward. If you are being harassed and even stalked, you will find that chaos and confusion are the hallmarks of the abusers strategy to keep you half insane and off of your game.
Do I need to save everything?
Save emails that show a lack of cooperation in co-parenting or are threatening in nature. I have seen clients who lose hours and hours trying to save every email and text from their ex. Their job suffers. Their time with their children is eaten up by the task of compiling «evidence» that usually will not be seen by the court. If you have an ex who claims that emails are not sufficient and exclaims, «What about an emergency?» That argument has no merits. Good or bad, communication via email can now be instantaneously known to the recipient especially if using an app such as OFW. Unless there is blood spurting or someone is in an ambulance, an email is as good as a text.
Finally, if what you are doing in your communications with your ex is working, then ignore what I am saying here. These are simply suggestions and tools to use that I have learned from my personal experience and through interactions with clients who have abusive spouses. Divorce is hard enough. You deserve peace.
Colleen Honquest, Principal at DivorceMD, LLC
Certified Divorce Coach and Divorce Mediator (email me for your 30 minute free consultation)
Director of the National Association of Divorce Professionals Naperville Chapter