How to Keep Calm and Set Boundaries with an Emotional Ex

Like many divorced parents, you may be struggling to respond to inflammatory messages from your former spouse. Last week, I covered several ways to filter out irrelevant communications and focus instead on child-related concerns.

We can’t control what others say, but we can control how we respond. That’s easier said than done, however. Getting a snippy text, accusatory email, or angry phone call can set our blood boiling, and it’s easy to respond in ways we regret.

In her article End the Drama and Find Peace: New Rules for Dealing With an Over Emotional Ex, psychotherapist and divorce expert Kate Scharff lays out the two biggest mistakes most people make, and a healthier alternative.

The first mistake, she says, is the Defensive Response. A lengthy, point-by-point reply may seem like the best way to resolve a multitude of issues, but it’s just fodder for further attacks. If you’re insecure or conflict-averse, says Scharff, you may be prone to this habit.

The second mistake is the Retaliatory Response. By responding with sarcasm and counter-accusations, we escalate the situation. Avoid falling into this trap when you feel hurt or angry or if you are quick-tempered, says Scharff.

Instead, focus on the main issue using what Scharff calls the Boundaried Response. In the Boundaried Response, Scharff says, we ignore all emotional content and respond “only to relevant child-related issues — using few words and a neutral, business-like tone.”

In the article, Scharff gives detailed examples of different responses to a provocative email. It’s clear how the Boundaried Response defuses tension and keeps things on track.

With regular practice, we can establish appropriate limits and set the stage for healthier future communication. Establishing new habits takes practice and patience, however. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it takes a while to get the hang of it.

With a combined 30 years in family law, the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC, will provide the legal guidance you need. For questions or to schedule a confidential consultation, contact us today.