Strategies for Communicating with a High-Conflict Ex-Spouse

Much like most parents, you are willing to do whatever it takes to protect your children from harm, whether that be physical, verbal, or emotional. Unfortunately, this becomes exponentially more difficult when you are in constant conflict with your children’s other parent, where their words and actions trigger responses that can negatively affect you and your children’s well-being. If you find yourself in this kind of high-conflict divorce, you may feel yourself wanting to quit, give in to your ex-spouses’ unreasonable demands, or do whatever it takes to stop the fighting, all in the hope it will make your and your children’s lives better.

However, many experts propose another way to cope with a high-conflict divorce, especially when children are involved. Rather than yield to one-sided demands, they say it is very important to have strong and secure boundaries, clear and concise communication, and precise documentation about your Ex’s manipulative behaviors.

This process starts by making a conscious decision to separate yourself from this spiral. If you take the time to sort through your triggers and plan a strategy for how to cope when triggered, you can put both you and your children on a path towards much healthier forms of conflict resolution.

During a divorce, you are probably making a raft of decisions unlike any others you have had to make before: custody and parenting schedule agreements, childcare choices, single-parent living adjustments, asset and debt divisions. In amiable divorces, or divorces with low levels of conflict, there is at least the luxury of being able to reach many of these decisions through regular communication with the other parent. But if you are instead experiencing constant push-back and unhealthy communication patterns from your Ex, you are stuck in a shadowy and destructive world of high-conflict decision making. So, how do you make decisions with someone who argues to the death against everything you suggest, for no other reason than to express their anger and resentment towards you? How do you ensure you are not negatively triggered when you are communicating with your high-conflict ex-spouse?

One way is to have a defined agenda in place before communicating and being ready to refocus on what needs to be decided, rather than reacting to your ex-spouses’ behavior. This means making concrete proposals for what you would like the outcome to be. Your ex-spouse will likely say, “No”, because that’s what they do. Don’t let it stall the process; ask them to make an alternative proposal and don’t take no for an answer. Since they likely don’t have a real answer, they might create a new drama, but don’t take the bait. Keep pushing for an alternate proposal.

Another tip for communicating with your ex-spouse, especially in writing, is to try to keep emotional words and personal opinions out of your texts and emails. A high-conflict person will seize on these words and ignore everything else you’ve written. Make your emails brief, informative, cordial and firm, and most importantly, child focused.

Also, begin to document the facts surrounding each manipulation and falsehood that your ex-spouse uses in an attempt to control you. Take notes, but don’t pepper them with emotions or opinions. Stick to facts, including dates, times, and outcomes. High-conflict people are often charismatic and work to manipulate those they perceive to be in positions of power. In order to ensure your voice is heard, you need to provide a detailed document outlining the pattern that is causing you and your children harm.

Unfortunately, dealing with a high-conflict ex-spouse does not always get easier. Rather than becoming more reasonable, their bitter feelings may increase and escalate as the years go by. There will be days you still want to quit, to walk away, to escape the insanity permanently. But by staying on the high road, you may be able to achieve positive results for you and your children, while preserving a bit of your sanity along the way.

If you have a high-conflict ex who is proving to be difficult to negotiate and work with, our firm is prepared to step in and offer counsel on your behalf. We are well-versed in these situations, and we are capable of offering an unbiased and fact-focused voice to speak up and fight for your rights. Call us today at (503) 227-0200 to get started.