In our last blog about Divorce and Separation Communication Advice, we talked about the Golden Rule in Divorce Settlement Negotiations. We hope from that you understand how important it is that you should always write as if a judge was reading text or email or watching your conversation!
But even if your email is a gold star example of the perfect email, we also think it is important – before you press dial or hit the send button – that you should ask yourself the following two most important questions…
1. What is your goal in making the communication
Before communicating with your ex ask yourself the question “What do I want to achieve with this email/text?”.
Then take a moment to ask whether that goal is helpful to you… in the longer term.
We know it is tempting to take a swipe at your ex or send a text to let off steam or vent, particularly at the beginning of a separation.
We also know that it can take all your resources to walk away – close the computer or put the phone down. But if you are sending a text primarily just to hurt or vent we would ask you whether it is worth throwing the grenade. It is our experience that such communications usually backfire – either immediately or over the long term. Either you feel guilty and act accordingly. Or your ex finds a way to up the ante and get their own back. Or they may just ignore you – which may be worse.
Firing the grenade may win you the battle but lose you the war. For this reason, if your goal is to harm for harm’s sake only, we would, with kindness and empathy, suggest you find another avenue for your angst.
Choose your battles wisely. Do not use all of your “goodwill” on a confrontation that has short-term consequences (even in the event that you get what you asked for). Keep it for those bigger and more important negotiations.
And if you have received a hostile email or text from your ex, think about whether you need to respond. Often by responding, you may be adding fuel to the emotional fire and escalating the conflict. Remember that vitriolic or antagonistic emails from your ex, his sister, friend or even, at times, their lawyer may not even require a response. If this is the case, you are better off just putting it away and not giving it any power or energy.
There are two exceptions to this advice.
The first is if your ex’s message contains false accusations. You should then respond quickly and factually – and without emotion.
The second is if the communication is from a lawyer requiring you to do something. In those circumstances we would suggest asking your lawyer to respond or at least get some legal advice first.
2. Are you asking for something that is unlikely to happen?
There is little point asking for something that is impossible or which you are certain will not happen (because your ex, for example says “No” or ignores your request).
At best, this will only leave you powerless and angry (forcing you to keep asking and getting more and more resentful and angry) – and at worst may give your ex an inflated sense of power which they may then choose to exert time and time again.
So if you are demanding that he not introduce his new girlfriend to your children EVER, understand that he may then choose do so earlier than he had planned (to show you you are not in charge) or do so without telling you. In this circumstance, we would suggest that you are much better off giving him a transitional plan, for example
“I have done some reading and talked to a few professionals about the best way to introduce new partners to the kids. I am not sure what your feelings are about this and whether you want to do this yet but obviously we want to make sure that our kids are not emotionally compromised by feeling that they need to side with either one of us. Might be good to come up with a transitional plan of some sort. Let me know what you think.”
It is even better if this email is sent before he sends one telling you that he plans on introducing his new girlfriend of a couple of weeks to your kids.
Think also about whether there is another way to ask for what you want and use a tone that is more likely to get you the result you need.
Of course we do know clients who have used the “asking for the world” approach as a tactic to get their ex to agree to something else that is less outrageous. While we agree that this can sometimes be a useful strategy we would also urge you to use this tactic sparingly and strategically.
If you have decided, having considered Rule One and Two, that you do want and need to communicate with your ex, we would suggest that you review our upcoming Blogs on the FIVE “F” Rules of Divorce Communication Etiquette.