You have just written the perfect email to your children’s other parent. You have used all the tools in your tool box to ensure your email is Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. You’ve had three people read the email over to make sure you haven’t missed any added emotion or dig. You cross your fingers and toes that this time, the issue at hand (insert issue creating conflict; Can Susie play hockey this season? Can Bobby get a haircut? How will Christmas be divided?) will be resolved peacefully. You hit send and then you wait.
You have no idea what the response will be. You have no idea if your child’s other parent will agree to the items in your email or if you’ll be blasted for a) why you are an awful person b) how you are an awful parent c) both a and b.
Although you have done everything right in trying to communicate your child’s needs/wants, you aren’t communicating with a rational person. You aren’t communicating with someone who is reading your email and understanding that you have your children’s best interests at heart. You aren’t communicating with someone who understands the lengths you have gone to try and reduce the conflict between you, not increase it. You aren’t communicating with someone who can manage their emotions enough to understand that criticizing you as a person and a parent will not change you, it will only create further conflict.
You are communicating with someone who flips everything you say and do into a negative. You are communicating with someone who will always do the opposite of what you ask for, even if it hurts or disappoints the kids, simply because you asked for it. You are communicating with someone who doesn’t have the ability to manage their behaviour enough to just answer your email with a simple yes or no. They have to give you a long explanation of why you are a horrible parent and/or person - and they may not even answer the question from the original email. One of three things generally happen once you hit send;
1) The other parent emails you back within 15 minutes criticizing you for all your faults as a parent/person and refuses to allow whatever it is you have asked for in your email.
2) The other parent emails you back 24 - 72 hours criticizing you for all your faults as a person/parent and agrees to what you’ve asked for in your email.
3) You never get a response to your email. You’re just left in limbo land.
If you are experiencing a high conflict separation or divorce, the above email communication pattern likely sounds familiar.
Parents experiencing high conflict separations and divorces often feel alone, isolated, confused and scared. Communication with someone who is irrational often results in becoming irrational yourself which can result in self-doubt, depression and a feeling of hopelessness. Understanding the pattern of communication with a person who may have a high conflict personality will allow you to have less fear, anxiety and stress around communication with your child’s other parent.
Unknowns are terrible - regardless of what they are. Removing the unknown from how your communication will unravel with a parent who may have a high conflict personality, will allow you to relax and feel less stress and anxiety during communications with your co-parent.
Three Communication Patterns of High Conflict Parents:
1) There will always be a negative statement about you as a person or you as a parent in their email communication with you. If the other parent is high conflict, they are incapable of not criticizing you. Expect it rather than be shocked by it. At the end of the day, they are just words. The words can only hurt you if you let them. Practice disengaging from the hurtful words and focus only on the content of the email that pertains to the children.
2) The emails you receive will be long winded, with little to no actual child related content, 95% of the time. Don’t let your emotions get tricked into believing anything else is true. 95% of the content in the long winded email will be criticisms about you as a person and/or your parenting skills. Find a friend or professional who can read the emails for you and tell you if there is anything of importance in them. If there is nothing of importance related to the children – do not respond.
3) The perceptions of the other parent will be different from your perceptions. Arguing with the other parent over what either of you believes to be true will get you nowhere, except an ugly email exchange. Who cares if the other parent believes you fed the children hot dogs for breakfast, lunch and dinner while camping one weekend, even though they know you are a strict vegan and would never do that. It’s not worth arguing about. Nothing you say/write will change their perception of what happened while you were camping, even though they weren’t there and have no idea what really happened. Parents who are high conflict see the world through a different lens than those who aren’t high conflict. In their reality, you really did feed the kids hot dogs for all of their meals even though you are a vegan and they can’t help themselves but to comment, negatively, about your choices.
Understanding who you are parenting with, and what to expect from their email communications will allow you the freedom to disengage from the conflict, decide whether or not to respond, and deliver the appropriate message when you do.