Communication Techniques with a Difficult Ex-Spouse: Navigating Choppy Waters

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Written by Liesel Darby, Mediator & Divorce Coach

Going through a divorce can already feel emotionally draining, and when your co-captain is a difficult ex-spouse, it can seem impossible to find calm waters. You're not alone on this journey; many women have navigated these choppy waters and found their way to smoother sailing. This blog post is your beacon of hope, illuminating strategies that work, offering a helping hand in the form of support groups, and affirming the importance of maintaining legal boundaries.

Rock and A Hard Place: Choosing Your Response

Everyone knows that communicating with a difficult ex-spouse can feel like crashing into the rocky shore when all you want is to lie on the white sandy beach beyond the rocks. A cold Rum Runner in your hand is a bonus. How to deal with the rocks? Angry feelings will only get you cut up. You must become a rock.

This is the opposite of throwing stones, mind you. You might have heard of the gray rock method—a strategy where you make yourself as uninteresting as possible to avoid giving your ex-spouse ammunition to rile you up. But have you heard about the yellow rock technique? It's about being warm yet unyielding, like sunlight that doesn't waver no matter how many clouds pass by. These techniques work in the present moment, but also have the long-term benefit of extinguishing snarky attempts by your difficult STBX (soon-to-be-ex-spouse) to engage you in nonproductive upheaval. 

Imagine you're co-parenting and asking the other parent about the kids' weekend plans...your difficult ex spouse starts veering off into personal attacks. Channel your inner 'yellow rock'—stay warm, stay firm, give no emotional responses. Just reiterate your question calmly because, at the end of the day, the conversation about children's well-being deserves your undivided, emotion-free attention.  Boring is beautiful.

The BIFF Model: A Beacon of Clarity

BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. Think of it as a compass that can guide you to effective communication. Answer that hostile email from your difficult ex spouse with just the facts. Keep it short, be informative without oversharing, stay friendly despite the provocation, and stand your ground firmly without any aggressiveness. Again, emotional distance is key. Have you tried drafting a BIFF response? How did it steer the conversation?

Stress Management: Keeping Your Ship Afloat

When your ex-husband decides to stir things up, it is crucial to have your own life raft of stress management techniques. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, or a few minutes of yoga can keep you afloat amid the emotional undercurrents of a difficult conversation. Try the box method of breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for four counts, then exhale for four counts.    This can work wonders for calming frayed nerves. Or try visualizing yourself in a calm place (maybe lying on that white sandy beach, staring at the turquoise water). Instant relaxation. 

You could also try visualizing the desired outcome of an upcoming conversation with your difficult ex-spouse, with you calmly discussing only pertinent information, staying away from any attempts to draw you into an argument. Remember, your well-being is the life jacket that protects both you and your children from going under.

An Emotional Support Crew: You're Not Sailing Solo

If the waves of emotional turmoil become too much to bear alone, remember that joining a divorce support group can provide the camaraderie and understanding you need. Sharing stories like sailing tales can help you navigate through your own. There is something comforting about listening to others’ challenges and victories. Sharing your own may provide someone else the courage to keep moving forward. Remember, you don’t have to go through this alone. When did you last reach out for support, and how did it change your perspective?

Legal Boundaries: Your Map to Navigating Rights and Responsibilities

While emotional detachment is key, it's also critical to understand and respect legal boundaries around communication, especially in custody contexts. You must respond to requests regarding your child's medical, educational, and general well-being—it's part of the legal compass you need to follow. Direct your conversations towards compliance and keep meticulous records.

It's always wise to have your map meticulously charted. Using an app such as Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents (there are others as well, at various price points) can greatly help to keep conversations focused on the kids and provides a record of your conversations that are transparent to the courts, family law attorneys, and any other professionals that you allow to view your conversations with your STBX.

Steering Towards Solutions: The Art of Conflict Resolution

Conflict can be like encountering a sudden squall. To sail through smoothly, keep your focus on moving forward toward solutions. Avoid the turbulent waters of blame and resentment; they only push you back into the storm. Although it is easy to fall back into negative emotions, set an intention to take a higher point of view. How often do you consciously steer conversations with your ex towards finding resolutions rather than rehashing old arguments?

A Guiding Light to Calmer Seas

Reframing your approach to communication with your difficult ex-spouse isn't about making them change—it's about being in control of your own behavior. The only person you have any control over is yourself, and the good news is that you can absolutely do that. Be the beacon, not the waves. And, when the going gets tough, seek the lighthouse of professional guidance, be it a divorce coach, legal advisor, or a trusted support network.

Remember, you are the captain of your ship, and your course is yours to chart. Your journey might have stormy days, but with the right tools, techniques, and support, you'll find your way to tranquil shores. Keep navigating, keep learning, and keep prioritizing your peace. The horizon holds brighter days.

Embark on a new journey and join a supportive community of fellow navigators. Intentional Divorce Solutions offers virtual divorce support groups. Join us and sail towards a positive future because every woman deserves to chart her course to calmer seas.

Related blog posts: 

Help Eliminate Shared Parenting Struggles with One of these Co-Parenting Apps

Post-Divorce Co-Parenting Conflict Around the Holidays

Resolve to Be a Better Co-Parent

My Key to Successful Co-Parenting is Not "Putting My Children First"


About Intentional Divorce Solutions

At Intentional Divorce Solutions, we specialize in guiding you through the divorce process with intention. This includes:

  • Mindful Decision-Making: Our expertise helps you make informed decisions with long-term benefits.
  • Constructive Communication: We foster open, honest dialogue to minimize conflict.
  • Collaborative Solutions: We assist in finding solutions that honor the needs of both parties.
  • Emotional Well-being: We address the emotional impacts on all family members.
  • And Future-Focused Planning: We prioritize your post-divorce stability and well-being.

At Intentional Divorce Solutions, our goal is to transform the divorce process into a journey of cooperation and respect, ensuring a healthier transition for everyone involved.

Our team provides comprehensive support and expertise in several key areas:

  • Divorce Financial Planning and Analysis: Providing in-depth financial insights and strategies for a secure future post-divorce.
  • Divorce Mediation: Facilitating respectful and balanced negotiations to reach mutually beneficial resolutions.
  • Divorce Coaching: Offering personalized support and guidance to help you navigate through emotional and practical challenges of divorce.
  • Divorce Support Groups: Creating a space for sharing experiences and finding strength in community support.

Please Note: We focus on providing support and solutions in various aspects of divorce. However, we are not attorneys and do not offer legal advice.

Work With Us

If you are on the journey of divorce and seeking professional, empathetic support, we are here to assist you. Reach out to us to discover how our services can be adapted to your unique needs, empowering you to make informed decisions for respectful and positive outcomes.

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