Communicating with the Ex: Learn to Bite Your Tongue

Posted by Delaine - February 17, 2009 - Dealing with the ex, Surviving - 4 Comments


You’re on the phone with your ex, courteously discussing a pending issue related to your kids or your divorce.  Suddenly, ‘it’ happens – his voice turns whiney and he starts singing the ‘poor-me’ blues. Or maybe he throws in an unexpected mean remark.  Or maybe, just maybe, he decides to start venting – and you find you and your character under attack.

What are you going to do about it?  Get mad?  Get even?  Cry?  Be defensive?  I’ve done them all.  And in the end, they all yielded the same outcome: the pending issue wasn’t resolved and both of us hung up feeling more upset and angrier than before.  What the hell?  You ask yourself.  Why can’t he focus on the issue instead of using our communication as a way to vent/process his feelings?

This is where I step in as a newly divorced mother  to offer (wise) words of advice.  First of all, why he can’t control what he says to you  is NOT your problem to figure it out.  Trust me – the last person he wants to hear advice from is YOU.   Secondly, study the following five words and etch them in you brain:  LEARN TO BITE YOUR TONGUE.  Figuratively AND literally if need be.  The bottom line is that if he can’t ‘stick to business’, for whatever reason that may be, your words are falling on deaf ears.  And not being listened to feels even worse than any seconds of pleasure you gain from retaliation.

I’m not saying you should be a doormat and just sit there on the phone taking his abuse;  NO, not at all.  You can calmly say, “You may not speak to me that way. Either call me back when you’re calmer or I’m hanging up.”  Or, if your instincts tell you this issue will not be resolved without emotionally battery, stick to, “You may speak to me that way,”  hang up, and then bring it up with your lawyer.  Please note that I DIDN’T say to threaten him with legal action.  Just bite your tongue, get smart, and talk to your lawyer.  Period.

On my divorce journey, I’ve rarely had face-to-face altercations with my ex.  They ‘ve usually gone down by phone, email or text messaging where we didn’t have to look each other in the eye.  Nonetheless, emails and text messages can be just as upsetting and easily turn to into a war zone.  Here’s how tongue biting applies using these mediums.

When you receive an upsetting or infuriating email, hammer out a response in the heat of the moment but DON’T PRESS SEND, the cyberspace equivalent of tongue-biting.  I know he called you a mean name, I know he’s being sarcastic and slanderous and acting like a total jack-ass.  But you don’t have to buy into it – YOU are the one who’s going to take care of business; you, my dear, are the smarter and bigger person.  

The next step  (and this might be a toughy) is to wait a few hours or maybe even till the next day before reviewing your response letter.  The first thing you do is go to the cc box and type in your lawyer’s name ( a fake address if need be).  Now, go back into your email and rewrite it in a way that portrays you as the level-headed, respectable woman you are.  Stick to business only.  Oh, I know that one sentence you wrote about him being a dead-beat dad feels good – and it’s the truth – but you will delete it anyway and focus on the issue at hand.  Focus, stay clear on the task at the hand, and bite your tongue!

You will be amazed at how quickly your ex will clean up his language if he knows a third person is privy to his emails.  Especially if it’s a lawyer – the fear of legal action is a great motivator.  Also, make sure you inform your ex that you save all his emails.  This might make him mad, but what’s he going to do about it?  Write you another mean email that he knows will go into the legal stockpile?  Believe me, he’ll think twice about his hotheadedness; at the very least, he’ll bring it down a few notches.   

Text messages are definitely one of the easiest, quickest ways for an ex to instantly blast you.  I’ve seen downright Text Wars erupt between couples that get so out of hand, they last for days.  My philosophy on texting the ex is simple:  keep it minimal, ie: only use it for minor details like alterations to the kids’ pick-up times.  I’ve come right out and told my ex that he should email me at home cause I usually don’t carry my phone.  And if he sends me a mean or cutting email, I do the cellphone tongue-biting equivalent:  I don’t respond.  Silence, my friend, speaks volumes in the land of text messages –  just as tongue-biting has a place in the divorce process.