You and your partner are no longer together but you still need to communicate, either to figure out the details of your separation, to handle co-parenting duties, or for some other reason. Unfortunately, many people who split still feel anger or hatred towards each other. These intense emotions can even come through in emails.
For example, people will use capital letters to show they are YELLING, to call their ex names, or to set their ex straight with the facts. It is a natural human reaction to want to state things like, “THIS is how it happened,” “You got it WRONG” or “You did THIS.”
Another harmful tactic with email is when people forward an email from their ex to their family or friends to rally support for their own point of view.
Some people try to be positive by using the “sandwich method,” which is to say something positive, then give the feedback, then say something else that’s positive. This can be a great strategy but when you are angry it can come across as disingenuous and patronizing. It may seem like just another way to make your point.
Other people ignore an email from their ex without responding, “I’m not going to dignify that with a response, it’s not worth my time.” This is another – more indirect – way of punishing your ex, by withdrawing from the communication and refusing to give them any attention.
Move out your emotions
So what are some healthier ways to cope with nasty emails from your ex? You want to look through the email and ask yourself, “What can I do right now and what can I do in the future?” Usually before you can look at a nasty email honestly and with a positive attitude you need to calm down. Before you do anything else, or even consider responding, first get rid of the anger, sadness, fear or any other emotion you are feeling. The best way to do that is to do something physical.
Ask yourself what you are feeling, and how you need to move in order to release that emotion. “I’ve got to shake my angries out,” was one young client’s solution. Don’t think or talk about why you are angry, sad, or whatever you’re feeling, just get moving and work the feelings out.
Now that your brain is no longer being hijacked by your emotions, you’re almost ready to look at the email again. But first, make a list of five positive things about your ex. Keep this close by as a reminder of his or her good qualities, and some of the reasons you were together in the first place.
Next, make another list, this time in two columns. On the left, list all of the things you want to talk about related to the issue at hand (e.g., children’s homework schedule and this week’s pick-up times). On the right, list all of the topics that are off-limits, because they’re unrelated or because they always lead to unproductive arguments (e.g., the children’s clothing or things that happened in the past).
Drafting your response
Look at the email again, and create a draft response that keeps you in the present and building a positive future. Remember to be positive and do not reprimand, blame or be controlling.
Focus on figuring out the action that needs to happen here. Do you just need to acknowledge receipt of the email? Do you need to state what you will do? Do you need to make a suggestion that meets things halfway? Once you have drafted your email, stop. Do not press send. I repeat, do not press send.
The final step is to review the email. Scrutinize it and ask yourself, “Is this positive, logical, reasonable and relevant?” You may even ask someone else to read it over for you. When you’re confident that you’ve met these criteria, you can go ahead and send the email.
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