How to deal with conflict after divorce

Researchers estimate that 15-30% of people that have gone through a divorce end up in a high conflict situation. Not being able to minimise or ideally stop communicating with an ex-partner is one of the main reasons why so many people struggle with their divorce.

In order to truly get past your breakup, you need to separate emotionally, physically and psychologically from your relationship.

People who recover fastest usually go strictly no contact with their ex-partner. And where a couple need to continue to communicate, for example if there are children involved, people experiencing an easier transition tend to strip their interaction back and focus on it being purely functional. 

It is difficult to cut off or minimise communication, especially in the beginning. If you are grieving as a result of your divorce, giving yourself space is key to a healthy recovery.

To help you with that, here is your 5-step long-term strategy to successfully communicate with your ex-partner to minimise conflict after divorce.

1. Keep it short and sweet

To make communications with your ex-partner less painful and emotionally draining, concentrate on practicalities, the real reason for the message or call.  Your goal is to start separating yourself from your ex-partner, and communication is a major part of that process.

Keep away from phrases like “you never…” or “you always”. They can make them feel attacked and they will fight back. No one will win.  Make requests, not demands (e.g. “would you be willing / able to…” rather than “you need to…”). They are more likely to comply with a polite request. Demands can be taken as a challenge.

Try to keep emotions out of it. It can be very challenging, especially if your ex-partner is trying to provoke you. In such cases remind yourself that your priority is your well-being. Emotions often lead to conflict and hurt.

If their message or request in clear, always as for clarification before you respond or make a decision.  Use phrases like “What specifically are you asking for?” or “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying”

Be respectful and avoid blaming them (or yourself!). Even if they were at fault. Your goal is to minimise your emotional pain, not to prove their faults to them.

2. Don’t answer hurtful messages

If you are getting hostile messages from your ex-partner, be very selective about which ones actually need your response.  You could be receiving messages which are attacking you as a person and trying to upset you, there is no need to respond to this type of message.  

If response is truly needed, wait 24 hours before you do it. ‘Noted’ is a good non-committal response.

3. Validate their response and feelings

High conflict personalities can be very sensitive about being ignored. Show them that you have heard and understood them even if you don’t agree with them or they are being ridiculous. It will help to de-escalate the tension.

Use phrases like “I understand…”, “I see your point…” in an empathetic tone of voice.

For example:   “I understand that [shows that you want to understand] you are worried that your daughter has used an inappropriate word” [shows that you have listened].

“Good manners are important to me too [in principle you agree with the value expressed] and I would like to assure you that we have regular conversations about what’s OK to say and do and what’s not.”

4. Only respond when you’re in the right place (and frame of mind)

If you’re on a commuter train or in a supermarket, leave it for later. Do the HALT check to work out if you are in the right frame of mind to respond.  The Halt check is checking in with yourself to see if you are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.  If you answered yes to any of them, it’s most certainly better to wait until you are feeling better before you respond.  If in doubt – don’t!

5. Don’t ask them for advice or support

This might be hard at first. You need to learn to get support from elsewhere. You aren’t together anymore, and you will only be left disappointed.

Sometimes, you might end up having an emotional, screaming, blaming conversation with your ex-partner that makes you feel very hurt.  It’s ok, you’re only human, you can start with these strategies again tomorrow, it will get better.

This is a guest blog by Sigita Russell, Confidence Coach, Born to be Confident

Sigita supports people having a tough time after divorce, and helps them to rebuild their confidence.  You can find out more about Sigita’s coaching programme here.

If you need legal support either with your divorce, or dealing with the aftermath, please don’t hesitate to contact Rucklidge Law.