Every time you send an e-mail to your ex, EVERY TIME, you need to ask yourself one question:
“How would this sound if it was read out loud in court?”
E-mail has become the weapon of choice in battling with one’s ex. On the upside, it’s easy, free, and allows almost-instantaneous communication. On the downside, it’s easy (to take cheap shots), free (to send hundreds of ’em) and allows for almost-instantaneous (regret after pushing “send”) communication. Plus, it can leave a paper trail that makes you look… well, less than pleasant.
It’s so easy to dash off an exultant e-mail pointing out your ex’s shortcomings. “You didn’t sign Timmy’s permission slip.” “You shouldn’t let them eat McDonald’s for dinner.”
Even easier is responding in kind when your ex sends you a snippy little e-mail pointing out your (alleged) shortcomings. “Well, if you hadn’t left me, I would have more time to cook.”
Fact: Your ex knows you. He or she knows you better than anyone – at one point, this idea was probably comforting. But he/she also knows where every single one of your buttons is, and which ones to push to exact maximum damage. Worst of all, your ex probably knows your deepest insecurities, and how to imply that they’re all actually true. Oh my God, those pants DID make me look fat.
So we have to re-think our communications strategies. And through lots of trial and error, I think I have a few rules to share.
1. Know Thy Stuff
Read your marital settlement agreement. Then read it again. Keep a copy in your desk at work, and another under your pillow. This is the document which provides the framework for any and all interaction you have with your ex, especially if it involves the children. If you have not yet crafted an agreement, DO SO CAREFULLY. If a dispute ever arises, the court will go back to the agreement – not necessarily to what you have been doing in the meantime. Don’t leave it up to your attorney. Read before signing. Likewise, read the laws on divorce and custody for your state (here in Florida, it’s Chapter 61, Fla. Stat.). That way, when your ex tries to tell you “the agreement says X,” or “the law says Y,” you can respond confidently and without panicking.
2. Step Away from the Keyboard
When you get an e-mail from your ex, do not respond immediately (unless it’s an emergency). Take a deep breath, count to ten, and sit on your hands.
What does he/she want? If the ex is seeking information, is it information he/she is entitled to? Read the e-mail carefully to avoid snap judgments about tone and content. For the first few years, ANY e-mail from your ex will probably be accompanied by a sickening, sinking feeling. Wait for that to pass. I recommend a snack at this point.
If the e-mail or message is solely sent to annoy you or push your buttons, move it out of your inbox. Do not engage. ABORT.
4. Craft a response…..
The “save draft” button is your friend. Write a response, and then go back and strip out any emotion. Delete that sentence about “that underage whore you’re dating.” Take out the reference to “that car you loved more than me.” Remove the line about “funding your shoe budget with the child support.” Do not take a defensive tone. Be polite, even if it is through gritted teeth. Say “please” and “thank you.” Avoid lengthy explanations or defenses. Remember – anything you send to your ex may one day be Exhibit A to court filing.
5. …. and THEN send it.
Your ex is not your emotional punching bag, and (as un-fun as it is) you no longer have the right to lash out at him/her every time you get annoyed.
Most importantly, it does not matter if your ex follows these rules or not. I know it’s hard, but you need to communicate clearly and cleanly for your own sake. I wish I could say that if you play fair, your ex will to – but that would be a dirty, dirty lie.
This is my motto: