Communication Used as Control
Such a powerful subject, and one I have written on a few times: communication.
However, in this instance, I am coupling communication with control. I met with another young woman this week as she was struggling with some things in her relationship, or situation, if you will, with her ex. They are divorced and share custody and parenting time of twin girls. As if that is not enough, both the girls have autism.
She has a court order in place that stipulates all communication is to go through a court email system, unless it is of an emergent nature. She has been known herself go outside of the court email system in what she thought of as emergent in the heat of the moment. However, it has now gotten out of control with texts, personal emails, and phone calls. Worse than her receiving all those, she is responding to every single one of them.
As we continue through our conversation, she is realizing the mistakes she has made and the part she has played in bringing this nightmare onto herself.
We go back to the oh-so-hard to live by, but simple truth: not every contact made by your ex requires a response. In her case, if it has nothing to do with her girls, it needs no response. It deserves NO response.
By responding, she is allowing her ex control of her time, her energy, her thoughts, and sometimes her sanity.
Add to her situation the narcissistic tendencies of her ex, and we really have a controlling nightmare. There is no sense defending or arguing her point, because her ex believes he is always right and she is always wrong. No matter how hard she tries or how much time she spends, she will never get him to see it her way -- never. So, don’t waste your time and effort. What he thinks or says about her no longer matters. What he wants, what he demands, what he says, what he thinks, no longer should hold value in her life.
Now before you get all up in arms, if and when it pertains to the children, she needs to learn to decipher the valid and important from his rants. Him saying she is a bad parent, with or without examples, doesn’t matter. She knows she is a good mommy; it shows in her girls. Why should him saying any different change anything?
By continuing the arguing, she has handed over control and prolongs contact that otherwise would not happen. Simply stick to the matter at hand. Short, direct answers dealing with the immediate matter is best.
She is pleading for just one week of peace from her ex, when I explain she needs to take that week! She needs to not allow him to steal her peace. Case in point, while we are chatting her girls are a short distance from us playing, within sight but out of hearing range. There is nothing of an emergent nature that could need her attention right now, as the girls are safe and happy with her. So that constant beeping of her phone’s text message alerts should not be happening. But it is, so next best thing is to not react. Because we have decided that an emergency cannot be happening with her children, I ask her to glance through the texts, only glance to confirm there is not a true emergency with her ex; there is not. Now, later when the girls are in bed and the day is winding down and she finds a moment of time, she can read the texts if she so desires. (They did not come through the court-appointed email system). If they do not have to do with the children and a need of theirs, she is not to respond. He does not need to know where she has been, or what she is doing, or anything else of the personal nature. If something should require a response, then she is to respond through the court-ordered email system.
There is so much more to this story, but for now we are dealing with the control issue and using communication to obtain that control. After we spend a couple of hours together, we part ways. A few days later, I check in with her. My question: “Have you allowed yourself some peace?” A little while later, I am pleased with her response of, “yes, I have.” She shared with me that she is not automatically responding to his every whim. She is responding when it pertains to the girls and when she has time to think and respond. No more heat of the moment, quick answers that are simply reacting and lashing out at the beckoning of her ex. She mentions it is more difficult when during the transition times because it is face-to-face, and more difficult when the girls are with their dad. Both are understandable. My suggestion to her on the face-to-face dilemma is take someone with her. In the beginning, I always had someone with me when I dropped the kids off at the home of my ex. He was less likely to be mean, rude, or abusive with a witness around. As all parents who share custody know, it is difficult when our children are in the other parent's care. We worry more, we stress more, we wonder more. And we know all of that leads to thoughts of things that “could” happen. I have not discovered a way to stop that. My beef when it was happening to me, the constant contact when the children were with their father, was, shouldn’t he be spending his time with our children and not harassing me? So again, briefly glance through the text or email to see if it truly pertains to the children. If not, then the delete button is your friend. If it does, read it and pull out only the important info and then decide if and how to respond in your own timing.
Control is an ugly thing at times. And in this case, very ugly. Please, as my parenting coordinator once told me, treat this new shared parenting as a business arrangement. Your ex’s thoughts about you are no longer relevant, as are yours about your ex. You both love and care for your children, and that is what matters. Try to remove the emotions of once loving the other parent and just deal with the facts. And since, in this case, communication is ordered to be email, if you are not sure you can remove the emotion, have a trusted confidant read and edit your responses before hitting the send key. Stick to the facts and that alone, with limit to the amount of communication on your part. And eventually, that in turn will limit the amount of communication coming from your ex.
As my dad once stated, “It takes two to argue.”