Bad news bears.
You know the old story where the lion is walking merrily along minding his own beeswax, when suddenly he finds himself swooped up into a hunter’s netted trap?
Every time you respond to a negotiation request or nasty jab from your ex via text message, you allow yourself to be dangled from that tree, with no protection and no idea of what will happen next — exactly like that unsuspecting lion.
I hear what you are saying to me now. This is your spouse. The mother/father of your children. You have known this person for years, maybe even decades, and quite possibly since before text-messaging existed. It seems silly and over-cautiously limiting to think you should suddenly stop texting each other just because you are getting divorced.
The problem is that divorce is a terribly tricky transition for even the most amicable of soon-to-be exes.
Here are just a few major problems with texting your ex during the divorce process.
1. What most people love about texting is the perceived immediacy of communication.
Texts may be fantastic in stable relationships, but when you are going through a process as stressful as divorce, they are a merely a set up for arguments over response time. Texting in the case of emergencies is one thing, but as your go-to form of communication with your ex it is just unwise.
2. This perception of immediacy also leads the person receiving a text to feel an artificially urgent need to respond.
Divorce is a time when you will do best to take time and carefully consider your responses. Text-tone is complicated enough for even best friends to read. It is far too easy to glance down, misread tone, and react in a way that sets a nasty, completely unnecessary argument in motion.
3. While texting seems like the most guaranteed way to get a message out expeditiously, it is rife with potential for missed or mixed messages.
I have personally experienced arguments that never needed to occur because a text I sent someone was never received, and vice versa. We may clear it up eventually by exchanging screenshots of the conversation, but there is no way to know for sure when texts have or have not been received.
Texts also may get broken up and arrive out of order, leading to all kinds of strange misunderstandings and frustrations.
4. It is difficult to maintain reliable records of text messages.
When you file for divorce, you are filing a lawsuit. That is just the simple truth, no matter how amicably you are able to complete your process through a self-help center, mediator or collaborative divorce group. You should keep clear, organized records of all communications with your ex. Texting is not at all conducive to that.
If you still feel the need to continuing texting, or if you would prefer to stop but your ex refuses, here are 5 tips for lessening the potential conflicts and staying out of the proverbial lion trap.
Practice mindful response times. You don’t want to passive-aggressively “forget” to respond, but you also don’t need to respond right away. Set a timer and give yourself a few minutes to breathe deeply, remind yourself that this is why getting divorced is a good thing for both of you, and focus on the question at hand. Then you can respond in a civil manner, without replaying the negative communication patterns that likely led to your divorce anyway.
Reply back from email regarding any substantive matter. Just because your ex presents questions by text, you don’t have to respond in the same format. You can simply say, “Thank you for this message. I know this is important and I will respond to you in an email ASAP.” Then do that. If they complain or try to continue the conversation over text, simply continue re-sending the same reply text, followed by responses to each new question via email.
Set up a standard response to send. Paste a form of the message above into a memo on your phone so that you can quickly access it to copy and paste whenever you need to. This also works for similar situations such as when your ex calls during work hours or leaves you questions over voice mail.
Set a ringtone/vibration style specific to your ex. Sometimes just reading a text from your ex is enough to trigger your habitual fight or flight response to them, making it difficult to remember any of the first three points above. If you customize the ringtone or vibration style specific to calls and texts from your ex, you can wait to read or listen until you are in a place to pull up these notes and respond accordingly.
Breathe. As clichéd as it may sound, never respond to a message you find frustrating or aggravating until you have sat for a moment, taken several deeps breaths, and reminded yourself that impulsively lashing back will only hurt yourself in the end.
This article was originally published at The Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission from the author.