How To Respond To Hostile Messages From Your Ex-Spouse

Heartbreak, Self

Whatever you do, don't sink down to their level.

Hostile email exchanges have become quite common in divorce. There are some spouses who love sending them and use them to attack you, your family, friends and professionals. It's extremely tempting to respond in kind. Hostile email messages have also become a document used in family court to display someone's bad behavior. While your attorney may encourage you to save copies of hostile email sent to you, it is very important that you not send hostile emails to anyone. Not only could your spouse use them again you, but responding to your exspouse with a hostile message in return is also not a demonstration of you being your best self. Instead, I would suggest that you assertively use what the High Conflict Institute describes as the BIFF response, and encourage others with whom you regard as being a part of your support system to do the same. It will most likely end up saving you a lot of wasted time, energy and even money.

Here Is The BIFF Response:

  • Brief: Keep your response brief. This will reduce the chances of a prolonged and angry back-and-forth. The more you write, the more material your ex-spouse has to criticize. I know it is easier said than done, but don't take your ex-spouse's statements personally, and don't respond with personal attacks. Avoid focusing on comments about your ex-spouse's character. Avoid the three "A's:" admonishments, advice and apologies. You do not have to justify or defend yourself.
  • Informative: The main reason to respond to a hostile e-mail is to correct inaccurate statements. Focus on the accurate statements you want to make, not the inaccurate statements your ex-spouse has made. Avoid negative comments, sarcasm and threats. Avoid personal remarks about the intelligence, ethics or moral behavior of your ex-spouse. Personal attacks rarely lead to insight or positive change.
  • Friendly: While you might be feeling angry or hurt and want to respond in kind, you are more likely to achieve your desired goals by expressing your thoughts in a friendly manner. If you consciously are thinking about a friendly response, your chances of getting a friendly or neutral response in return might increase. If your goal is to end the conflict, then being friendly has the greatest likelihood of success. Don't give your ex-spouse a reason to get defensive and keep responding. Just make your message sound relaxed and as non-antagonistic as you can.
  • Firm: In a non-threatening way, clearly tell your ex-spouse your information or position on the issue. Exercise care in not making comments that invite more discussion, unless you are negotiating an issue or want to keep a conversation going. Display as much confidence as you can when expressing your thoughts.  A confident-sounding person is less likely to be challenged with further e-mails.  Don’t emotionally engage.

Finally, regardless of how much your ex-spouse may push your buttons and antagonize you, remember these words from Anthony Robbins; "The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives."


Explore YourTango