We've all been there: you and your co-parent are involved in a long text, email, or phone conversation that's going nowhere fast. You're getting more upset by the minute. Your co-parent is yelling, calling names, and dishing out all kinds of nonsense (and maybe you're engaging a little in the chaos, too). How do you end the cycle? How do you quit tormenting yourself? How do you stop your coparent from tormenting YOU?
Easier said than done, for sure. But here are a few tips to get you headed in the right direction.
#1 - Trust yourself
You know your coparent and you know yourself. When you're trying to communicate with your coparent, pay attention to your body. What's happening inside of you? Take the focus off of what's going on in your mind, and pay attention to changes in: your heartbeat, breathing, perspiration level, muscle tension, and anything else you can tap into. Those changes are alerting you (often times before your brain is) that things are taking a turn, and you should end the conversation. Trust that when you very first feel one of these symptoms, it's time to say "goodbye".
#2 - Give yourself permission
Allow yourself to end an unproductive call without guilt or shame. Your high conflict coparent isn't going to do you any favors by participating in a productive way to this conversation. You know that already. It's perfectly acceptable for you to say, "I can see this isn't going to be a productive call, so I'm going to go ahead and hang up. We can revisit this at a later date." And then, you hang up. Is it going to feel great the first time you do it? Absolutely not. Is it going to put a stop to the chaos in the moment? Yes.
For more scripts, grab my $5 Big Book of Boundaries & Scripts HERE. So, so many positive reviews from purchasers!
#3 - Use scripts
Scripts are an incredibly valuable tool for communicating with your high conflict coparent (some people call them canned responses). They help keep YOU on track. They help you communicate without emotion, they help you set and enforce boundaries, and they help hold you and/or your coparent accountable. They are NOT magic wands, though. They won't magically make your coparent comply (although my ebook, linked in the paragraph above, does help you approach difficult topics like finances, child support, attorney talk, court threats, and getting information from your coparent... along with a bunch of others!). Having this particular tool in your tool belt is key to helping you avoid or stay entangled in conflict.
#4 - Create space
Immediately after ending the conversation, put down the phone, shut your computer, or put physical space between yourself and your co-parent. This is the hard part. You're giving yourself and your co-parent the time and space to move away from the conflict. This means you're not engaging again. You've told your co-parent that you're not going to participate in this conversation any longer... and you have to mean it. So when they call, email, or text you again, don't answer it. It's anxiety provoking and hard to sit through this, especially when your coparent is now bombarding you with communication. You can do it. Sit with it.
*of course if this is an emergency or your attorney has advised you otherwise, you'll want to go ahead and re-engage
#5 - Move through
Sitting with this is hard. It feels uncomfortable, it's anxiety provoking, and it's probably consuming a majority of your mental space. This is why it's important for you to find support, spend time processing, or find a distraction immediately following the interaction with your co-parent. Support might look like: calling a friend, your Mom, or talking through this with your partner. Processing might look like: journaling, writing, creating, or using a processing skill you have in your tool belt. Distraction might look like: housework, a work out, or dinner with friends. Anything to help you re-focus and move through this particular part of the process. It will (and should) look different for each of you.
You can do this.
There you have it. Five steps to successfully shutting down communication with your co-parent. Let me know if you try this, and let me know how it goes below! Don't forget to pick up your copy of my Boundaries and Scripts ebook here.