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coParenting & Combating High Conflict Communication

The difficulty with a co-parent who engages in what some call “white paper terrorism” is you know you shouldn’t respond but sometimes you simply have too.(3 min 16 sec read)

Karen Bonnell
Karen is a coach that has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress, and change.

The difficulty with a co-parent who engages in what some call “white paper terrorism” (aka repeated motions before the court, constant lengthy emails, threatening legal actions, or consistently dragging old marital wrongs into each conversation about the children), you don’t always have a choice about whether you respond or not. Sometimes you simply have too.

But, here’s the secret!

Responding in high-conflict ways, fighting fire with fire, defending yourself or exhausting yourself trying to set the record straight becomes the treat for the rat pulling the lever. In other words, each and every time your ex (or anyone) can get-you-going and you respond from that place, you give them the treat they’re after and reinforce the high-conflict behavior.

Once you’ve got rid of the feelings you had for your ex you will become unable to provoke. When you’ve worked through restructuring your relationship to the point that negative, destructive or high-conflict behavior no longer pulls you into a spin of responding, you’ll know you have arrived at indifference toward this person’s opinion of you, beliefs about your parenting, attacks on your home life and so forth.

So, how does communication look with a high-conflict co-parent once you’ve disengaged and found your indifference? Let’s take a look at these practical and important steps:

    1. Only Respond to Text/Email from a Level-Head: Sometimes this means waiting a few hours before responding. Sometimes this means responding with, “Jack, I received your email. I’ll get back to you tomorrow at 7 PM on this.” And, of course, follow through. The key is to be in your right state of mind when you respond, and you want to exercise self-determination about when that can happen. Be reasonable. Don’t avoid responding as a power play. Delay only as long as you need to engage your indifference and level head.
    1. Only Respond to the Content that Directly Impacts Your Children: Famously, high-conflict communicators introduce one subject about the kids and follow with everything in the kitchen sink!! Get out your private eye’s magnifying glass and skim over all the “blah, blah, blah” in order to ferret out what’s about your kiddo and respond to that. Start by restating the issue you’re addressing: “Lydia, you’re wondering if Maddie should continue in chess club after school and whether I’ll pay my portion of that expense. The answer is yes, I would support chess club, and yes, I’ll pay my portion of the $45 club fee. Thank you for signing her up.” This sort of clarity will require you to move past insults, insinuations, mistakes and personal attacks. That’s what good private eye co-parents learn to do with high-conflict communication!
    1. Be Brief, Informative, Firm and (Business) Friendly: Thanks to Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute we have this tidy acronym: B-I-F-F. Check each and every communication that you send for these four characteristics. If you start down the slippery slope of correcting, lecturing, defending, or threatening in response, you know what to do, right? Put the email in a draft folder and push back from the computer!
  1. Be Sure to Communicate Helpful Information Regarding the Children Prior to Residential Transitions: Set your co-parent up for success by providing a (B-I-F-F) transition email regarding the children’s residential time with you that will assist as they pick up the mantle of caring for the kids. You’re not instructing them on how to parent; you’re constructing a bridge of healthier co-parent communication.

By communicating more effectively and sticking to your value of constructive co-parenting, you do your part to help your children have an amazing childhood living across two homes. It may take time, but never lose faith that one day your coParent will let go and they will join you in a more constructive approach to coParenting for the kids.  

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