Emailing With Your Ex-Spouse: A How-to Guide

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Email communication with your ex-partner can be one of the most complicated, emotionally charged parts of divorce. Just ask my client, Helen. She and her ex-husband had managed to keep the peace throughout their divorce until one day their troubled 18-year-old son, struggling with college and life, sent Helen a scathing text: “I hate you. I’ll never do anything you ask. I’m going to fight you on everything. It’s all your fault!” That was the gist of it.

No parent wants to hear those words, but Helen understood her son was just venting. The divorce had been hard on him, too. She forwarded the text to her husband so he’d be up to speed on what was going on. Unfortunately, Helen’s husband didn’t see her previous text explaining that the message came from their son. He thought the words were Helen’s – and that she was raging against him.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw his response,” Helen said. “Oh, it was ugly! Here I was expecting to read, ‘I won’t allow our son to speak to you this way. I’ll address this with him.’ Instead, the whole thing was an attack on my character from the very first line.”

Helen couldn’t finish the email. She called her husband and told him he’d made a mistake. Naturally, her husband was deeply chagrined. He apologized over and over. Perhaps he’d felt cornered, he said. But he never should have expressed his feelings in words. Helen forgave him and deleted the email, and life went on. But I suspect Helen will never truly forget.

As we all know, email isn’t like speaking face-to-face. It’s not even like talking on the phone. There’s a certain sense of removal that makes it all too easy to abandon our usual social constraints and put our frustrations and resentments into words… and hit “send.”

Please, please, don’t succumb to the temptation. I speak from experience. During my own divorce, I’m embarrassed to say, the emails became so nasty that a third party had to be cc’d on every exchange.

Nowadays I teach my clients to eliminate the anger, accusations, attitude, and judgments from all their emails to their ex-partners. Sometimes I actually help them craft their communications to edit out all the emotion. I frequently suggest communicating in the form of bullet points, including facts, dates, requests for information, and nothing more. Write as though a judge will be reading everything, which may in fact be the case.

Remember, when you send an emotionally charged email, you:

  • Look like a jerk to anyone who may read your words
  • Encourage your ex-partner to respond in the same negative tone
  • Walk around filled with anger while the exchange is going on
  • Negatively affect your kids
  • Lose the opportunity to convey valid points

When you keep your communication constructive and emotion-free, you:

  • Remain credible-looking to the court
  • Protect your reputation in the community
  • Earn your children’s respect
  • Increase the chances of having your voice heard

So keep your side of the street clean. Save the hurt and frustration for your private journal, your therapist, or your coach. Even if your ex-spouse pushes your buttons, don’t take the bait, and don’t give him/her ammunition to use against you. I promise you’ll be better off in the long run.

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