Much of what would normally be a part of this section is already covered in our main page: Communication. Essentially, low-contact remains the order of the day with all communications. This post about low-contact on our blog gives even more detail, tips, and recommendations.
Still, we feel compelled to discuss some of the specifics with regard to phone contact and some additional ways to protect yourself.
Always first and foremost, you only discuss important matters pertaining to the children. If you are in a high-conflict situation, you are not friends. You are not buddies. You are not pals who just pick up the phone to create idle chit-chat about the children’s day-to-day activities.
Some basic rules:
- You have the right to allow all phone calls from the ex-partner to go to voice-mail. If it is important, they will leave a message. Then you can make a determination if a written response is appropriate. If it’s a true emergency, you can immediately return the call. If it’s a true emergency and they don’t leave a message – it’s wrong and this is not your fault. It’s theirs and whatever results from that failure on their part is owned by them.
- You deserve to be talked to in a respectful manner, devoid of accusations, vulgarity, screaming, yelling, or any other abusive language.
- You have the right to expect that the discussion will be focused on important matters pertaining to the children or emergency situations involving same. Anything not meeting that criteria will not be discussed.
- You will never discuss legal matters with your ex-partner, particularly if they or you have legal representation (absent their advice to do so, and only if you truly believe it’s good advice).
- If your boundaries are violated in any way, you have the right and the responsibility to hang up the phone on them.
#5 is an important and powerful tool. Nothing pushes a boundary breaker back over the proverbial fence quite like the ejection a hang-up in their ear offers.
I’ve done it. I have sometimes attempted to re-direct “Jane” back to the appropriate issue at hand. If she persists in trying to force a discussion on unrelated matters – I hang up. If she uses one cross word – I hang up. If she makes a single accusation of any kind – I hang up. It feels wonderful. You have all the power. If there is something pertaining to the children that needs to be discussed, she’ll call back. And, I’ll allow it and start as if the previous hang-up didn’t happen. There is a small pleasure in hearing in her voice the struggle to be civil.
However, almost all of the time, I just let the call go to voice mail and make the determination based upon the message whether or not to reply. When I do – it’s via email. (Voice mail also gives you evidence of their irrational, abusive behavior if they’re dumb enough to leave a raging one.)
When we’ve discussed this methodology with people, sometimes we’ll hear “the children” as an excuse to allow the verbal battering to continue. We’ve heard this quote (and similar) a surprising number of times from both moms (about dads) and dads (about moms):
“But I’m afraid to hang-up. I know my children are probably standing right there and if I hang up abruptly, she’ll tell them that I hung up on her and say all kinds of bad things about me!”
On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable excuse for allowing the harassing phone behavior. However, it’s not. Allowing it to continue unabated means that you’re making the choice to allow your children to bear witness to the high-conflict ex’s behavior. Your choice to allow it risks communicating to the children that it is okay with you to allow it to be unleashed upon you. I assure you, it won’t be long before you start to see that type of behavior towards you and others – out of your children.
While it is almost certain that a really bad ex will use it as another means of deploying parental alienation, at least you may have the opportunity to explain to your children that it is okay to do that when someone is being abusive to you over the phone. Further, allowing it will not stop the ex’s alienating behaviors.