Question: My ex sends the meanest, vilest, and most threatening emails about what an awful spouse I was. Now the children are hearing about it, too. I spend hours refuting what is said, line by line, and it is exhausting. It just doesn’t stop. What can I do?
Just STOP answering the accusations, and here's why:
Your ex has declared email war on you out of hurt and desire for revenge. As long as someone is wrapped up in the hurt of divorce, they will be vulnerable to vindictive acts. Vindictiveness is driven by real or imagined pain caused by another. My advice to you is to stop responding to these hurt-driven accusations. When you must communicate, ignore the accusations and just keep to the facts of what your children need, such as when to pick them up, their health, school activities, and so on. Don’t discuss or defend your past actions in your emails.
If you need to discuss anything about your former marriage or parenting skills, do that ONLY in a therapist's or mediator’s office where a third party can help keep things orderly and on point. If your ex will not agree to meet in a professional's office, then this is evidence that your ex wants to hurt you more than s/he wants to heal and to move on with his/her own life.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to change your ex-spouse's opinion of you. The reason for this is called belief bias. Your ex believes that you have been hurtful, and no matter what you say to defend yourself, as long as s/he feels hurt underneath the ranting s/he will go on believing this.
Your ex will continue to take whatever you say and twist it to support the hurt-driven bias that is already in place about you. In fact, whenever you react defensively, you actually strengthen the exact belief that fuels this vindictive drive to hurt you more.
This is not to say what your ex is saying about you doesn’t have some truth to it. No one marries and has children with someone who doesn’t see and feel the painful impact of his or her partner’s blind spot behaviors. That is often why people divorce in the first place.item4a1a1
However, the marriage is over. Take your next partner’s feedback more seriously. You may find him/her saying similar things to what your ex is now saying. But, you can’t work on any issues with someone when a relationship is over. Work on your issues with a relationship that is alive.
If you find that you can't stop responding to your ex’s emails, then you are avoiding your own hurt. It takes “two to tango” in email wars. If you can't stop your part of the dance, then use counseling to help you face the remaining hurt that is driving you to react like the crazy person your ex is accusing you of being. If you stop, your ex will eventually lose interest. If it doesn’t stop, you may want to get legal opinion about how to proceed. You might be advised to keep copies of the vindictive emails and your factual and reasonable responses, in case your divorce goes to mediation or a courtroom.
Email wars are like alcohol-fueled behaviors, when people say and do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. That is why alcohol is sometimes referred to as "Liquid Courage." "Digital Courage" can have the same effect as alcohol on your judgment. Your imagination fuels your hurt, anger and entitlement to type and broadcast whatever you want about somebody you are hurt by. With one click, you can tell a person exactly what you think of them, further inflaming the deadly email wars.
Facebook is a totally different environment than texts and emails. The best strategy that has been suggested so far, that shows promise, is to not post anything on Facebook that applies to your separation or divorce other than where appropriate, that a divorce has happened. It is best practice not to respond to online threats, news items posted by your ex, or anything that they post, period. Let it go and move on with your life. If there are things that seem urgent or necessary to reply to, it is suggested to consult an attorney if they are legal in nature. Everybody's situation is unique, but the principle remains the same, stay to the business of the kids, the business of divorce in private. Let the rest go online, in any form.
Stay sober in all your responses by email, phone and in person. Stay sober when you check in on Facebook. Use your therapy to help you develop a strength to keep your focus on the facts of things, face the hurt and let the emotional things just wear themselves out! You can't control your ex-spouse's email rants, but you can control your responses. Dance with your new life, not with vindictiveness.