While it is admirable that you want to maintain a friendly relationship with your ex, you cannot do so alone; it takes two.
The power of irrational attacks
Insults and lies directed at you are intended to draw you in and get a reaction. This is probably the only form of power he feels he has over you now — trying to hurt you. And he has known you long enough to know just how to do it.
When you hear untrue accusations, it is very tempting to defend yourself, to lay out the truth, and to prove that the opposite is true. Yet people who are verbally abusive are in a state of fear and rage; they are not inclined to be reasonable and logical. You cannot change the way he claims to view things by responding in any way to his hostile accusations.
Don’t feed abuse with your hope
Moreover, if he senses that you can be hooked into argument because you feel you have to persuade him of the truth, he will continue to throw insults and untruths your way. If he senses your desire to be reasonable and on friendly terms, you are continuing to give him the power to hurt you.
You have to give up the hope that he will come to appreciate what you brought to the relationship and what you have enjoyed together. You can still appreciate those things on your own. He may even come to do so down the line, but it will take time. You will not be able to reason with him in the short term.
Being reactive to his anger in the form of arguing on the phone or writing long defending emails spurs him on, like a kid who gets a big reaction when having a temper tantrum. Any hopes that he will become reasonable should be put aside; otherwise, he will continue to lambaste you with abuse.
What you can and must do is to disengage. Don’t feed his abusive behavior with your emotional reactions. Ignore the attacks. Don’t engage in any more letters or conversations with him other than for pure practical or legal purposes specific to your separation.
If he calls and starts attacking, you just have to hang up — without yelling or defending yourself. Just say “I have to go.” Or “Let’s talk when you are less emotional and hostile.” CLICK. Or do not take his calls. Do not subject yourself to insults, twisting of the truth, or negativity.
By ignoring accusatory correspondence, you prevent your ex from dis-empowering you with his abuse. No matter how he tries to incite you with falsehoods and attacks, don’t engage, because it triggers his desire to hurt you and engage you, which makes him feel empowered in a very unhealthy way. More importantly, the less time you spend arguing and defending yourself, the less dis-empowered, hurt and angry you will feel.
This is not to say that you should not pursue what you are legally entitled to. Defending yourself in court is a different matter. Defend yourself in the most effective way. In court, you can count on the presence of a rational third party without a stake in the outcome.
If you have to correspond about practicalities, make your correspondence very brief, neutral and businesslike, without any negative comments. Don’t act scared of him. Any hints of your own defensiveness, fear, or anger reward him.
On again off again charm
Beware. He may suddenly be friendly and you might hope that he’ll give you a ray of sunshine – but the storm still rages. You cannot count on someone who hurls insults and untruths one moment and is friendly the next.
Of course, you can be polite and respectful, but unless there has been a lasting transformation in him, don’t engage in discussions with him, other than brief business-like communication to deal with the logistics of your separation.
What you focus on greatly affects how you feel. Thus, it’s important to shift your focus to more positive aspects of your life. Communicate with life-enhancing friends and family. Focus on taking care of yourself, pursuing your interests, helping others in need, and, above all, keeping your perspective and sense of humor.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD