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5 Tips for Communicating With Your Abuser After Separation

It's almost laughable how predictable an abusive narcissist can be once you file for divorce. Except it's not funny at all when you're on the receiving end of their spiraling. In fact, it's statistically the most dangerous time for someone leaving an abuser. You're not playing their game anymore. You've set some boundaries around their access to you, and they don't like that. Not one bit.

The most common initial response is that they'll inundate you with texts, phone calls, or emails--they'll run the gamut of seeming almost agreeable and accepting of the circumstances (divorce) to full page rants filled with word salad and absurd accusations (when you look closely these are nearly always projections of their own behaviors) and threats.

These early days after you've filed are pivotal in setting the tone for how you will be perceived by the court and for taking the power to control the narrative away from your abuser. How you respond (or don't) can make all the difference--especially in the beginning. Does your judge see two people standing before them, who just presented 6 pages of email back-and-forths filled with wild accusations and then have to figure out who the "reasonable" party is? Or does your judge see a person who filed for divorce, another person who then sent that person 15 scathing, unhinged emails overnight and capped it off with some vulgar photos?

By responding to absurd accusations, or defending yourself against nonsense, you are giving credibility to it. You're also feeding the monster. A narcissist thrives on being able to manipulate and control you. Keeping you engaged in an email or text exchange is reinforcing that you are still accessible to them--and it's almost impossible to present in court as concise evidence that a judge will take seriously (or likely even read through).

Here's the fun part: When you've just left your abuser, you're still very much reacting to things from a trauma-response. Those accusations or text come in and you immediately feel like you have to defend yourself or provide the truth to counter the lies--or even just answer any questions that are being thrown your way, regardless of their appropriateness.

Helping my clients with early communications and documentation is one of my favorite parts of my role as a coach. I believe it can have huge positive impact on their cases and is an important piece of letting the judge see for themselves who the "problem" is. Below is a list of the most important things to remember when you've filed or left your abuser and they are using texts or phone calls to harass you:

  1. Ask yourself, "Does this need a response?" 9 times out of 10, the answer will be no. If no, don't respond. If you get follow-up texts about how you're ignoring them--don't respond. If there are pieces of it that require a response, you can address those, ignore the rest.

  2. Set clear boundaries about how and when you will respond, if a response is required. I use the framework of "Would a reasonable person think this was a reasonable request?" e.g.: "Going forward, I would like to request that all of your communication come through email. Working full-time and taking care of the kids means I am likely to miss texts or not be able to give them my full attention. Going forward, I will not be responding to texts (and then don't). I will respond, if necessary, to emails within 48 hours."

  3. If they are harassing you about the kids, their parenting time, or any of the pieces that are still unsettled in court, simply direct them to their lawyer to go through yours. "I am looking forward to having a framework for co-parenting that is in the best interest of the kids. If you would like to offer an alternative to the current parenting plan, please get with your lawyer to make a proposal."

  4. DON'T RESPOND, DON'T RESPOND, DON'T RESPOND! Have I mentioned don't respond? But in all seriousness--more often than not, they will show themselves. And you will have some really good documentation to present to the court. (Presenting your documentation is another strategy point, but that's for another blog.)

  5. IF a response is required, or deemed appropriate to demonstrate cooperative coparenting and communication, try to put some time between receipt and response--the more the better. It gives you space to respond from a less triggered space, but it also gives time for the abuser to stew and escalate their harassment (more documentation of unreasonable behavior).

I believe that communication is the key to so many things in our lives, but communication in the early stages of separating from an abusive narcissist can mean the difference in having the courts see them for who they are and make judgements accordingly, or spending years and thousands of dollars in court while the judge tries to sort through it all to determine who the "high conflict" party is.

It's never too late to set communication boundaries and use strategies that are aligned with parallel parenting (the best one can hope for with an abusive narcissist). Getting a handle on how to communicate and what kind of boundaries to set from the beginning will give you a big leg up when it comes to presenting your case to the judge.

If you're just stepping out onto the path of recovery or thinking about filing for divorce from an abusive partner, I want you to know how brave you are. It takes courage to leave and know the backlash and harassment that you will face from your abuser.

You don't have to face it alone.

Reach out today to schedule a free 20-min consultation.

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