In any new relationship, one of the first critcial things to work out is setting appropriate expectations on frequency of contact, appropriate forms of communication and establishing our individual boundaries. This should happen rather smoothly and progress quite normally in a healthy relationship. The trickier task is re-establishing boundaries when a relationship is being re-configured, such as when a marriage is dissolving.
It is very hard for people to re-set their patterns of communication, but when they are no longer living in one house, it simply is not necessary or even healthy to maintain daily contact with an ex. Learning to disengage is difficult, and some people unwittingly seem to pick fights in order to stay connected, which of course only further alienates the other person. I cannot tell you how many times people complain to me about the frequency or hostility in the communications they receive from their soon to be exs. My first suggestion is to have the client try and deal with this alone, without the involvement of the attorneys or the authorities.
We should all try to be polite, yet firm in setting our boundaries, keeping in mind that boundaries are meant to protect you, not punish the other. Just because we have instant communication available to us, does not mean we have to respond instantly. If something truly is upsetting you, responding in the heat of the moment is probably not the best thing to do. I have often re-written client’s emails for them, toned them down, and taken out inflammatory or excessive information. I try to stick to the KISS motto– keep it simple stupid.
It is very sad when clients cannot learn to moderate their own communications and need the attorneys to step in on every day matters. People with children need to learn new effective ways to communicate as quickly as possible, and this to me is the beauty of divorce coaches, who are frequently used in Collaborative Divorces. In high conflict cases, we try to rely on Parent Coordinators to help the parents co-parent.
The absolute worst situation to be involved in is with high conflict people. These tend to have major issues respecting other people’s boundaries. They will push limits, and sadly in the end the authorities and legal system have to be involved, often resulting in supervised visits (if children are involved) or a complete break in all communication through Protective Orders. For those in this situation, I want to emphasize the need to keep all documentation, talk to a mental health professional and be prepared to act swiftly with the authorities and an attorney experienced in these situations.