This is a relatively common and murky issue for my female clients: how to deal with ongoing communication in their difficult divorces.
As the ladies I work with are coming out of marriages characterized by incredibly unhealthy relationship dynamics, for many the ideal outcome would be ‘block them, move on, never see them again’
However, when someone is in divorce negotiations and especially when children are involved, the typical advice is ‘Keep the lines of communication open. Be ‘adult’ about things and work things through sensibly’.
Now this may have been wise advice back in the time of ‘land-lines and phone charges per call’ but now with What’s App, email, and a plethora of social media platforms this advice appears unrelated to the reality of cyber-victimization.
It is not uncommon for a victim to be stalked and maligned across social media and to wake up in the morning to their overnight phone messages running well into double digits. I might add, having read more of these messages than I care to mention, the content is usually disjointed, angry drivel.
Therefore, in the case of a difficult divorce, continued, direct communication is often not the best idea and for my purposes, is all the more concerning because it significantly impairs the opportunity for psychological repair. Here’s why,
1 – continued contact provides the perpetrator with the opportunity for further gaslighting and gameplay
2 – which continues the over-stimulation of the autonomic system
3 – which does not allow the victimized party peace
What does this mean exactly?
When a woman has been in a relationship characterized by coercion and control they have been essentially indoctrinated into responding to the whims of the controlling party. Their partner says ‘jump’ they reply ‘how high?’
Over time this creates a ‘readiness’ in her internal system which results in her being set to ‘high alert’. Which in turn interferes with the ability to plan and execute analytical thought. It does not matter if she later separates from her partner and they are no longer living together, this automatic response will remain dormant and can be re-activated at any point of contact.
When her phone ‘pings’ then and she sees the name of her ex, this is highly likely to immediately put her into emergency mode. The interaction which follows will undoubtedly be psychologically nonsensical at best which only adds to her ongoing confusion. If this pattern happens continually enough, the necessary and essential space the client needs to re-assess and re-align their own life situation will never occur.
So, what is the healthiest way forward? This all depends on where the client is on their journey and what they are ready to do:
The preferred option is block and go cold turkey, with any communication via a 3rd party or communication apps as the client needs the opportunity to break the direct link in order to recover. However, if the client is determined to continue direct communication, and many feel compelled to by wider family, legal and social pressure, I teach specific techniques which can help to reduce their arousal.
It is important to understand that the ability of a woman to block contact with an ex-partner often comes after a long period of therapeutic intervention and whilst often ultimately advisable, this decision can never be hurried and is never made lightly.