Stay In Your Frontal Cortex and Out Of Your Reptilian Brain:

Every couple will have their own challenges when it comes to communicating.  This is true when you are married and is exacerbated when you get divorced.  

If your divorce process is very contentious, it may feel like your anger towards your ex is uncontrollable.  However, you cannot forget that you have a choice in how you respond or even whether you want to respond and engage with them at that moment.  Even if they are provoking you with curse words or hurtful comments via texts or voicemails, it is within your power to choose how you react.  It is not always easy to try to stay in your frontal cortex which is the rational, executive function part of your brain.  But if you can, it will pay off in the end for your own mental health and potentially improve your long-term co-parenting relationship.

For some, when provoked, the gut reaction is to get into fight mode and curse back or try to hurt them in response.  For others, the first action is to retreat into flight or even freeze mode, shutting down completely or taking their hurtful comments to heart.  Either one throws your nervous system into high gear initiating a chain reaction of anger, anxiety and eventually a crash both emotionally and physically.  

If you come up with a plan ahead of time when you are centered on how you can stay in your Best Self at those moments, you will be able to refer to that plan when the unwanted attacks do arrive in your inbox.  Creating this plan is the second phase of the Best Self Exercise which you can download here.  

I have worked with clients who have chosen many different methods in their plan of how to keep their nervous systems and their mental health in check.  Some choose to do some deep breathing before they read a text and again before they write their response.  It takes 90 seconds for our frontal cortex to kick in so taking the time to breathe after reading gives you time to collect and not respond in a state of anger or defensiveness,   Others have written out clear boundaries for themselves of what they will respond to and the timeframe acceptable for them to respond if the matter is not urgent.  They have also communicated these healthy boundaries that they are creating so that they are setting expectations accurately.  Some have a stock response created for non-urgent matters noting that the message was received and will get a response at a specific time later in the day.

My ex and I use WhatsApp to exchange messages so I can see when he sees my messages.  Nowadays, we get along very well and so we don’t really have many issues communicating.  But in the early days of our divorce, when things were more tense, I would see that he had seen my question and that he chose not to respond or even acknowledge receipt.  After this happened once or twice, I decided that I was not going to get frustrated about it, think about it or take it personally.  Many times, I would not get an answer at all about my question so I would just make the best decision with the information I had at the time.  This was the plan that I had created for myself and it worked for me.   I would give myself some vent time when I talked to my best friend about it and then I would let it go.  It was very important to me to let go of anger, I did not want to let anger weigh me down.  I knew that for me to move forward after my divorce, my focus had to be on me.  His actions were his and I had no control over them but I had control over how I let them affect me.

With every interaction, try to stay in Your Best Self, even if they are not because it takes two to tango.  If you stick with your plan, the first benefit is you help your nervous system stay calm, second you teach your ex that you will stick to the rules and boundaries that you created for yourself and lastly you can sleep at night knowing that you took the high road.

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