There are words and phrases that are so provocative that they are intended to elicit a sharp response from the target. "Lie", "liar", "selfish", "abusive", "evil", "uncaring" are just a few such words. These "fighting words" are nearly impossible to pass up responding to, even if you have vowed to follow my earlier advice not to respond to confrontational communication from the other person.
If you're using words like this in your communications with your ex or soon-to-be-ex, it's time to stop. Peppering your communication with these kinds of words do not help you make your point, even if you have a valid point to make.
Let's look at an example of communication using these fighting words:
Parent A: Sally is scared to go to your house because you make her go to bed without a nightlight. This is just another example of how abusive you are and how you don't care about your child at all.
Parent B: You are such a liar. Sally loves to come over here, but she's afraid to let you know it. When will you stop trying to turn Sally against me and accept that she loves me? If you weren't so selfish, maybe Sally wouldn't have to lie to you about her time here.
This conversation between Parent A and Parent B will likely go on for some time, getting louder and more hostile. No matter which parent Sally is with at the time of the conversation, she will get an earful, even if the parents think she's asleep or in another room at the time. The conversation will not accomplish anything other than frighten and upset Sally.
When you are tempted to use fighting words, stop to think what the issue really is. In the example above, Parent A is concerned about the lack of a nightlight at the other house. Rather than send the message above, Parent A might have said, "I just wanted to let you know that Sally has gotten used to sleeping with a nightlight on. I'm guessing she'll give it up at some point, but for now, she's really more comfortable with one on at night. Having a nightlight at both houses will probably help make the transition between houses easier for her."
Parent B, on the other hand, is concerned about being accused of being a bad parent and wants to fight off claims of being abusive or selfish. The fact is, that in this example there is really nothing Parent B can say to satisfy Parent A. The best response Parent B could have made to Parent A's angry communication above would have been, "Thank you for your email, I will talk to Sally about the nightlight when she's here next. I will make sure she's comfortable."
By addressing the underlying issue without using provocative language, parents can reduce the conflict between them and focus on positive parenting for their children.
© 2009, Mary Wollard, J.D., Family Solutions Center, www.cofamilysolutions.com