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How to communicate with your toxic ex in high-conflict situations

You know the scene – two people who are unable to hold a civil conversation because every exchange is emotionally charged.  Nothing beneficial or positive comes from a situation like this and so in order to move forward one person has to take control of the communication.  This article will teach you a method of communicating to help you to move a discussion forward despite high-conflict and heightened emotions.  Read it carefully and let us know how it works for you.

First rule of high-conflict discussions

When you are dealing with such a personality, your responses at all times should be BIFF:

  • Brief
  • Informative
  • Firm
  • Friendly

How do you actually communicate in high-conflict situations you have experienced?

Can you remember a time when you and your ex were in a conflict situation?  Now answer these following questions.

  • What happened? – recall what preceded the argument and how it ended.
  • How did you respond? – write down line by line what was said by each of you.
  • Compare your response to BIFF – which BIFF rules did you use and which did you not?
  • Now fill in the third column with what you would do to make the discussion into a BIFF.
high conflict communications test
Assess your most recent argument. Fill in this form to help you understand what happened.

Develop effective communication strategies

In our Toxic Ex workbook we teach you about traits and characteristics of toxic personalities, how these people influence high-conflict situations and how you might respond to them through assertive approaches. 

In the final chapter, you will learn how to:

•  Develop strategies to engage in assertive and constructive conversations

•  Identify enablers and barriers to your strategies to ensure they can be implemented.


How do you communicate effectively?

If your ex has Borderline Personality Disorder and/or Narcissist Personality Disorder traits, they will be blaming you for everything. 

Blamers love sending hostile emails and use them to attack you, your family, friends and professionals. It’s extremely tempting to respond in kind. Hostile email records are a compelling source of evidence in family court as a way to demonstrate someone’s bad behaviour. While you’re encouraged to save copies of hostile emails sent to you, DO NOT SEND HOSTILE EMAILS TO ANYONE. THEY CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU.

Should you always respond?

Many hostile communications don’t need a response. Letters from exes, angry neighbours, irritating co-workers don’t usually have legal significance. The email itself has no power, unless you give it power.

Often, hostile emails are a form of emotional venting aimed at relieving the writer’s anxiety. If you respond with similar emotions and hostility, you will simply escalate things without getting satisfaction and receive a new piece of hostile email back.

In most cases, you are better off not responding.

Some letters and emails develop power when copies are filed in court or complaints processes – or simply get sent or forwarded to other people. If you need to respond to clarify false statements or to articulate an important viewpoint, use the BIFF response.

You will never be able to write a BIFF communication if you’re emotionally charged and angry. Always write these when you’re calm and collected. If you’re unsure if your are BIFF, get a trusted friend to check your writing.

Here are some examples

Joe’s hostile email

hostile email text 

Jane’s BIFF response email 

toxic ex email response

Jane kept her response brief and didn’t engage in defending herself. Since this email exchange was just between the two of them, she didn’t need to respond.

If Joe later sent his email to friends, co-workers, or family members (which high-conflict people often do), Jane would need to respond to the larger group with more information to defend herself, such as the following:

Group email reply defending toxic ex 

Get more help with understanding your Toxic Ex

Equal Exes Online has written 8 Cornerstones which explain situations that develop during separation and divorce.  A Toxic Ex partner is one cornerstone.  Read more about the behaviours of a toxic ex and take our quiz to discover if you have one.

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