I had some terrific text battles with my ex-husband in the first few years of our divorce. In an effort to avoid speaking with him or hearing the things I inevitably heard during calls, I relied on texts to work out visitation arrangements, discuss who was getting which holiday gift, and more delightful divorce stuff like quoting the joint parenting agreement text and verse, questioning his parenting choices and taking note of every time he was a few minutes late. It wasn’t pretty. I am accountable for my share of that shit.
Instead of deleting those messages, though, I’ve kept them as a reminder of how ugly things can get via text. And more important, when to stop, when to just be done.
Texts from my ex-husband pushed my buttons. And they still do. But we will communicate for as long as we co-parent our son—in other words, forever. In an effort to smooth out that process, I’ve had to learn a few ex-texting rules of thumb.
Take a Breath
Once upon a time, I felt it was necessary to respond to every single text from my ex—like if I didn’t, it would be noted in the Great Book of Divorce Fault. Now when I see words appear on my phone screen that confuse me or piss me off or make me roll my eyes even a little bit, I do my very best to take a deep breath. Or three.
Not Every Text Deserves a Response
After those breaths, I ask myself if this message is a conversation or statement, and if I need to participate at all. Most of the time, the answer is no. Almost always, nothing good will come of my two cents.
Power Can Come in Silence
I am a great talker. I write for a living. I am a skilled communicator who believes in the power of words. It has taken me decades to learn and put into practice the heft that can come from letting someone else’s words hang there. Sometimes for years. Particularly if those words are assholery.
I Give Myself a Deadline
If a message really needs a response or I am unsure of how or when to answer, I set a deadline. Whether that future date is 24 hours out or next Monday, I give myself permission to put off a response until I have given it thought, let the emotions diffuse, or can ask someone I trust for advice on what to type.
Legally, email is a solid way to document questions, behaviors, requests, plans and all that formal stuff co-parents often have to make official for the courts or mediators. This sucks. No parent wants to begin holiday planning with a “Dear Sir” letter. But it is much easier to track, archive and quote email than text. Also, email takes a bit more time to hammer out, and if you are trying to preserve your sanity as well as your words, this is preferable to scrolling through four years of texts. A note to those of you who do or have received abusive, threatening or scary texts from someone else: Take a screenshot and email it to yourself.*
Nothing Lasts an Eternity
This includes many relationships and most text messages. I can forgive myself for some of the dumb, irrational, emotionally whacked out texts I have sent to my ex at 2 a.m., even if they do occasionally burden me with guilt or humiliation at 2 a.m. That means I also have to scroll past the awful, creepy, harassing texts sent to me. It’s not easy, but life goes on and new words eventually fill up my screen. The quickest way to move on is to let other people’s messages—happy, emoji-dripping, hilarious, loving texts from lovely people—take their place at the top of the message list.
I’m Not Perfect
Even in the art of ex-texting. Which is why, underneath a pile of texts from people I currently love madly and deeply, there sit these painful exchanges, as a lesson in how not to do relationships—or the end of them—via text.
*If you are the recipient of threatening texts, are in fear, are dealing with an abuser or any other circumstance that could put you in danger, please reach out to someone who can help you immediately.