There are no absolutes in family law. What works for some people doesn’t work for others. Some people say “tomato” and other people say “to-MAH-to”. It’s a free country, after all, and we should enjoy all of the independent activities that freedom supports.
However (and you knew that was coming), sometimes a completely innocent and simple task can greatly annoy others. I’m talking about texting. And not just at the movies or at the dinner table. I’m talking about texting an estranged spouse.
I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on television. But I have picked up on certain comments made by my clients who are involved in an activity that I can only describe as “ text wars”:
- “Why does my spouse keep on texting me? Won’t he or she just leave me alone”?
- “ I got 30 texts about [ fill in the subject] in one day. When will it stop?”
- “ I know that I shouldn’t respond, but I do anyway.”
- “ I feel guilty when I don’t respond to a text message.”
- “ I am afraid that I will look bad if I don’t reply.”
We hear it time and time again. Parents should cooperate. Separated couples should try to get along. Spouses should set aside their differences in order to address the issue at hand.
Easy to say; hard to do, to put it mildly.
Parents have to communicate on some level. And because of inter-spousal relationships, even spouses who don’t have children need to communicate from time to time.
But text messaging has its obvious downfalls: there is no context; the brevity of the message makes it a blunt instrument; it is just so darn instantaneous that momentary reflection does not often occur; it is in writing, even though it doesn’t feel that way, which means it can stay forever.
Many times, parties think that they somehow must be able to text their spouse. “ What if there is some emergency involving the children?” I can honestly say that in 30 years, I cannot think of the situation that absolutely necessitated electronic communication. The vast majority of the so-called “ emergencies” are being 15 minutes late to exchange the children, or some other last-minute contingency. But are these really Emergencies? Of course not.
But let’s be clear. Being able to text a spouse is very convenient. So let’s approach texting as a convenience, not a necessity. At what point does the convenience outweigh the harm (and I am deliberately using the term “ harm”.)
Texting your Ex: Best Practices
So, I have these guidelines about text communication:
- It is time for brutal honesty. Can you say that your communications with your spouse are very good to excellent? I’m not asking what your communications should be; I’m asking what currently exists. It’s gut check time. Unless you can categorize your communications with your spouse as very good to excellent, it is simple: don’t text;
- Is the text that you just received, or are about to send, helpful? Helpful is to be distinguished from “satisfying”. A text is a great way to blow off steam to a friend or coworker. Not a good idea when you involve your spouse. If the text is not helpful, don’t send it.
- Do not respond to a text because you feel that you must. A simple “I will not respond” is more than satisfactory. You and your spouse both know why you are not responding;
- Do not participate in self-serving text messages. I am thinking along the lines of: “as usual, since I am the primary caregiver of the children and your career makes you unreliable, I will pick up the children at 3:45 PM as I have done throughout the marriage.”
- Do not play “text euchre” and insist on putting down the trump card by being the last to text. Whatever difficulty you are having will, or won’t, be effectively dealt with in one or two messages. Anything beyond that becomes an endless debate. You have better things to do;
- It is quite easy to block someone from your text device. Google it. It takes five minutes. Sometimes this is the only answer.
Spend a few minutes and reflect on these guidelines. Maybe they apply to you, and maybe they don’t. Communication is like anything else in life: it ebbs and flows. Sometimes are better than others. Sometimes there are periods of time, or issues, that can be discussed. And when they can’t, it doesn’t mean that they are buried forever. It’s just not the right time.
And there are other forms of electronic communication. My favourite is www.ourfamilywizard.com. It’s cheap. It’s easy to create a log of all communication. And I think that is the “magic” in the program. Users of the program intuitively understand that whatever message goes in this program has the ability to be re-created elsewhere and at another time. In my mind, it naturally compels people to think about the implications of what they are writing.
I hope you have a good start to the new year and that the ideas in this post propel you down the path of a successful and enjoyable season.
For questions that only a family law lawyer can answer, contact me at 519-800-1039 or online.