Do You Need to Respond to Attacks?

A few weeks ago a client told me the professional they were working with told them to refute any accusations their Ex made against them through email.

If I’d been dead, I would have rolled over in my grave.

**Caveat One: People in regular conflict should rationally work through topics of concern and are encouraged to keep an open dialogue with their co-parent. The concept of stopping the Attack/Defend cycle is for people who are in high as the sky levels of conflict.**

High levels of conflict:

  • 10-15 emails a day criticizing you, your family, your career and your parenting skills – under the mask of “in the best interests of the children.”
  • Being accused of x, y and z on Monday morning and a, b and c on Monday afternoon. Repeat every day of the week.
  • Passive aggressive digs, manipulative twisting of reality and extreme rigidity in their thinking and expectations.
  • When it feels like you are playing whack-a-mole trying to put out crisis fires and when it appears like one is almost out another starts.
  • You experience a genuine feeling of fear and anxiety at receiving an email from your co-parent because you don’t know what attack is coming your way next.

When levels of conflict are high, the constant exchange of emails can feel terrorizing. Couple the amount of exchanged emails with the horrific content of each email? It’s enough to drive any sane person mad.

But unless you’ve been on the receiving end of thousands of critical emails, texts and voicemails you don’t know that the emails themselves have completely taken over your life.

In the Parenting After Separation Program (offered in Alberta) they teach about the importance of disengaging from the couple relationship and moving towards a business relationship. They teach the spectrum of love and hate and how, if you are feeling either feeling towards your co-parent, you haven’t successfully disengaged.

Many believe that love and hate are on two separate feelings, see diagram below, and that feeling disengaged is neutral.


LOVE Disengaged HATE


But love and hate are two strong emotions and strong emotions can only be felt when someone is ENGAGED. Love and hate, while different, with respect to disengagement, they are the same.

Disengaged LOVE/HATE


Ideally – for your own sanity and that of your co-parenting relationship – you want to get to a disengaged state. How do you get to a place of disengagement? There are 100s of ways – you need to find what works for you.


That was me yelling.

I encourage all of my clients to stop Attack/Defend behaviour. (They attack, you defend, they attack again, you defend again on repeat).

It doesn’t matter what you respond with in your defence anyways, because nothing you say will change their perception of you and you’ll just fuel their attacking fire to keep going.

Read that sentence again.

It doesn’t matter what say to defend yourself, you will never change their perception of you or their perception of events that led to the attack.

If you are expected to refute every accusation made against you, you’ll spend the rest of your life drafting responses to the attacks rather than living your life and being present with your kids.

Save yourself a few hours, (or a few days – depending on how long your co-parents attacks trigger you for), and stop defending yourself.

**Caveat Two: High conflict people are tricky; they mask their attacks in emails about the children. Read emails carefully and only respond to child related content. Always respond (in 24-72 hours) to child related content.**

“But Andrea, I have to respond to the attacks. They are so atrocious I just need the Internet world to know they aren’t true.”

Then RESPOND, don’t REACT.

Respond with:  “I have read your email and accusations against myself (or new boyfriend/girlfriend or whomever). I disagree with your interpretation of events and am choosing not to engage in attack/defend exchanges. Please keep your emails child/ren specific and I will do that same.”

Cut and paste this on to every email that has an attack against you (or whomever) in it. Then respond to the child related content in the original email.

The concept of not defending yourself against attacks is a weird one, I know. Even affidavits are set up for parents to engage in attack/defend behavior. BUT IT’S A FLAWED SYSTEM.

What do you think your Ex, opposing counsel, or a Judge would say if they were reading an affidavit full of attacks – then read the response to the affidavit and it said:

“I disagree with the accusations in his/her affidavit. I am choosing not to engage in attack/defend behaviour with my child/ren’s other parent. I would like to find a way to co-exist with my co-parent so our children can enjoy their childhood…. I propose the following for a parenting plan template…. Etc…”

Much different tone than what would normally be in a response affidavit.

Which do you think would get more traction? A negative, emotional, attacking affidavit or a clear, emotionless, child focused response affidavit?

I’m not saying you have to stop defending yourself against attacks immediately – but give it some thought. Let the concept mull around in your head to see if it makes sense for you.

The attacks are never going to stop because you can’t change your co-parent. You can only change how you respond to the attacks.

And if you want to get to the disengaged stage? Stop engaging.