What's The Best Reply to My Ex's Frustrating Emails? - A Follower's Question to the BIFF Response® Coach

 © 2015 – High Conflict Institute

A Reader’s Question to the BIFF Response® Coach.“Here is a question I would like to see addressed.  My ex is a sociopath (at best).  I will write him over Talking Parents asking a very simple question that should take a 5 second response.  For example, yesterday, I asked him, "Did [our son] have a nap today?"  He read it at 5 PM yesterday and responded at 11 AM this morning.  I completely understand that it is a power and control thing, but was wondering what the best response is.”

Thanks so much for sending this question. I believe you have correctly pinpointed the core issue of power and control, so let’s address that.


For the benefit of other readers, Talking Parents is a downloadable app that tracks communications between co-parents. It’s used by people who have safety concerns and/or are in a high-conflict parenting situation making effective communication difficult.  Since the ability exists for either parent to obtain records of the emails and submit them to court, it becomes particularly important to be aware of how we are communicating ourselves.


This question brings up an interesting and common concern. Through Talking Parents and some social media sites, we know when someone reads our messages and if they don’t reply or wait a long time, it can be very aggravating. We can infer that the ex is habitually slow to respond, or may not respond at all sometimes. In my experience as a divorce and mediation paralegal, this scenario usually comes down to what the reader identified: power and control.  Many of those into power and control over other people have personality disorders or traits. Such people are masters at manipulating our emotions in this way.  Arrrgh!

If you have been reading the blog, however, you’ll recall that we cannot change the other person’s deeply imbedded personality traits.  All we can do is learn to manage the communications on a case-by-case basis to lessen the impact on our lives.  In a situation where other people may read the exchange, A BIFF Response® is used to correct potentially damaging information while maintaining our own path on the high road by being Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. Where the exchange remains private, the goal is to bring the discussion to a close as quickly as possible without losing it yourself.  Knowing this, and knowing that you can’t change someone else, you are left with the task of evaluating your expectations of, and reactions to, the person.


Since we don’t know the ex’s actual reply, let’s assume it was “Yes he napped” or “No, he missed it,” possibly with a snarky remark or two thrown in. Here’s where it gets tricky, because now you have several things to think about:

  • Can I ignore personal remarks?

The BIFF Response® method teaches us to always ignore snide remarks and “blamespeak” as maddening as they are. Responding keeps the conflict going, usually escalates it, and generally comes to no productive end.

  • Is this information helpful to me?

Am I benefitting by knowing that he did or did not take a nap? How am I benefitting?

  • Is this information harmful in some way?

Could information here be damaging to me or our child? Is there a factual issue that needs correcting (a real issue, not annoying opinions or name calling)? Will other people see this exchange? Will my child be harmed if he did not nap?

  • Do I need to reply back?

What could I say that may clarify an issue, resolve a problem or keep this exchange from escalating? Did he ask for any further information? Do I need any?

  • Is this a conversation I’m willing to have?

How’s the ex likely to respond? Will having the information be worth the aggravation of a possible blow-up?


As parents, we all have a particular way of doing things and form beliefs about what is best for our children. We ask questions and we want the answers. The thing is – when two people in a house share the responsibility, they will have some unavoidable parenting differences.   Those differences can become magnified when you run two households because both parents are likely feeling some loss of control over the daily tasks and ultimate goals. It can be hard to accept that the other parent not only won’t do it your way, he’ll resent your asking and make accusations of micromanagement of his parenting time (or worse). This is not to say every difference should be overlooked. If a child is falling asleep at school because he stays up too late, then you may need to address it.  If he’s simply cranky when nap-less then it may not be something you want go into (and if he’s cranky on the ex’s time – that’s a natural consequence to him and you don’t have to deal with it).

This scenario comes up in dealing with diets, playtime and a host of other things that the other parent may approach differently than we might ourselves. If the other parent has a difficult personality, it gets that much harder, and that much more important to your own sanity to limit the amount of questioning you might do if you determine that the answer is not all that beneficial to you or your child. After going through the above dialog with yourself, you may discover the biggest question of all -- Do I really need to know the answer?” If the answer to that is “No,” then control issues and the timeliness of a response become unimportant.


The above BIFF Response® techniques help you decide which way to go whether you are responding to something or, as here, initiating a discussion.

I don’t have all the information behind this question, but barring a crucial health or safety concern, and if you are generally OK with the ex as a parent overall, my advice is to let this matter go.  Easier said than done, I know.  It’ll take some adjusting and practice, but in the end, it should give you one less thing to stress about or argue over. It’s even possible that he comes around to doing some things more to your liking if you don’t ask, because then it’s his idea (power & control) not yours.  I hope this helps.

Trissan Dicomes is the BIFF Response® Coordinator for High Conflict Institute. She runs the www.BIFFResponse.comwebsite and social media for High Conflict Institute, and she provides BIFF Response coaching and a regular BIFF Response(sm) blog. She has over 20 years in the legal field and worked for 8 years as a paralegal at National Conflict Resolution Center in San Diego with the Divorce Mediation Group, where HCI co-founder, Bill Eddy, does his mediations. During that time, she acquired hands-on experience helping clients learn to write and speak with the BIFF Response® method and handle disputes. Contact: info@biffresponse.com – (916) 258-BIFF (2433).