Marriage is rewarding but tough. Open, effective, empathetic communication between partners is essential for a marriage to thrive.
It’s probably no surprise that communication is one of the topic issues cited by people who have divorced. Sometimes it’s a lack of communication and failure to talk about important issues. Sometimes it’s damaging communication patterns that hurt feelings and cause emotional wounds.
If poor communication habits lead to a divorce, it’s reasonable to predict the couple will bring those poor habits into the divorce process, resulting in more hurt and frustration, a longer and more expensive process, adjudicated outcomes that seem unfair, additional stress on the children, and emotional pain for everyone that can take a long time to recover from.
So, if you and your spouse are considering a divorce and you haven’t developed effective communication habits during the marriage, is there any hope of communicating better during the divorce process?
YES! Even if you don’t know how to communicate well with your partner, within the supportive environment of mediation or a collaborative divorce, you will have tools and experts to help you speak and listen effectively, moderate your emotions, and remain focused on the goal of reaching compromise, mutual understanding, and resolutions you both agree with.
If that sounds too good to be true, let me reassure you, IT IS POSSIBLE.
As a mediator, I am uniquely trained and skilled in helping couples have productive conversations. As a collaborative divorce attorney, I’m very experienced working with my clients and with a trained team of collaborative experts to facilitate communication and reach positive outcomes. (By the way, in a collaborative divorce process, each of you even can choose to have a dedicated “coach” to support you and guide you in communicating effectively. It’s an amazing aspect of collaborative divorce.)
When I start working with a couple in either of these “no-court” divorce processes, one of the first things I do is share with them a list of 10 keys to effective communication, and I’m sharing them with you here.
1. Remember that we have the chance to be “problem solvers” together.
It took two people to create your marriage and the problems in it. With mediation or collaborative divorce, you will have a bigger team to work cooperatively with both of you to address issues and come to satisfying resolutions you can both live with.
2. Sometimes it’s helpful to stop ourselves and ask, “Is this really the most effective way to resolve this issue or talk about it?”
It’s natural to bring unhealthy communication habits from your marriage into the divorce process, but the ways you spoke to each other back then obviously weren’t optimal. Be mindful about the fact that you both can probably speak to each other in more productive ways. Your mediator or collaborative coach will be helpful in making suggestions in the moment. Be patient and open-minded.
3. Using inflammatory language usually is not helpful to resolve conflict.
Whether you’re the target of inflammatory language or the one using it, the end result is the unnecessary escalation of negative emotions, hurt feelings, and less opportunity to find common ground.
4. Speak for yourself using “I” statements, and let your partner share his/her own feelings or needs.
When you focus on expressing your own feelings, thoughts, and perceptions without being accusatory, your partner will be less defensive, and this will help keep the lines of communication open.
5. This process is completely voluntary.
When you both realize you’re engaged in the process because you want to be and not because someone is forcing you to be, it’s easier to remain present. While you might at times feel an impulse to retreat, shut down, or attack, remember why you’re here and what you can accomplish together.
6. It’s okay to be creative and ask for help from others who might have more information or insight on a particular issue.
We all want to be right, but is being right more important than being happy? Of course not. When you’re not sure how to proceed, or you need more ideas about how to resolve an issue, ask for help. You’re not on your own.
7. It’s okay to disagree. It may feel tense that you cannot agree right now, but try to tolerate that for a little while to give time to look for other solutions.
Sometimes it’s difficult to create a plan or find a compromise about a certain issue right away. You might have to explore several different options before you find the one that is really and truly best. Resist the urge to dig in your heels and defend your position. And don’t run from issue either. Be patient and remain engaged–resolution will come.
8. Consider conflict an opportunity and listen for the other person’s expressed feelings, interests, and goals.
When you’re not seeing eye to eye, try not to argue. Acknowledge that you’re being confronted with ideas with which you may not agree, but they may just be ideas that you don’t understand. If you can listen with empathy and a desire to find common ground, you may find that your partner has something worth sharing that will help you both reach a solution.
9. Have faith that a mutually acceptable resolution is possible.
In the heat of the moment or while discussing a particularly contentious topic, it may feel as if it will be impossible for the two of you to reach a compromise. But I have worked with countless couples through mediation and collaborative practice, and I assure you that if you stay committed to the process and to working together, you will find solutions and create plans that both of you will be satisfied with. Trust the process.
10. We are all responsible for helping each other to use the best communication methods.
It’s easy to criticize others and feel justified about our own familiar ways of expressing ourselves. But the best thing to do is focus on what you can control—yourself. You get to decide what to say and how to say it. You get to decide how to respond to what you hear. You’ll have support during mediation or a collaborative divorce in using the best communication methods, and doing so will make it easier for your soon-to-be ex-spouse to do the same.
The Bottom Line
If your marriage is salvageable, perhaps you will find these helpful in fostering more positive communication patterns with your spouse now as you continue to build a healthy relationship. If you’re already planning to divorce, perhaps you will both find it useful to start practicing some of these best communication methods now as you prepare to enter the difficult conversations and negotiations that are part of dissolving a marriage and moving on with your lives. If you have children, these methods will be invaluable as you co-parent into the future.
If you’d like to know more about mediation and collaborative practice, please set up a confidential consultation so we can talk about your situation and your options. I’m ready to help.
Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.
Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation.