Divorce Communication Tips

6. April 2011 – Hilfe / Beratung

Conversation Skills during Separation

Times of separation and divorce are times of crisis, of stress, of change. This means emotional burden and at the same time practical steps have to be taken in a reasonable manner.
Things should not get more difficult than they are anyway. It helps to have a few “tools” in store, that make communication as respectful and fair as possible under the given circumstances.

If children are involved, this is a must. Parents have the power and the responsibility to make these hard times a bit easier for those whom they love and care for, simply by dealing with (future) ex-partners in a respectful way. Children at all ages suffer in various ways, feel guilty, scared and/or ambivalent. The symptoms often show much later.

Your partnership might end, but your parenthood will not!
Do it for your children´s sake, they will thank you for the rest of their lives!

There are a few communication gaps I encounter frequently, when I support clients on their way to a fair and balanced agreement regarding their separation or divorce.
Perhaps it helps to keep the following in mind:

  • It is a difficult and challenging time for everyone:
    While you are trying to get things sorted out, there is not always a need to state whose fault a specific issue is.
    Sometimes it is nobody´s specific fault that situations don´t work out the way we expected.
  • Listen and acknowledge:
    Repeat what you have heard, before answering. Ask your partner to do the same!
  • Dealing with reproach/aggression:
    1) put a calm, but clear barrier
    2) then mirror the other person´s anger: “Stop talking to me this way!”
    Then ASK (or try to guess): “What is it you need? e.g. “Do you need me to call earlier?”
  • Asking questions:
    In general, it is a good idea, to ask questions as a first step.
    1) In case of reproach by the partner: ask for concrete incidents. Thereafter, ask for a wish/need instead : “When exactly did I forget to call? So: You wish me to call before we leave home?”
    2) If you feel like wanting to reproach the other – Try to find out more about the situation: “Perhaps your mobile phone did not work? Was there a lot of traffic? Probably you were in a hurry?”
  • Talk about your feelings and needs:
    Avoid emphasizing what the other person did (reproaching).
    Instead of saying: “You are unreliable, because you did not call! “
    You could say : “I feel confused, I feel uneasy, if you don´t call…I need you to call, so I have more clarity, it makes me feel acknowledged!”
  • Most conflicts boil down to three needs:
    Love, respect and acknowledgement – Remind yourself and your partner that the ways to get there have to be adequate for the other!
  • In dual – cultural partnerships:
    It helps to ask oneself (on your own or together) whether there could be a cultural factor involved
    e.g. “Back home, parents of the partner deserve unconditional respect”
    Or: ”From where I come from, talking about irritations directly is a no-go!”
    This can ease a conflict, because none of the partners has to feel “guilty”, it is the circumstances, which are challenging.
  • Say, what you need:
    But put it in words that can be easily accepted by your partner:
    e.g. you are irritated, because your “ex” bought the wrong item on a shopping list for the kids
    “FEED-BACK SANDWICH”:
    Instead of saying something like: “Gosh, you got it all wrong again ….this is terrible…couldn´t you read what I had written down on the list?”
    You can also convey your message the following way (start from lowest level):
    First Layer: Concrete Positive observation – “You did all the shopping for Bobby, as promised!”
    Second (Middle) Layer: Ask for improvement – “Please call me next time, if you have a question about the shopping list, so we can avoid misunderstandings!”
    Third (last) Layer: General Acknowledgment – “I´m glad about our teamwork regarding the shopping”

These examples work for relatively “harmless” situations, as described above, but also – and even more so – when dealing with tougher issues, such as questions of custody or rights of access. Of course adhering to those simple rules of communication, will not necessarily eliminate differences in opinion, but might help to avoid escalation or complete deadlock.

Give it a try – you will find it helpful and empowering to understand a bit more about the dynamics of good communication.

Written by: Mag.iur.Barbara Nanoff-Schediwy

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