Communicating with Each Other through
Separation and Divorce
The process of separation and divorce typically can create feelings of denial, grief, anger, blame, loneliness, and resentment. These feelings can be compounded when we also experience fear of our unknown future. In order to reduce the potential negative energy caused by fear, it is critical that we examine how we can communicate effectively so that each person comes out of the process feeling hopeful about his or her future...and feeling whole.
As soon as we experience acceptance of our spouse's "way of being" and the actuality of separating, we are living and understanding the truth. We don't have to like the way the person is, and we don't have to live with the person. We just need to make peace with the truth. Once we let the other person be the way he or she is, we may discover that he or she isn't the type of person we want to share our life with. It is helpful for each party to know that there is hope for happiness in their future, as they move through the healing process.
Unfortunately, most of the advice people give others during separation and divorce is adversarial - usually due to having an emotional investment in the other person's happiness and wellbeing. People might say to someone "Make sure you protect yourself. Do whatever it takes to come out ahead. Forget the other person." We are told to withdraw the bank accounts, cancel the credit cards, change the locks, and hire an aggressive attorney. What we don't notice is that everything we do to make sure we come out ahead, puts the other person further behind. The problem with this is that the other person has people saying the same things, and so they are mostly likely to find it difficult to cooperate with us. That person doesn't want to come out as losing, so he or she engages in unhealthy behaviors and requests. Your spouse fights just to protect him or herself from you. Then you have to fight to protect yourself from your spouse. Then your spouse gets scared and fights even harder to protect him or herself from you. Then you do the same. The cycle of conflict grows and grows. And when you start fighting over children and finances, your situation gets even worse. Not only do you have all the hurt and anger from the relationship, but now, you're threatening each other's survival. When you do this, your spouse can start to feel desperate. The fighting becomes out of control - with each party saying and doing things that are, manytimes, outside of core values and belief systems, and their true intentions.
To encourage collaboration during the process of separation and divorce, here are some tips for communicating in a thoughtful and respectful way:
- Resist the tendency to affix labels to your spouse’s behaviors. Doing so will keep both of you stuck in negative thinking and will hurt everyone, including the children. It will also unnecessarily extend the divorce process (costing more in attorney’s fees). By replacing the word “wrong” (when it comes to describing your spouse’s parenting skills, money values, personal habits, etc.) with the word “different”, you will have reached a healthier way of interpreting his or her behavior. As a result, your communications with your spouse will reflect your being at peace with who he or she is and you will be able to more forward.
- Forgive when necessary,and take responsibility and apologize for your own contribution to problems in the relationship. Marriage is hard work, and people make mistakes along the way. There is a real good chance that each person will come out of the relationship having some regrets.
- Practice “Active Listening”. Poor communication during a marriage is one of the primary causes of divorce. The disconnect during separation and divorce is widened when one or both people don’t feel that they are being heard. People, including children, receive their "sense of worth and belonging" in the family relationship by knowing that others are listening and considering their needs. By practicing active listening during separation and divorce, the lines of communication are strengthened and the journey begins to feel “safer” and more “hopeful”. The end result is a quicker and more respectful divorce.
- Take great care not to sound combative or threatening. Another contributor to divorce is an unequal distribution of power within a relationship, which includes angry, defensive communications. The resentment, fear, and associated behaviors of this dynamic can surely contaminate the divorce process, transforming the experience into something it doesn’t need to be. The result is that relationships within the family also are contaminated unnecessarily. Keep your emotions as separate from the process as you can.
- Avoid the temptation to push buttons. How you resolve things will affect you for the rest of your life.
- Don't let your attorney alter your message and "inflame" the process.
- Try to acknowledge the other person’s positive contributions to the family. This could be meaningful to share with children who need to know there remains a positive connection between you and your spouse. And remember, people are not all good, or all bad. We are all human.
- Be reliable and live up to your side of the bargain. Do what you say you are going to do.
- Be flexible. If he or she wants something, maybe you can trade.
- If communications fails, use a mediator.
I will help you during the process of separation and divorce, by providing
support and care, guiding you with knowledge and expertise, so that you can move through the process with the least amount of emotional and physical stress.