Separation and divorce can be a challenging time for everyone; you, your former partner, but especially for your children. One way to ease the stress of this process is for you and your former partner to communicate effectively. I’m sure your thinking, “If we could have done this, we may not be getting a divorce.” I understand, but these skills are especially important now that the two of you need to coordinate the children’s activities, school, vacations, separating finances, etc.
First Things First
The first important aspect of communication is, as they say in business, Location, Location, Location. It should be a neutral place so neither of you feels intimidated or vulnerable. In public is okay and sometimes helps to keep the discussion reasonable.
Social pressure can go a long way in making an angry former partner stay at a reasonable tone; hopefully that’s not you, but if it is, this can still be helpful. Meeting at one another’s home may set you up for arguments over material things and distract you from the current discussion. This can also set up a power differential, where one feels more powerful or has more power in the situation than the other. Unfortunately for some, meeting at one another’s homes may be unsafe.
Once you’ve decided on the place it helps to have a prearranged time. So set an appointment and be on time. This can give you both the time to think about what really needs to be discussed at this meeting and hopefully minimize the bickering about things that are old news. Like any meeting, it is wise to take the time to prepare.
I suggest a minimum of three things to be prepared for this meeting.
First, have the correct and complete information you will need. Get your materials and notes together, such as financials, schedules, health care needs, etc. This can cut down on wasting your time figuring things out because the information is readily available.
Secondly, prepare yourself physically. I don’t mean get to the gym and pump yourself up. However, I do suggest that you’re well rested and be sure to have eaten well. This helps you to both physically and mentally have the energy for the meeting. If you have been feeling ill, I suggest you avoid the meeting all together and reschedule it; meetings can almost always be rescheduled.
Finally, prepare yourself emotionally. Speaking of food once again, if you’re well fed and rested you may find it easier to keep yourself in control. This is important during any meeting but especially when you are discussing things as they relate to your children. Getting plenty or rest and having your internal machine running well can do wonders for your mental health and coping skills.
I'm sure you thought by divorcing you wouldn’t have to listen to your ex-spouse as much. Well, unfortunately I have to be the bearer of bad news.
True, you don’t have to listen as much as before, but you do need to be a good listener when you’re discussing the children. Here’s a method I find helpful for many people. When it’s their turn to talk...wait, I said WAIT! Pay attention and take some notes if you need to, so you can accurately respond.
Here are some other suggestions:
* Use “I” responses when you speak. This can help to minimize defensiveness the other person may feel by taking the blaming out of the discussion.
For example, instead of “You make me so angry”, you would say something like, “I feel angry when you…” This also helps you to identify your own feelings on the issue at hand. You take responsibility for your own feelings and that can be empowering, as well.
* When you’re faced with a difficult decision and you are having a difficult time deciding on a solution, you should try a brainstorming session.
A brainstorming session will allow you to try to discuss every possibility, even if it seems unreasonable. This technique also helps to open our mind to the variety of possibilities available to solving a problem.
When you can be flexible with your thinking, it can open up the opportunity for compromising. As time passes, and you begin to work better with your former partner you may be surprised by what the two of you could accomplish.
Eventually, you may even be able to share more of your feelings constructively with each other and find the best solution for everyone. It may sound absurd, I understand, but in my next article I will elaborate on this idea of sharing your feelings with the former spouse.