Divorce can be a very difficult process for two people. Emotions can run high, heartbreak, stress, and anger can set in. Many spouses feel disappointment and frustration and they struggle to effectively communicate with one another about the complex feelings that surge through them. This can lead to destructive communication which can shatter your ability to exchange important ideas. Yelling, name calling, abusive language, withholding of information, one spouse or the other shutting down completely, and other destructive behaviors retard progress in a divorce, and everyone suffers.

In family law mediation one of the mediator’s chief responsibilities is to facilitate open communication between the sides. A mediator may need to coach the parties on the best techniques to use to communicate with one another civilly and rationally. Some spouses need to learn that if they’re going to resolve their family law issues, without spending all their money on lawyer’s fees and subjecting themselves to bankruptcy, they’re going to have to learn how to communicate with each other.

In divorce, it would be cost prohibitive to expect your attorney to make contact with your spouse about every minor issue that arises. Divorce attorneys cost money, and their bills can add up fast. If you can learn to communicate with your spouse, even though everyone’s upset with or not speaking to each other, mediation is a possibility, and you can save money. There are instances, however, where mediation is not appropriate. Like if one spouse is so aggressive toward the other that he or she makes it difficult to even speak with them directly, then you’ll need an attorney, and you’re going to have to litigate your divorce. You’ll also need an attorney to represent you if you have a restraining order that prohibits contact with your spouse due to domestic violence.

Each mediator does things a little differently, but they’re there to help you get a fresh start in dealing with your spouse. The mediator is there to help spouses find solutions to problems you have been unable to or unwilling to solve between yourselves. Mediators guide the communication process so that both of you are able to express what it is that you want to accomplish. The mediator can help clear up misunderstandings between divorcing spouses. The idea of mediation is to create an environment suitable to generate meaningful discussion between two people who once loved each other in an effort to solve nagging, difficult problems. If the two of you learn to communicate more clearly, you can again generate positive feelings toward one another.

In an effort to facilitate better communication and harmony between two spouses during mediation or divorce, I offer the following 5 suggestions:

1) Respect thy spouse.

Treat your spouse with respect at all times. At all times, treat your spouse as you would want your spouse to treat you. What other way would you want to have it? A divorce cannot be a battle to the death, where everybody gets emotionally bloodied, and still have all parties come out as winners. Divorce mediation is premised on the idea of getting away from the conflict of courtroom litigation. It is an opportunity for two sides to sit down and work things out. Mediation can be beneficial for personal emotional balance, your relationship with your spouse, and your children’s needs. Sitting down and speaking calmly and rationally with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse may be the last thing in the world you want, but respectful communication makes divorce healthier for everyone involved. Any ultimate agreement you may want to make with your spouse will begin with the respect you demonstrate.

2) Set boundaries, set aside familiarities.

Even in the tamest of divorces, setting boundaries is an important step. Just because you were once married, and you are very familiar with each other, doesn’t mean that you have to fall back into old behavior patterns. They must be broken. It is very easy for you and your spouse to cross boundaries without even realizing it. It is a good idea to agree on how often you will communicate with each other and in which manner. Discuss with your spouse what your preferred modes of communication are, whether by text, phone, e mail, or the like, and stick to it. Respond when your schedule permits. If talking on the phone or in person creates too many issues, then e mail might be the better form of communication.

If you or your spouse are the needy / clingy type, or if you are frustrated or impatient and want to communicate too frequently, like several times per day, then you may want to establish more limited communication exchanges. Try once per day, or once per week. By establishing these boundaries up front, expectations for communication can be managed, which allows for everyone to be on the same page. Fulfilled expectations help reduce a lot of disagreement and stress. Make clear parameters for communications and let your spouse know ahead of time you will respond at your earliest convenience. Specify if you only want to respond to emergency requests or whether you are comfortable with steady communications, but be clear and respectful.

You don’t have to respond to every communication attempt by your ex. Ignore trivial issues and avoid additional conflict. Taking your time to respond to your spouse’s anxieties will give you the opportunity to think things through and come up with an appropriate and courteous response.

3) Be present, focus on the issues at hand

Divorce can be messy and sometimes it just can’t be avoided. While dividing community assets and debts and establishing custody and support for minor children emotions will heighten and spouses will get excited. Bitterness and frustration over grievances with your spouse can hamper your relationship. Stress about how you’re going to deal with debts and finances will churn your stomach. You lose track of what’s important during
conversations with your spouse and you start arguing about meaningless issues.

Be present. Concentrate only on the issues being discussed now when in mediation. Experience the senses of the mediation process; the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touches, that surround you, now, and stay focused on the issues you are discussing. Try to avoid acting out based on previous grievances with your spouse. Don’t bring yesterday’s anger into today’s mediation session. Forget about the future as well, for now. We may never get there. Take a deep breath and focus on what you do have – the here and the now – the only thing you have control of at this moment.

4) Tone it down, clown

Get out of unhealthy habits. Stop talking to your spouse from a negative emotional space as if he or she is a demonic movie villain. Even if you are angry at your spouse you must not express that in your communications. Although you might be tempted to be sarcastic, raise your voice, or mimic your spouse, don’t do it. Frustration and emotional imbalance combined with familiarity are known to breed negative tones and you have to be present and you have to be aware of it, and you have to control your mouth. Even when you lose your emotions and get angry it is better to just get up and walk away. Stay out of the headspace of hurt and find the heart space of forgiveness and move forward. While no one should have to take abusive words from a spouse, these negative tones are inappropriate and only escalate disagreement.

Speak to your spouse the way you would like your spouse to speak to you. By doing so, you foster an atmosphere for open and respectful communication, which is much more helpful to the divorce process than condescending tones and bitter feelings.

5) Find the common ground

Agreement can be such a wonderful thing. It feels good to accomplish something that is important. So during mediation why not start communicating about something you and your spouse agree on, and go from there, spreading out into bigger issues. Heart is another wonderful common ground in mediation. We all have one, all we need to do is find it, and communicate from there. When you are in mediation, or litigation for that matter, find your heart space, and stay there. Create a new healthy paradigm with your spouse. Stay out of your mind, the past negativities, the future stresses, because it’ll make you crazy. And your children will appreciate you for it.

The welfare of your children is another wonderful common ground to consider when mediating with your spouse. You and your spouse want nothing but the best for the children, so frame your hearts and minds to achieve that goal first. Figure out custody of your children and go from there. You and your spouse might remember that you once built your relationship on common ground, and if you can find it again in family law mediation, you can turn it into settlement agreement that benefits everyone.

 

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