Don’t Add Fuel to the Fire: Five Tips for Smoother Communication During Divorce

divorce-factorsEven under the best circumstances, divorce is difficult.  There is so much emotion and so many parts of your life are in flux. Understandably, for many couples, maintaining productive, or even civil, communication during the divorce process can be a challenge.  Despite the difficulty, it is essential for your well-being (not to mention the well-being of your children, if you have them!) to be able to effectively communicate with your soon-to-be former spouse.

These following five tips can help make communicating easier and more effective so that your conversations are as productive as possible.

Tip 1: Focus on Your Big Goals, Not Small, Irritating Issues. 

Any time you begin to focus on details it is easier to get into arguments.  Keep yourself focused on the big picture (such as being financially stable or quality parenting time) rather than aggravating annoyances (a bill your spouse paid late or requests for minor schedule changes).  Make a physical list of your overarching goals and refer to it when you feel yourself getting agitated about (relative) minutiae.

Tip 2: Hold Heated Topics for the Right Time and Place.

You do not need to discuss things like who will be getting what property or assets alone with your spouse, so don’t.  Focus only on the specific topics that you need to discuss and leave any arguments over assets and other things for the appropriate setting.  Depending what divorce process you have chosen, this may be in your mediation sessions, in collaborative team meetings, through your attorney, or in the courtroom.

 Tip 3: Don’t focus on blame or fault.
If you are in a mediated or collaborative divorce, fault is normally not an issue. The parties will be focused on looking forward, not back. Debating fault is a distraction that delays (or even prevents) reaching an agreement.  Even if you are in a traditional, litigated divorce where fault is a factor for the court to consider, leave those arguments to your attorney.  If you let yourself focus on fault, you’ll just wind up making yourself miserable.

Tip 4: Stick to Court Orders as Closely as Possible During the Divorce.  

If you have kids and you and your ex are struggling to communicate, during your divorce you may have a temporary parenting plan (or custody order) in place.  Although it may be tempting to ask your spouse to make adjustments to schedule when you have conflicts crop up, during the divorce try to resist doing so.  Stick to your plan as much as possible — if you don’t, it may well lead to further, unnecessary conflict.  On the other hand, keep Tip 1 in mind.  If your spouse requests a minor schedule change, focus on your major goals and consider being accommodating in order to avoid a battle over something that isn’t really important to you.

Tip 5:  For Goodness Sake, Don’t Drink and Talk (or Text).

Alcohol decreases the likelihood that you will be able to stick to Tips 1 through 4.  No good comes from calling, texting, emailing, or communicating in any way with your ex when you have been drinking.  Even a glass of wine may make you say something (or leave a voicemail!) that you will regret the next morning. On the flip side, alcohol can sometimes make you feel kind or affectionate toward your spouse.   Put your phone away and do not reach out.  You can always call the next day once your head is clear.  The same rule holds true for social media — just because you don’t write directly to your ex doesn’t mean that he or she won’t hear about it.  Even “vaguebooking” on your own wall may get back to your spouse and create a misunderstanding or argument.

In a nutshell, you need to do whatever you can to eliminate (or at lease reduce) conflict during the divorce process.  These tips will help to make your communication easier and more effective for everyone.  That said, if find it impossible to sticking to them, it may become necessary for a time to communicate only through your attorneys or the mediator.  Although one-on-one communication with your ex can be an ultimate goal, sometimes it takes time to get to that point.  Consider engaging a mental health professional to help the two of you learn to communicate without adding fuel to the fire.

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Written by Meghan Freed