Aside from the fact that going through a divorce is painful and stressful, many of my clients find communicating with their spouse the most difficult part of Mediation or Collaboration. Both processes require you and your spouse to sit together at the same table AND actively participate in the discussions to build a resolution that works for each of you and for your family. But what happens if you and your spouse just don’t speak the same language? Here are some tips:
1. Listen for understanding without interruption
We are often “triggered” by the tone of voice, body language and the words another person uses. When we are triggered, we go to our “fight or flight” instinct to defend ourselves and we are no longer able to listen, reason or engage in a meaningful discussion. We tend to become defensive and react rather than respond and that often means interrupting and judging.
Try to listen for understanding. Rather than making an assumption about what you think the other person means, ASK them. Take a deep breath, tell them you need to ask a question and then tell them what you heard and what you think it means and let them clarify for you. The point here is to understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to like what they say, you just need to “get it”. Remember, understanding where another person is coming from does not mean you have to agree with their point of view.
2. Tell the other person what you heard
As part of your listening, stop periodically and tell the other person what you heard them say. Check in with them to make sure you got it right. If you did not, then let them tell you again until you do get it. This may take some time as it is hard to “hear” when we are triggered.
3. Respond rather than react
4. Tell your story
In a non-blaming or accusatory way, tell your story when there is an important issue for you in your divorce settlement discussions. Talk about your point of view and your needs and concerns in a way that helps the other person understand what is important to you. You do not need to convince them you are right, just tell them what you are experiencing.
5. Have compassion
You do not have to agree with your spouse. However, do try to have some understanding of what it is like from their perspective. Have some compassion for their point of view. This will help your spouse feel heard and more willing to see your point of view.
Remember, if you are in Mediation, your mediator can facilitate the discussions and if you are in the Collaborative process, your lawyer will be there with you and your coach will work with you on how to effectively communicate and listen. This is by no means the only way to effectively communicate, it is simply a short list to help you begin your process.