My cousin communicates her feelings but she hasn’t learned the virtues of suitably picking her battles. I’ve always liked her because I’ve always known where I stand with her. I like that about a person, someone who is honest, blunt and upfront.
At the moment these traits are not her friend and what she needs most is a friend. She is divorcing. An ugly divorce involving hidden assets, threats thrown around during mediation, property stolen and a father who has systematically turned a young girl against her mother.
Judith (my cousin) told me, “If feel like I’ve gone to my own funeral and the two most important people in my life didn’t show. I’m dead inside and the people I need to care most no longer care.”
Regardless of how stress is defined, we all understand how it feels. For Judith, the stress of her divorce has manifested itself as panic attacks, depression, fatigue, hopelessness and the need to express herself in the hope of being heard and understood.
She tells her husband that she hates him; the next day she tells him she loves him. She tells him she will “make his life a living hell” if he tries to screw her over in court. She constantly engages him in her attempt to express herself and be understood. And her form of engagement works against her getting what she wants.
She misses her daughter who now refuses to see or talk to her. She has copies of her medical records, the ones that tell of how she nearly died in childbirth 16 years ago. She wants the judge to read the records. She wants the judge to understand that she nearly died bringing her daughter into the world, that she is a good mother.
She has so much to say and the people who have any control over relieving her pain are not interested in what she has to say. Her husband doesn’t want to hear it, her lawyer doesn’t want to hear it, and a judge damned sure won’t care to hear it.
The technique she has always used to relieve her stress…open and honest communication, isn’t working in her present situation. In fact, her habit of communicating to relieve stress has caused litigation issues during the divorce to multiply.
On top of divorce, an unethical husband and an angry daughter she has learned that her upfront style of communication is not the best approach to take in some situations. She is doing more talking than she has ever done in her life and it is getting her nowhere fast.
What Judith has never learned is that communication is a two-way street. Regardless of how angry she is, what her husband feels and has to say must be taken into consideration by her during divorce settlement negotiations. If she is not able to do that then she should stifle her need to express herself before she finds herself hip deep in some ugly, extended divorce litigation.
I remember the same feelings of exasperation and frustration during my divorce. I also remember how it felt when I realized that if I wanted to be understood I might want to put some effort into understanding the other side as well.
So, if you are stressed and want to rip his head off do yourself a favor, express your feelings in a manner that shows you have some self-respect which he will probably mistakenly confuse for respect for his feelings also. That kind of confusion is a good thing.
Talk away but, don’t forget to…
Say what you need to say and then allow the other person to speak. While the other person is speaking, HEAR what is being said. It takes two to divorce, that means you and your feelings and the other person and his feelings. If you have a right to express your feelings, so does he.
Don’t be surprised if there is a bit of tit-for-tat that goes on. That can happen when two sides are trying to communicate and be heard.
This is big because divorce is all about negotiating. You will negotiate the division of marital property, child custody, and visitation. You might as well use that period before you start negotiating the big stuff to practice your negotiating skills when communicating the emotional sludge.
Sure, it is almost impossible to concede anything to someone you’re angry with but if you can do so you are more likely to get most of what you want or, a good portion anyway. One great way to negotiate when expressing emotions is to admit you played a role in the marital problems. After all, it takes two to make a marriage and two to break one.
Judith has done what any reasonable woman would do under the circumstances: She has crumbled. She has fallen apart totally. This is no small crisis, it is a nuclear explosion. She is on a journey that is so emotionally fraught there seem to be no boundaries or rules. When in the situation she is in most of us would do the same, jump straight in, willy-nilly in an attempt to set our world right once again.
If you give yourself the opportunity one of the most valuable lessons you can learn in such a situation is the fine art of communication and maybe even a few new techniques for coping with stress.
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