Does this sound familiar? You have every good intention of having a civil conversation with your ex, but then something triggers you, and just like that, you’re in an ugly back-and-forth you wish you could undo, accompanied by a nasty “I know better” pit in your stomach.
Unfortunately, those heated exchanges can harm your divorce process, especially if they happen often.
Here are five of the main reasons why it’s so important to communicate well during divorce, as well as some tips on how to get there.
Here’s why what you say matters:
Divorce requires compromise and negotiation.
Clear, reasonable dialogue helps your team advocate effectively on your behalf, which usually translates to you getting more of what you want. Respectful negotiations also keep the process moving forward, which is good for your wallet and your heart.
Everything costs less.
When you show up at your lawyer’s office with a summary of the situation, key points highlighted, tentative goals identified, and a prepared list of questions, you are efficiently using your time and theirs. You hired your attorney for their legal expertise. Maximize their knowledge by being as prepared as possible.
Your children benefit.
Children suffer when their parents disparage each other, fight in front of them and share too much. Clear messages of love and support, healthy boundaries and active listening will improve how your kids adjust to their new situation.
By focusing on efforts to tap into your best self, the person you really want to be when you look back on this time, you aren’t dwelling on the negative traits of your spouse (and you can’t control those, anyway!). Spend time creating a mission statement for your divorce, identifying your goals, and creating messages for children, friends, and family. Doing this work upfront will remind you of your priorities and help you focus on them when you’re stressed.
You set the foundation for healing and healthy co-parenting.
When communications during the divorce process are handled well, you increase the opportunity for long-term, healthy co-parenting. Sometimes your inner strength and resilience can be hard to access, but choosing the high road becomes easier each time, especially once you see the benefits.
Wondering how to do all this when you’re stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious? Try the following:
Create a personal and a divorce mission statement. There are thousands of templates out there, but this one from best-selling author Andy Andrews is my go-to. Going through the process of writing your personal mission statement will remind you of the things you love, what inspires you, and your goals for the future. It can be a touchstone, aspirational, and grounding all at once. Importantly, it can also be updated as desired. You can even create a mission statement specifically for your divorce as another way to stay focused on the big picture.
Sit quietly and take some deep breaths. Close your eyes, put your phone elsewhere and just breathe. Envision yourself somewhere peaceful: by the ocean, on a hike or anywhere that calms you, and sit still for even five minutes. Giving yourself the benefit of those five minutes can often impact your entire demeanor and give you a new, more generous perspective.
Create a mantra.
I like to say the serenity prayer when I am overwhelmed. A client of mine calls herself “The Comeback Girl” and evokes it when she’s stressed. Use whatever motivates you to push through a difficult moment.
Any challenging situation is an opportunity to decide how we want to show up.
Ask yourself: Is this communication a demonstration of my best self? What is my true intention? Is this decision-based in love?
- How would I feel if my child read/heard me say this?
- How would I feel if my ex/spouse/partner showed this to their lawyer or to a judge? Would I show it to my lawyer?
- What would I counsel my child to do in this situation?
Do I have to respond to this at all? If so, what is the minimum amount of information I need to include? If you must respond, try stating, “I disagree with that characterization,” and nothing more.
Start a journal.
Just putting pen to paper can satisfy your need to vent without causing any harm.
Remember, it’s not unusual for communications between spouses to make an appearance in court, especially if they are hostile, offensive, or threatening. When the stakes are this high, a little preparation and thinking about the big picture before you respond gives you the best chance for success.