Communicating to get divorced

Road SignsHow many couples point to a lack of or the breakdown of communication as the reason for their marriage ending? Without any hard data, I would have to say most. Yet, it’s ironic that many couples finally learn to communicate with each other as part of their divorce, particularly if they choose collaborative divorce.

The collaborative divorce model puts a premium on communication. That includes spouses speaking directly to each other as part of the negotiation. You will not find that in other types of divorce where attorneys do all the talking.

You’re probably wondering how successful collaborative divorce could be if it relies on people who probably weren’t very good at communicating with each other negotiating important issues directly. Quite simply, the collaborative divorce model includes a coaching element where we work with each spouse on how to communicate with their ex within the process. With most collaborative divorces, there will be an actual “divorce coach” on the team whose job it specifically is to help couples communicate better throughout the process and afterwards.

Part of that coaching involves the divorce coach sitting down with each spouse individually and reviewing the way they have up until this point communicated with his/her spouse. That includes discussion of the things his/her spouse says or does that pushes that pushes his/her buttons and also the things that he/she does to push his/her spouse’s buttons.

For example, maybe one spouse speaks in a condescending tone and that puts the other spouse on the defensive. Maybe there’s certain body language one spouse uses when speaking to the other that indicates that either he or she is not listening. The divorce coach, in speaking to both spouses, tries to help the parties understand how all those past behaviors could interfere with communication during the negotiation.

This coaching serves many purposes during the negotiation. First, by putting those issues out on the table, the divorce coach can now give each spouse the tools to address these communication issues. It could be as simple as starting a sentence with “I” rather than “you” or developing a catch phrase so the other spouse knows to pay close attention to what is being said. For example, one spouse could start key points by saying, “I feel it’s important that…”

While tools can improve communication during the negotiation, it does not preclude spouses from reverting to old habits. That’s when the divorce coach’s expertise is even more important. By noticing the tone, body language and other indicators, the divorce coach can intervene if he/she feels things are about to get heated or take a negative turn or unproductive turn. Often, a short break for the spouses to regain his/her composure is enough to prevent a breakdown in the negotiation.

With the divorce coach as the communication guardian, the negotiation can better focus on the issues on the table. Hopefully, that leads to a more satisfactory result for both parties.

For couples with children who will be co-parenting for years to come, working with the divorce coach provides a wonderful tutorial on how to communicate going forward. The tools used during negotiation can just as easily be used by exes when discussing potentially contentious topics like holiday schedules, weekday visitation and other issues. Quite honestly, these tools and the communication skills divorcing couples develop during this process could save thousands of dollars in future legal fees as exes can now work things out without a trip to court.

More importantly, this new kind of family—with communications ground rules in hand–will be able to function more effectively, even harmoniously. Yes, a collaborative divorce still represents the end of a marriage. Yet for many couples, collaborative divorce can save (or at least improve) the future relationship.