This may seem like an odd headline. Yet one of the beauties of a collaborative divorce is that many couples actually do learn how to talk to each other during this process. This does not happen by osmosis. It comes from working with a divorce coach prior to and during the negotiation.
In a more traditional divorce, attorneys may not want spouses talking during negotiations. In collaborative divorce, it’s very much to the benefit of the process if spouses can communicate with each other with and without attorneys present. The divorce coach as a conduit helps couples learn how to talk during the process and essentially sets up a structure for communications post-divorce.
Prior to negotiations, the divorce coach meets individually with each spouse. This session acts as a bit of a communication primer. For example, is there something you say or the way you say things that really sets your spouse off—and vice versa? Do you react in a certain way (e.g. facial expressions, body language) that takes conversations in a negative or unproductive direction?
The coach will also work with spouses on how to reframe their words to express his/her thoughts and feelings without being accusatory or escalating the tension level. For example, instead of saying things like, “You always… ___” a coach will work with a spouse to phrase it as, “I feel like this when you ___”. This may not seem like a big deal, but it does help keep the person on the receiving end from getting defensive or as defensive.
Having a third-party who is aware of these triggers involved in the negotiation can make it much easier to avoid confrontations that can bog down the process. A coach who notices something can interject and recommend a break so that people can collect themselves.
The coach can also set up communications ground rules outside the negotiation. For example, many divorcing couples will use e-mail and texting as a form of communication during the process. While this can be a useful tool it can also create problems (e.g. one party e-mails or texts incessantly; another party is unresponsive). The coach can set up some guidelines to sidestep possible tensions.
For example, rather than e-mailing or texting multiple times a day regarding several issues, the guideline might be one party can only send one e-mail per day and the other spouse has 24 hours to respond. If he or she doesn’t, then the party who sent the text or e-mail can call or send a second e-mail or text.
With ground rules in place and the coach in place, divorcing couples can often dramatically improve their communication during the process and outside the attorney’s office. Inside the attorney’s office, we also have a secret weapon:
In my career, I can count on one hand the number collaborative divorce negotiations that did not have cookies, candies, fruits or some type of sustenance. While this may seem like a courtesy, something you would do for guests, it is very much part of the communication process.
How? Think about it. Food, particularly desserts, are a natural way to take the conversation down a notch and in another direction of common interest. Very few people will just sit there silently and eat.
“Isn’t this good?”
“Did you try this?”
“I shouldn’t, but why not?”
“I’m going to pay for this later.”
These types of non-sequiturs can really diffuse tension, especially when you were just knee-deep in a discussion about dividing assets, visitation schedules, etc.
And if food works for a couple, it’s probably not a bad a thing to implement in your communications going forward.
When it comes to collaborative divorce, it really becomes a matter of what works best to reach an agreeable resolution. With the support of a coach and the rest of the collaborative team, spouses can and have learned how to effectively communicate to come to agreement and have a productive relationship going forward.