Divorce Is Messy

Going into a divorce is an emotionally messy process no matter how it begins or how it evolves. Oftentimes couples get caught up in an emotional battle or competition with one another over who is right or wrong. They play out the battle out using finances, living arrangements, schedules, and especially their children as pawns. For some couples this battle continues long after the divorce is over. The adults never heal; the children suffer.

Face The Facts

If your mate has asked for a divorce and if you’ve discussed an option for counseling to repair the marital damage and this is refused, it’s important to face the facts that the choice for divorce may be out of your control simply because your mate wants it. Facing the facts doesn’t mean you have to like it. But you do have to accept it if the choice is out of your control. You are going to be sad and angry, confused and you are going to grieve—even if you are the one asking for the divorce. You may not have control over your mate or your emotions, but what you do have control over is how you handle this jumble of emotions and how you handle the process going forward.

How you behave and how you communicate will help determine the length of time it takes to finalize your divorce and the financial cost. How you behave will also help determine how you and your children adjust to the changes required when a divorce is imminent and out of your control.

Separate Your Feelings From Your Needs

If your mate will not reconcile, or if your mate will not participate in “Uncoupling Therapy” or “Divorce Therapy” to discuss the reasons for the divorce and how to proceed, you need to stay focused on your higher goals—of healing, helping your children, and having enough resources to rebuild your life. To help you stay focused on these higher goals:

  1. Hire a skilled a coach or counselor. That person will help you stay focused on what is most important to you and your children during the divorce process and afterward as you create a new life as a single person and as a parent with a separate household.
  2. Separate your emotional needs from the “business” of divorce. The essentials that couples need to discuss during the divorce process and after relates to the “business” of their lives. If your mate wants a divorce, he or she is NOT the person to help you with your feelings any more. Turn to a coach or counselor, family and friends to work out your feelings. The business of divorce concerns the finances, needs of the children, schedules, living arrangements, etc. that you and you ex need to agree upon together. Otherwise the courts will make these decisions for you. Communicating in a strategic—and non-reactive—way will make this a less painful process.

And, remember that you can only do your part. No matter how well you behave or communicate, your mate plays a part—but you can accept your 100% responsibility for yourself and stay focused on behaving with grace, dignity and staying on task to finalize your agreements.

Here are some tips to help you stay focused:

  • Focus on Your Higher Mutual Goals. Typically both adults in a divorce want the best financial situation for everyone in the family and the best possible care for their children. It is best if your lawyers, coaches, and other specialists bring you both back to these goals, but you can also keep your discussions on track by stating these mutual desires. Acknowledging where you agree or “come together” will create fewer opportunities to disagree and fight.
  • Practice the Art of Negotiation. Negotiation can only occur if you know and acknowledge what your ex wants in the divorce. It doesn’t mean you have to give in, it means you can give something he or she wants in order to also hopefully receive something that you want in return.
  • Pick Your Battles. Face the fact that you will probably not get everything you want. Go for what is most important, but do it with grace and dignity.

Here are tips for good communication—with anyone:

You’ll need some of these during the divorce and beyond, especially if you share parenting for years to come.

  • Do Not Mind Read. You’ve been married to this person and you probably think you know everything he or she is going to say. Stop. Listen. Ask more open-ended questions and be curious about the response as though you’ve never heard it before. This will help your mate/ex feel listened to and understood. It will help you know where to negotiate and hopefully you will be given an opportunity to speak also.
  • Show Interest and Actively Listen. This is 75% of all great communication. Put your ego, your thoughts off to the side and focus on listening to your ex as though you have never heard him or her before, rather than making assumptions about what he or she might say.
  • Take Turns Talking. No one is listening when two people are talking at the same time. If your ex does not give you an opportunity to talk it probably means that he or she is not ready to hear your perspective anyway. Your lawyer and other specialist working on the divorce should listen to you, even if your ex does not.
  • Mirror Back For Understanding. To make sure you’ve heard correctly and understood what is being said. ……”Let me see if I’ve got that. What I think I hear you saying is…….Is that right?” Then listen.
  • Bookend The Message. When you are relaying a difficult message, begin and end with the positive—your over-all good feelings toward the person and your intentions for a positive outcome for both of you and the family. For example say, “ I really value what a good parent you are and I want to work this out. What would help me is to have no sarcasm when we discuss difficult things. I would be able to hear your feedback better without sarcasm or hurtful comments. And that’s what I want to do—I want to hear your feedback, because I really want to parent well together going forward.”
  • Get To The Point. Learn to use the Broken Record Technique. For example, if your main message tends to get lost in conversations that are difficult, or if either of you goes off on detours, rehearse your core message beforehand and stick to it – no matter how the other person might detour the conversation.  This will keep you on track. It will help you deliver what is most important to you. Say your core message 2 – 3 times if needed. More than that means the other person is not ready to hear you.
  • It’s Important. Let the other person know that what you want or what you are saying is important to you, especially if they seem not to hear or if they discount what you are saying or asking for. Reaffirm your message by saying, “Well, I want you to know that this is important to me so I’d like you to think about it and let’s talk again in two days.” (or,..” on Wednesday.”)
  • Brainstorm, Then Decide. When you are trying to achieve an outcome or arrive at a conclusion, some situations require quick and immediate decision-making. However, in much of life there is less need to rush. If you are trying to come together on a decision, and you both agree it is okay to take a little time, make time to come up with options together. Then arrive at a chosen win/win solution.
  • Let Me Build On That Thought. Add to what the other person has said, rather than polarizing. Polarizing is oppositional. It’s taking an opposing position or view. Try to find where you “come together” then build on that thought, weaving in your perspective.
  • Go For The Gold. Over time you and your ex may be able to develop a mind-set of working toward mutually satisfying Win/Win outcomes to enhance your relationship.
  • Slow down! If possible, remember you don’t have to resolve everything Right Now. Your goal should be to become EFFECTIVE! You know how to push your ex’s buttons, so you also know how to avoid them! Take your time; cool off, think it through and you’ll have many opportunities to communicate effectively.



Additional Resources

When You Feel Stuck—or Choose to Remain—In a Difficult Relationship With Someone Who Will Not or May Not Change

7 Tips When You Resent Being In the Lead With a Colleague, Employee or Mate

When Men Don’t Fully Engage, It Deprives the Women in Your Life of Growth

When You Are Ready—Reach Out for a Complimentary Call to Explore Your Needs here

Dr. Jan Hoistad