4 Tips for Effective Communication During Divorce

Marriages never start out with divorce in mind but, unfortunately, a large number of marriages often end in divorce.  Whether your communication was exemplary during your marriage or whether it was quite poor, it typically tends to suffer quite a bit during the divorce process.  With emotions running high, heartbreak, stress, anger, disappointment and frustration, many spouses struggle to effectively communicate about all of the complexities involved in divorce.  Because of this, unproductive communication occurs including yelling, abusive language, name calling, withholding of information, one spouse or another shutting down completely, and more.  These things only result in further complicating the divorce process and are unhelpful for everyone involved.  The American Psychological Association describes why communication can be difficult during divorce and how to make it easier through improved communication and mediation, “Try not to think of the breakup as a battle. Divorce mediation is often a good alternative to courtroom proceedings. Trying to work things out yourself can be frustrating and self-defeating as the problems that contributed to your divorce are likely to re-emerge during divorce negotiations. Research shows that mediation can be beneficial for emotional satisfaction, spousal relationships and children’s needs.  Sitting down and speaking with your soon-to-be-ex-spouse may be the last thing you want to do, but cooperation and communication make divorce healthier for everyone involved. Talking things through with a psychologist may help you reach coordinated decisions with a minimum of conflict.”  To prevent or diminish poor communication from happening, both spouses can use the tips below to effectively communicate with each other and make the divorce process as smooth as possible.

  1. Set Boundaries
  • Even in the most amicable of divorces, setting boundaries is an important step.  Because you were once married, and you are very familiar with each other, it is very easy for you or your spouse to cross boundaries without even realizing it.  Determine how often you will communicate with each other and in what ways.  If talking on the phone or in person is too upsetting, or causes more heat than light, perhaps email is the best form of communication.  If you or your spouse tends to be too clingy or needy, or is perhaps so frustrated that you or your spouse want to communicate too frequently (for example: your spouse tends to send you 4 or 5 emails per day or calls you multiple times per day) you may want to establish that you only desire to communicate once per day, or once every few days.  By establishing these boundaries up front, expectations for communication will be managed and will also allow everyone to be on the same page.
  1. Focus on the Issues at Hand
  • Divorce can be messy, and sometimes there is just no way around it.  While dividing assets and debts and establishing legal decision making for minor children (formerly known as “custody”), emotions may be heightened and people may lose their tempers.  Because of the nature of divorce, there may be bitterness or frustration about past grievances in your relationship.   During conversations, it is often easy to lose track of what the discussion is about and start arguing about other things.  The temptation to “pile on” while having discussions or disagreements is one that needs to be avoided for best communication.  In order to effectively and efficiently communicate during divorce, both spouses need to remain focused on the issue at hand and refrain from arguing about other things.
  1. Consider Your Tone
  • While communicating with your spouse during divorce, it may be tempting to be sarcastic, raise your voice or use mimicking voices.  Frustration and anger, coupled with familiarity, often makes people feel comfortable using these tones against their better judgment.  It is important, even if angry, to try to avoid using these tones.  While no one should have to listen to abusive words from a spouse, using these tones, even in retaliation, is inappropriate and will lead to ineffective communication.  Speak to your spouse the way you would like to be spoken to.  By doing so, you foster an atmosphere for open and respectful communication, which is much more helpful to the divorce process than harsh tones and hurt feelings.
  1. Use a Mediator
  • One important thing to do when going through a divorce is take advantage of the services of a mediator.  An experienced mediator will be able to offer guidance and support for both parties involved.  They are impartial and will listen to every side of the story and will help encourage everyone to communicate respectfully.  Sometimes, when tensions run high, it is easiest to use an impartial third party to help keep communication running smoothly, rather than relying on the individuals going through the divorce who may be hurt, sad or angry.  A divorce mediator with backgrounds in both law and psychology will ensure that the best communication possible happens during the divorce process.

About Oliver Ross

Oliver Ross, JD*, PhD founded Out-of-Court Solutions Inc. in 1995 and since then has mediated over 3,000 divorce and family matters. He is a select member of the Maricopa Superior Court Family Mediation roster