During the divorce process, you may find that you or your spouse or are consumed with anger, bitterness or resentment. When this is the case, self-control is extremely important both for yourself and in setting healthy boundaries with your spouse. However, depending on the situation, starting an open line of communication during the divorce process is extremely important. Here are some tips for how to have good communication and healthy boundaries at the same time.
Your spouse may be really angry right now. Remember, it takes two to have an argument. If you do not engage, there is no argument. I recommend getting an index card. On one side write ‘Do not engage,’ and the old proverb, ‘Silence is golden’ on the other side. Having that index card in front of you, reminds you to stay in control over yourself and over the situation, and, listen more.
When your spouse communicates, they may talk more forcefully. They may seem intimidating. They do not always have to be abusive to be intimidating. Having that index card in front of you forces you to listen more. Take notes so that when the conversation’s over, even if you are rattled, you can calmly review the points that were made. Take the time later to review your notes. Very rarely is it necessary for you to respond and/or make a decision right there on the spot.
Listen for the information they want to pass along to you
An immediate response from you is not always required. There are many diplomatic and respectful ways to end the conversation. Perhaps it is, “You know, I hadn’t really given it that much thought. Give me some time to think about that and I’ll get back to you.” You have not dismissed them or their point, but you are also not committed to carry on the conversation further. Do not demand that your spouse have this discussion right now. That’s a sure-fire way of ending the conversation, either forcing it to go south or never getting the information and/or resolution that you are seeking. If your spouse says, “I’m not talking about it right now,” do not force the issue. When this happens, rethinking your approach and bringing up the subject in a different way in the future can be much more productive.
BIFF – Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm Communications
The best way to get the information that you are looking for or to continue the conversation is in an email. I encourage clients to use the BIFF method (Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm – from Bill Eddy’s High Conflict Institute) approach to emails. The focus of the email should be fact driven. If there is an issue that needs to be addressed, it needs to be as black and white and non-emotionally triggering as possible. Often people are better at responding to those types of requests, than having an in-person conversation.
Take it Outside
Typically, having conversations in the house where your family has lived and this whole situation has kind of unraveled, is not the best environment to converse with your spouse. A better place would be to have the conversation at the local park. This way you are not in the emotionally charged environment anymore. Chances are great the conversation will not escalate out in public. If it does and someone walks away, let them walk away. It is not the end of the world. It is not the end of the day. It is not the end of the topic either. Perhaps they needed to walk away for that moment. Let it go. You can come back to it later. Do not feel like you have to have an answer now.
Get off social media during the divorce process. Social media is not the place to air your dirty laundry, your frustration, your grievances or seek encouragement and comfort from friends. The best place to have those conversations is in a therapist’s office. If you find yourself needing a support system among your friends, chose the one or two that you know you can trust with your information, and who will hold confidences to themselves. You can do all of this away from social media. Social media is also not the place to be sharing your “new” life. You may just wind up inadvertently, and unnecessarily, increasing your attorney’s fees by triggering a negative response from your spouse, or worse, providing them with “evidence” to use against you.
Think About the Judge
Never write something you would not want to have read in front of a judge. In every communication, pause to think about how it will sound if the judge reads what you wrote or said. Even in a Collaborative Divorce case, be careful with what you say. Do not be so quick to hit the send button. If you are saying something out of anger, that is not something to send. Put it in the draft folder and come back to it later.
Time is truly “on your side” when you carefully consider the what, when, why and how in your communications.