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How to Keep Your Divorce Conversations Productive

If you want better communication during divorce, first things first. To negotiate a divorce agreement, you have to remember (and accept) the following principles:

  • Your purpose is to avoid arguing and be as persuasive as possible.
  • The communication issues you had during your marriage will not go away in separation.

What does this mean?

It means you need to manage your expectations and negotiation style or risk one or more of the following: constant arguing, bickering, flat-out fighting, delay, defensiveness, lack of progress, and disappointment.

How to manage your expectations

You are going to have to communicate with this person for a very long period of time, especially if you have young children. You don't want to set the tone as highly confrontational before you have the chance to work out your differences. Certainly you can't expect your spouse to talk to you in a calm, respectful manner if you can't set aside your anger and feelings and view this from a logical and business-like perspective.

To make the process of negotiating with your ex more manageable and successful, try some of these techniques:

  • Speak in your normal tone
  • Suggest a brainstorming session
  • Listen quietly
  • Don't interrupt
  • Assure your spouse you want a fair agreement
  • See if you can set some ground rules regarding communication (e.g., no talking about divorce matters in front of the kids)
  • Think about using a divorce or relationship therapist to help you two uncouple gracefully
  • Don't succumb to pressure for an immediate response
Breathe, breathe, and breathe

What if your spouse brings specific personality challenges to the negotiating table?

If your spouse is an "avoider" (i.e., pretending the divorce is not happening; won't discuss the issues that need to be resolved with you), try these ideas:

Schedule a session with a mediator, and put it on your spouse's calendar. "We know we need some help managing our divorce from a neutral professional. Let's avoid trying to figure this out on our own and just go to someone who can handle it for us."

File a motion (Request for Order) in court to put pressure on them to act. No one wants to go to court. "I requested a court date just in case we can't resolve the parenting plan. If we come to an agreement, I'm told we can just take the hearing off of the court's calendar."

If your spouse is a "delayer," (i.e., it takes days or weeks for them to respond to you about anything substantive), try these ideas:

Schedule a meeting at a neutral place (like a coffee shop) to discuss. Come as prepared as possible to try to get through as many issues as possible.

Establish a timeline: "We've got a lot to do here to finalize our case and avoid court. I propose we respond to offers to settle by email within five days of receipt. Does that sound do-able?"

If your spouse is stubborn, try these ideas:

Reiterate to your spouse that you are keeping an open mind toward satisfying their concerns.

Ask them to tell or send you a settlement offer. Then, validate as much of their settlement position as possible. Choose your battles wisely. For instance, if it won't matter in a year, agree to their terms. It's not worth the arguments and attorney fees that would ensue.

If there is a power imbalance (e.g., you are more sophisticated with financials or negotiation), try these ideas:

Meet with your spouse and their attorney. You don't have to agree to everything they propose, but you'll be able to hold your own in negotiations and take any proposals to a legal coach of your choice.

Draft a settlement proposal, and suggest to your spouse that they meet with the divorce professional of their choice to determine if the proposal is fair and reasonable.

If your spouse is a narcissist, try these ideas:

Swallow your pride. "Thank you for clarifying that for me. That makes so much more sense." So what if they recited to you exactly the point you've been trying to get across for months? The goal is to make these settlement conversations productive. If that means complimenting them or patting their back, so be it. Then grab a glass of wine, get a massage, or do some other form of self-care to recover.

Read the book: Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

A few more tips for keeping divorce conversations productive:

  • Put yourself in your spouse's shoes. "What would I do if I were you?" Asking that question will help you to arrive at a mutually acceptable divorce agreement.
  • Think logically. Organized and rational thinking is a must. Analyze and formulate your objectives. Gather the facts about what you have, what you need, and what you'd like but could live without.
  • Avoid a free-for-all. Not going to lie; divorce negotiations can be traumatic. If the two of you are getting trapped into old emotional patterns (hostile, overly defensive, etc), it is time for a break or a reschedule of the meeting to allow you both to cool down.
  • Set up a new, separate email account that is dedicated just to this process and discussions with your spouse and your attorney. You may want to set up a couple of accounts: one for discussions with your attorney and one for discussions with your spouse. This will help you see when something comes in and potentially alleviate the issue of it not being noticed because it was lost in a sea of ads and spam. Or, use Fayr or another app that only contains communications between you and your spouse.
  • Unless the issue that needs to be discussed is time-sensitive, do not push send immediately. Let the email/text sit in your drafts for a little bit. After a period of time, go back and re-read it. Does it need to be edited? Is there too much emotion contained in it? Are you sticking to the point? Are you clear about why you are communicating and what you need in return? Did you respond to their question without going off on a tangent that was not necessary?
  • If you are communicating in person or by phone, do it in a private location. Don't approach them at their place of work and make a scene in front of their co-workers and their boss, or their employees if they are the boss. Don't answer, or call them, while you are in the middle of a group of your co-workers so they can all hear your private conversations. If you cannot wait until after work to call them because it is a time-sensitive issue, go into another room or out to your car where you can have some privacy.
  • Tell yourself that everything you write or say will be provided to the Judge to review if things get messy. Most likely it will not, but if you communicate as it will, you wonÕõ't have to worry about it if it does get attached as an exhibit.
  • Remember that you cannot control the other person. If they are going against every tip above, that is on them. Do not try to correct them and tell them how wrong they are. Keep your side of the conversation civil and calm. It will help more than telling them they aren't talking to you properly. Now, that does not mean you should stand there and take it if they are cursing and screaming at you. You have every right to and should walk away from the situation if it gets out of hand. In fact, that might be the time to hire a traditional attorney to fully represent you.
When the going gets tough, remember: this process beats going to court. And it works! It's worked for tons of people before you. Most cases settle with the parties accepting at least one option they never thought of or considered before the conversations started. You got this!