Managing Difficult Divorce Conversations When You Hate Conflict
You’ve researched or are researching all there is to know about divorce. What’s reasonable? How to divide property. What kind of co-parenting schedule might work? Maybe you’ve talked to a lawyer, a mediator, or CDFA. Maybe you’ve received advice. Maybe you have quietly read articles and blogs late into the night.
Your goal is not to destroy your ex. Your goal is probably to get your divorce done with the least amount of damage or impact possible… to set yourself up (and kids if you have them) for a better next chapter. You know it will get harder before it gets better. You also trust that ultimately you’ll live a more fulfilling life than you ever have before – grounded in truth, self-knowingness, and joy.
But there’s a difference between knowing your truth (your wants and needs) and sharing that with your spouse with the ultimate goal that it will lead to resolution. In this blog, I’m sharing how our clients have successfully divorced with low conflict.
How to get to a divorce agreement without losing your mind
Good news: almost everyone does. A whopping 95% of divorces settle out of court. Even the most contentious cases can avoid going to trial. There will likely be conflict – that’s inevitable – but the following tips should help you work through any difficult steps or conflicts, stay focused on the goal, and get your divorce done (and feel good about it!).
Goal #1: Welcoming hard conversations instead of dreading them
Or at least not procrastinating too long so that it drags you down or has you living in a constant state of anxiety. Let’s face it – 9 times out of 10 we feel 1000% better after we put words to our stressed-out thoughts.
Sometimes we feel the lift of anxiety the moment we even start talking, other times it comes after, but the point is that you can do hard things if you believe you can… and you’ll feel so much better for it. It’s uncomfortable living in the unknown. So, how do you talk to your spouse or partner?
Note: If you’re unsafe physically or emotionally, avoid engaging directly.
Tips for getting in the right mindset to discuss divorce-related topics with your spouse:
Gear up for conflict. They may not like you in the moment, but that’s unlikely to last once emotions cool down. If you are overly concerned with how they feel about you, you’ll never make progress. Be direct. Be respectful. But don’t try to control their reaction. They get to have whatever reaction they want in the moment.
Don’t put it off. No more “it’s not a big deal” or “we can wait on this” – it’s GO time. There’s no future ideal time, so when you’ve decided you want to end your marriage, don’t delay it endlessly (but that being said, be mindful of when you begin this talk because there are certainly BAD times). Get your thoughts out in the open now so that you can resolve them and move on. After obsessing over this conversation forever, the worst thing you can do for yourself is keep it to yourself.
Think through a few conversation openers:
- “I’d like to discuss our divorce privately. I know that having lawyers can feel scary and they are likely more focused on winning their case instead of figuring out a solution that works best for each of us.”
- “I need your help with moving the divorce forward. I know you would prefer we stay married or keep avoiding this, but I think we both can agree that we need finality. We need the opportunity to move forward.”
- “I know this is really hard. It is probably the last thing both of us want to discuss, but I’d like to talk about our finances and come up with a plan for how we are going to deal with them. I want to hear what you think is best and I can share my perspective, too.”
Role-play the conversation. Practice the talk you will have with your ex with a trusted, objective person. Ideally, they know you both well and can play the role of your ex-spouse without exaggeration or taking sides. This will help you prepare for the real conversation and identify the most difficult aspects of it.
Debrief after the conversation. Schedule at least 15-30 minutes for “me time” to decompress and reflect after you talk to your ex. Take a walk, do a breathing exercise to calm yourself, prepare a comforting meal or do something else that relaxes you.
Remind yourself of long-term gains. List them out to refer back to when you doubt yourself. Some might include: getting your independence back, focusing on your needs, desires, etc. Divorce has many benefits that you’ll only understand when you’re moving forward in post-divorce life.
Goal #2: A successful outcome (reaching a divorce agreement)
Ultimately, you want to reach a divorce agreement that gives you peace of mind. Here are some tips to move your divorce forward without battling it out in court.
Be clear about what you want to accomplish
Your core goal is to resolve all divorce issues. Maybe a different conversation is needed for each topic (finances, property, children or pets, etc.). Learning to navigate these challenges now will make it so much easier when other things come up down the road (like a modification in your co-parenting schedule when circumstances change).
Remember that vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness
Famed Professor Brené Brown shared this truth: being vulnerable and authentic often leads to greater connection and mutual respect and shared vulnerability. If it doesn’t, you can trust you are acting in integrity and that you are doing everything you can to move these conversations closer to resolution. That feels so much better and is usually way more productive than when we let our ugly side come out.
Be direct, listen, and ask questions about your ex-spouse’s perceptions
Address issues head-on. Don’t give them a chance to second guess your intentions. If you avoid conflict or your ex doesn’t value directness you can still make progress. Be engaging and respectful, and encourage conversation. Ask them to share if they are hearing your concerns/needs. If they reflect it back to you, adjust your approach to ensure that your message is being heard.
When your spouse makes a proposal or statement, mirror back what they’ve said: “If I understand correctly you are asking for X because you feel Y.” Think less about what to say and more about what you’re hearing: Gather as much detail as possible and ask follow-up questions.
Expect a positive outcome
The goal here is to shift away from old, messy patterns and into an improved relationship (at best) or an agreement. This will get you closer to finalizing your divorce (not: this is going to be a sh*t show).
Be mindful about pushing your ex’s buttons (as hard as that may be). There’s so much backstory here. You’d hate it if they started pushing yours. Focus on the business angle of your divorce – not everything that went wrong in the relationship. It’s not your problem to fix anymore. Your one shared goal is to get to an agreement that works for both of you.
Negotiate like a pro
You don’t need to hire a lawyer, but you can think and communicate like one. Read my blog How to Slay Your Divorce Negotiations Like a Seasoned Pro to learn some tried-and-true negotiation techniques. We also have lots of free planning worksheets, guides, and checklists to help you get organized and know what to expect every step of the way.
Access our free guides, checklists, and worksheets here.
Advocate for yourself
Being too agreeable doesn’t help. Giving something up before you need to concede just to speed up the process isn’t in your best interests. It’s more about advocating for your top needs and then allowing some compromise on the smaller stuff. You can’t get 100% of what you want most of the time, so choose your battles wisely.
Get into problem-solving mode
When you encounter conflicts, shift into a proactive, problem-solving mindset to brainstorm a solution (ideally, together with your ex or a mediator if you can’t work it out on your own). Maybe it’s as simple as, “We’ve agreed on X, Y, and Z but still need to settle on what we do with the house. Let’s do some research or speak with a mediator because I know we can get through this.”
Don’t try to get it all done at once
You want the best outcome, not the quickest solution. Know your limits and listen to your spouse when they’ve hit theirs. Taking a break from divorce negotiations for a day, week, or even a month and ending up with a settlement you’re satisfied with is better than rushing through and sacrificing your goals.