If you are considering divorce mediation, you might be taken aback when you hear that during the process you and your soon-to-be-ex will need to speak directly to one another. Tracy, a 32-year-old mother of two, sums up the typical response. “Impossible! The whole reason we’re getting a divorce is that we’re completely unable to communicate with each other.”
But for Tracy, and for you, the truth is, no matter how you plan to proceed with your divorce, you will need to find some way to exchange information and ideas during settlement efforts. Effective communication can make all the difference when it comes to maximizing positive results. If you have children, you will also need to continue interacting with each other after the divorce is over, so the sooner you learn how to do that effectively the better.
There is no question that for some people this can be an enormous challenge. Many divorcing couples have become such experts in “pushing each other’s buttons” that they have forgotten how to interact without doing this. The harder they try to find common ground, the more they seem to find themselves in a weird “Groundhog Day” scenario, caught up in the same fights over and over again.
If this sounds like you, a mediator can probably help. To clarify exactly how, let’s start by looking at the different options for communicating during a divorce:
Five Ways to Communicate During Divorce
Directly: Face to Face
Communicating face to face is simple and direct. Unfortunately, it is also full of landmines. Successful face-to-face communication requires accurate interpretation of body language and voice cues. Things like gestures and tone of voice can add valuable information to a message, but couples embroiled in conflict may not find this helpful. They tend to hyper focus on such cues, resulting in overreactions or outright misinterpretations. Many divorcing couples also find that during face-to-face conversations, they fall into patterns that have become entrenched during previous interactions. Often these are patterns of circular blame that prevent any significant forward progress.
Through a Filter: Voice to Voice
Avoiding direct confrontation and sticking to the phone can calm things down by removing body language from the equation. The physical distance also adds an element of safety. If you want to disengage, all you have to do is hang up the phone. Still, the voice cues remain. Hearing the other person’s emotions through the pitch and volume of their speech can be disconcerting. If you have experienced a lot of conflict with your spouse, you probably know all too well how the simple sound of their voice rising can trigger an emotional reaction in you.
With an Editing Process: Via text or email
Communicating in writing lets a speaker slow down and edit out any unhelpful emotional content. Writing everything down is also a good way to practice a less confrontational style. For example, some people considering mediation see a therapist or a coach to learn techniques like avoiding verbal attack and focusing on “I” messages (e.g., “I am worried about the lack of money,” instead of “You are forcing me into poverty.”)—but as soon as they start a conversation with their ex, reactivity goes up and all this careful training goes out the window. New and better communication methods can be internalized with practice. In the meantime though, its sometimes best to stick to a method that lets you go back and edit. Communicating only in writing, however, can be very time-consuming. Sitting down face-to-face is generally far more efficient.
By Proxy: Through Attorneys
Sometimes one or both parties to a divorce becomes so upset during settlement efforts that they tell their attorneys to take over all the communicating. This approach may be necessary in certain cases, such as those involving domestic violence or other abuse. In most situations, however, letting your lawyer do all the talking—and all the listening—is a mistake. Attorneys are trained to advocate intensely for their clients. If you let your attorney speak for you during all phases of negotiation, you may miss opportunities for compromise that naturally come up during back and forth conversations. Even if you are lucky enough to have an attorney who is highly skilled in settlement negotiations, and you are very clear in communicating the results you want, letting an attorney handle all the talking for you will be extremely expensive.
With a Facilitator: In Divorce Mediation
This brings us to the role of a mediator. A mediator’s most important function is to help you communicate directly with each other. With a mediator present, you will be able to retain the directness and simplicity of face-to-face speech with its important communication elements of body language and voice cues. You will also circumvent the need to hire attorneys for full representation. Instead, you can have an attorney on hand for consultation and finalization of agreements only. The mediator will act as your “filter” by helping you maintain emotional distance and process intense reactions. A mediator can also act as an “editor” by helping you rephrase your statements if you get off track. The mediation sessions will serve as a safe space. All you have to do is ask for a break if you need to retreat to your separate corner for a while.
After Tracy considered all the above, she decided that mediation really did offer the best approach for her divorce negotiations. This was especially true because her children were young. She knew that she needed to learn to co-parent peacefully with her ex. She decided to get some help from a coach before beginning mediation and then commit fully to the process. With this kind of positive attitude, Tracy has a good chance of getting favorable results.
If you have questions about the communication process in divorce mediation, contact us today for an initial consultation.