This post is from Vicki James, a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Dallas and surrounding areas. She is a trained an experienced collaborative neutral communication professional who works with couples facing divorce.
By the time couples find themselves facing a divorce, there is little or no trust left in the relationship. One of the best ways to restore and work on trust going forward is learning to communicate in a respectful way. Using good communication skills promotes trust in relationships, even in the midst of ending the marriage.
Couples choosing the Collaborative Process for divorce have the advantage of utilizing a neutral communication professional during the divorce. As the communication facilitator, I want the couple to improve their existing communication skills so that they can transition toward focusing on solutions instead of “living in the problem.” This is especially important for couples with children. Even though the marriage is over, they still have to communicate regarding the kids. Fortunately, there are some basic skills that the collaborative professionals teach the participants during the process, which can be helpful both during the divorce and after the process concludes.
Most people are not good listeners. They think they are listening, but in reality, they are usually predicting outcomes and thinking of rebuttals. It is important to decrease distractions, keep respectful attention, and focus on the speaker. Couples know how to “push buttons.”
I counsel couples that if they really want to communicate, they should stay away from subjects they know will lead to needless, hurtful, and unproductive communication. Most of the time, couples react to one another: he says something, she reacts, and he reacts in turn. It’s important that couples take time to think about their responses.
One of the most difficult skills to master is learning how to stay in the here-and-now of a discussion. There is nothing any of us can do to change the past or control the future, but focusing in the present helps keep the discussions manageable. It’s also important not to hesitate to ask for clarification when the other person says something that does not make sense.
I often give the couples a “rule of thumb” when communicating.
S – SLOW your thoughts and speech
T – Take TIME to think about what you are trying to accomplish with this discussion
O – Consider your OPTIONS for effective communication
P – Ask yourself if the discussion is helping to accomplish your PLAN
Having a difficult discussion without conflict can be a challenge. Remember that effective communication takes practice. And, although it may seem counter-intuitive, a divorce can provide couples, particularly those with children, with one more opportunity to improve their communication skills for themselves and for their children.