As Captain said to Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
Indeed, one of the most common denominators for people going through the divorce process is just that. There are many reasons that cause a couple to fail at communicating, but often it stems from a lack of hearing each other. As you are considering divorce or if it’s early in the divorce process, ask yourself: “Would I like to have a situation where I feel that I am being heard?” The answer is often yes. Communicating about what you want or need and what your children want or need requires you to work on communications. While you may have had a “failure to communicate” during your marriage, we can work to improve that as part of the divorce process. To be heard, I must listen to what is said, not just the way it’s being said so that what I say is “BIFF.”
What is BIFF? BIFF stands for Brief, Informative, Friendly, and Firm. In using BIFF statements, you may find that your partner moves to a place where he or she can start to hear you. Learn more at “BIFF: 4 Ways to Respond to Hostile Comments.”
Important Questions to Understand How a Couple Communicates
- What is each party’s style of conversation?
- What does a disagreement between the couple look like?
- Does one retreat and the other one dash forward into the breech?
- Have those styles been working for the couple to communicate?
After asking these questions, I often will role play with my client, setting up a scenario where someone is having strong feelings. In the role play, we work on “I statements.” An “I statement” is something like, “I am really feeling hurt” or “I am really feeling angry” or “I am really happy.” Those are all statements that are about you. It is an I am statement, not an accusatory you are. An accusatory statement will almost always trigger a defensive response. Whereas, if you say, “I am feeling attacked,” “I am feeling concerned about our kids,” that can prompt a question instead of a defensive response.
Communications Do’s and Don’ts
- Texting is fine, but only text simple, substantive messages. “Sorry I’m late to pick up the kids. I will be there within 15 minutes.” That still counts as an “I statement.”
- Never use emojis or fighting words. Too often, those result in an angry, defensive response. You will not accomplish what you want and will only serve to further alienate you from the other parent.
- Never use your children as conduits for messages. Do not put messages into a child’s backpack. If you have something you need to say, there’s email or texting. The only rule is to keep it simple.
- One of the things to remember is anything you put in writing can and will be used against you in court. Filter your messages by considering how another would hear or see it. Ask yourself:
- Would I want someone else to read this?
- Would I want the children to read it?
- Would I want this writing to influence a judge’s decision on whether the children should be spending more time with me or the other parent?
- Feeling angry? Irritated? Upset? Wounded? Go ahead and write that note. Just DON’T SEND IT!!! Often, the best idea is to write the angry response and sleep on it overnight, then send it to me, not your spouse, for my thoughts and possible editing. Angry, hostile messages are never helpful to you or to what you’d like to see happen.
- If it is something that seems potentially harmful, I have often suggested the client send the text to me to review first. Let me edit it and send that back to you before you send it to your partner.
What you say can be as important as how you say it.
How something is said can create a hostile response in the other person. You do not really want to have a hostile response if you are trying to accomplish something constructive with the other person. I have found that peace words work, war words do not. If you speak in terms of resolving differences, rather than fighting out this battle, you will have a whole different response from the other person.