One far too common mistake I see is avoiding the sensitive relationship conversations because these dialogues are ‘too difficult’.
Why is it that we end up hurting our most important relationships by developing unhealthy communication habits and habitual ways of silencing the discussion, and shutting each other down? Poor communication, or worse, silent avoidance when critical issues arise, often leads to disconnection.
Your truth may be difficult to mention out loud, to hear out loud (it always sounds much better in your head), and the responses may indeed be difficult to listen to and understand, but communicating when issues exist and working on doing it well, is always the best route through relationship problems. At its best, healthy dialogue may give you a chance to improve things and reconnect, and at its worst, it may help you be more respectful and understanding as a separated couple or co-parents. Most relationships flourish best when good communication skills are practised, married or separated.
The worst-case scenario, from lack of communication, I see far too often as a Divorce Coach is blindsiding. Blindsiding is difficult to recover from – the person that is left behind may have had no idea about a problem, no input into the situation, and no say in the decision. Like a far too common “I want a divorce” as your spouse runs out the door or ends the marriage with a hurtful email or curt text message.
With no discussion or chance to understand and ask questions, people are left shocked and devastated as their entire life unexpectedly crumbles. To recover, they need to work through the “Why?” and find enough understanding to eventually recover their damaged confidence, trust, and inner peace.
I do caution those that blindside, that they should expect a much rougher divorce journey while their partner catches up emotionally and recovers from being blindsided. I also find most people left behind actually did know things were not going well but preferred to avoid any uncomfortable discussions and pretend things were fine, hoping that time would improve their relationship. Both partners are often in denial and have avoided talking about the issues ruining their relationship.Most relationships do tend to develop patterns of communication over time. What is your pattern? Is it serving your relationship? Click To Tweet
Are you AVOIDING the real issues?
- Do you avoid uncomfortable issues and conflict?
- Do you feel unheard or discounted?
- Are you living like roommates and just tolerating each other, or worst yet, shunning or ignoring your partner’s very existence?
- Are you being manipulated?
- Do you feel intimidated?
- Are you making up stories in your head to justify how you feel and behave?
- Are you judging your partner’s behaviour without giving them a chance to explain?
- Are you silently keeping score?
When was the last time you truly communicated well in your relationship?
If you have been doing an ineffective dance around the issues for years, it may be difficult opening up a healthy and helpful dialogue. Blame, guilt, anger, sadness, and silence can all become habitual responses to silence communication.
I truly believe that these missing conversations do cause small disconnections that add up over time. Relationships that struggle with connection often end with both partners feeling lonely and unhappy.
Working on communication skills is never a bad idea! NEVER!
Good communication skills can improve all your relationships with family and friends at work and at home. Being a good communicator will basically improve most areas of your life.
No matter what the end game is during a relationship crisis – reconciliation or divorce – good communication will improve your journey.
How to have a healthy conversation:
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Keep asking questions to get at the real issues under the surface issues.
- Remain curious to gain an understanding, not to “correct” others beliefs.
- Dialogue involves both talking and listening.
- You should be listening at least half of the time if not more.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Listen fully – don’t be thinking of your next line – listen and allow silence into the conversation.
- Exchange ideas – don’t discount things – keep asking and listening.
- Don’t bully and try to win.
- Don’t go silent and avoid the issues that emerge.
- Keep the conversation comfortable and safe so everyone will feel able to share their ideas and concerns without criticism or judgment.
- Safe means you are able to say anything and be truly heard.
- Defensiveness means the conversation is not open and safe.
- Know that a difference in opinion is okay.
Take breaks as needed:
- Take a break if needed to remain focused and calm.
- Healthy communication is a process – not a one-time event.
- The conversation may become a series of dialogues on the same topic- that is okay.
- Allow time to process and respond instead of expecting instant reactions.
- If emotions get heated and your fight or flight response is triggered, take a break for at least 20 minutes to calm down.
‘Your Story’ vs ‘Their Story’:
- Know that the story in your head is just your story. Your partner will have a different story they think is true in their head. Reality is usually somewhere between these two stories.
- Talk about what and why you are thinking what you are thinking.
- Admit fault and take responsibility for your part in situations or misunderstandings.
- Explain your boundaries reasonably and calmly.
- Understanding is more important than agreement.
- Disagreeing on something can be okay as long as there is understanding.
- Good communication takes practice.
- Practice, practice and more practice!
- Practice some more.
- It is practice, not perfectionism that wins in good communication.
Remember that if it took years to form bad communication habits, it will also take time to overcome them. You may need professional guidance and support! Breaking bad communication habits is hard work. It is very easy to revert to your old patterns – If you do need help please seek some!
Slowly, one step at a time, communication can improve with practice, support and the right tools. You just have to realize you have a problem, know that you want to improve your communication abilities, and then commit to working on them.
No matter what the end game is – reconciliation or divorce – good communication will improve your life on so many levels. Invest in yourself!
This is Part 4 of a 4 Part Series on Separation Mistakes made early during the separation and divorce process:
Part 2: Not being your ‘BEST-SELF’
Please contact me if you would like help with your communication skills or practice a difficult conversation ahead of time.
I do offer a 30-minute strategy session.
I also manage a private Facebook group where we can connect and you can be kept up to date with challenges, products and all sorts of other resources. Please join me in ‘Growing Through Divorce‘.
Take good care of yourself!
The Divorce Coach in Dundas