Divorce has the power to be a transformational event in your life because it invites you to handle things for the best when you’re at your worst. Of course, none of us want to seek stressors for the sake of personal growth, but divorce, like many challenges, is one of many tough circumstances that just happens. We can choose to let it traumatize us, or transform us. May it be the latter!
In navigating my own divorce, along with coaching others through theirs, I have found three practices, among many, to be very helpful in taking the edge of the potential for toxic divorce negotiations. Let me share them with you.
1. Respond, Don’t React
Divorce is an inherently emotional process, whether you initiated it or not. It is hard for all involved, no matter what the circumstances. Given this reality, it is easy to let your emotions guide the process. Your emotions are real and valid, but they need to be put aside during negotiations and given the attention they deserve in another setting. Letting volatile and hostile emotions guide negotiations is a huge mistake, as good and lasting decisions are best made with a sound mind and desire for the well-being of all involved.
In order for this to happen, choose to respond, not react. When your partner says or does something that provokes strong emotions in you, step back, breath, and re-engage. Here are two visual techniques that can make this easier.
Before talking with your partner, put you emotions around the divorce in a black bag. Zip it up and put it on an imaginary shelf. You can pick it back up after you are done conversing.
Similarly, when engaging with your partner, wear an imaginary water-proof raincoat. Whenever he or she says or does something that stirs emotion, imagine that very thing dropping on the shield of your coat and rolling off. Don’t let it shake you, no matter what his or her behavior is. Make the divorce process about your own self-empowerment and dignity, independent of his or hers.
2. Choose Trust, Not Fear
Of all the emotions I encounter in divorce, fear is the most prominent. It can manifest in many ways, from apathy to over outrage. Divorce puts your entire life in flux. As a result, you feel insecure and uncertain, which in turn, prompt fear.
Fear causes us to cling, to blame, to deny, and to refuse to take ownership of our problems. Your partner may very well have mistreated you, but making that fact a part of negotiations will not help. The negotiations process is a time to put aside your reactive fear, and respond with trust. Resist being a villian or a victim, no matter what that past involved. Instead, choose to trust that you have what it takes to navigate your own future.
If doing so feels overwhelming, invest in the help of others instead of taking out your frustration on your partner. Find a financial planner, a therapist, a divorce coach, a realtor, or even just a trusted friend. Take care of yourself through rest, exercise and nutrition. This is your time to take ownership of your life, and to let your partner do the same. Trust that!
3. Listen and Reflect
The last thing you may want to do during divorce negotiations is listen to your partner. However, doing just that may get you the cooperation that you not only need and desire, but that benefits you both in the short and long term. This is because listening attentively and reflecting back what you hear to him or her has a way of fostering connection and dropping defenses – the essence of effective communication.
When your partner is talking, listen to him or her with your whole self: your ears, gaze, heart, mind, body language… Offer your full presence. Listen not only to the content, but even more so to the feeling beneath it. Then, seek to reflect this feeling back. Treat him or her as a fellow human being who matters. Because as much as you may want to think otherwise, he or she is.
For example, if your partner blurts, “You are stealing all the hard money I earned!”, stop, pause, breathe, and offer, “You sound like you feel this is unfair.” While such a gracious response may take all the strength you can muster, it is likely to melt his defenses to a place of feeling understood, and therefore, more likely to hear your perspective and cooperate in the process. Just think of how you would feel if your partner did this for you.
Why do I add “and beyond?” Because these practices are not just helpful in your divorce negotiations, but they extend as invitations to take into your entire life. Imagine relating this ways to all those with whom you have challenging interactions.
Personal transformation always comes with a cost, and this is why so many divorces are a mess. Many are not willing to take on the humility and investment in their own growth to add character to the way they live their lives. No one is perfect, and we all need help along the way. But ultimately, why would you choose anything less?