How to keep your dignity and sanity when going through separation or divorce

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Published: 27 May 2019

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The 'Pure Mechanics' of Communication

It’s potentially one of the most stressful times of your life. You’ve invested time, energy and a big part of yourself in the relationship. There are others involved – children, combined friendship groups, extended family. If you work together that amplifies everything even more.

Separation changes you, no matter how you came to this point, you are never prepared for it. If you arrived at this point and it was a massive surprise to you then you’re on the back foot, playing catch up……and so are your emotions.

The person who ‘did’ this to you has the benefit of foresight. They already had a chance to emote, get their affairs in order (sometimes quite literally), so they are one step ahead of you – and that hurts!

If you are the person that instigated the separation or asked for the divorce then you have to deal with the hurt, anger and backlash from that – even if the other person is relieved that it’s over!

Here’s what your basic human instinct (and your ego) will want you to do:

  1. Justify everything that comes your way. This can look like deflection. Bringing things back from the past. Blame. Shame. Your pride and ego take over. They make you want to be right. Make you want to save face.
  2. Fighting back or biting back. This phase is never pretty, in fact it’s pretty ugly. It involves name calling. Loud volume and condescending or sarcastic tone of voice. Very bitter texts or emails, and lots of them back and forth.

Here’s what you actually need to do:

  1. Not react at all until you have thought about the ‘pure mechanics’ of the communication – (what you are going to say and why). You don’t have to respond to everything there and then just because the other person sent it. Only your ego will expect you to do that. Your sensible brain will be telling you to wait a nano-second before doing anything.
  2. Lead, and stay with the facts and needs only – without getting pulled down into blame and shame. This will keep you classy, and save you saying anything you may regret later (especially if you wrote it down in a permanent record that could be used against you later). Email and text seems much easier to vent when you don’t have to look the person in the eye.
  3. Keep it short. Only 6-9 words at a time. If you stick to this rule it helps you to say exactly what you need to convey…and no more. Keeping you safe, and your dignity intact.

 

Your mission

  • Clarify EVERYTHING – Stay out of assumption and check everything by asking a simple question. You will want to assume rather than check the facts because you don’t want to engage with the other person. This means that your mind is working overtime…and will usually be wrong. You’ll assume the worst. Live with half-truths. Delude yourself.
  • Don’t be needy – it’s not pretty and you’ll hate yourself for it somewhere down the track. Especially don’t be needy in front of people that don’t need to hear it. You could diminish your reputation in the workplace, become gossip fodder. Find the person or people that can really have your back unconditionally and someone that you trust not to blab, to download to. That keeps your inner circle tight.
  • Don’t be judgey – it’s happened. Nothing you say or do can make it un-happen and wind back time. Don’t down talk the other person in front of children (this is so hard to do when you are in the moment). Children will come to their own conclusions if allowed to. Stay classy in front of your children. You are the role model.
  • Think about the others who will be affected before you speak, or act. (kids, work)
  • Protect you children from grown up matters that they don’t need to know about – money, house etc. Don’t air your dirty laundry in front of them. It stresses them out. They might think it’s their fault. It causes them un-necessary worry. They will remember it later.

 

How you can save your dignity and sanity:

  • Watch your tone and volume. When your voice and volume changes so does your body language. It gets higher, wider, more jabby, and choppy. It looks like you’re not in control…because you’re not. Every time you get angry it takes up to an hour for your body to go back to normal from those chemicals coursing through your body. And, anyone else who sees you during that hour will be on the tail end of that too – which may not be fair.
  • Don’t take mundane things that you could sort yourself to the other party if you can sort it yourself. Ask yourself first what your motivation is? To make them feel what? Guilty? To make it seem like you can’t live without them?
  • Understand that whatever other people see of your actions and behaviour during this time will stick with them too as well as you. So, whatever your kids see and hear will stay with them. Psychologists make most of their living from people talking about their parents and their childhood, remember that.
  • Don’t use the other persons credit card – agree on money rules from the get go. Money is a massive driver of anger when first separated. So, make it clear and stick to it. If there are joint finances involved sort this out amicably if you can, to save on lawyers bills later.

 

What will help you:

Being compassionately assertive. This is an amazing communication style which allows you a voice, allows you to corrective coach incoming behaviour you don’t like, whilst still respecting the other person and yourself. The bonus of this is that you appear calm, composed and in control.

The Compassionate Assertiveness in Action™ model created by Elemental Potential in 2012 has just four steps, and these steps can be used as and when required in a hop on and off loop to solve and resolve anything in communication.

Here’s how it works:

FLIP – flip the persons actions, words, behaviour back to them in a simple open- ended question where they are accountable and have to think about what they just said or did to you.

Good questions might be:

Why did you do that?

Why do you think that?

Can you see how I would think that is unreasonable?

Is there a reason you did that/think that?

How did this happen?

What’s your reasoning behind that?

At the flip stage it’s important that you don’t leave the communication thread too soon. You may need two or three or more questions to get to the heart of a matter.

Example:

Why did you do that?

Because I thought it’s what you would want?

Why didn’t you ask me first?

Because I can’t say anything to you at the moment without getting my head bit off!

Can you see how it made things worse because I didn’t know?

Yes, sorry.

Can we agree to talk to each other first please before making decisions about….?”

*Notice how the language changes as it progresses. It went from why did YOU do that. (Making them accountable). To can you see how IT made things worse. (once you’ve made your point don’t carry on making it personal). Can WE agree to talk to each other? (Making it a win-win and taking out opportunities for conflict).

And then, if you have agreed on something, make sure it’s locked in. So, if you have to make arrangements which involve children for example, then agree a time in the day or evening that you can discuss anything the other party needs to know. Just once a day is good, as it saves receiving endless texts and emails throughout the day which is stressful. It also means you only have to concentrate on dealing with the other person once a day and can be present in the rest of your life.

FEEL – The feel stage lets the other person know how their actions or words affected you. Or you can use it to ask them.

Examples:

Can you see how I would feel undermined by that?

How do you think that works for me when I’m not consulted?

Can you understand how stressful it is for me when the plans are changed last minute?

How do you feel about…..?

CONSEQUENCE – The consequence stage might be the question:

What do you think will happen if I/we do nothing about this?

It’s something that makes the other party see clearly what the end result might be from their behaviour or actions. It allows them to self-analyse, and reflect which is much more likely to change their behaviour than shouting or getting snippy.

By looking at the worst-case scenario (we will get divorced/the kids will suffer/we’ll lose the house) it sometimes snaps people out of belligerence, complacency and much more.

CHOICE/SURRENDER – If all else has failed this question gets to the truth of the matter:

What do you think should happen?

Spoiler alert – you may not like the answer from this one, but it will give you an insight as to where they are in their head, and how they really feel and think. Of course, it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. This stage can be a quick way to a resolution as long as it’s what you want too, and you’ve not been pressured, manipulated, or coerced into something.

In all of the stages it’s really important that your tone, volume and body language are appropriate. Keep your voice low and slow, and your body language will come across as an inquiry or request, rather than abuse or a demand. Ditch the sarcasm, rolling eyes, or contempt. Just say what you need to say.

Another great tip is to have a few questions pre- worked out before you go into a situation you have to deal with. You’ll know what the most obvious question is – so ask it, and then try to figure out what the answer might be so you have potential next questions. I call this my ‘stock’ questions. Having a few up your sleeve helps you to feel more prepared and in control.

The saddest part of my work is working with couples (which I rarely do nowadays for that reason). I’ve devised a series of questions that are designed to take them back in time and fast forward. I can easily establish exactly when the relationship started to break down and why.

One or both of the couple is invariably carrying ‘old pings’, (things they haven’t let go of), and when I bring them out into the open, sadly the other person rarely knows about it. So, for years, one partner may have been holding a grudge about something the other wasn’t aware of. It’s such a waste of time, and energy….and love.

If you’re reading this because you think you may be dealing with separation or divorce soon, then take the time to address the old stuff, create some transparency around it and establish what the facts really are. It might help.

If you’re reading this because you’ve just started down this track – stay classy.

If you’re in the middle of it and you know you have been less than kind and have lost your dignity somewhere along the way, it’s not too late. Re-set the rules. Re-set your behaviour with the other person.

The first thing I say to couples I work with is “I’m not a marriage counsellor, I’m a communication coach, I deal with the mechanics of the communication.” If you need extra help (a lawyer to help you figure out the finances amicably/a marriage counsellor) then get it. Be pro- active not re-active.

I hope I’ve given you something to think about. Separation and divorce are things that you often think about after the event. You know you could have done some things differently, acted differently. There’s a point in every timeline where if you go back far enough you can pinpoint something that was said or done that created the next thing that happened.

So, what if you could fast forward even for a second and foresee that? Would it help you take a different option, say (or not say) something? Here’s the kicker – it is so much easier to pro-actively think about communication and what you are going to say or do, than to just blurt and hurt, and live with the consequences for years to come. Every single thing you say and do during this period of your life will have a ripple effect, for good or bad. Which do you want it to be?

 

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