Communication Do’s and Don’ts for Divorcing Couples

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Breaking news: Divorce doesn’t have to be the way pop culture tells us it is.

We are  bombarded with nightmarish images of ugly breakups that lead to permanent distance and animosity between ex-spouses.. Of course, there are cases of abuse and/or infidelity that justify the words nightmarish and ugly.

In the less extreme cases, however, divorce is usually the outcome of a loss of connection. What will it take to challenge the myth that all divorces are messy?

The Reality of Breaking Up

Perhaps a big first step would be acceptance of reality. Roughly half of all first marriages end in divorce. The numbers for second marriages are even higher.

What about all those committed unmarried couples—many of whom live together for many years—who eventually split up? What if those numbers were kept and factored into any discussion about divorce? If that were the case, we might more readily accept the reality that a considerable majority of relationships are not “till death do we part.”

Maybe this kind of awareness would help take away the stigma of divorce. It could also inspire us to prepare for such an outcome.

This is not saying we should walk down the aisle with our fingers crossed that we will be part of the non-divorcing group! Rather, it’s a case of identifying potential or even likely outcomes.

Those who accept a wide variety of possibilities are better suited to handle a crisis when it occurs and take steps to avoid a break-up before it's too late for repair.

In many instances, acceptance grows from healthy and productive communication.

Communication Do’s and Don’ts for Divorcing Couples

DO accept that you will feel many emotions

Much of the animosity between divorcing couples happens during the first couple months of separation when the emotional roller-coaster takes them to "crazy time." Recognizing that these emotions will eventually subside can help maintain civility until reason can prevail. 

DON’T view the process as a battle

Again, assuming this is not related to something like violence or cheating, there’s no reason to wage war. Making divorce into a battle guarantees that no one wins.  Once you take a "me vs. you" stance, hostility arises.  

DO take care of yourself

Sometimes the best communication choice is taking a break from communication. This could save both of you from saying something you can’t take back. Also, it allows you to focus on taking care for yourself. Self-care is crucial at all times. During a crisis, it’s an urgent priority.

DON’T drag others in unnecessarily

This could mean your children, family, neighbors, and so on. It could also mean any new partners now in the picture. This is a recipe for conflict.  

DO listen

It’s never too late to hone your communication skills. You and your spouse may have chosen divorce but that does not mean you cannot find ways to remain amicable.

DON’T forget your foundation

In moments of emotional crisis, it’s easy to lose perspective. Step back and see the big picture. It might take some time, but you will heal and adjust to a new reality.

DO establish boundaries

You may, for example, choose some topics to be off-limits. Exercise your right to set boundaries—and enforce them.  

DON’T go it alone

Yes, we stated that you should to not drag others in unnecessarily.  However, you do need to build a support system for yourself. This could be family members, trusted friends, and therapists (see below).

Guidance is crucial to avoid the common divorce pitfalls.  Choose the individuals in your support team carefully and be sure they are people you can trust.

Couples Counseling?

When considering couples counseling, it’s normal to imagine ourselves trying to work through a problem. The goal is reconciliation and “saving” the marriage. But divorcing couples can benefit greatly from therapy as well. The process can offer them:

  • A space in which to express your feelings
  • Enhance communication—particularly about issues like children and finances
  • Much-needed closure
  • When divorcing couples work together in couples counseling, they can be reminded of their underlying friendship that brought them together in the first place. This bond can endure and keep them as connected as they both wish to be.
  • Divorce doesn’t have to be a hate-fest. With healthy communication and counseling, it can be experienced as more of a transition.