Free Consult

Tough Conversations - Key Suggestions for Healthy Communication

communication communicationskills divorce healthyrelationships listening uncoupling Feb 17, 2023
Tough Conversations Project

In my life and work with my divorce clients, I have learned that every relationship involves conversations, communication, and conflict. Pursuing healthy relationships involves understanding some foundational principles of having good communication skills, constructive conversations, and de-escalating conflict.

Good communication skills are necessary to prevent conflict, and also to address it when it occurs. Effective communication in a marriage relationship does not come naturally. For all of us, communication is a learned skill which is improved with practice and with knowledge. One of the fundamental skills for supporting good interpersonal relationships is Listening. We assume that we are all good listeners when in fact, most of us are not. We are Hearers but not good Listeners. So many conflict issues between married partners can be traced to the inability of one or both individuals to truly listen to the other person.  


Active Listening

Hearing graduates to Listening when it is active. This means that you give the speaker your full and undivided attention. You acknowledge their message by repeating back to them what they said for clarification. You can say, “So what I hear you saying is…….”  Then they have the opportunity to refine or clarify their message. They feel heard, and you know what they said. You supply feedback by saying, “Now I understand what you mean.” You do not pass judgment or get sarcastic. You respond calmly and respectfully. 


Communication Tips

In a heated conversation, I have discovered that there are some important tips to dial down the conflict: 

  1. Use “I” statements
    Often in conflict, “You did this to me….” accusations only serve to escalate the volley of angry comments and the conflict. This blame game is destructive. Using “I” statements and not taking everything personally helps you to keep your own emotions under better control. 
  2. Be willing to compromise, collaborate or negotiate. 
  3. Don’t interrupt which is an act of disrespect that will fuel the conflict. 
  4. Learn when to concede a point.  Use the words “Yes, I see your point” where they are appropriate. 
  5. Don’t respond to an attack. Learn how to differentiate between a legitimate concern versus an uncalled-for attack. The intention of an attack is to provoke a counterattack, so don’t go there. Stay on track with listening, staying calm, and de-escalating the conflict.
  6. How to approach your spouse about divorce

If you have been considering asking for a divorce but are unsure how to raise the subject with your spouse, consider writing down your thoughts and spending the time you need to craft what you are going to say. Remember to use “I” statements. What about the marriage is not working for you (as opposed to blaming your spouse for your desire to end the marriage)? 

Describe the effects the marriage is having on you without using blame words and phrases. Use phrases like, “I need,” “I want,” “I feel,”  and leave out the “You” phrases. Your spouse may try to dismiss or denigrate what you need, want, and feel. Don’t allow it. Stand in your power. You are an adult who is owning your own emotional experience. 

Be clear about the time frame you have in mind. Consult with a divorce lawyer to decide how to approach the topic of your children if you have them. Your children should never become the focus of a fierce custody battle or evening the score. Plan ahead to avoid this conflict as much as possible. 


Communication Topics Every Couple Should Be Discussing

Every couple should have an established set of rules for how to resolve conflict. It is remarkable that most couples do not have these. Emotions run high, things are said and done which are deeply hurtful or permanently harmful when there are no established guardrails for dealing with conflict. Sit down with your spouse and a family counsellor to learn how to set up those rules before conflicts become insurmountable and ingrained in your relationship.

Also, discuss the concept of compromise. Some individuals believe that every conflict has to result in a “winner” and a “loser” or that conflict is a zero-sum game. Not so. The goal should be a “win-win” every time! Being in a marriage involves mutual love and shared responsibility to seek each other’s happiness and well-being, not to focus on your own. 


The Discussions You Should Have As You Decide To Divorce

For most couples heading into a divorce, the major topics for discussion are about children, custody and co-parenting, division of major assets such as homes, vehicles, vacation properties, financial assets (pensions, portfolios, etc.) and how to minimize conflict, legal expenses and reach a fair agreement. 

This sounds reasonable, right? However, if you are heading into a divorce with a high-conflict individual, “reasonable” may not be a possibility as you might be heading into a longer-term battle instead. Bill Eddie, founder of the High Conflict Institute has created remarkably effective resources for people in relationships with high-conflict individuals. I highly recommend his book “BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People. BIFF stands for: Brief, Informative, Friendly, Firm. 

Another reality of dealing with high-conflict people is the emotional, psychological, and possibly physical trauma that they cause. Dr. Gabor Maté is a specialist in trauma recovery for individuals who have endured a relationship with a high conflict or abusive person. His resources include his books, a video series and course called “Healing Trauma & Addiction” and his series of Trauma Talks where he talks with an amazing array of trauma specialists from around the world. 

The unwelcome journey of dealing with high-conflict people and recovering from trauma is one best taken with the support of knowledgeable professionals as well as caring family and friends. If you are embarking on that journey, please reach out to me or to others in this field to navigate your experience with the insights and resources you will need. 


Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.