Family Lawyer Negotiation Tips for Divorced and Separated Couples

Every day we encounter conflict and differing points of view. In our most troubled relationships, negotiation can be challenging. Divorcing couples must often decisions that will affect their families for years to come. If you find communication breaking down, try the following techniques used by divorce mediators. They can be helpful for those already divorced, or those planning their divorce.

  • Allow your spouse to vent their feelings. When people are hurt, angry or afraid, they may accuse or blame, and bring up past disagreements as a way of showing frustration. Try not to take it personally. Instead of responding defensively or going on the attack, give the other person time to blow off steam. Doing so can reduce tension.  
  • "Mirror" what your spouse says. Most people get stuck when they feel they haven't been heard. You can show your spouse you heard what they said by rephrasing and repeating back to your spouse what they said. Known as mirroring, this technique is so effective, you may see your spouse physically relax when you do it. Say, "so if I hear you correctly, you think..." or "let me make sure I understand, you feel...."
  • Validate your spouse's point of view. Even if you don't agree, tell your spouse you understand how they could feel that way. Some people argue because they think doing so will get you to agree. Once you let your spouse know you see their point, you can move toward resolving the problem.
  • State simply what you want. In order to get your needs met, explain in nonemotional terms what you would like to happen going forward. It is difficult to work with anyone who is silent or withholds information. Likewise, you must ask what your spouse would like to happen and why. 
  • Brainstorm solutions. After you have listened, demonstrated you heard, validated and stated what you would want in the future, propose and seek input about how both of your needs can be met. Generate ideas until you find one that works for both of you. Studies show that when both sides participate in finding a solution, the result is much more likely to work.
  • Once you agree, make it specific so you both know what to expect and how to proceed. Be detailed about actions you will each take or how you will handle things differently. 

It may take multiple conversations to reach agreement, and you may need to return to discussions if you find you need to adjust what you previously agreed upon. Above all else, remember the tone and words you use will affect your future relationship and dealings. If you want your spouse to work with you as new issues arise, or when you need to revisit a prior disagreement, you will have to put your past emotions aside and move toward a working relationship.