Communicating in Divorce: Tone Matters

Oct 17, 2011

One of the biggest challenges that many clients face in their divorce is how to communicate with their spouse or ex-spouse.  This especially important when a couple will be co-parenting down the road.

When children are involved, productive communication is crucial to protecting the kids from the ravages of a divorce.

That is easier said than done.  So, the question becomes how to productively communicate?  There is a lot of information about how do to that.  But, in my experience, a lot of it is somewhat hard to really grasp and put into practice in the heat of the moment.

One suggestion that I use is to speak to your spouse or ex-spouse the same way you would speak to your child’s teacher at a parent-teacher conference. 

After all, there are some strong similarities in the conversations.  The goal of a parent teacher conference is frequently the same as communication between divorced or separated parents: discuss issues regarding the kids and possible ways to address those issues.  Further, you may disagree with something the teacher says, you may be offended, and you are certainly emotionally invested in the topic of the conversation, i.e. your child.

Think about how you would speak to your child’s teacher.  What tone would you use?  What things would you say and not say, even if you were thinking them?  What would be your goal?


I suspect you would adopt some combination of the following techniques in a conversation with your child’s teacher:

            Ÿ          Paying attention

            Ÿ          Politeness

            Ÿ          Asking questions to clarify information

            Ÿ          Making an effort to understand what the teacher is saying

            Ÿ          Acting respectfully

            Ÿ          Working together

            Ÿ          Acknowledging the joint interest in your child’s well being


By contrast, you probably would not do the following in a conversation with your child’s teacher:

            Ÿ          Blame the teacher

            Ÿ          Accuse the teacher

            Ÿ          Yell

            Ÿ          Insult the teacher

            Ÿ          Threaten the teacher

            Ÿ          Act rudely

Why?  Because you understand that the teacher has a lot of influence over your child and spends a lot of time with your child.  Because your relationship with that caretaker is very important to your child’s well being. Because you know that you’re going to have to see that teacher again.  Because you actually want to have a productive meeting.  Because you want what is best for your child. 

That being the case, why would you treat your child’s other parent differently?  After all, isn’t your child’s other parent going to be at least as influential and important for your child as the teacher? 

Yes, there may be emotional reasons for treating your ex-spouse differently than your child’s teacher.  But, are your emotional issues more important than your child’s well being?

In my experience, having a parent adopt a tone appropriate for a parent teacher conference sets the stage for a productive collaborative conference or mediation.  And it gives clients an easy reference point, a convenient “go to” mode when they feel themselves struggling to communicate well.   

In my experience, this technique frequently helps, and rarely, if ever hurts.



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