Almost every divorce has some level of conflict, which is perfectly normal and healthy. In divorce mediation, you and your spouse find creative and unique ways to address those conflicts in a supportive environment, and develop plans and strategies that will allow you to reach a resolution. In our practice, we often solicit the help of financial experts to help our clients address their concerns regarding money. Our team is made up of legal professionals and mental health professionals, who can answer your questions (though we do not give legal advice), and address your emotional and mental wellbeing throughout the sessions.
While our team is there to supplement your process and help guide you, there may be times where you and your spouse are deadlocked: no matter what you say, one (or both) of you simply refuses to give an inch. These are high-conflict scenarios, and there are some simple techniques you can employ to help you reach a resolution in spite of the challenges.
Use EAR statements to de-escalate an angry confrontation
EAR stands for Empathy, Attention and Respect. As described by Bill Eddy, the president of High Conflict Institute, “High conflict people tend to emotionally attack those closest to them and those in authority, especially when they are frustrated and can’t manage their own emotions…. An EAR Statement connects with the person’s experience with their feelings.” He uses these three examples of effective EAR statements:
- Empathy: “I can hear how upset you are.”
- Attention: “Tell me what’s going on.”
- Respect: “I respect your efforts.”
By using EAR statements, you address the emotional turmoil your spouse is experiencing, and let him or her know that you understand the importance of his or her response. They can also help you recognize your own emotional state during the process.
Engage in active listening
The University of Colorado defines active listening as “a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker. The listener must take care to attend to the speaker fully, and then repeats, in the listener’s own words, what he or she thinks the speaker has said.”
Active listening does not mean automatically agreeing with your spouse; it means being fully engaged in hearing what he or she has to say. Repeating what your spouse just said to you is a way of showing that you have listened carefully to his or her words. It also allows your spouse to review what he or she just said. In high-conflict cases, a person may not be aware of how he or she sounds, because he or she is too angry or scared. By listening to his or her own words, your spouse is given an opportunity to clarify or reformulate his or her own thoughts, which can lead to a more productive conversation for both of you.
Be aware of your own language and nonverbal cues
Lashing out, trying to make a joke to ease tensions, generalizing with words like “always” or “never:” these are all common reactions when people feel they are being targeted or treated unfairly. You want to be aware of how you respond – both verbally and physically – to your spouse. Avoid rolling your eyes or nodding along with everything he or she says, because it shows disinterest. Sitting with your arms folded across your chest is a common sign of distrust and discomfort, and can make you appear closed off to any discussion. Of course, you want to put your phone down whenever you have a discussion with your spouse (or anyone in any setting), because you cannot concentrate on what another person says if your mind is elsewhere. Finally, make sure your concerns are expressed clearly and specifically. Saying “You never help me with John” is very different from “It bothers me that you don’t offer to help John with his homework each day.” By addressing a specific issue or concern in clear, plain language, you can get to the root of your conflict more easily.
Our divorce mediation process is designed to help couples in conflict reach agreeable resolutions. The best thing you can do is approach these sessions with an open mind, and a willingness to be aware of how you communicate with and react to your spouse. When you are a willing participant, the process can and will go much more smoothly, and you and your spouse have a much greater chance of finding a resolution that works for both of you.
Families throughout Northern Virginia can benefit from divorce mediation in several ways. You can learn more about our services and schedule a consultation in our Reston office by calling Divorce Mediation Associates at 703-665-7592, or by filling out our contact form.