Dr Patricia Tumelty, Executive Director of Mind Jersey and Jamie Orchard, Family Law Partner at Viberts, examine the best ways to help keep communication open and minimise stress while going through divorce proceedings.
The very act of divorce is an acknowledgment that things aren’t going to get better in a marriage and it’s time for the parties to part ways. Divorce is now so commonplace that it’s easy to forget its impact on everyone involved. While in many instances the process can be totally amicable, in others it can be complicated and emotionally challenging.
Few people go into a divorce with the intention of making life difficult for their spouse/civil partner, but even in the less acrimonious cases, emotions can run high and tempers can fray. Considering that there is much to resolve, such as the division of assets, as well as possible custody and co-parenting issues, this is hardly a surprise. This is a situation that can be made worse by parties to the divorce being unable to find ways to communicate in ways that protect the mental health and wellbeing of all involved.
The way that you communicate with your ex-partner can make the difference between a relatively stress-free journey down the road to independence and a toxic emotional rollercoaster towards unhappiness and, in many cases, ill-health.
Here are some practical ways that might assist in your communication in ways that reduce the stress and anxiety of navigating your divorce.
1. Talk on the phone or face-to-face (if you can)
While messaging and email may have made life a lot easier, they aren’t very nuanced ways of communicating. While you may think what you’ve written is clear and neutral, it might not be read in the same way. Likewise, you may well misinterpret something that your ex-partner has sent to you.
Remember, you’re likely reading their messages with tinted/angry/anxious/hurt/sad glasses on and you may read it in a way that it wasn’t intended. If you feel able, it might be best to talk to your ex-partner on the phone or face-to-face. This way you will be able to hear the tone of their voice and therefore it’s less likely that anything will be taken the wrong way.
Obviously, you might not feel able to converse with your ex-partner directly yet as it may lead to an argument. In that case, you may have no option but to communicate via email or messaging and that means setting some clear ground rules.
2. Agree on one communication channel
Sorting things out during a divorce can get complicated enough without messages coming in across a range of different channels e.g. email, WhatsApp, Messenger, text, etc. This can not only be stressful, but it also opens the possibility of mixed messages, which will likely only cause unnecessary misunderstanding and aggravation.
It makes sense to choose one channel to communicate with your ex-partner. Taking this one step further, it’s also wise to choose a different channel to the one you normally use for family and friends. For example, if you use WhatsApp as your normal channel, then try conversing with your ex via text message or iMessage, for example.
This way, when you receive notifications, you’ll know which ones are from your family and friends and which are from your ex-partner. This is a very handy way of reducing any anxiety you might feel from notifications pinging up. This also makes it easier to turn off notifications if you’re getting incessant or harassing messages without disrupting your communications with your family and friends.
For your own wellbeing, you may also want to set a time each day to manually check messages from your ex-partner. This puts you in control and means you aren’t taken by surprise or constantly on tenterhooks waiting for messages.
3. Don’t be a keyboard warrior
We live in the time of the ‘keyboard warrior’ where people just type whatever they are thinking with no filter. This is even more so the case when emotions are involved, and there might be a temptation to get some revenge or try to displace the hurt and anger you may be feeling.
But a hastily sent message or voicemail can cause real damage to divorce negotiations, even going so far as to potentially jeopardise the outcome. The phrase ‘pause before you post’ was originated to try to minimise abuse on social media, but it very much applies here.
4. Create a shared calendar
It’s often said that divorce can cast a long shadow over a child’s life. But it doesn’t have to be the case. Finding ways to communicate in civil ways with each other especially in front of the children is vital to prevent this. Where children are involved, you’ll have to keep in contact with your ex-partner as you’ll likely have to communicate regarding social, educational and health arrangements and events.
One option could be to set up a shared calendar of some kind (Google do one for free). This then enables you to propose dates to the other person without having to communicate directly. They can then accept or decline, and you can see whether things have been agreed or not.
This will help reduce instances where you may propose something to your ex, but dates are confused or they don’t confirm or reject that proposal, although you might presume that it has been agreed. This way, you can see whether you are still awaiting a response and can chase them if necessary.
5. Think about using an external platform
If you’re still finding it hard to communicate civilly with your ex-partner, but there are still matters that you both have to deal with, such as children or financial issues, then you could consider using a platform such as Our Family Wizard.
This platform allows you to communicate about any pressing matters via a filter system. It will review correspondence between the parties and highlight any potentially antagonistic language and ask you to reconsider the words you’re using.
6. Communicate through a third party
If communication has broken down altogether, then you may be left with no choice but for contact to go via a third party, such as a lawyer or a mediation service. While this route is typically reserved for cases where there are allegations of criminal harassment and/or domestic abuse, it is also an effective solution if you feel stuck, have reached an impasse or relations have become too hostile or abusive.
The benefit is that it creates a safe space between you and your ex-partner which will often tone down the other person’s behaviour as they are no longer able to direct their animosity towards you personally.
The downsides, however, are that there will be delays in receiving potentially important information about, for example, your children given that often these services may not be available over a weekend or outside of working hours.
Divorce is likely to be challenging, even in the friendliest of cases. Clear, honest, and calm communication is essential if the process is to be as pain-free as possible.
Mind Jersey and Viberts are looking at ways in which parents who have been through the divorce process can support each other – especially with regards to preventing arguments escalating and causing unnecessary costs.