When those who are separating, or who have separated, come into mediation, there’s often a list of things that they would like to resolve, or areas where they wish things were better. Each separation is unique and so the details vary from person to person but there are undoubtedly common themes on these wish lists.
One of the things that comes top of many people’s list is communication. This might be that they wish they could communicate more effectively. Sometimes it is a wish that they were able to actually communicate at all. It often relates to working out issues about children. Parenting is a hugely demanding job and the parenting to do list (as well as the must support our children with this) often expands during the course of a day. Navigating the endlessly needed admin, support, pick ups, club drop offs can be challenging for all parents. Factor into this the fact that you and your child’s other parent are not able to talk to each other easily (or at all) and it becomes a big hill to climb.
It can produce considerable extra pressures trying to co-parent with someone who you feel is not forthcoming, or obstructive, or who is simply really angry with you.
Communication consistently appears on the wish list because most separating couples realise that if they are able to communicate about issues then they are able to at least try to resolve them. Without an ability to communicate and talk things through there is a much more reduced chance of finding a resolution.
There can be short term reasons why communication is difficult. Where either, or both parties, feel hugely emotional then the range of emotions can make it difficult to:
- simple marshall your thoughts into clear points
- talk without breaking down or getting angry
- listen and hear what the other person is saying
The good news is that as you each move through the grief process this can in itself help some communication barriers to fall away.
There can also be difficulties around drawing boundaries when a couple separate. What was OK when you were a couple is now not OK and you may not agree on what is OK and what isn’t. A common example of this is where one parent has left the family home to live elsewhere. They may feel it’s OK to come back into a home that they jointly own to see their children when they want to. The other parent may feel on edge at the thought that their ex-partner can enter the home at any point – even if they are having a heart to heart with a friend, have just got out of the shower, or have carved out 30 minutes time to themselves whilst the children are watching TV.
The key to resolving and setting these boundaries is being able to communicate effectively. This means different things to different people. Undoubtedly listening and being clear are important elements but my 10 years as a mediator has led me to the conclusion that it is far more than this. There’s also a capacity and a willingness to find compromises that’s needed.
10 years of working with and observing separating couples (together with 11 years as a family lawyer prior to this) has led me to the conclusion that there are four essential pillars to effective communication. These pillars are fundamental and there are basic and complex layers to each which determine how effectively a person is able to communicate. In some cases people are simply unable to communicate effectively with each other – even if they all had masters in communication skills!
I have been training professionals for the last few months in these four essential pillars but I now want to share them with you as someone who is going through, or has been through a separation. You ultimately need to understand these so that you can look at communicating more effectively. It’s a bold claim but I believe they may change how you live your life, and not just how you communicate with an ex-partner – if you are prepared to embrace the more complex layers of each pillar.
The workshop takes place at 10.00 a.m. on Thursday 29th September and it will be online via Zoom. You don’t have to attend live as everyone will get the recording afterwards and this will be available for 21 days. I would love to share these insights with you to help you to improve your communication because I know how draining and frustrating it can be not being able to communicate productively with an ex-partner, and, crucially, what the impact on your children of that can be. If you have questions then please email email@example.com. To join the workshop sign up below.