Don’t underestimate the role language can play in any dispute – and especially in disputes between separating couples. There are obvious examples of how language can inflame a situation such as the use of “my” children, in place of “our” children but there are other more subtle ways in which language can make or break an amicable separation.
The language used can tell an important story of someone’s view on the separation and particularly the responsibility they take for finding a resolution. Consider the difference between the following statements:
I feel really sad that we keep having these arguments in front of our children.
You make me sad because you keep starting these arguments in front of our children.
Both statements essentially make the same point but one apportions blame whereas the other doesn’t. In the second statement the person making it does not take ownership of their own emotions. Although separations can be hugely emotional with each person feeling a range of emotions in a short space of time, it is important to take responsibility for your own emotions and actions. Ultimately no one puts an emotion in any one else. The way react to things is based on a whole wealth of factors such as past experiences (both recent and further back), whether we tend to let our emotions out or keep them in, and how in control we feel in a particular situation.
Frustration and feeling that a situation is unfair can contribute hugely to how a person reacts in a given situation. Langaguge can make a huge difference to this. Consider the case of two parents who have recently separated. They have 2 children and they are living with mum in the family home and spending time with dad. For dad (and this is only used as an example, it can equally be the other way round) being able to discuss with mum when he will see his children is hugely important. A two way dialogue working out the best options is likely to be much more helpful than a more one way conversation where Dad feels that he is making requests and that Mum will then say yes or no. This leaves Dad feeling that he has to ask permission to see the children that he has played an equal role in bringing up. Such conversations are likely to lead to frustration and provoke emotions accordingly.
A lack of communication can also provoke frustration and, in turn, more intense emotional reactions. Where one person feels that they are trying to talk, but the other person will not respond this can cause difficulties but again this can be an issue of language. Consider the style in which you communicate (both in your personal and work relationships); do you listen as much as you talk? Are you open to new ideas or to changing your mind? Couples who have separated will often revert to patterns of communication that were used during the marriage. This may mean that one person feels they are trying to communicate but the other is not responding. But equally it can mean that the other person feels they are continually being talked at without being listened to. The other person may feel that they are being told what to do rather than being party to a discussion, and may withdraw for that reason.
This blog post could ultimately become a 10,000 or more word dissertation. The use of language and the role it plays in interaction between people is hugely interesting and particularly important to focus on during a separation. If you’re worried about how you might improve your communication skills to create different outcomes then please get in touch with us, or another mediator who will be able to help you.