The Importance of Listening

One of the most common features of working with divorcing couples, is that of discussing, finding out and encouraging the importance of good listening.

Often, we hear people say that they are good listeners and friends and relatives who might be supporting you through this difficult process, perhaps will offer you their ear whenever you might need to offload or discuss issues that have arisen.

Conversations with your ex concerning the house, finance and most importantly the children are inevitable at some point.

These conversations arise at a time when emotionally, we are not best placed to hear what needs to be said.

Divorce can often result from a breakdown in communication that has been building for some time, coupled with other relationship difficulties.

Below are some tips to consider when communicating with your ex:

LISTEN:

  • How do you know when someone is listening to you?
  • How do you listen?
  • What are the optimum conditions for you to listen fully?
  • If you are upset, frustrated, or angry, your listening skills will be impaired.
  • If you find yourself thinking about something else or how you might respond whilst others are still talking, you have stopped listening fully
  • Try to keep your focus on what is being said
  • Ensure that the time is convenient for you both to talk. If one of you needs to get away then your focus will not be on the present situation.

Once the other person has stopped talking.

CHECK:

  • To make sure you have fully understood, e.g. “Ok so what I heard you say was……………”
  • It is not unusual to miss important points during ‘emotional’ conversations, especially with your ex.
  • Keep checking until you fully understand what has been said.     

PAUSE:

  • Take a moment to reflect on what’s been said.
  • You might need more time, try not to feel pressured into making your reply immediately.
  • Rearrange another time, convenient to you both to continue the conversation if you need more time.

Once you have considered your response

REPLY:

Try to

  • Use ‘I’ Statements, e.g. “I think, I feel”
  • Consider your ex’s position, put yourself in their shoes.
  • Keep calm-it’s easy for things to escalate.
  • Consider your children’s needs.
  • Seek help if you are struggling. Consider a relationship therapist or mediator.
  • Check that your ex has understood, “can you please repeat back what you’ve heard?”

Some final points to consider:

What you’re going through is tough. You will at times feel very emotional and having a rational, calm conversation with your ex is probably the last thing you want to do.

Remember, no one can be made to do anything that they don’t want to, try to offer suggestions rather than make demands.

Control ‘your end’ of the conversation (AND the behaviour that goes with it) and be the best listener you can be, for the sake of your children.

 

“it’s the most wonderful time of the year” But is it???

So, it’s “that” time of year again and already in town there is a sense of pressure and panic as I watch busy shoppers struggle with bags laden with gifts for family and friends. There’s a bustle around the supermarkets as trollies collide, stacked high with sprouts, parsnips, turkey and pudding.

There is also anticipation and excitement from children who are queuing to see Father Christmas or gazing at the bright lights dancing high above the streets of the town. As the song tells us “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”

But is it???

For some people, Christmas is a time of dread for one reason or another. Finance (or lack of it), having family to stay, thinking of loved ones who may have died at this time of year and especially the extra pressure put upon us to complete all the tasks that need to be done before “the big day”. It is particularly difficult for those families affected by separation or divorce.

It is hard for parents even to consider being away from their children on Christmas Eve/Day and so battles often occur between parents over who will have the children during those special days. Ultimately the end result is often unhappy parents and unhappy children who are stuck in the middle.

As a therapist I help families who are struggling with contact and co-parenting issues, so I thought it might be useful to let me tell you what I know children of separated parents say about Christmas;

  • Children love you both and want to spend time with each of you
  • Children love having Christmas twice (what child wouldn’t?) and often don’t mind which order they go in
  • Being around grandparents and extended family is something that children of separated parents can miss out on, so Christmas is an ideal time for them to catch up
  • Parents who are uncivil to each other at handovers and especially at Christmas make it harder for children to be excited about leaving one parent and going to the other.
  • Children often have a good sense of fairness and are very adaptable to change-what gets in the way is parental conflict.

So, at this busy time of year a few “Try” and “Try not to” points to help you have the best possible Christmas

  • Try to remember if you are feeling angry and upset with your ex, that these are your feelings about your relationship- the children have a different relationship with your ex
  • Try to make it ok for the children to be with and get excited about being with your ex- they love them as much as they love you
  • Try to be fair-children will notice when it isn’t and it upsets them when they feel a parent is missing out
  • Try to negotiate alternate years for Christmas Eve/Day to make it fair to both of you and especially for the children
  • Try to be excited for your children when they are going to the other parent, even if you don’t feel it. They will be excited but if you seem sad it causes them distress.
  • Try not to compare the two Christmases-both are equally important experiences for your children
  • Try not to argue with your ex at the handover-if something is wrong save it for another time
  • Try not to contact your children too much when they are with your ex. Remember that hopefully they will be having a good time- they still love you but they will want to be involved in Christmas Number 2
  • Presents are exciting for children but time with each of you is much more important. Try not to get too upset is your ex has bought the latest gadget or more expensive gift-what children remember is the time you spend together.

It’s hard for everyone involved when couples separate, especially for the children and particularly the first Christmas apart. Parents have a choice about how to behave in front of their children. Remember that children learn from the adults in their life and will mirror their parents’ behaviour.

If things go wrong try not to worry too much, just try to do your best for next time.

As parents we can only be ‘good enough’-we are not perfect but we can aim for better co-parenting relationships in the future.

I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that your children have lots of fun with both of their parents.

 

Kids in the Middle

‘Kids in the middle’ is a phrase we hear often in the media, family courts and amongst friends and family if they happen to be separating. But what does it really mean to you, now that you are on this journey?

For most couples who separate and for whatever reason, if they have children together, causing emotional damage to those children is usually high on the list of ‘things to avoid’.

However, for many, as emotions run high and disagreements occur, sometimes inadvertently the opposite happens.

Parents may end up using their child/children as:

  • Pawns
  • Bargaining tools
  • Weapons
  • Support
  • Someone on ‘your’ side

Children tell us that they cope well with their parents separating even though in the beginning it’s upsetting, if:

  • They get to spend time with each parent
  • There is reduced conflict between parents
  • Parents don’t criticise each other to or in front of the children
  • They can see their parents moving on
  • They don’t have the intricate details of the separation

So, understanding what puts children in the middle is important and it may not be quite as obvious as you think.

If you consider that communication is:

  • 55% BODY LANGUAGE
  • 38% INTONATION
  • 7% WORDS

then it is probable that your children are ‘reading’ you much more than you think.

Watch this short video and note the ‘unspoken’ messages.

  1. Ask yourself as you watch are these children comfortable in the company of their parents?
  2. Are the parents making it ok for the children to love and be happy with both parents?
  3. What are the children doing to make this situation ok?
  1. Are these children in the ‘middle’?

https://youtu.be/-DFaKVcnHvA

Understanding your emotions and the body language that emerges as a result of this journey is not always high on your list of priorities, especially when there are so many legal and financial aspects of divorce to ‘get your head around’.

However, once the divorce is over from a legal perspective, the rest of your life begins and being able to co-parent your children and reduce the likelihood of emotional damage, I would say is on the list of priorities.

Using the collaborative approach to divorce is one way to help begin this journey. Another is getting as much help and information as you can to ease it.

Together Apart is a one day workshop designed for parents going through separation/divorce and is aimed at parents, just like you. It can help you in practical ways to:

  • Reduce conflict
  • Improve communication
  • Understand the emotional process of relationship breakdown
  • Provide you with useful skills to help you manage your emotions
  • Help you to understand what your children need from you during this difficult time

 

Adele Ballantyne MA Relationship Therapy

Family Consultant, Shropshire Collaborative Law Pod.