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.

 

Can Collaborative Divorce Save Time And Money As Well As Protecting Families?

There is no question that divorce and separation is a time of high stress and emotion for all parties involved, including children who are caught up in proceedings.

What is clear from research carried out by Resolution is that parties who separate or divorce using the Collaborative process properly, can often minimise much of this stress and emotional anxiety.

There has been much said and written about traditional family litigation being phased out in preference for alternative ways of resolving problems, with lawyers increasingly encouraged to work with parties to find amicable and constructive ways forward in divorce and separation matters.

Whilst the majority of clients that we now encounter respond to this kind of approach, we also acknowledge that divorce is still a difficult and painful process. Those of who practice Collaborative Family Law, can see the obvious benefits of using this process for the above reasons, but could this actually provide additional benefits in terms of time, money and future family relationships?

By entering into the Collaborative process, parties to a divorce or separation are assisted by Collaborative trained professionals who will assist them in resolving their own issues in an open and constructive environment. It is this environment that can save time and money, not only through the process, but thereafter.

By also committing not to enter into court proceedings, this also has the added advantage of removing the threat of such proceedings over the parties and encourages people to work together to find lasting outcomes for themselves and their families.

Obviously, by entering into open and constructive discussion and avoiding court proceedings, this can save considerable time and cost in terms of the processes that people employ.

However, over and above this, the way that parties interact with each other during the Collaborative process, in terms of reaching agreements around their separation, financial affairs and their children, creates a framework for future discussions and a format of resolving disputes that can work to protect the best interests of families.

When looking at the benefits of the Collaborative process, we believe that these can fairly be summarised as follows;

The protection of children

Children are often impacted by contested divorce proceedings and anyone who has gone through the court process knows how difficult this can be. By collaborating to find the best solutions for themselves and their children, parents often find a new way of communicating that is centred around the best interests of their children in the future and this can take away a huge amount of the potential distress that conflict often causes.

Saving time and money
When compared to litigation, the Collaborative process will invariably be considerably cheaper and quicker. Traditional litigation can often cause parties to become entrenched in their positions making the process slower and even more expensive over time.

The protection of extended family
Whenever there is litigation, inevitably, extended family and friends become engaged and are often forced to choose who they support. This can have long-lasting impact on both family and friends and ultimately damage longer term relationships not only with the parties but also the children at the centre of the dispute.

Privacy

In an increasing age of transparency, many clients want to keep their divorce and financial affairs out of the public domain. The Collaborative process is entirely confidential and can maintain everyone’s privacy.

In summary, we believe that the Collaborative process achieves not only a high success rate in terms of outcome, but more importantly meets parties needs and requirements in terms of preserving their dignity and respect, as well as being a timely and cost effective process . It can also have additional benefits in terms of the protection of family relationships long after any divorce or separation is concluded in a legal sense.

Contact details of qualified Collaborative professionals in the Black Country area who can provide you with more information can be found here

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Separating without Blame

The current law provides that the ground for seeking a divorce is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage based on one of five facts being adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two years desertion, two years separation with consent and five years separation.

Resolution, the national body of Family Lawyers and Practitioners, has long campaigned for reform by introducing no fault divorce in order to reduce conflict and support separating couples to resolve matters amicably.

Nigel Shepherd, the Chair of Resolution reports that Resolution’s campaign has led to a high level of media coverage and public declarations of support for no fault divorce.

A report in “The Economist” agreed that it was time to introduce no-fault divorces and went on to say:

“sorting out the division of assets and arranging for the…future care of children are always the hardest aspects of ending any marriage. Eliminating questions of who is to blame for the split would allow those involved to focus on dealing with these”.

This campaign for reform is supported by the public with a YouGov poll published in March 2017 reporting that 69% of the public want to remove blame.

We at the Black Country Collaborative Group believe that the introduction of no fault divorce will help separating couples to resolve issues relating to their children or division of assets in a constructive way without divisive arguments about who is to blame for the separation.

Putting Children First

 

chidren first

New polling carried out on behalf of Family Law Organisation Resolution has found that around 82% of children and young people with experience of parental separation or divorce would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy, rather than stay together.

Asked what advice they would give divorcing parents, one young person said, “Don’t stay together for a child’s sake, better to divorce than stay together for another few years and divorce on bad terms”; while another suggests children “will certainly be very upset at the time but will often realise, later on, that it was for the best.”

When asked what they’d most like to have changed about their parents’ divorce, 31% of young people said they would have liked their parents not to be horrible about each other to them, and 30% said they would have liked their parents to understand what it felt like to be in the middle of the process.

 

Speaking about the new findings, Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, said:

 “Being exposed to conflict and uncertainty about the future are what’s most damaging for children, not the fact of divorce itself. This means it is essential that parents act responsibly, to shelter their children from adult disagreements and take appropriate action to communicate with their children throughout this process,and make them feel involved in key decisions, such as where they will live after the divorce.

“We should be supporting parents to choose an out of court divorce method, such as mediation or collaborative practice. This will help parents to maintain control over the divorce and ensure their children’s needs are, and remain, the central focus.”

 

Relate counsellor, Denise Knowles said:

“Evidence suggests that it’s parental conflict which has the most damaging effect on children and we see this played out in the counselling room every day.

“Of course, children usually find their parents’ separation extremely upsetting but as this research demonstrates, eventually many come to terms with the situation and adjust to changes in family life. There are plenty of steps that separating parents can take to ensure they reduce the negative impact on their children such as working to avoid constant arguing or speaking badly of the other parent in front of the kids.

“Parents can also involve their children by providing age appropriate and relevant information about the divorce or separation and what it means for them. Trying to understand children’s needs will make them feel secure and loved during this difficult time. Separating parents could also consider accessing support such as individual counselling, couples counselling, family counselling and mediation. ”

 

Parenting Charter

The survey results support the main advice Resolution shares in its Parenting Charter, which sets out what children should be able to expect from their parents during a divorce or separation.

These include children’s rights to:

  • be at the centre of any decisions made about their lives
  • feel and be loved and cared for by both parents
  • know and have contact with both sides of their families, including any siblings who may not live with them, as long as they are safe
  • a childhood, including freedom from the pressures of adult concerns such as financial worries

 

At a special event with MPs and Peers in Parliament, Resolution will be calling for the Government to share the Charter with all divorcing parents. The event will also see the launch of an online advice guide at www.resolution.org.uk/divorceandparenting developed by Resolution to help divorcing parents manage their relationship with their children and with each other during separation.