Family Law with Carrie Campbell; Listen, and I mean Really Listen and Really think before you Speak

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Carrie Campbell

In my roles as lawyer, mediator and divorce coach, I derive the greatest job satisfaction in helping people make positive changes in their own lives. As a mediator, this often takes place when communication issues are raised. Here are a couple of ideas for you to consider.

When we first “partner up”, we are curious about our partner and want to explore the whys, whats and hows of what they are saying – why do you feel that way? Why is that important? What does that mean to you? Tell me more! We instinctively peel back the layers, because we are interested and we care. As time goes on, we seem to grow comfortable; maybe the relationship becomes predictable; and of course life gets busy with other concerns. For whatever reason, we seem to lose our sense of wonder and curiosity about what the other is saying. Now, bring on a separation and all the baggage that entails.

Not only are we not curious, we are angry and suspicious; we certainly don’t trust, and the fight or flight response has kicked in. As mediators, we observe people listening only enough to respond – to gain a glimmer of what they need to make their point about why he/she is right and the other is wrong. People don’t listen to learn or to understand anymore; they’ve lost their interest in the other person’s thoughts and they no longer care. During a mediation, if the mediator can ask those curious questions, it often becomes clear that what the two people each want and need from their separation, isn’t so different from each other after all. Even better, when the two people start to ask the clarifying questions of each other – that’s when the mediator knows a difference has been made in how the two people will move forward.

Another shift you can consider is that historically, you have communicated with your partner as a partner. As such, a conversation may have included, what happened at work today, what do you want for dinner, do you want to see a movie, little Johnny has a project due, etc. Patterns are difficult to notice and change, but this is an important time to try. If you continue to try to communicate in that fashion, following a separation, it normally doesn’t work; I find that people get frustrated and this is when we hear, “My ex did this” or “My ex said that”. If you have children, I want to challenge you to try to change the communication from Partner to Partner (Ex-partner to Ex-partner) to Parent to Parent. For example, Parent A, consider that you are speaking or texting to your children’s other Parent. And Parent B, when you respond, picture your children in your mind and consider how they would feel if they heard what you were about to say. When you are talking as parents, first consider, is what you are about to say actually about the children? If not, stop and consider whether it is even appropriate to initiate the communication. This will depend on where you are both at. Secondly, consider whether what you plan to say is something that will help the kids or is it something that will hurt the kids? Putting a parent down, for example, is hurtful to children and will normally be better left unsaid. Share your children’s victories, heartbreaks and failures with the other parent, and be greatful when the other parent does so – having the ability to share your children’s lives, without judgement, is a wonderful thing for parents and children.

Just a couple of tips that I hope can be helpful. I think our parents likely said it best when they reminded us to “Look Before You Leap” – instead “Think Before You Speak”.

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