Tools To Have Better Convo's With Your Ex
My husband and I had a fight last week. The kind of fight that you don’t think you will come back from. His parents are coming for a visit from Lebanon and we argued over where they will stay. Sounds like a shallow topic but there were some strong emotions and competing values that lead one to say the to the other; I don’t want to be with you anymore.
I went back to our bedroom. Sat on my side of the bed, and cried. How could we flip from loving partners to ones on the verge of separation after just one conversation? How could I, the proud mediator, not handle a “shallow” conversation with the person I know best?
The reality is that having effective conversations and communication in general are actually not easy. I remember during one of the mediation classes, the instructor was explaining how effective communication as an integral skill we need for our survival as humans. That struck me, and I naively asked her, “why are we not born with it then?” She fumbled a half baked answer. She didn’t know what to tell me. I just asked her a pretty heavy existential question that she didn’t have a clear answer to.
Kwame Christian, who’s known for his TED talk, Finding Confidence in Conflict, states “The main issue is that we fight modern day battles with prehistoric tools.”
I think I now understand better than I did when I was a student in Mediation. We are not born with the ability to have clear, engaging, and productive conversations because like anything worthy in this world, the process of getting there is just as rich and rewarding as the act itself.
Conflict is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the other person, whether it’s your spouse, your teenaged child, your colleague, or your client. If conflict is handled well and seen as the beautiful dance that it is, it will help you get closer to yourself and the life you want.
When the other side does not agree with us, we usually draw from unhealthy reactions we learnt during childhood, or opt for aggression, or shutting down- none of which will get us any closer to feeling better. We say, “I don’t care!”- but we do, a lot.
I am noticing time and again ex-couples in mediation say, “I don’t want a divorce but we don’t communicate”, or “Every time we try to talk, one of us starts yelling, the other shuts down, and we go separate ways.”
You want to update your prehistoric tools? Gary Noesner, an FBI hostage negotiator for 23 years says, the same tools he uses for negotiation can apply to any life situation. According to Gary, here are the main four tools to use:
Establish trust (by the way- even if you do not trust your partner in life- you may trust them in that conflict moment to negotiate in good faith)
Have self control
Engage in active listening
Adopt the notion of, “you help me, I help you.”
And I add to that, be expressive. Say it all- the good and bad.
After my argument with my husband, I went back to him and I said, “I love your parents and I love you. I’m really worried about boundaries. Let’s sit down together and speak respectfully about this.”
I want to end with this: Remember how we are not born with the skill of effective communication? This means that like any other skill, it requires practice and trial and error. You need to allow those experiences to marinate. Your communication skills are not fixed. You need to have a malleable sense of conflict and communication. Before a conversation turns into a heated argument, end your sentences with, “remember I love you”, or “know that I appreciate you.”
The decision to separate from your partner is not an easy one. The un-coupling of your relationship comes with all sorts of uncomfortable, and bitter feelings. In addition to the emotions, you must deal with the logistics of separation, such as dividing your assets and liabilities, finding a new home, and negotiating a parenting plan if you share children.