Ironically, when couples separate they often have to learn to communicate better than they ever did while they were married. No longer do you get to expect that your spouse is on your side and looking to make you happy. This changing expectation can pave the way for a return to respect and friendship.
Instead of assuming that you know what the other is thinking on a wide range of issues, you now need to get clear on your ‘agreements’. Dr Neha Sangwan – Author of Talk RX says this:
“We all walk around with our own set of wants, desires, values and expectations. It would be a lot easier if we had them posted on our foreheads, but unfortunately we don’t. So unless we make agreements with people (and yes, I mean out loud), we can wind up disappointed and surrounded by conflict, even over something as simple as meeting for tea. Agreements that you don’t verbalize are unspoken expectations. If you keep your expectations to yourself, it will likely result in disappointment.”
The list below might prompt you to clarify where you have agreements and where you need to get them. Remember this can be updated periodically as things change.
Financial – what will you pay for, who pays the bills, do I forward accounts?
Physical – is physical contact confusing or does it provide comfort?
Friendship – what level, texting, sharing jokes, sharing interesting stories?
Contact – how, email, phone, text? How often?
Other people – what do we tell family and friends, when, how do we handle invites?
Respect – can we promise to move forward without talking negatively about the other to children, family, colleagues?
Arrangements – How will these be communicated or amended?
Belongings – How will these be separated, stored, accessed (if your partner has left, can s/he just walk back in and take stuff?)
This list is not only useful for people who are separated/divorced from their partners. It’s a useful prompt for anyone ‘coasting’ along within a relationship. Could you improve the way you communicate with your spouse? Are you making assumptions in your daily life that could lead to disappointment?
A spouse that may have previously wanted nothing to do with you might feel a whole lot more appreciated, respected and possibly even less threatened when you take the time to ask them where they are on these issues. Other positive outcomes of getting agreements include:
- Both parties become accountable
- The spouse who thinks they can’t get anything right gets an opportunity to get it right.
- The spouse who thinks they can do no wrong gets validation while giving you information you need.
- Demonstrates your acknowledgement of their decision even if you don’t like it.
- Demonstrates your respect for yourself and desire to move forward in a healthy way
It is important that the respectful intent of this type of communication is maintained. It is not meant as a tool for manipulation or for catching anyone out.
It’s also important to know where your boundaries are and how much you are prepared to negotiate on any of these issues.
If you want help exploring this a little further, I’d love to hear from you. I’d also love to hear about your communication ideas, successes or failures.