Divorcing spouses can save much time and money by reaching divorce agreements out of court on all issues related to the marriage, including asset allocation, custody, child support, alimony and more.
After over 20 years of practicing family law, I’ve learned that the root cause of divorce is long-term miscommunication or lack of communication and disconnectedness. Ironically, the same communication difficulties that existed during the marriage are the very same that prevent spouses from civilly reaching divorce agreements.
For a long time, like many family lawyers, I encouraged clients to “work it out” or “communicate” with their spouse to reach a divorce settlement. Clients would often respond with “if we were able to communicate, we wouldn’t be getting divorced!”
The key to reaching amicable divorce agreements, however, is to change the way you communicate with your spouse by considering that while we all need to be heard and understood, men and women communicate very differently.
For instance, according to marriage expert and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn in her book, For Women Only, “a man’s highest need is to feel respect, whereas a woman’s highest need is to feel loved.” By knowing these differences, you can adjust what you say to your spouse and how to say it to build trust and gain cooperation, which is essential for successfully reaching agreements. This post will show you how to gain cooperation from your spouse by keeping in mind the differences in how women and men communicate.
How to Gain a Man’s Cooperation
Feldhahn notes that “if a women criticizes a man or questions his decisions, he’s going to feel disrespected.” By the same token, according to author and coach Laura Doyle in her book, The Empowered Wife, a man may try to restore his sense of self-worth by dismissing her or demeaning what she said. He might say something like “You don’t know what you’re talking about” or “Give it a rest” or even “Shut up.” Similarly, according to Dr. Steven Stosny and Patricia Love in their book entitled How to Improve your Marriage without Talking About It, “most men have a heightened sensitivity to feeling shame and inadequacy.” When a man feels shame and senses he’s a failure, his impulse is “to disguise it with annoyance, impatience, or anger.”
According to Stosny and Love, “the worst thing a woman does to a man” involves correcting or disagreeing with what he said, ignoring his advice, and belittling or dismissing him. They also note “when a woman starts talking to a man, he can easily slip into avoid mode, even dread of failure because he expects to hear you tell him something that he is doing wrong.” That’s why the dreaded “we have to talk” conversations should be avoided.
By the same token, according to Doyle, most men would rather women “never ask them how they feel,” and “hate to be analyzed.” For example, telling him that he’s abusive or has an anger management problem will likely be met with anger and verbal retaliation.
Doyle recommends women simply say to men “I hear you.” That way, says Doyle, he can feel really heard without you agreeing or disagreeing with him. Likewise, rather than express anger, it’s better to admit that you’re hurt instead of defending yourself. Women can do this, Doyle recommends, by teaching him how to treat you by saying “Ouch!” when you’re hurt.
Timing is also key. For instance, according to Stosny and Love, “men’s brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and they are socialized in many ways to take advantage of that single-mindedness.” Therefore, when you start talking to a man, he has to choose between completing the task at hand and talking to you.
Similarly, Stosny and Love note that “men like routine.” For example, “a man gets up in the morning and has the same thing for breakfast he has every day, so he won’t have to use energy thinking about what to eat, sits down and reads the paper.” Therefore, “when a man breaks his routine, he loses focus, which makes him feel that he will not accomplish tasks as competently.”
Likewise, Stosny and Love suggest women might “simply hold a positive attitude and do something else until he’s finished his routine of reading the paper.” More specifically, before approaching a man about something, Stosny and Love recommend taking “five minutes and do not think of what you want to say.” Instead, “think of times when you felt close in the past, times you tended the children together.” It’s important that the words are genuine. A man needs to see real changes in behavior and will be skeptical until a woman’s behavior proves that her words are actually reliable.
So if you’re a woman, how might you put aside your own feelings and show respect when communicating? I agree with Doyle when she recommends to “fake it ‘til you make it.” Alternatively, you can understand that a man’s biological wiring is to protect and provide and that, by feeling disrespected, he feels inadequate. Therefore, you can recognize that he’s not acting against you, but attempting to shore up his sense of worth and avoid feeling like a failure.
How to Gain a Woman’s Cooperation
Women, on the other hand, note Stosny and Love, “are more sensitive to isolation and lack of contact.” They note that “when a woman does not feel safe, secure, and connected, she suffers unconscious fear of isolation.”
It’s much more difficult for women to set feelings aside. They are more subject to getting their feelings hurt. For women, words are often interpreted with emotions.
I’ve often seen husbands have a hard time understanding why a wife just “doesn’t get it” when it’s so clearly logical and “simple.” He’s likely to be baffled when she reacts emotionally to something he said or did in the past. In his mind, it’s over, and not relevant.
While it’s natural for a man to feel defensive when being accused, Stosny and Love note that when he defends himself, “the implication is that he doesn’t care about her hurt—only about defending his own ego.” The “trick” they say, “is to respond automatically to the vulnerability under the complaint.” For instance, to help resolve a difficult issue in the divorce, I have suggested to men clients that they use phrases like “How can I help?” Or “What do you need?” It also helps both men and women to be aware of these key differences in communicating.
Gaining Cooperation from Men and Women
A particularly effective technique I’ve used to help men and women clients to facilitate agreement on difficult issues like alimony that arise is called “affect labeling,” introduced by Doug Noll, attorney and mediator in Clovis, California. When one person is speaking, the other disregards the words and just listen for the emotion behind the words and repeats back the emotion that was heard. This can be an extremely effective way to build trust and reach agreements much more quickly and successfully.
For more information or to find out how you can reach an amicable divorce settlement, please call or schedule a personal consultation.