Can Communicating Your Needs Save You from a Divorce?

{3:40 minutes to read}

As a divorce attorney, I am often asked: What leads people to divorce? Is it problems with…

  • Money?
  • Sex?
  • Kids?

My observation is that all of these problems and more are often caused by a common underlying theme: a failure to communicate.

As I listen to my clients, I am often reminded of The Gift of the Magi, the short story written by O. Henry, in which a couple falls on hard times. They have two things of value; one is her beautiful long hair and the other is his gold watch, handed down from his grandfather to his father, to him. It’s Christmas and they don’t have any money. Each one struggles to find a way to purchase a suitable gift for the other. As it turns out they completely miss each other when he sells his watch to buy a comb for her hair and she sells her hair to buy him a chain for his watch.

I often see people who have somehow missed each other in a similar way. The inability to communicate what is needed from the other person, or to understand from the other person what they need, is sometimes quite touching and tragic in the context of divorce.

The Value of Communication

The way people communicate often seems as if they are talking in parallel conversations – they don’t have a way to hear what the other person is saying. Instead of stating: “I need this from you,” they might use a demand or a criticism. They say: “I’m mad at you because you didn’t give me this” or “You’re trying to get me to do something that I don’t want to do.”

In the beginning, maybe they want to hash it out and talk about it, but as the years start to pile up, they may just go to silence. The motivation to tell the other person what it is you need in a way they can hear just goes away when people experience frustration and hurt over and over again. It’s easier to tell yourself: “I’ll just put up my shutters and not try anymore.”

One of the things I often ask my clients when they first come in is, “When you were married and living together successfully, how did you resolve conflict?” A number of them have said they didn’t have conflict. How is that possible? Conflict happens in life.

Perhaps it means they’ve buried the conflict so deep, they don’t realize they had it. If it is buried that deep, how could it ever be resolved? Instead, it leads to buried resentment that can show itself as problems with sex, money, or infidelity.

Are you communicating well in conflict conversations? Are you hearing what your partner is meaning?

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