Recap: Interview with Divorce Expert Deborah Tannen

This week I sat down with renowned professor, author and expert Dr. Deborah Tannen. She is the University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University and author of many books and articles about how the language of everyday conversation affects relationships, best known for You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, which was on the New York Times best seller list for nearly four years. She also wrote about the unique way women talk to each other in her book You’re the Only One I Can Tell.


One of the most interesting insights Tannen presents involves communication. She explains how communication is really a difficult needle to thread: not enough communication makes people’s desires, dislikes and fears mysterious and can lay a trap for the partner who doesn’t know where they shouldn’t step. But too much communication can result in oversharing and a feedback loop that fosters negativity. It can be tricky business judging how much communication makes sense before, during and after a divorce.

The Greek Chorus

Dr. Tannen points out that one of the most dangerous parts of sharing with friends and family can be the creation of a “Greek Chorus”—a group of friends and family, advisers with mostly unhelpful pieces of information and advice. This can lead to a spiral of negative thinking.

The Meta-Communication

Instead, Dr. Tannen advises, people going through divorce should be able to set the rules of engagement. Want advice? Great. Want a day of no talking about divorce? Also great. The point is that the person going through the divorce gets to decide. And to be the decider, they have to speak up and have a conversation about what kind of talk helps.

Different Conversation Styles

It’s key, as you’re setting out to create boundaries with others about how much and what (and even when) you share, that you identify what kind of conversation style works best for you. Do you want to debrief for ten minutes at the start of each meetup, then move on? Do you need one night a week where you dwell in the issue? Or do you prefer to set it aside and just go have fun? The important thing is that you set the rules and clearly communicate them to your friends and family. Give them the opportunity to respond well and support you!

Sisters, Friends & Other Challenges

The sister relationship can be intense. It can be the most supportive and most significant in your life. But it can also be the most vulnerable to hurt feelings. These relationships warrant special care and attention. Remember, in a sister relationship, silence is never just silence. It’s sending its own message loud and clear.

Dr. Tannen embraces the complexity of a woman’s social universe in her work. Explore more in this month’s blogs and my interview.

If you’re considering divorce but would like to try an approach that might mean a brighter future, call my team to schedule a confidential consultation.

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