If you want to negotiate an agreement with your spouse, you have to remember (and accept) the following principles:
Your purpose is to avoid arguing and be as persuasive as possible.
The communication issues you had during marriage will not go away in separation.
What does this mean?
It means that if you don’t manage your expectations and negotiation style, you risk one or more of the following: constant arguing, bickering, flat out fighting, delay, defensiveness, lack of progress, and disappointment.
You don’t want to set a highly confrontational tone before you have a chance to work out your differences. If you can’t set aside your strong feelings and view your interactions from a logical and business-like perspective, you can’t expect your spouse to talk to you with a calm and respectful demeanor. And if you have children with your spouse, remember, you are going to be communicating with them for many years to come.
To make the process of negotiating with your ex manageable and successful, try some of these techniques:
If your spouse is an “avoider”(i.e., they pretend the divorce is not happening and refuse to discuss pertinent issues), try the following:
- Schedule a session with a mediator, and put it on your spouse’s calendar. “We know we need some help managing our divorce from a neutral professional. Let’s avoid trying to figure this out on our own and go to someone who can handle it for us.”
- File a motion (Request for Order) in court to put some pressure on them to act. No one wants to go to court. “I requested a court date just in case we can’t resolve the parenting plan. If we come to an agreement, I’m told we can just take the hearing off of the court’s calendar.”
If your spouse is a “delayer” (i.e., they take days or weeks to respond to you about anything substantive), try the following:
- Schedule a meeting at a neutral place, like a coffee shop. Come as prepared as possible to cover as many issues as possible.
- Propose a timeline. “We’ve got a lot to do here, so to finalize our case and avoid court. I propose we respond to offers to settle by email within five days of receipt. Does that sound doable?”
If your spouse is stubborn, try the following:
- Reiterate that you are keeping an open mind toward satisfying their concerns.
- Ask them to tell or send you an offer for settlement. Then, validate as much of their settlement position as possible. Choose your battles wisely. For instance, if it won’t matter in a year, agree to their terms. It’s not worth the arguments and attorney fees that would ensue.
If there is a power imbalance (e.g., you are more sophisticated with financials or negotiation), try the following:
- Meet with your spouse and their attorney. You don’t have to agree to everything they propose, but you’ll be able to hold your own in negotiations and take any proposals to the legal coach of your choice.
- Try drafting a settlement proposal. Suggest to your spouse that they meet with a divorce professional of their choice to determine if the proposal is fair and reasonable.
If your spouse is a narcissist, try the following:
- Swallow your pride. “Thank you for clarifying that for me. That makes so much more sense.” So what if they recited to you exactly the point you’ve been trying to make for months? The goal is a productive settlement conversation. If that means complimenting them or patting their back, so be it. Then grab a glass of wine, get a massage, or do some other form of self-care to recover.
- Read this book: Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Personal and practical tips
- Speak in your normal tone.
- Suggest a brainstorming session.
- Listen quietly.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Assure your spouse you want a fair agreement.
- Set ground rules regarding communication (e.g., no talking about divorce matters in front of the kids).
- Think about using a divorce or relationship therapist to help you two uncouple gracefully.
- Don’t succumb to pressure for an immediate response.
- Breathe, breathe, and breathe.
Additional tips for successful communication
- Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. “What would I do if I were them?” Asking that question will help you arrive at a mutually acceptable divorce agreement.
- Think logically. Organized and rational thinking is a must. Analyze and formulate your objectives. Gather the facts about what you have, what you need, and what you want but could live without.
- Avoid a free-for-all. Divorce negotiations can be traumatic. If the two of you are getting trapped in old emotional patterns (hostility, defensiveness, etc.), it’s time for a break or a reschedule of the meeting so you can both cool down.
- Set up a new and separate email account. Dedicate it solely to discussions with your spouse and your attorney. Or, set up a couple of accounts: one for discussions with your attorney and one for discussions with your spouse. This will help you see when something comes in and potentially alleviate the issue of it getting lost in a sea of ads and spam. Or, use Our Family Wizard or another app that only contains communications between you and your spouse.
- Unless the issue is time-sensitive, do not push ‘send’ immediately. Let the email or text sit in your drafts for a little bit. After some time, re-read it. Does it need to be edited? Does it contain too much emotion? Are you sticking to the point? Are you clear about what you need? Did you respond to their question without going off on an unnecessary tangent?
- If communicating in person or by phone, do it in a private location. Don’t approach them at their work and make a scene in front of their co-workers and boss—or their employees, if they’re the boss. When you are with co-workers, don’t answer their calls or call them. If it cannot wait until after work for some reason, go to another room or your car for privacy.
- Tell yourself that everything you write or say will be provided to the judge to review if things get messy. Most likely it will not, but if you communicate as if it will, you won͛’t have to worry if your communications get attached as an exhibit.
- Understand that you cannot control the other person. If they go against every tip above, that’s on them. Don’t try to correct them or tell them how wrong they are. Keep your side of the conversation civil and calm. It will help more than telling them they aren͛’t talking to you properly. Now, that does not mean you should stand there and take the abuse if they’re cursing and screaming at you? No. You have every right to—and should—walk away from the situation if it gets out of hand. That might be the time to hire a traditional attorney for full representation.
When the going gets tough, remember: this process beats going to court. And it works! It’s worked for tons of people before you. Most cases settle with the parties accepting at least one option they never thought of or considered before the conversations started.
You got this!