Letter D in black stone block

Should I Get A Divorce? Why Talking About Your Reasons For Divorce Might Be A Game Changer

Sometimes the hardest conversations, the ones we dread the most, provide the greatest opportunity for growth and change in a relationship. I thought about this after chatting with a friend about a tough time with her husband.

For her, the “D” word changed everything.

That’s right. I’m talking about Divorce.

What a loaded word!

It is fraught with meanings and emotions. While considering if she wanted a divorce she was overcome with questions like:

Should I get a divorce? Do I want a divorce? If I bring up divorce will things get worse? How will he react?

The decision to have the first divorce talk is hard. My friend had confided in her closest friend and her counselor. But uttering the word to her partner for the first time?

Wham! A game-changer.

The BIG Question: Should I Get A Divorce?

When the “D” word is on the table the proverbial pink elephant in the room is front and center.

My friend feared that bringing up the dreaded “D” word signaled the beginning of the end. And often it is.

Talking about divorce is often followed by many other uncomfortable “D” words: defensiveness; dumbfounded; debate; debacle; desperation; dagger; destitute; dark; denial…and for many couples once those negative “D” words are stated or felt the marriage is doomed.

But does a talk about divorce have to lead to a path of despair and destruction?

What if the big bad “D” word was followed by a different set of “D” words?

What If I Am Not Sure If I Want a Divorce?

How could you know for sure if this is the first time ever broaching the subject (exceptions like domestic violence aside)?

Imagine if the divorce talk involved more positive “D” words like dialogue, deference; dignity; discourse; delicate; discussion…

Having a talk about divorce does not have to mean doom for a marriage.

In fact, it can serve as an opportunity – a defining moment.

So What Happened When My Friend Asking, “Should I Get a Divorce?”

For some couples, parting ways is the best resolution.

To my friend’s great relief, however, the initial divorce conversation opened up the channels of communication for her and her husband. Her husband recognized that by raising the idea of divorce, his wife was really saying, “I am really hurting and feel hopeless about our relationship…”

Talking about the reasons for divorce served as a catalyst for repair and healing.

They realized they still had love for one another.

The repair work can be painfully difficult nevertheless — and was for my friend.

She found that healing her marriage required replacing the negative “D” words with ones that were more productive.

Defensiveness, for example, was replaced with dialogue. Denial replaced with deliberation and discussion.

How Can I Put Aside All Those Big Bad “D” Words When I Have All These Reasons For Divorce?

Some, like my friend and her husband, seek the assistance of a therapist to deal with unresolved personal issues that are contributing to the marital conflict.

Others are putting in more effort to listen to one another.

Some work with a professional marital mediator to help them communicate more effectively and solve problems. (To learn more about the differences between marital mediation and couples therapy click here.)

If the big “D” word is spoken in your marriage think carefully before reacting. Do you want the conversation dominated by big bad “D” words? Or, do you want to shift the focus to more hopeful “D” words?

Your decision might save your marriage from the big “D”!

Please REPLY below if there have been times in your life when a difficult conversation led to a positive opportunity for growth or opportunity?

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. If you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
3D rendering of a GPS navigation system

One Simple Way to Improve Marital Problems, Family Conflict, & Communication in Relationships

Ever get really impatient waiting for an answer to a question?

I know a lot of people like this (you know, like me). Unfortunately, this impatience causes problems.

Let’s take Jake, a student with whom I work. One of his teachers had a frustrating experience with him. The teacher asked him a question. Jake looked at him and said…nothing.

The teacher checked in with me about the student, commenting, “there’s not much up there. That kid just stares at you like you have two heads or something.”

There are innumerable reasons I found this disturbing. What bothered me most was that he was wrong.

Ever Think If Your Partner Would Just Give You a Second You Would Have Less Marital Problems?

Now, I will admit that he does have this blank look on his face while he’s thinking.

I’m sure you’ve seen that look on your wife, husband, parent, or child at some point.

For me, that look is like waiting for a GPS system to figure out directions after a wrong turn, monotonously repeating recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.

Yet Jake, like any good GPS unit, arrives at a sound answer after the extended period of recalculating. In fact, he has a lot of things to say. It just takes him a little extra time to process information and figure out what he wants to say, and how he wants to say it.

There is something about waiting for a response from someone that is exceptionally hard for many people.

There may be a range of reasons but one that I see time and again is this: an inability to tolerate silence.

What the Teacher Missed Due to His Impatience With Jake

The educator was asking Jake if he could stay after for extra help and prepare for an upcoming test.

Jake was having a bad day. He had gotten in a fight with his mother in the morning. He received a detention an hour earlier for tardiness. He did not have a ride home. If he had stayed for the detention he would have had to walk over an hour — in the rain.

Jake was trying to process all of this information — the insecurity he felt about needing extra academic help, the conflict with his mother, and his transportation issues.

How do I know this?

Because after I spoke with the teacher, I checked in with him. I asked him how he was doing.

And I waited.

But I HATE It!

Silence, that is.

If you truly want to understand someone use a strategy that teachers are taught to use in the classroom. Give “wait time.”

If the teacher waits 5-10 seconds someone will eventually raise their hand and answer (the student group can’t tolerate silence either!).

It is too bad the teacher did not apply this technique during his private chat with Jake. Just imagine what the teacher may have learned!

More importantly, imagine what you are missing by not waiting for an answer when you are arguing with your spouse or irritable with your teenager.

Wait time is an under-rated element of effective communication. Wait time gives people time to process information, react emotionally, and figure out how to articulate thoughts and feelings. It can be a powerful tool to help marital problems.

I have written about how helpful “being curious” can be to effective communication. The reality is that curiosity only helps if you give people the time they need to properly respond to what you are asking of them.

Allow people — like your spouse, parent or child — to finish recalculating, recalculating, recalculating…and you may be amazed at what you can learn.

What other strategies would you recommend for waiting patiently for someone to respond to you?

Jack Russell listening with one ear up

Shut Up To Improve Communication Skills! Marriage and Parenting Advice From a Family Mediator

I used to interview prospective staff for a residential treatment program before I became a family mediator.

Whenever I asked them to describe qualities that would make them a good child care worker I was invariably told something like, “I love to help people and I’m a GREAT listener.”

Yet, when I would walk in to a room while they were working with an upset resident I would hear their voice more than that of the student.

Hmm. Curious.

Do you know folks like these newly hired child care workers who proclaim to be great listeners but don’t act the part?

I bet you do.

Haven’t you noticed that lots of people who declare themselves to have great listening skills tend to:

  • Dominate conversations
  • Interrupt
  • Talk about themselves…a lot
  • Make assumptions about the other person
  • Give advice very quickly
  • Repeat themselves…repeatedly

Great listeners?


These folks are great talkers!

A Truth About Communication Skills

Here’s the rub.

Talking at someone has nothing whatsoever to do with listening to someone.

The two are not even in the same ballpark!

Yet for some reason good talkers usually think they are good listeners.

These great talkers may like to help others.

Take the child care workers.

When they would tell me in their interviews that they wanted to help kids and were great listeners they were speaking from the heart. They truly meant it.

And when I talk about my dream of playing shooting guard for the Boston Celtics I mean it too! But just because I am motivated to play for the Celtics, I don’t have the shooting, passing or dribbling skills to pull it off (and if you know me, you’re probably laughing).

Helping requires skill too.

And one of the fundamentals is listening.

Listening is a skill that can help people far more powerfully than any amount of chatter.

Even if it’s well-intended chatter.

Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. Almost all of us from time to time could listen better. That goes for this divorce mediator as well!

Sometimes thinking we are a good listener is really code for being a great talker!

My Family Mediator Listening Litmus Test

If you hear yourself utter any of these phrases, consider them warning signs that your listening skills are of the talking variety.

  • That happened to me when I…
  • You know, all you need to do is…
  • You’ll be fine…
  • Oh, you’re not going to believe what happened to me last week…
  • That reminds me of…
  • I have a friend who went through the same thing and she…

See Yourself Here? How To Improve Communication Skills That Will Help Your Marriage and Parenting

If any variation of these type of statements come out of your mouth try one of the following tips:

  • Shut your mouth! Seriously, STOP talking!
  • Don’t assume you know what is going to be said and keep an open mind
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Ask a question for clarification purposes…only after the person pauses first
  • Remind yourself that “it’s not about me right now” and focus on the other person
  • Remember how crummy it feels when someone talks at you when you just need someone to listen
  • Focus all of your energy on what the other person is saying, not on your watch or someone across the room
  • Do not impose your solutions on the other person — if they want your suggestions they will ask

And then, after all of that, pause for a moment.

Take a breath.

And then take pride that you truly helped your kid or spouse.

What other suggestions do you have to improve listening skills?

If you comment below I promise to LISTEN, just as any good family mediator should!

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. if you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you for reading and commenting on my family mediator blog!


Hammering nail into wooden surface against light blue background

Relationship Help That Could Save Your Marriage

“Stop trying to fix all my problems!”

“You’re NOT LISTENING to me!”

“You don’t GET it!

Sound familiar in your relationship?

If you or your partner have either uttered something like this out of sheer exasperation, or have had these barbs thrown in your face, you have to watch this video.


Check it out. It’s short and it’s awesome.

Textbook Relationship Problems

C’mon, admit it. You could relate to this dynamic. And I bet you laughed. Or at least smiled.

Relationship Help In Action

I am mediating a parent teen dispute right now.

The parents are scared for their child’s safety and their daughter is feeling smothered. They are both trying to come up with solutions that are going nowhere.

That is, until I suggested the parents simply acknowledge the daughter’s feelings and the daughter acknowledges the parents’ feelings.

Parents: “I know you feel smothered”

Daughter: “Yes, that’s what I’ve been telling you! Finally you understand!”


Daughter: “I know you are scared I’m going to do something stupid and get hurt.”

Parents: With tears in their eyes, “Yes, honey. We just want you to be safe. We love you.”

Did this solve their problems?

Of course not!

But it did help begin to repair their relationship and set the stage for better understanding and communication.

If you are experiencing relationship problems and arguing with someone you care about they likely feel like you don’t understand. Likewise, if you hear something like one of the sharp comments from the beginning of this post, there is a good chance that you skipped a critical step.

The Critical Step That Could Save Your Marriage

Before responding to the words your spouse is saying, respond to the feelings you hear behind the words.

One way to think about this is that if you find both of you repeating yourselves — going back and forth like a seesaw — take a breath, step back, and think about how the other person is feeling.

And then tell them what you are hearing — about their feelings.

Even if you don’t understand it, agree with it, or think it is wildly unfair!

Trying to rationalize feelings is flat-out irrational. There is no right or wrong when it comes to feelings. No one should feel a certain way (click here for why I think the word “should” is so incredibly unhelpful).

Trying to validate feelings, on the other hand, is about as rational as it gets.

People want to feel heard and understood. It doesn’t matter who you are or what gender you are — people tend to remain defensive when they feel judged or misunderstood. Conversely, folks open themselves up to new ideas when they feel the other person “gets” how they are feeling.

Imagery For Helping Relationship Problems

The nail.

Remember the nail!

Even though the literal nail was snagging all of her sweaters, the proverbial nail is the recognition of the other person’s feelings.

Remembering the nail might just help your relationship problems move closer to relationship solutions.

It’s difficult to acknowledge feelings when you are in the midst of a relationship problem — what other strategies can you recommend?