Broken trust leads to divorce. No one intimately relates to someone they don’t trust. Broken trust also destroys communication–which makes negotiating a divorce overwhelming. How can people create a legally binding agreement that will set the course for the rest of life with someone they neither understand nor trust?
There are ways.
When listening: Take each other’s words at face value.
“OTD!!” is our family’s short-hand for “out the door.” When anyone calls “OTD!” everyone knows they better get to the car or get left behind.
No one takes offense when the OTD call goes out. It’s just part of our family’s understood communication–born of time together. And trust.
A very different interpretation would emerge if trust were broken between parents and children. Children could begin to assume that a parent’s call of “OTD” is a criticism of the children’s pace. That children must not be wanted on the trip. Or, parents unfairly overlooked children trying hard to finish chores before leaving.
When people start to assume motives in the midst of distrust, miscommunication flourishes.
Better option–Take words at face value. Act on the premise that “out the door” simply means out the door. Nothing more; nothing less than “children need to get to the car.”
It works the same for divorcing couples. When distrust causes people to second guess motives and look for hidden meanings, both parties get lost in confusion and anger. Often, for no reason. If there are hidden or manipulative meanings–those become evident as actions fail to match words. In fact–the best strategy for uncovering manipulation is to take communication at face value. Gaps between words and actions become evident to everyone involved.
More often, people really do mean what they say. As couples take words at face value, they come to understand and act upon what the other actually does mean. This communication builds helpful connections and becomes a tool for all the communication they need to do.
When speaking: Be stupidly concrete
If you are in the midst of divorce, understand this one principle–when you speak, the other person may not trust what you say. Unless they took to heart the first part of this article, they are often looking for ulterior motives.
To ensure the other person hears what you actually intend:
- Be stupidly concrete.
- Then, double check what was heard.
- Finally, ensure actions match words.
Be stupidly concrete–If you will be late in paying interim support because your boss is late paying you, be very specific. Note that the boss has agreed to pay within two days and that you will send the check for support the same day. Then, detail what you will do to pay support if your boss still hasn’t paid you.
Double check what was heard–Ask the other person what they heard you say. If they offer something like, “You’re just using an excuse to get out of paying,” you can correct them. “No–I am waiting two days for my boss to pay as agreed. I will either pay out of that money in two days or I will (cash in some stock, tap my line of credit, . . .).
Ensure actions match words–Do exactly what you said you would do.
As you offer very concrete statements and follow through exactly as stated, you build trust. Over the months you will notice you don’t have to work so hard at communicating. You begin to work together again. Shorthand returns.
Communication, like marriage, requires trust. Following these two tips helps the communication return–which gets you through the divorce.