The Secret to a Good Divorce (2)

Imagine, if you will, that a couple (call them A and B) meets at a local Starbucks in an attempt to discuss how to handle the end of their disintegrating relationship. After settling into a corner table, away from other customers, the following conversation ensues:

A: "You know, the breakup of our marriage is your fault. I was willing to go to counseling. I said we should try a vacation, or have a baby, or consider anything you might want to try and save us. But every time I brought up these ideas you didn't want to talk about it."

B: (interrupting) "That's not true. I have always wanted to try to fix things, but you only wanted it your way."

A:  (affronted) "How could you say that?"

B: "Easy. It's the truth." 

Let's pause their conversation at this point. Right now, these words reflect what the couple pictured above are doing. They seek to vilify, discredit, and impugn the other, to try to find a weak spot to punch, and to sting. The language is designed to either get a rise out of the other person or to fling some muck into their face, but it is fairly guaranteed to torpedo any chance of the couple working together to end the marriage peacefully.

What is missing here is nonjudgemental language. Look at the word choices made. "Your fault." "...every didn't want." "I have always wanted...." "You only wanted...." These are words chosen to trigger a response, and they will. Nonjudgemental words are more neutral, less partisan, and closer to unbiased. They are not words loaded with negative meaning.

So, how would the beginning of A and B's conversation look if nonjudgemental words were used?

A: "I feel upset that our marriage seems over. You know, I was willing to go to counseling. I remember asking if we should go away for awhile, or have a baby. I did ask you for ideas, too, but I got the impression you didn't want to talk about these things. Is that the case?

B: "I think you may have misunderstood me. I did want to try and fix things, but I believed that you didn't want to hear my ideas. Was I wrong?

At this point, two sentences in, there is no need for one person to take offense or for the other to claim knowledge of the truth. Fault has not been leveled, nor has it been denied. Instead, the couple can address the questions asked, and the conversation can head off in more a more positive direction. Not, necessarily, towards a renewal of their marriage, but toward a place where they can speak, disagree, yet not be attacked or pilloried for what they say.

Nonjudgemental speech takes practice, practice, practice. We are seemingly genetically programmed to lash out at each other with words, perhaps because physically sticking it to somebody is seriously frowned upon. But everyone can learn to do this, and even getting in some nonjudgemental language is a positive step forward.

More to come