This four-part blog series will explain 4 unique and healthy ways to effectively communicate and navigate your way through conflict.

In the first part of this series, we discussed avoiding the use of judgment, blame and criticism when we find ourselves in conflict with someone else. The types of negative words are certain to increase, rather than decrease the conflict at hand and don’t help navigate conflict. These words also reduce the likelihood that there will be an agreeable resolution that works well for you.

Word Choice Matters

That’s right. Words matter. Especially during times when emotions are already high which is usually the case during a divorce. Fundamentally, we want to use words that suggest we are taking responsibility for what we are experiencing, rather than suggesting that the other person is responsible for what you are feeling. For example:

Instead of:

“This divorce was your fault and your choice and I’m entitled to a lot of alimony.”


“I’m feeling a lot of pain right now because I value the commitment we made to each other when we got married, and I’m scared because I don’t feel financially safe. Can we talk about how I’m going to have income to meet my expenses?”

Expectations Are Not Created Equal

When we attribute what we are experiencing to something outside of us, two things happen.

First, we incorrectly attribute our experience to what someone else is doing. Truth be told, our experience is based on our own reactions to what is happening. Sometimes, this is very difficult to see, especially in the midst of conflict. It’s much easier to see if you think about two different people responding to the same external stimuli. Each person has his or her unique experience of that situation, which differs from the other person’s experience.

Second, we are subconsciously trying to motivate the other person to meet our needs by making him or her feel guilty. Yet guilt is a far less effective motivator than empathy. Guilt instills more negativity and provokes counter-productive reactions. Empathy—that is, understanding each other’s feelings and needs—is more positive and encourages more productive reactions. When expressing empathy, the other person is more likely to hear a need and respond in helpful ways. For example:

Instead of:

“I can tell by that expression on your face that you don’t care what happens to me. You’re a heartless person.”


“It looks almost like you’re smiling. It makes me think that you’re not taking seriously how concerned I am, and that makes me feel really anxious. Can you help me understand if you’re feeling amused right now?”

In Part 3 next week, we will discuss the myths that making demands gets us the results we desire.