By Concentric Counselor Jennifer Larson, LCPC, NCC
I'm going through a divorce. My spouse is avoiding all communication. How can I get my spouse to engage in conversation regarding proceeding with the divorce, splitting assets and beginning the paperwork?
Going through a divorce is one of most stressful events for people to go through. It sounds as though you are willing and ready to communicate about certain aspects of the divorce process (e.g. legal), and your spouse is not. Your spouse's reluctance to communicate to you could stem from a variety of reasons, such as not feeling the same way about divorce as you or not ready to confront and deal with certain hardships that go with divorce.
For instance, if you were the one who wanted and initiated the divorce, you may be more eager to get things moving along. It's possible your spouse may be still processing the divorce, feeling more connected and in touch with his/her feelings about the demise of the relationship (versus wanting to think about and start preparing and planning the divorce). Also, it could be your spouse's way of gaining control or making you sweat and stew if the decision was not mutual or if other events occurred in the marriage that may have led to divorcing (e.g. infidelity). Possibly your spouse has had a long-standing history of struggling with engaging in communication.
Your question is more related to "How Can I Get My Spouse to Engage...? Without knowing your and your spouse's details and how long this has been going on, I can give you some information to think about that I hope will be helpful.
1. How is your approach when trying to engage your spouse? It is difficult for you to manage your emotions, thoughts, or behaviors with your spouse? Try to be mindful of these areas, such as paying attention to your tone, delivery, non-verbal behaviors, and choice of words you use.
2. How realistic are you with your timeline? For instance, if the two of you just separated or if either one of you just expressed wanting a divorce, you may need to sit a little more and be patient with the next steps. Engaging in support of friends and those you trust (maybe a divorce support group) during the 'waiting' periods is important self-care.
3. It's important to convey on some level empathy, respect and mindfulness (as difficult as it may be to do). An example would be to express that you are mindful that s/he may not be feeling the same way or you recognize there are differences in how the both of you are approaching the divorce.
4. Share your position effectively with your spouse, such as I am ready and willing to discuss the legal parts of divorcing, and ask or invite your spouse to talk about this with you. You can ask when your spouse will be willing and ready to talk about starting the paperwork. Can the two of you agree to a time by meeting in the middle?
5. If you are engaging in these steps and your spouse is stonewalling you, you can offer professional assistance to help the both of you, such as speaking to a therapist, counselor, a divorce mediator.
6. If all of these steps have been exhausted, then your next best bet is to consult with a divorce and family law attorney about his/her ideas about how to handle communication, and the overall process and steps proceeding with a divorce. For some, it may be best for your and your spouse's attorneys to handle the communication versus you and your soon-to-be ex partner.
Again, going through a divorce is one of life's most difficult challenges with typically ups and downs for most people. Give yourself time and space to go through the process, and be sure to engage in good self-care during this time. Remember, we cannot make or demand a person to engage, but we can most certainly increase our chances of engagement by controlling and modifying our process and approach.