A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict
Key 3: Use I-Statements
When you’ve spent the better part of your working life mediating and finding peaceful resolutions to conflicts, you begin to see patterns of both conflict and resolution. In our divorce mediation practice, we’re big fans of “I” statements. “I” statements are conflict resolution magic. The best part is that they’re simple to incorporate into your habits. And, for the recipient, the I-statement request is easier to honor. “I feel sentimental about keeping my grandmother’s pots and pans” makes a much more peaceful case for keeping them than “You can’t take all our kitchen stuff.”
I-statements create collaboration and build on personal responsibility rather than blame.
The opposite of the I-statement is the You-statement. You-statements are inherently judgmental. They feel like an accusation (and usually are). A You-statement is your opinion of the other person.
Imagine your spouse saying any of the following things to you:
- You are crazy.
- You can’t do that.
- You are so lazy.
- You are loud.
- You are wrong.
An I-statement gives your spouse information about you. It doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive because you are the vulnerable one. Imagine your former spouse saying any of the following to you:
- I am feeling very insecure about having to support myself after so many years.
- I am so resentful of how much money we are spending on this divorce.
- I do not want to feel like I am not a part of my kids’ day to day life.
- I am so angry that you introduced your girlfriend to the kids without letting me know first.
There is nothing to get defensive about when your spouse is merely telling you something about herself. You are not responsible for how she feels or to help her feel differently. This type of information sharing helps foster communication. It makes no judgments or demands.
To create an I-statement, start your sentence with “I” and then use healthy personal disclosure to tell your spouse what is going on with you. Simply saying, “I’d feel so much more financially secure if you could pay off your student loan,” goes a lot further than, “You racked up that debt, not me.”
I-statements are an easy way to show your spouse you are comfortable expressing vulnerability as you divorce. Since they are clearly your opinion or your feelings, and not a command for the other person, they are much easier for the other person to hear. They also verbalize a sense of yourself as separate from the “we” you once were and allow you to take personal responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. Practice using them in all your relationships, not just with your spouse, so you can get used to thinking in terms of I-statements all the time. It’s a valuable lesson with an impact well beyond your divorce.
Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Making Divorce Work: 8 Essential Keys to Resolving Conflict and Rebuilding Your Life (Penguin/Perigee 2010), Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Simon & Schuster/Fireside 2001) and 8 Simple Keys to Building and Growing Your Mediation or Arbitration Practice (Peace Talks Press 2011). Diana also writes for the Huffington Post as well as her own blog Making Divorce Work.