Resolving Divorce Conflict – Giving the Benefit of the Doubt & Having Awkward Conversations

A Closer Look at Resolving Divorce Conflict

Key 4: Give the Benefit of the Doubt.

It’s hard to say which of these keys to resolving conflict we like the most. They have all become repeatedly handy with our clients.

Before, during and after your divorce, you’re going to have lots of opportunities to test your ability to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.  So it’s never too early to make this a part of your conflict resolving skill set.      

Here’s an example: Your spouse is late for a meeting with the bank to see if you can re-finance your house. Your first inclination is to take it personally. “How dare she be late again! She does this just to drive me crazy!” But there are also thousands of other plausible explanations which have nothing to do with you: the line at the grocery store was long, and the checker was new; the hamster got out of the cage and had to be found before leaving the house; an important phone call came from a family member at an inopportune time and she didn’t have the heart to tell the caller to put a lid on it.

Maybe these explanations are true and maybe they aren’t. If this is not habitual behavior, then find it within yourself to extend the benefit of the doubt. If it’s just once in awhile, it’s ultimately easier on everyone not to take it personally. Your blood pressure will thank you.

Any time you feel frustrated, annoyed or mildly irritated, remember that your spouse is human and so are you. We all have our bad days. Also, one day you may be the one asking for the benefit of the doubt, and it helps to pay it forward.     

Offering the benefit of the doubt helps you practice seeing the best in yourcouple talking spouse. Perhaps you haven’t seen that in awhile. Maybe that’s because you’ve been looking for the worst. Your divorce process can make that even more difficult.  You and your spouse are both good people who are going through a very hard time right now. Allow your spouse to save face and when it’s your turn to ask for the same favor it will be an easier request to honor.

Key 5: Have Awkward Conversations in Real Time.

If you’re getting a divorce, you’re likely having difficult conversations with your spouse. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory.  Difficult conversations don’t get easier with the passage of time.  They only get harder, and the difficulty is compounded if it looks like you tried to hide something or be dishonest.  Here at Peace Talks, we’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of having those conversations sooner than later.

When you need to have an awkward conversation, have it as soon as you can.  And if you can have it preemptively, it’s even less awkward.  Imagine your spouse telling you “I missed the mortgage payment that was due two weeks ago” instead of “I missed the mortgage payment that was due today” and better still “I think I am going to miss the mortgage payment that is due in  two weeks. What do you think we should do?”  

Before you have an awkward conversation you can prepare yourself with the following exercise:

  • Identify why you feel the conversation will be awkward.
  • Is there anything you can do to make the situation better before you have to have the conversation? If so, do it.
  • Have the conversation as soon as you’re sure you need to have it, not at the last minute.
  • Be honest. Sugarcoating the truth is just going to look deceitful at this point.
  • What do you expect your spouse’s reaction to be?  Is there anything you can do or say to make that situation better?
  • Make an appointment to talk to your spouse to talk about the awkward situation, at a time and place where you can have a real conversation, out of earshot of the kids.
  • Frame your conversation and acknowledge that it’s awkward.
  • Listen to your spouse’s reaction and acknowledge that you’re listening.
  • Ask for help to problem solve.

For Example:  You are going to be late dropping off the children for the second time this week.  You call your spouse 45 minutes before you’re supposed to drop the children off. “I am so sorry, but I can already tell I’m going to be late. I don’t blame you for being upset with me. I am upset with me, too. Given the situation, should I just take them straight to the sitter? Or what would help you most?  And sometime next week, can we talk about adjusting the drop off time so this doesn’t keep happening?”

Establishing a pattern of having awkward conversations right away, directly and honestly can reduce a lot of unnecessary anxiety. If your husband knows you’re going to give him bad news as soon as you get it, he doesn’t have to torture himself with his imagination. If he knows you want the same thing from him, he doesn’t have to procrastinate having those difficult conversations.  Dealing with your divorce process is difficult.  Learning and using these conflict resolution skills will go a long way to easing some of that difficulty.


Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, 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.