3.6 Good Communication Techniques

Communicating with a former spouse isn’t easy.  Your relationship has changed; you’re not going to be talking to each other the way you used to when you were a couple.  These changes have probably been emotional. In fact, you may still be dealing with your emotions about the separation. But you can’t let behaviour and emotions control how you communicate. The better you communicate the easier, cheaper and quicker settling your separation will be. There are techniques to good communicating, whether you’re dealing with high or low levels of conflict. You may face varying levels of conflict when speaking to your former spouse so make sure to go through all the techniques.

Keys to Good Communication

There are established keys to success for positive communications. Whether you’re talking to your former spouse or a neighbour, being a good communicator is a useful skill to have. Learning these skills will go a long way to helping you work things out with your former spouse. And these skills can be used in all aspects of your life.

Active Listening

As strange as it may seem half of communicating is listening. To communicate effectively you have to be an active listener. Active listening is more than just hearing what is said.

Guidelines to active listening:

  • Reflect Feelings – Pay attention to the feelings of the speaker and let them know you have heard and recognized them. For example, “I get that you are really angry about...”
  • Reflect Content- Let the speaker know you have heard what they are saying by reflecting back their words. For example, “If I understand, you see the new middle school as a place where the children could get a good education and you think the extra 20 minute commute is worth it because of the educational opportunities it could provide.”
  • Use Open Questions- Ask the speaker open-ended questions beginning with: tell me, describe, what, or how.
  • Use Summarization- Summarize the feelings and content you have heard. For example, “In other words…”

Body Language

Sometimes you give off messages without saying a word. The way you sit, or your facial expressions can be a form of communication. Even when you avoid saying anything negative, your body language, such as crossed arms or rolling of the eyes, can send the speaker the message that you are not interested in what they have to say.  If you’ve ever experienced talking with someone who rolled their eyes at what you were saying or kept looking around you’ll recall how annoyed you felt. So pay attention to your body, and don’t let your body language undercut your efforts to communicate positively.

Negative body language to avoid:

Body Language


The message it sends


Moving around, tapping your legs, playing with jewelry

Nervous, annoyed, bored

Eye Contact

Looking away, avoiding eye contact, rolling your eyes

Annoyed, uncertain, insecure, frightened


Making sounds of exasperation, sighing,

Not listening, frustrated, disregarding what other is saying



Closed off, not interested

Arms and hands

Crossing arms, arms on your hips, clenched fists, pointing

Upset, closed off, annoyed

When you are communicating, do a self-check to make sure you are not derailing your conversation by giving off negative body language. Remember that you communicate with your whole body. For your self-check just remember your SELF:

Spine –Your spine is straight and you’re not slouching

Eyes- you are maintaining eye contact, not rolling your eyes

Legs – Not fidgeting or tapping your feet

Fingers – Neutral hands, not crossing arms or clenching fists or pointing

Stay Issue Focused

Set out what you are going to discuss and stay on topic. E.g. If you and your former spouse are talking about paying for your son’s soccer team fees, don’t get into dialogue about how he or she doesn’t go to watch enough games. The goal of the conversation is to sort out how the team fees are to be paid.

Stay focused. If you allow the conversation to get off course, your goal will not be met. You will need another conversation to sort it all out. If the other person is getting off course, refocus them by acknowledging you have heard what they are saying but that you want to work this issue out, before moving on to other issues.

In the next two sections, you will discover techniques for staying focused and for refocusing. For now, try practice using these refocusing phrases:

  • “I hear what you’re saying about ________. Could we talk about that after we have discussed _________.”
  • “I’m sorry. I’m getting us off topic. Let’s get back to talking about _________.”
  • “We agreed to talk about ______. Let’s leave the conversation about _________ for another day. OK?”
  • “I know it’s complicated, but we really need to find a solution about ______.”


Communication Channels

Our discussions have been focused on face to face communications, but that is not always the best way to communicate. When stress levels are high and emotions are sensitive, meeting face to face may make it more difficult to reach agreement. Just being in the same space together may make it harder to work things out.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of communication alternatives these days. You can choose to communicate a different way, like by telephone, through e-mail, or by texting. You may want to try using all of these communication channels to improve your ability to get messages across to each other. It is important to pick the right channel of communications and to discover what works best for both you.

Choosing the right communication channel will depend on you and your former spouse, plus the nature of the information to be shared. Communication is a two-way street and the channel must work for both of you. Plus, some channels are best suited to sharing information in certain ways. Some conversations might be best face to face, while others are better through a phone call, email or text message.

For example, you might consider setting up a phone meeting to talk through different issues. If there are a lot of emotions attached to a particular topic, it might be easier to talk about it over the phone. Or, if you talk face to face, you might consider following up by phone to clarify some key points or to provide additional information.

Texting works well for shorter, time-based messages. It lets you exchange information quickly, though not with a lot of detail.

To exchange specific, detailed information, an email might work best. That way, you can attach receipts, contracts or other documents. Plus, the email creates a written record of your exchange. You can refer to it later, as necessary. For some guidance take a look at the tips on using email with your former spouse. Many of these tips can also be applied to text conversations.


Tips for Using Email with Your Former Spouse

You and your former spouse might use e-mail to discuss issues. It can be a convenient and practical way to exchange information. But it can also lead to misunderstandings if you are not careful. When we communicate in person, we often use non-verbal cues (smiles, frowns, tears, tone of voice) to signal our feelings. E-mail takes away those cues.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

  1. Keep your e-mails short and to the point. If you have more than one issue to discuss, try numbering each issue to make it easier for the other person to follow your points.
  2. Use subject-lines. This can help both of you keep track of e-mails on different issues.
  3. Do not type in CAPS. This means that you are SHOUTING!
  4. Be courteous in your e-mails—please, thank you and a friendly tone can go a long way.
  5. If you are feeling emotional when you need to write an e-mail (perhaps you have just received a very upsetting e-mail), walk away and take some time to reflect. Re-read the e-mail you have received to make sure that you have not read something into it that is not there. Write your e-mail when you have a clear mind. A good trick is to sleep on it before pressing send
  6. Try to stick to the facts. Avoid criticizing.
  7. Don’t ignore e-mails. Respond promptly and briefly when a response is required. Even if they are simply providing you with some information and a response is not strictly required, it is good etiquette to at least acknowledge the e-mail. For example: “I’m going to take Emma to my parent’s house for dinner.” Response: “Thanks for letting me know.”
  8. Remember: E-mails are a record of your communications. Write your e-mails as if a third person were reading it. Review email messages before you send them. Consider how your words will impact your former spouse. Does your message minimize conflict and support positive dialogue?