Episode 49 - Breaking the News to Your Spouse with Counselor Tim Bouman
Many times what should be a relatively simple divorce turns into an all out battle that costs tens of thousands of dollars. There things that you can do, however, that will set you up for success. Approaching your spouse about the divorce in the right way can put you on the path towards an amicable divorce. In this show, we interview Counselor Tim Bouman to learn what you should not do and what you should do. He also shares some valuable insight on things to keep in mind before you walk into that conversation.
Leh Meriwether: Welcome, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. Here you will learn about divorce, family law, tips on how to save your marriage if it's in the middle of a crisis, and from time to time, even tips on how to take your marriage to the next level. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com.
Todd Orston: Last week, we discussed six tips when it comes to developing a divorce exit strategy. Basically, things to think about when you are about to go down this path, because really, how you engage, how you govern yourself, and how you act can really set the stage for what the entire divorce process is going to look like. One of the things that we didn't have time to discuss last week was how to break the new to your spouse. The reasons were twofold. First, it's a subject that deserves more than a few minutes and we knew we needed an entire show to do it, and second, we wanted someone who has a little more expertise than us to actually join us on the show in order to provide more than just opinion. It's still going to be opinion, but maybe-
Todd Orston: Better opinion.
Todd Orston: Better opinion. Right. To talk about that.
Leh Meriwether: More experienced opinion.
Leh Meriwether: Absolutely. We brought in the studio a top counselor who owns Atlanta Center for Marriages, in studio, Tim Bouman. Tim has been a licensed professional counselor since 1999. Tim is also an adjunct faculty at the Psychology Department for Liberty University. His office is located in the city of Roswell, and the City of Roswell actually just recognized his company, Atlanta Center for Marriages, as one of the best of awards for 2017. I could go on and on about Tim, but that would take up precious air time. You can read more about him at atlantamarriages.com. Tim, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Tim Bouman: You're welcome. Thank you guys for having me.
Leh Meriwether: We're glad you could be here. Tim, before we get into it, I know we brought you on today to talk about how to sit down and ... Dos and don'ts when it comes to discussing this with your spouse. Before then, could you give the audience a quick mention about what you do in general and how your focus is actually to save marriages.
Tim Bouman: Sure. Thanks again for having me. Like you said, Leh, couples come to me sometimes for premarital counseling, sometimes for divorce care counseling, but most of the time they're coming because there's something gone wrong in the marriage and they've come to try to sort it out to try to save the marriage before it's too late. It's probably 75% of my client load is married couples who are struggling with conflict or communication issues or sometimes it's because of infidelity. Different issues that they've come and they want to try to improve their marriage, save their marriage, take it to the next level, that sort of thing.
Leh Meriwether: Great. Are you still doing marriage intensives?
Tim Bouman: Yeah. I've got one coming up in January. I do them a few times a year. A marriage intensive is kind of like heart surgery for married couples. They're couples who in a lot of crisis, they're about ready to get divorced, maybe they're separated, maybe they're recovering from an affair. They need to make a dramatic turnaround quickly. Marriage intensives have about an 80% success rate in helping couples reconcile. They're very helpful. I get three or four or five couples in a room for two or three days and we do some intense marriage group therapy, and we talk through issues like cheating and communication and sexual intimacy and emotional connection, and help them try to make progress quickly. It's like a steroid for their relationship. It helps them do better fast.
Leh Meriwether: Wow, steroids. Does the guy get really muscular?
Tim Bouman: Not so much. Emotionally, yes.
Todd Orston: Emotionally. Oh, okay.
Tim Bouman: Absolutely. Like the Hulk.
Leh Meriwether: Actually, you mentioned the Hulk. We probably should give a quick caveat, because I don't want to someone that's in a family violence situation to take some of these tips and go, "I'm going to go talk to my husband or wife about this situation." The best is, you're going to get into, Tim. I just want to give this caveat for listeners. They don't apply in all situations. There may be situations where we don't want someone to go and talk to them. Quick examples might be, there's been past history of family violence or they may be some severe drug use or alcoholism that the person may lash out as a result. Maybe someone has threatened to leave the state with the kids, if someone brings up the issue of divorce, or someone's threatened to financially destroy the other person if they go hire a divorce lawyer.
Leh Meriwether: In those situations, unless you say something else, my strong-
Todd Orston: I'm sure I'll say something else, but I don't think I'm going to disagree with what you're saying.
Leh Meriwether: Our strong recommendation is to go talk to a lawyer first to make sure that you're making the right next step.
Todd Orston: First and foremost, you have to be safe. We're never going to advise people to do anything that puts them in jeopardy or opens them up to some kind of physical or other harm. We say this repeatedly, that if we have a goal, if we have a wish, how about that, it is for people to stay together. We are divorce lawyers that don't like divorce, but divorce is a reality, and because we know that and because realistically speaking, it does happen, then the purpose of this show is to work with people to give them advice on how to proceed to make it as amicable a process as possible.
Leh Meriwether: With that intro and caveat, let's jump right in. Tim, before we talk about the specific dos and don'ts, what things should people be thinking about before walking into talking to their spouse?
Tim Bouman: Good question, Leh. One thing you got to keep in mind is, sometimes people decide that they are desiring a divorce long before the other person even knows about it. It's not uncommon for somebody to say, "My wife asked me for a divorce or husband asked me for a divorce. I had no idea that they were unhappy." It takes them completely off guard. For the conflict avoiders, sometimes they stuff it for months or even years before they come to their spouse and say, "I've been unhappy. I want a divorce." You got to keep in mind that when you announce it or start to talk about divorce, it may be taking your spouse completely off guard. Even if it isn't, there's going to be a lot of emotion on the other side of that. They're probably going to be very upset, a lot of anxiety, what does this mean, what about the kids, how are we going to do this financially. It's quite a blow and creates a lot of shock for the other person.
Leh Meriwether: Have you seen this even in situations where the person's like, "Look, we've been in counseling for six months. He or she should be expecting this and they're still caught off guard"?
Tim Bouman: Yeah. That absolutely happens too. One person is thinking about reconciliation, "We're going to be okay. We're going to make this work," and the other person is not wanting to make it work anymore. They've got one foot out the door, maybe both feet out the door.
Leh Meriwether: Regardless of how you feel when you walk into that conversation, you should probably start with the assumption this is going to catch the other person off guard.
Tim Bouman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think you need to be prepared for that. Sometimes not, but I think you need to assume or at least be prepared for that they may not be ready for what's coming and they're going to have a strong emotional reaction to it.
Todd Orston: It may not be the best analogy, but you could be standing at the edge of a pool, you know the water is cold. Just because you know it's cold, when you dive in, it doesn't lessen the shock. It's still cold and there's going to be a reaction. I agree. We have clients who sometimes, they have been talking about it. It is something where maybe both are, according to the client that comes in and speaks with us, that it's expected, if you will. Sometimes the reaction is still one of shock. They weren't ready for it. They've talked about, they thought that it was coming, but when it finally arrives, their reaction sometimes isn't a positive reaction.
Tim Bouman: That's a good point too. There are triggers along the way. During the divorce process, you can almost compare couple to couple and say, "You're in the shock phase right now. It's the very beginning," and then anger face comes in at some point. Eventually, you get to the place where you're okay, but there's a process that people go through. I know for personal friends of mine, when their spouse first announces they want a divorce, they go into this desperation phase. "I'll do anything I can to save the relationship. Please don't leave me." It's not always that way, but that's often times how the spouse will react.
Leh Meriwether: Something really good to remember walking in there. Don't expect this to be an easy conversation.
Tim Bouman: Good point.
Leh Meriwether: Are there any other things that people should be thinking about before they walk in there?
Tim Bouman: I think the other thought is, or another thought is to be realistic about the consequences. This is going to impact you and your spouse and your children emotionally and financially and in other ways as well. This is not an easy process. For some people it's a necessary process or an inevitable process, but some people go into it a little bit naïve feeling like this is going to be a fresh start, it's all going to be good, "We'll get through it," "The kids will get through it." That is ultimately true, but there's a lot of pain and emotion that comes along the way. The whole litigation process, you guys, of course you know is difficult, and then the emotional impact that it has on you and your families and on your spouse and the kids, is difficult as well.
Leh Meriwether: That's something to take heart to because you don't want to get ... I think the response is, when they don't go in there with those realistic expectations, they almost get upset at the other spouse. I see this becoming a bad downward spiral. The person who's been thinking about divorce comes in with this expectation that should be an easy conversation, they should've seen it coming, they react in a defensive manner. They get upset and the next thing you know, they get into a horrible argument and then, next thing you know, the lawyers are getting involved and it's getting really expensive.
Leh Meriwether: Up next, you definitely want to hear what you should not do in this conversation to make sure that the lawyers don't get really expensive in your divorce process. We'll be right back.
Leh Meriwether: Todd, I am so excited to talk about this subject today because there are so many people that go to talk to their spouse about wanting a divorce and they do it all wrong.
Todd Orston: Even on our show, we talk all the time about the process, but so little time is spent by attorneys or even by people thinking about how does the process begin and what should I be thinking about, what should I be doing to make the process as easy as possible. I'm excited about this topic too.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Today we're talking about when you've reached that point where divorce, that last option has become the only option. How do you handle the situation when you break the news to your spouse? We have brought Tim Bouman on, a licensed counselor, professional counselor, who I've actually known for a while and has worked to save marriages and worked with people that were getting a divorce to help minimize the emotion in the process. Brought him on to help us come up with some great dos and don'ts when it comes to sitting down with your spouse. Now we're going to talk about what not to do in that first conversation. Tim, take it away.
Tim Bouman: In my experience, one thing that you want to be careful about is announcing a divorce too late, because a lot of times there's this window where reconciliation is possible, both people are still open to making it work. There's a marriage statistic that says that people only seek out, on average, marriage counseling six years after they realize that there's a problem. That's a long time. You can do a lot of damage in six years. You want to get inside that window. You try to work it out on your own, but if after a year or two, you still can't solve that problem, going to a marriage counselor is a pretty good idea. When too many years have gone by, they get hardened a little bit and they don't want to try anymore. Sometimes what happens is you ask your spouse to go to counseling and they say, "No, I don't want to. We don't need that." You ask them another time. "We don't need that." Then time goes and you're like, "I can't do this anymore. I have to get a divorce." You announce a divorce, but now you're not open to reconciliation again.
Tim Bouman: Divorce ideally, you're asking for a divorce should be a step that you take before you're done, because sometimes the spouse who doesn't want to go to counseling will go to counseling if you're saying, "I want a divorce." If you announce it too late and you're done, then reconciliation is not possible.
Todd Orston: I just have a quick question. When you say announcing a divorce, what I'm hearing is, you're not talking about, "Hey, we are getting a divorce." That's the announcement. It sounds more like a, "I think we're heading in that direction" basically to open the door potentially to talks of reconciliation, almost like that warning shot across the bow. Saying, "Hey. I know we've been working on it ourselves, but if we don't get some professional help, or if we don't step it up, our efforts to try and fix what's broken, then we're getting a divorce."
Tim Bouman: Yeah.
Leh Meriwether: You think it's a good idea for them to go ahead and basically fire that warning shot?
Todd Orston: Use the D word.
Tim Bouman: Yeah, I think so, because if you announce it too late and you're done, then there is no reconciliation. Yeah. I think a warning shot is a good idea as a last ditch. Separation can be sometimes that as well. It's kind of like, "I'm unhappy. We should probably separate." "Oh, man. You want to separate? This is serious. We need to go to marriage counseling." It's kind of a last ditch effort to try to save the marriage instead of just proceeding with divorce.
Leh Meriwether: Don't wait until the last minute to announce it. What's another thing not to do?
Tim Bouman: Another thought maybe is to remember that divorce is the nuclear option. You do want to approach it slowly and carefully. It's not something that you choose quickly. It's the option that you choose when there are no other options. There are extreme circumstances where there's no way we can reconcile. Maybe it's the spouse who's being unfaithful and won't stop or an abusive situation, or, "We've tried to do everything that we can. My husband is a narcissist." That sort of thing. "We just can't make it work." Divorce, you want to approach it slowly because it does affect a lot of lives. To recognize that once we choose this, there's no coming back from this.
Leh Meriwether: To put it a slightly different way, you have a couple big arguments with your spouse, don't pick up the phone immediately and call a divorce lawyer.
Tim Bouman: Absolutely true.
Leh Meriwether: That's running into it way too quickly. What else? I know that we had talked offline about a specific instance. You don't have to give that instance, but some things you've seen that just don't lead the divorce process towards an amicable resolution.
Tim Bouman: Right. You want to show respect to your spouse during this process. It is hard to be brave and ask for a divorce. I had this couple in my office a while back, and she was trying to ask for a divorce, but every time she would hint at it, he would get really defensive and upset, and "I can't believe you want to do this. We made a commitment" and would get really, really angry and defensive. She would just shrink back and "Okay. I guess we'll do another session." They stopped coming and I was communicating with her over email, and she made the comment, "I think I just need to ghost him." I'm like, "What does that mean?" She said, "I think I'm just going to move out when he's at work one day." I was like, "Don't do that. That's very disrespectful and traumatic for the other person."
Tim Bouman: I think sometimes that's what people do. They just, "I can't get up the courage to face him. I'm just going to serve him with papers," or "I'm just going to disappear." That causes a lot of trauma. Divorce is already hard, you don't want to make it more difficult than it has to be.
Leh Meriwether: I could tell you, we did a whole show about someone who ... We called it Tales from the Blindside, where someone came home and the whole house had been cleaned out, and the wife had taken off with the children, and he had no idea what's going on. Cleaned out his bank account. That case lasted over three years. You talk about starting it off on the wrong foot.
Todd Orston: Like you said, it is traumatic. Divorce itself is traumatic, but the shock value can absolutely set things on the wrong path. Obviously, and Leh, you were touching on this earlier, if there are safety concerns, if it's a controlling relationship. Some people don't have the strength to stand up to the spouse or the spouse is just so overbearing or it can get to the point where it's violent. Sometimes it is necessary. There have been a few occasions and maybe even more than a few, where if there were safety concerns, we had to advise our clients, "Why don't we do this? Get out of the house and be safe at a time when he or she is not home." Just doing it because that's the way you want to start things, if you want prolonged litigation, it's a great way to start it.
Leh Meriwether: That's for sure.
Todd Orston: By the way, that was sarcasm.
Leh Meriwether: That's true. I can't emphasize that point enough, because we're talking about the exceptions with the violence and everything. Those are the smaller percentage of the cases. Most of them, there's no reason to ghost the spouse apart from being a fear. I think my advice there from a legal perspective is, for that person that feels like, "I have no choice but to get a divorce. I've made that decision," is to go talk to legal counsel, because a lot of times they're afraid of what might happen so they don't even confront their spouse about it. If they go talk to the attorneys, they can give them peace of mind when it comes to the legal process. Sometimes they ghost them because they have a fear about the legal process. Educate yourself.
Tim Bouman: That's a great point. A lot of times that's the first step in trying to figure out where do I go from here, is go talk to a lawyer, do one session for one hour with the lawyer just to ask your questions just so you can think through some of the logistical things. What about finances and what about separation and does this mean I have to move out right away, or does my spouse have to move out right away. All the questions that you might have about dividing a business. All those types of things. Sometimes just getting your questions answered gives you a little bit of peace of mind. Talking to a counselor ahead of time is sometimes a good idea as well. Just to start thinking about how to do all this sometimes brings some security when you bring somebody else involved and they've got some experience that can calm some of your anxieties.
Leh Meriwether: That's another point that probably drives that ghosting behavior is the anxiety. I did want to add one thing of what not to do and this is from a legal perspective, is one of the worst things, at least that I've seen as far as ... Not one of the worst things. It's a small thing, but it can create so much drama, is having the sheriff's deputy show up to the house in the neighborhood, serving dad or mom with the kids home. Now the kids know what's going on. They're like, "Why was there a sheriff's deputy at your house?" Everybody in the neighborhood sees that sheriff's deputy pull up into the driveway, or serve you at work. I would add, let's say you haven't had the conversation with your spouse, the decision has been made to go ahead and file whatever that reason is, don't just have them served by the sheriff's deputy unless there's a safety concern. I'm talking about the majority of the time.
Todd Orston: Or if you fear that your spouse is going to flee. We have sometimes situations where the spouse might just pack up and go to another state. Then of course, that set of circumstances. We have to do something to get them served so that the case can proceed, but we always tell our clients, "Unless there's a safety concern or a flight concern, there is absolutely no reason to go about it that way, because by doing that, the shock value, now you're adding embarrassment. Now you're taking it one step further and you're going to have your spouse jump," and we see this, "Jump right to that anger stage. Now they're not just shocked, they're angry that you started things that way," and then you're on that path to difficult litigation."
Leh Meriwether: Up next, you do not want to miss. We're going to talk about the things you should do in that meeting with your spouse to talk about a divorce.
Todd Orston: I am excited.
Leh Meriwether: I'm always excited.
Todd Orston: You really are.
Leh Meriwether: I love this show.
Todd Orston: That's why we brought a counselor on because your level of excitement is a little disturbing. No, I'm kidding.
Leh Meriwether: You really brought Tim here to talk to me.
Todd Orston: This is an intervention.
Leh Meriwether: Oh, man. Hopefully he's going to show me the right ways to lay something negative on me.
Todd Orston: Maybe not. I enjoy your level of excitement when it comes to the show.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone. I'm Leh Meriwether. With me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Today we are talking about when you've reached that point where divorce is the only option, how do you sit down and talk to your spouse about it? Rather than us pining about this and possibly not giving you the best information, we brought on Tim Bouman, a licensed professional counselor here in Atlanta, to give us some great advice on how to handle the situation.
Leh Meriwether: In the last couple segments, we have talked about things to think about before you ever walk into the conversation, what not to do in that conversation, and now we're getting into the things that you should be doing. We're going to go through a whole series of them. I know he's come with a whole list of some great tips to use to have that conversation to help increase your chances of resolving your divorce and having an amicable divorce. Tim, take it away.
Tim Bouman: Okay. One thought that's important is that, like we talked about earlier, you want to give your spouse time to get through the emotional reaction. There's a state of shock that happens when you announce to your spouse that, "Our marriage is over." All those hopes and dreams that they had for this relationship or this family, it takes time to work through that. It creates a traumatic experience. There's initially a state of shock. There might be some denial that goes along with that, certainly some defensiveness, some desperation. You want to try to let them get all that emotion out. There's this Proverb that says, "A soft answer turns away wrath." You don't want to be hard in a situation like that. You want to be soft and just let them absorb some of that anger. Let yourself be patient with that other person. It's going to take them a day or a few days to be able to sort through, "I can't believe we're getting a divorce" if it was an unexpected thing. It takes some time to be able to sort through that initial reaction.
Todd Orston: It's extremely difficult, I have to assume, because the person who is asking for the divorce who is bringing this topic of conversation up and asking for the divorce is probably carrying a lot of anger, a lot of emotion. I hear what you're saying, but obviously, I have to believe, that's a challenge. Going back to your point of speak to a counselor, speak to an attorney, figure out how you're going to do this because I have no doubt that you are walking into that conversation with your own level of frustration and anger and what have you. That can impact the way you bring the subject up.
Tim Bouman: That's a good point, Todd. Hopefully, by the time you have the conversation, you've processed this enough and thought about what you wanted to say, that not all that anger is going to come out in that moment. Talking to a counselor, talking to a lawyer, talking to a trusted friend, somebody who can help you bring a measured approach to the conversation instead of a reactive approach. Divorce is something you should approach slowly, not impulsively.
Leh Meriwether: I actually heard two tips there. Give them time to get through the shock and be patient.
Tim Bouman: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Leh Meriwether: What's next?
Tim Bouman: I think context is important. By that what I mean is, choosing a time and a place where you can have this conversation. Trying to have this conversation while you're lost or in traffic, while you're in the car is probably not the best place. Kids running around in the background, "Hey, by the way, we need to get a divorce." That's probably not a good idea. You want to choose a time and a place where you can be at your best and where they're most likely to be at their best. Not first thing in the morning, not late at night. Most of these conversations probably do happen at home, but you want to choose a time and a place where the kids are not going to interrupt you or not be exposed to whatever reaction that you might have. Think about a place in your home where, "We need to talk about something important. Can we sit down tonight and talk about this after the kids go to bed?" Or on a Friday night. A lot of these conversations do happen over the weekend, because you can expect some kind of reaction to it and not having to go to work the next day is probably a good thing.
Leh Meriwether: That's a really good point. Think of the person you're about to level this news on. What do they have going on that day? That could add to their anger. "How could you tell me? You knew I was giving a big presentation today." Or "You knew I was going out of town today." Consider the listener who's going to be receiving this information. What do they have coming up in the next week or in the next few days or that day even? Make sure that you're picking the right time.
Todd Orston: You don't want them to feel ambushed. It needs to be as comfortable, I mean it's never going to be comfortable, but as calm a conversation. Basically you're saying you want a place where everybody is prepared to have a serious conversation and it's not going to be an ambush thing. It's going to be a, "Kids are away, or the kids are sleeping, or let's go talk," and then that way, hopefully everybody can stay calm during that conversation.
Leh Meriwether: Let me ask you this. Is it okay to announce this in a counseling session?
Tim Bouman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I actually think that's a good way for some people to do it, because when you're in a public setting like that, you have a tendency to be careful about what you say and how you react. People do get elevated in my office from time to time, but hopefully if there's a counselor or a mediator or a coach, somebody who can say, "Let's talk about this for a minute." Somebody who can bring a left-brained approach to the situation. Right brain is more emotional, reactive. Left brain is more logic and reasoning. If you've got a third party in there who can bring it down a couple levels and say, "Let's talk about this situation." I had a situation earlier today, and he brought up a very emotionally charged event. He had decided he didn't want to have kids and they've been married a little while. Announced that in the counseling session. That would've been a hard conversation to them to have at home. Doing it in the presence of a counselor can really help.
Leh Meriwether: Is that something ... You can tell me. I don't know the professional rules here, so is that something that someone should tell you in advance, "I'm going to announce this in the session" so you're ready for it?
Tim Bouman: That would be helpful for me if I was the counselor, yeah. It helps me think about, "How do I want to handle this?" Definitely do it towards the beginning of the session, not at the end. Sometimes people drop big bombshells right at the end. "Oh, wow. I wish we had time to talk about this."
Todd Orston: "Your time's up."
Leh Meriwether: Those are two real good points. Give your counselor a heads up and do it at the beginning of the session.
Tim Bouman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Another thought is, it sometimes helps you get your thoughts together, is write a letter before you find yourself in that situation. Lots of times people think, "I wish I would've said this," or "I regret saying that," and so writing a letter helps you get your thoughts and feelings out on paper before you have the conversation. You may not bring the letter to the conversation, but you've thought ahead of time about what I want to say, or you might actually bring it and read it to them. I wouldn't hand your husband or wife the letter and say, "Here, read this." That would be insensitive. To actually read the letter and say, "I want to talk to you about something important. I wrote down my thoughts. Do you mind if I read this?" They read what they prepared ahead of time and then, they can give them the letter afterwards so that they can reread it and digest some of it. That's a way of taking some of the emotion out of it too, and maybe making it a more measured conversation, reasonable conversation.
Leh Meriwether: I think that's an excellent tip, because I've seen situations where, like you said, you may leave something out that you wanted to say, you may say something you regret, and writing it allows you to think through what you're going to say ahead of time. Think through what their possible response might be. The other thing, I've seen situations, I'm sure you have, where one spouse wants to talk over the other spouse, so someone will say, "I'm having an issue with ..." "No, you're not. You shouldn't have an issue with ..." They never get to finish what they're saying before they get interrupted. With a letter, you've got it written down, so if you do get interrupted, you can go right back to the letter that you're reading and get all the information out.
Tim Bouman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's a good point. Another thought is, again, we're talking about how to do this in a way that shows dignity and kindness, because you are going to be in a relationship with this person in some way in the future if you have children. You going to have a co-parenting relationship and you do want to treat them with respect and honor even if you don't want to be married to them. If you start this off, like you were saying earlier, Todd, if you start this off badly, it's going to be a difficult divorce process. When the divorce is done, it's going to be a difficult parenting process. Be careful not to be critical. Be kind when you talk to them. Show empathy and respect for how they might be feeling, and understand that this is a very difficult thing. You've been thinking about this for a while. They may be hearing about this for the first time or may not be ready for this divorce that is being now imposed on them.
Leh Meriwether: That's really powerful right there and you mentioned that earlier, so I'm glad you brought that up. Don't forget that your relationship with this person, if there's children, doesn't end with a divorce. It continues on for as long as the kids are alive, really. Some people think, "It's just for the next 18 years." No. It's with weddings and graduations and grandchildren and all those things. You definitely want to keep that in mind and show dignity and respect during this process. Up next, we are going to continue to talk about things that you can do when you sit down and talk to your spouse about getting a divorce.
Leh Meriwether: This is such a good subject. We've never done this before, about how to sit down and talk to your spouse and things to think about, to keep on your mind when you have that first conversation with your spouse about a divorce.
Todd Orston: It's an overlooked topic of conversation, and it's really a shame. This is what led us to do the show, because it can impact the divorce process so much and have such a long-lasting impact on somebody's life, that it's about time that someone had a show and talked about this extremely important ... Jokes aside, it really is so important and I'm glad we're doing this show.
Leh Meriwether: Hey, everyone. My name is Leh Meriwether, and with me is Todd Orston. Todd and I are partners at the law firm of Meriwether and Tharp, and you're listening to Meriwether and Tharp Radio on News Radio 106.7. If you want to learn more about us, you can always call or visit us online at atlantadivorceteam.com. Today, we have Tim Bouman, a licensed professional counselor here in the Atlanta area, to help us work through some really important things when it comes to starting your divorce off on the right foot, if that's become your only option. What do you need to do to get yourself going on the right direction, so that not only is your divorce relatively amicable, but then if you have children, your co-parenting relationship with your spouse is good or excellent, that's the goal is to be excellent, from here on out. Tim made an excellent point in the last segment, that that's something that you've got to remember.
Leh Meriwether: I want to add something here because, and Tim, you can critique me. One of my favorite books is, "Crucial Conversations," so I'm going to give them a little bit of credit here because I got this great email right before the show and I wanted to add this in. I think it's important during the process, because you had said write everything out. I think it's important to be honest with your spouse, because a lot of times people hold it back or they suppress it and they don't tell them why they've gotten to this point. I think there's a point where you cross the line from honesty to, I'm going to put it in air quotes here, "brutal honesty." This email I got from this company that's called VitalSmarts, basically says, brutal honesty or telling them like it is, usually it's not really telling them like it is. It's just your chance to-
Todd Orston: Vent.
Leh Meriwether: Vent and tear into them. It's not being honest and it's counterproductive. There were some really good points I wanted to share here real quick, that just remember your beliefs about something are not the same thing as the ultimate truth. Some people will say, "I'm just going to tell you how it is," but that's how you think it is, not necessarily how the real facts are. It's just your perception of the facts. That's something to remember. Remember, when you share your opinions, going back to writing it down and writing out a letter to the other person, that you should share them as opinions, not as facts. When you hear "The fact of the matter is, you've always been this way," that's counterproductive. When you say, "You never," you should probably say, "The last three times we've tried to go to counseling, you haven't wanted to go." Shift from some broad, overreaching statement that is your opinion rather than sharing it as a fact, say, "Look, from my perspective, it feels this way." Those words can make a huge difference.
Leh Meriwether: Remember that realizing that honesty isn't always what you think it is, and just remember to share the facts that you've seen, just the plain old facts. If someone hasn't gone to counseling the last three times, that's a fact rather than, "You never go to counseling." Tell your story, which is your opinion about the situation, and then ask for their perspective. That's how the crucial conversation books breaks it down.
Tim Bouman: Right. It's a great point. There's a Bible verse that says, "Speak the truth in love." Sometimes people err on one side or the other. Sometimes they don't speak the truth or just the love part, and they never really get to the point, but sometimes it goes this direction and they only speak the truth and there's not the love part. There's not the consideration part. They don't think about how what they're saying, often times it's not the content, often times it's the manner in which you say it.
Leh Meriwether: Good point.
Todd Orston: It's not what you say, it's how you say it. Absolutely. I think we've said that a few times on the show as well.
Leh Meriwether: Just a few. Tim, thanks for letting me cut in there. What else do you have there?
Tim Bouman: Make sure that when you've said what you want to say, "I'm unhappy." You've been unhappy, here are the reasons why, "I don't think we can do this anymore. It feels unreconcilable," give your spouse a chance to talk. Listen to what they have to say, their reaction, and let them get out their words for a few minutes. You want to let them vent or at least talk about how they're seeing. Again, this creates a potentially traumatic situation, emotionally traumatic situation. Feeling listened to and even if you don't agree, you can still show empathy for what they're going through. You don't have to say, "You're right. I'm guilty. I was wrong," but you can say, "I understand why this is so hard for you," or "I understand why you might feel the way that you do," and show empathy. Again, that shows dignity and honor to the other person. You married this person for a reason. You want to show them some kindness. Even though you don't want to be married anymore, you still want to respect them as a person and be able to listen to what they have to say.
Todd Orston: I'm going to approach it from a different angle, because you're right. Ideally, that is how you want to treat anyone, even if you are angry or upset or even if you don't want to be married to your spouse anymore. You still want to treat them with honor and respect. Sometimes people find that it's hard. I'm going to hit it from a different angle also. If you don't, then you are setting the stage for a tone in future conversations at a time when the conversations that you're going to be having, if you're talking about divorce, if you're talking about separation, if you're talking about all the issues that related, the children and this and that, you're now setting a tone.
Todd Orston: In other words, if you go in and you are brutally honest and you say things and then you just shut the other party down and won't listen, then when you are now talking about what the divorce is going to look like, you can't expect that they're going to be willing to listen to you. It's more of a selfish side. The right thing is, be civil, honor, and listen, but on a more selfish side, it's also setting the stage hopefully, for positive communication throughout a divorce process.
Leh Meriwether: And positive negotiations.
Todd Orston: That's right. Absolutely.
Leh Meriwether: If you show you're willing to listen, it can improve the chances that you're going to be able to settle this case without going to court.
Todd Orston: That's right.
Tim Bouman: Which is what you want.
Leh Meriwether: Right. Is there something why you're listening to the other side tell their side of the story? Is there something that the person needs to be doing?
Tim Bouman: Yeah. You want to be careful to monitor or cap your own reactions or emotions. Arguments happen generally two-sided. I say something that triggers you, you get upset, you say something that is upsetting to me that triggers me, I escalate, then you escalate to my reaction. You want to be able to manage your own reaction to things. Even if your spouse doesn't, if you're careful to manage your own reaction to what they're saying, then you can keep it from turning into an argument. Same skills you'd probably want to use ideally in a marriage situation where you're trying to make it work, you want to try to use in your communication skills in this difficult conversation too. Don't react, don't blow up, just try to listen, hold your reactions. "Can I say something about what you're saying right now?" Or "I understand why you react that way. Do you mind if I give you my opinion on it?" Instead of just reacting and exploding. Listening and be careful not to lose your own cool is really important.
Leh Meriwether: That's a good point, because you could be listening, but you could be crossing your arms or rolling your eyes. While you may not be talking back, your body language could be saying, "I'm not really listening to you." That's really a good point to monitor how you're listening. Wow. This is some great stuff. We're almost out of time, unfortunately. Before we go, Tim, thanks so much for coming on the show. Can you share with people the best way for them to get in touch with you in case they need your services?
Tim Bouman: Sure. You can find me on my website, www.atlantamarriages.com, and you'll find my contact information there and more information about marriage counseling or divorce recovery. I want to mention real quick too that when you are going through a divorce and afterwards, it is important to seek some professional help as you go through that process. It's emotionally very taxing, and so it helps you get through, but also it helps you prepare for a future relationship or future marriage. Most people who get divorced do get remarried, and it's easy to drag all of that stuff from your last marriage and divorce into the next relationship and sabotage a future relationship if you're not careful.
Leh Meriwether: Wow. That's really good advice. Along that line, should someone not marry right after they get a divorce?
Tim Bouman: That's generally not a good thing. This is unpopular advice, but I typically recommend that people wait 12 months after their divorce before they even start dating, because again, what happens is, you may be really angry at your ex-spouse and you may take that out on the new person, or you might have trust issues. You want to not drag all that emotional stuff in the next relationship, but you also want to understand, "How can I be the best person I can be?" You're 50% responsible for this divorce. "How do I make sure that I don't take that 50% and bring it into a new relationship?" Not dating for 12 months after your divorce keeps you from rebounding.
Leh Meriwether: Wow, that's awesome. That about wraps up this show. Thanks so much for listening. If you have a question or something you really want to know more about, you can always email us. The email address is [email protected] Again, that's [email protected] If you want to get some more information, you can always check us out online at atlantadivorceteam.com. You can also post a question on our Facebook page at Facebook.com/atlanta.divorce.lawyers. Thanks so much for listening.
Speaker 4: This audio program does not establish an attorney client relationship with Meriwether and Tharp.