The Power of Silence

Another stereotype to fight in divorce is centered around men’s inherent need to fix things. Many relationship books cite men’s inability to really listen as a common frustration among women. I personally have fought the urge to just hear the issue and work to solve it rather than just listen. At work, nobody wants me to just listen. They want it solved. With people and personal issues, though, and not just with women, often they just want an ear.

There’s an old nursery rhyme that rings true for this discussion:

A wise old owl once lived in an oak
The more he heard, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?

Whether a man’s inability to listen is stereotype or true for you, take a moment and reread the rhyme above. At any stage in the divorce process, when you feel the urge to speak, pause and remember the rhyme. If nothing else, it will give you the pause to reflect and decide whether you should speak or not. In the beginning of the divorce process, before you determined the best outcome for your kids and you and your ultimate position on custody and settlement, it is best to simply listen. Your ex may want to discuss and come to agreement on the major issues of the divorce. Ask yourself if you head is really in the game. If you haven’t taken the time to determine your position, with sound, local legal advice, then you need to be the wise bird and just soak in her thoughts.

Two main pitfalls that are avoided during these early days are breaking prior verbal agreements and signing anything without knowledge. If you aren’t able to simply listen without committing or agreeing, then you may find yourself making a verbal agreement which you may have to break later. With any transaction and relationship, trust is a key factor. Once broken, it is hard to regain. If unwisely verbally agree to an area early on, only later to have to back out, then you have damaged her trust as well as set a precedent for her to break an agreement as well. Sometimes this can’t be avoided, but silence and listening can protect you and allow you time to gain knowledge so that when you make agreements, you make them from an informed position. If you actually take an undesired verbal agreement into a written agreement, then you will find those much harder, if not impossible to legally break.

Other phases during the divorce process benefit from your listening and thinking prior to speaking. There will be times you are meeting with court officials. Never doubt that each meeting is a graded event. Each response you make will be recorded and analyzed. Take the time to listen to their questions and sort through some answers you prepared in advance of the meeting to help keep your responses aligned with your message. Your silence and thought will carry far more weight than your babbling, or worse bad-mouthing the other parent. You won’t make yourself look better by bashing the other person. Instead, when in doubt, and when silence isn’t an option, discuss your kids, openly and with warmth. Let out your feelings about them, with specific examples of your bond. Caring positive expressions are worth far more than negative ones.

In life, and certainly in divorce, taking the time to listen, process, and give a thoughtful response is far better than jumping in to speak. Abraham Lincoln once said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”  Old birds and old presidents can’t be all that wrong.

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