Good listening skills aren't just important to relationships. They can also keep you out of jail.
A client, I'll call him "Ted," swore to me that "everything was fine" but then his wife slapped him with a restraining order. When he called to talk to her about it, Ted (unwittingly) violated the order and ended up under arrest -- charged with a felony for violating a court order, as well as misdemeanor aggravated harassment for the phone call. "She didn't have to do this," he lamented. "If she wanted a divorce, she could have told me; we could have done this in a friendly way."
I see it all the time: guys are dumbfounded that their wives take drastic measures to get their attention when they want a divorce. But it's no surprise to me. Aside from being a woman and a divorce lawyer, I was also a "mean girl" in high school. I know how they operate. Here's a few simple things to understand how your wife operates too.
1. The most important thing: just listen. When she says she's fed up, she is. If she says she wants a divorce, she isn't bluffing. And if she serves you with divorce papers or accuses you of a crime? Forget about reconciling. Male providers with stay-at-home-wives have some willful tendencies. The same will power that gets you ahead in the business world works against you in the marriage -- and the divorce. Consider that there seems to be a ratio at play in many of these divorce cases: how poorly you listened to her coincides with the severity of her allegations. Caveat: Domestic violence cases are an exception that I'm not addressing here. I'm talking about cases where he didn't hear her when she said "we need to talk," to the point where she felt the need to send him a message with a legal slap-down in order to be heard.
2. Don't fall into the role-playing game. Some role-playing is useful, particularly in bed. But falling into the male provider/female homemaker dynamic can create a number of circular problems that lead to a dramatic divorce. When the kids came, she wanted to be valued for her childcare abilities and chided you for "doing it wrong." But that just undermined your confidence with the kids and reinforced that she was "naturally" good at care-taking. Ironically, that makes her ability less valued. In fact, you start to feel like what she's doing at home isn't work at all -- then you are less inclined to give her a break with the housework and the kids. Avoid these stereotypes by acknowledging each other as full people, no matter what role you play.
3. Make the effort to connect. She's hurt when you plop in front of the television to unwind and don't lend a hand for dinner and bedtime. You've been haggling with opponents and chatting with coworkers, while she's been negotiating with a terrorist 3-year-old and subjected to Barney sing-a-longs. Finally, after long, unappreciated hours with no intellectual stimulation and hardly any personal time (not even a few moments to use the toilet alone), she gets fed up. The fighting escalates because you don't "hear" her. Maybe you think she's over-reacting when she says she wants a divorce. She feels the need to get your attention with a dramatic message. And that message usually involves jail.
Enter Ted (and many other clients) who sit across from me and are so caught off-guard. Eventually they got arrested and didn't see it coming. The surprise can sometimes lead to settlements that comprise less-than-ideal access to the kids, and more-than equitable financial support.
Have you been in a legal battle with a "mean girl"? In retrospect, did you fail to hear her before the fight spiraled?
This blog was originally published at The Divorce Artist.