The Value of Listening                                

Soon-to-be ex-spouses invariably attempt to discuss settlement terms with one another. They seem to be universally drawn to engaging in these conversations. They want to know where they stand and they want the answers and relief that only their partner can provide.

The problem is that society has never prepared us for these extremely delicate conversations. They are akin to handling nitroglycerin, and most of us do not discover this until the harm has been done. We soon discover that there is no free speech in divorce.

Divorce involves a completely new language. Throughout our courtship and marriage, we felt free to say whatever we wished, but this is no longer the case. Now, every word counts. This is truly a situation where, as they say in the movies, “What you say, can and will be used against you.”

Divorce is new territory. It puts into play emotions, perspectives, and other phenomena that require special handling. Our common sense, verbal skills, and general savvy (which may serve us well in other parts of our life) do not prepare us for these conversations. It is easy for us to get caught off guard by forces we do not comprehend and are not prepared to handle.

Things and people become different once it becomes clear that a divorce is imminent. Trust is the very first thing to go. It evaporates immediately, and without our having a clue that it is missing. Without trust, success in these conversations becomes challenging and nearly impossible.

Professional negotiators have it down to a science, and here are some of their eye-opening insights and pointers regarding how we should handle ourselves when having these discussions with our partner. It’s all about listening.

  • Truly comprehend that no one has ever won an argument by arguing.
  • Arguing is always futile. It is a waste of breath, and it just makes the other side dig in deeper. You win by listening.
  • Hearing is easy. Listening is work.
  • Listening is the cheapest concession we can make.
  • Not listening to our spouse is the heart disease of divorce settlement conversations.
  • Listening is your red carpet to getting your partner to listen to what you have to say.
  • We must first listen if we wish to be heard.
  • Listening is much more than waiting for a turn to speak.
  • The more you say is the less your spouse will hear.
  • No one ever changes their mind until they believe they have been listened to.
  • If you want your partner to acknowledge your point of view, acknowledge theirs first.
  • Listen to what your spouse has to say, instead of saying what you think needs to be said.
  • Never challenge your spouse’s viewpoint. You do not have to agree with what they are saying, but it helps to let them know you understand why they think as they do.
  • Listening to your spouse validates their right to have a contrary position. They must first feel validated before they will ever consider a compromise.
  • Listening is powerful; it can change both the speaker and the listener.
  • When you know their position well enough to say it better than they can, they will start listening to what you have to say.

On the lighter side, and completely as an aside, consider the remote possibility that it may not be a coincidence that “listen” and “silent” are spelled with the same letters.

In a nutshell, you will not be able to persuade your spouse to accept a compromise settlement until they have listened to what you have to say. They will not listen to what you have to say until they first believe that you have listened to what they had to say. Please notice that reciprocal listening does not allow any room for arguing.

This is how it gets done. Active listening is your best tool for settling your differences without a costly, lengthy, and destructive court battle. You will not get the job done by arguing, you will get it done by listening.


We welcome hearing from you and we invite your questions. There is no obligation. No one will ever know that we spoke or what we discussed. Everything you say is privileged, confidential, and completely classified. We do not maintain a mailing list and will not contact you unless you ask us to.

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Kari and Richard are staunch advocates of the non-court approach to divorce, and are also active and seasoned litigators with over 80 years of combined trial experience in the Illinois divorce courts of Cook and DuPage counties.