Active listening is a set of techniques designed to slow down hostility and anxiety in the present moment. It introduces something that’s often lost when a marriage falls apart—the willingness to respectfully listen to one another. Active listening defuses reactivity and ongoing power struggles. It includes joining, curiosity, mirroring, clarification, and two additional called “sticking to the problem at hand” and “ striking when the iron is cold”. Active listening presupposes that you feel safe and that your ex is open to compromise.
Joining- Joining occurs when you remind your ex that the two of you are “in this together” for the sake of the kids. In the heat of an argument, this statement can defuse the tension and get you back on track.
“Michael relax, I want to remind you that we’re in this together.”
“Rachel, I know you worry about the children. I do, too.”
By reinforcing the idea that the two of you are working together, it eliminates the potential power struggle and makes you equals in this difficult time. Sometimes this can be done as a concession in which you relinquish control of a situation, and other times it can be done as an assertion in which you bring yourself up to an equal level of power as your ex. Joining also helps to define the goals you both have, whether they be to reach a separation point or to make sure your kids come out of this process the best way they can.