January is a busy month for divorce attorneys across the country. I’ve talked before about the trend in January divorce rates, but despite the spike in the first month of the year, the overall trend suggests that divorce rates are falling overall.

When couples come to my office, it's not unusual for one or both of them to wonder why they got there.  

Why did their marriage fall apart? Or how did it all go so wrong?

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Family Issues, infidelity is still the number one issue that leads couples to the attorney’s office. The group of researchers at Pennsylvania State University asked 200 divorcees the main reason they broke off their marriage and discovered that 21.6% sited cheating, while 19.2% claimed incompatibility.

Here’s how the rest of the list looked:

Drinking or Drug Abuse – 10.6%

Growing Apart – 9.6%

Personality Problems – 9.1%

Lack of Communication – 8.7%

Physical or Mental Abuse – 5.8%

Loss of Love – 4.3%

Failure to Meet Family Obligations – 3.4%

Employment Problems – 3.4%

Don’t Know – 3.4%

Unhappiness in Marriage – 2.9%

Financial Problems – 2.4%

Physical or Mental Illness – 2.4%

Personal Growth – 2.4%

Interference from Family – 2.4%

Immaturity – 1.9%

Other – 3.8%

What’s interesting from this list is how many of these issues may be traced back to a lack of communication. While there’s a separate category for communication, many things such as growing apart and unhappiness could be also related to a communication break down within the couple.

Without interviewing these couples, it’s impossible to know if this was a source of stress, but it’s not a leap to assume that miscommunication had an affect on the decision to divorce.

Here’s the issue – getting divorced doesn’t mean your communication issues are over.

Good communication is absolutely essential to having a better experience with mediation and co-parenting moving forward. So even if you’re getting divorced, it’s worth it to continue to work on your communication skills.

There are three basic things you can put into practice to improve your communication with your mate, ex, or others:

State what you need

Be honest with what you need and don’t expect the other person to read your mind. It’s always best to be clear with your expectations and needs, even if it feels difficult or you’re scared of the reaction that will follow. This is your opportunity to practice being clear with yourself and others regarding your needs. 

Don’t forget to listen

Communication is a two-way street and if you’re the only one talking then you’re not driving very far. Take time to stop and listen, then ensure you’re really hearing what the other person is saying, not just planning your response in your head. Most of us just want to be heard. Make sure you’re giving the other person this chance.

Stay focused

Keep your focus on the here and now and avoid going into lengthy battles about everything the other person has done over the last three years (or more). This is difficult to do as emotions rise, but it doesn’t help keep the lines of communication open. Stay focused on the issue or topic at hand and leave the rest for another time. 

The lesson here is that communication is a skill we could all use and practice often, divorce or no divorce.

If you’re looking for a New Year’s Resolution that would have a profound impact on your life, relationships, and happiness level, consider a commitment to practicing these communication skills above.