Creating Change – Express YOUR NEEDS

In my work I often help clients figure out how to tell their spouse or former spouse why they are so upset and what they want. And yet often when I begin to explore what they really want, all they focus on is what they don’t want, what they are so upset about, what the other person is doing wrong, why the other person is bad, etc. The problem with focusing on all the problems and faults of the other person is that doing so will not help you get what you want!

Image courtesy of farconville /

Image courtesy of farconville /

Instead, focusing on the other person will likely result in you repeating complaints you have articulated for years, and you will continue to get nowhere. If you weren’t successful while you were married, you are less likely to be successful now that you are divorced (or divorcing).

So instead of pointing the finger at your former spouse, become reflective. Ask yourself what it is you want. What is it that matters most to you? Figure out what you feel and what you need.

For example, imagine that your former bought your child a video game that you do not think is appropriate for your child and you are not happy about that. Perhaps you thought you had an agreement about which video games are appropriate or that you would discuss such purchases ahead of time. You could choose to use your time and energy expressing how angry you are, how they did it behind your back, how they violated what you told them to do or what you thought you had agreed to, etc. When you do this, it ends up only putting the other person on the defensive.

Instead, you can ask yourself, what is it about this that is making me so upset? Is it that I thought we had an agreement and I want to know that our agreements will be kept? Is it that you want to be consulted when important decisions are being made regarding the kids? Is it about respect and consideration?

Now imagine that instead of telling the other parent how bad and wrong they are you say something like: I am very confused and upset that you bought Susan that video game. I thought we had talked about this before and agreed that we would wait until she was older or at least talk about it before purchasing it. It is important to me that I be included in these kinds of decisions and that we respect each other’s roles as parents to our child. I’d like to understand what happened. Would you be willing to talk with me about it?

Rather than focus on the other person, I focused the conversation on my needs and me. Instead of putting the other parent on the defensive, I open the door to a dialogue. I do not assume that the other person did this intentionally or with ill will, I simply state why it did not work for me and make a request to talk about it.

The next time you find yourself upset, I encourage you to slow down and ask yourself what it is that is so important to you, what it is you really need. To see a list of universal needs, click here. By focusing on these universal needs you will likely find more commonality than differences.

Please let me know how it goes and if you want to learn more about how you can get more support so you can effectively express yourself and co-parent, please go to


In support and service,

Signature for Cat J. Zavis, Coach for divorced parents




CatProfileCat J. Zavis is an Attorney, Mediator, Child Advocate and Coach for Parents co-parenting their children after divorce. As a divorced mother of 2, she deeply understands the challenges, trauma and opportunities divorce provides. She has been practicing Nonviolent CommunicationSM, Mediation and Collaborative Law for 7 years. She conducts workshops and trainings in Nonviolent CommunicationSM for parents, lawyers, teachers, students, spiritual centers and professionals. In 2009, she was awarded a Peace Builder Award for her business. Her combination of personal experience and professional expertise give Cat a unique perspective and ability to help co parents learn to communicate effectively and powerfully to transform their relationships and interactions with their former after divorce so they and their children can thrive.

Cat can be reached at

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