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Communicating with your Ex, Part 4 of 4 | Ep 25

Have you heard of the prisoner’s dilemma? Is there a way to go through a separation so that it can end as a win-win for both partners? How can you make sure that you both get your needs met? In part 4 of this 4 part series focusing on communicating with your ex, I talk about cooperation, getting needs met, and reaching agreements.



  • The prisoner’s dilemma
  • How can you get your needs met?
  • Reaching agreements


It’s called the prisoners dilemma because they’re two members of a criminal gang and they’re arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating to the other … each prisoner is given the opportunity to betray the other by testifying they committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. (Dr. Susan Orenstein)

There are four possible outcomes of the prisoner’s dilemma:

1 – Prisoner A and prisoner B both betray each other, each of them serves two years in prison.

2 – Prisoner A betrays prisoner B but prisoner B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve three years in prison.

3 – Prisoner A remains silent but prisoner B betrays prisoner A, A will serve three years in prison and B will be set free.

4 – Prisoners A and B both remain silent, they will both only serve 1 year in prison.

The prisoner’s dilemma shows up in the courtroom in two ways:

  • Standard: with a divorce attorney, spending vast sums of money and having the children involved and even having them sometimes testifying, and where parents are constantly strategizing against one another,
  • Collaborative: with a mediator and a therapist or counselor where both parents and the children get counseling, where parents are trying to find an agreement that suits everyone involved.


How can you make sure that you get your needs and the needs of your children met in the best way possible while respecting and providing the same opportunity for your previous spouse?

There may be a few of you that are saying “I can’t have a win-win with my ex. They really could be endangering my child …” those are important exceptions and I think those take different strategies, and in that case, keeping your child safe is of utmost importance. (Dr. Susan Orenstein)

In most cases, how can you find a win-win situation for you and your previous spouse so that you can both move through the separation with as much dignity and compassion as can be spared?

Divorce does not have to be as nasty as possible. Even though this period may be incredibly difficult, it is possible to find solutions for the whole family without having to risk additional emotional strain. In this sense, collaborative divorce is a win-win.


Reaching agreements with your previous spouse is a way to commit to something after divorce for the sake of your children or both of you involved.

Agreements are more beneficial than simply talking without deciding anything, and even though they may require you to extend yourself sometimes, being in agreement with an ex is a lot better and more valuable than being in disagreement.

Agreements also help parents who are divorced provide stability for their children. They are contracts of stability and accountability that adds to the emotional and mental peace of all the family members involved.


About your host:

Susan Orenstein, Ph.D.

Dr. Susan Orenstein is a licensed psychologist and relationship expert  with over twenty years of experience. In 2005, she founded Orenstein Solutions, a private counseling practice in North Carolina that serves children, teens, adults and couples. 

She created the After the First Marriage Podcast to support individuals through the significant life transition of divorce. She whole-heartedly believes that “happily ever after” is an option for everyone, and is dedicated to helping divorcées regain the confidence to pursue a fulfilling future after the first marriage. 

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