When two people decide to leave a marriage behind, a healthy transition includes a conversation about setting appropriate boundaries. Each relationship is different, so it’s really up to you to determine the boundaries that will work best for the future.
When there are no children of a marriage, there is an underlying question about what, if any, relationship you will have with your soon-to-be ex-spouse. In some marriages, a friendship will endure even though the marriage didn’t work. The future boundaries of these relationships can often mirror those that you would have with a close friend. On the other hand, some childless spouses decide that the pain experienced during the relationship requires a firewall that will result in little or no future contact.
When there are children of a marriage, whether younger children or adults, future interactions will most likely be the rule and not the exception. Not only will you experience the intertwining of your futures, but your children will also observe how you each navigate with the other.
As you keep your children in the center of your lives after divorce, the way in which you communicate with your ex has as great an impact on your children’s adjustment as it does on yours.
As you are thinking about what boundaries to set in your future relationship as ex-spouses, I offer the following for your consideration:
By establishing boundaries that you both honor and respect, you are taking steps toward a healthier and happier future.
Based on my experience in working with couples who are divorcing, a common goal is to complete the divorce mediation process as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. However, it’s always hard to predict (in terms of number of sessions and overall time) how long it will take to complete the mediation process.
In my divorce mediation practice, I emphasize a structured approach. . . A structured mediation begins by providing you with tools that you can use to prepare for your mediation sessions
In my divorce mediation practice, I emphasize a structured approach. “Structure” is, in a single word, the mainstay of what I want to bring to you. After all, most clients who work with me have never experienced divorce, don’t necessarily know what it entails, and will explain that their expectation of the mediator is to help them figure out what they need to do in order to end their marriage.
A structured mediation begins by providing you with tools that you can use to prepare for your mediation sessions. Here are some of those tools:
By employing these tools at the outset of mediation, the seeds of a structured mediation process are planted. This often helps you hit the ground running at the initial session, giving you confidence that the mediation won’t be endless.
I blogged recently about a process of evaluating the period that is ending—considering what has happened, both good and bad. Now poised at the cusp of a new year—or entering a new chapter after the occurrence of a significant event—it’s time to shift focus from the past to the future.
Depending on why you are facing a new chapter in your life, this can be a scary and challenging time. In the midst of that circumstance, I encourage you to notice the opportunity that lies before you. The possibilities can be endless when starting with a blank slate.
Envision Your Own Future
As you look ahead, I encourage you to create a vision for yourself about what would make this next chapter in your life (or upcoming year) fulfilling.
As you look ahead, I encourage you to create a vision for yourself about what would make this next chapter in your life (or upcoming year) fulfilling.
For many, fulfillment relies at least in part on your ability to be who you want to be, instead of the person others want you to be. This calls you to think about your own identity. How do you want to be able to describe yourself, and how do you want to be seen by others? This can translate to various levels—your personal identity, your professional identity, your relationship to others (friends or family members or as a person who is a part of an organization), or your identify as it relates to culture, whether defined by race, gender, age, religion, sexual preference, or otherwise. Being a person comfortable in your own skin is a giant first step, and it may involve change.
Another part of your new vision may involve thinking about purpose. I feel that those who live with purpose are the ones who are already on a path to fulfillment. What do you want to accomplish, whether it is in your career, in the work you may do as a volunteer, or as a member of your family?
Embrace the chance to see yourself as you truly are and make the shift to become the person you want to be. Acknowledge that you can envision a future in which you have established a purpose for yourself and an identity that will contribute to a fulfilling life ahead.
Best wishes to all for a brighter 2022!
So here we are: The calendar is telling us that it needs to be replaced with a new version that will have dates ending in 2022.
For some, the new year in itself indicates a new chapter. This seems a bit contrived, as there are more significant transitions—a new job, a new city or town to live in, adapting to the death of a loved one, or the transition I work with, involving divorcing clients.
Regardless of the view one takes, preparing for a new chapter (or new year) can be seen as an opportunity to envision goals and create a plan to achieve them.
One starting point in this process can be to take a hard and honest look at the chapter (or year) that is ending.
Many organizations prepare what is known as an End of Year Report. These reports are usually filled with nice charts that document results, along with a narrative that explains what has been accomplished. Interestingly enough, many of these reports aren’t published until well after the end of the year. Such reports may be useful for organizations, but evaluating our lives in charts seems cold and impersonal.
I think it makes total sense to look at what you have been able to accomplish as you make significant transitions, whether it be the job you are leaving, the place you’re moving from, the year that is closing, or the marriage that is ending.
Nonetheless, I think it makes total sense to look at what you have been able to accomplish as you make significant transitions, whether it be the job you are leaving, the place you’re moving from, the year that is closing, or the marriage that is ending.
Some simple questions to consider:
This process of self-reflection can be the foundation for a productive new path forward.
I just received an email with an offer to read an ebook written by a gentleman who has been through a divorce. From what I can tell, he wants to make sure that every husband/father understands that the legal system is stacked against fathers. He promises the answers about how fathers can pick themselves up from being beaten down in a divorce, get their lives back and be successful.
This reminds me of an attorney who advertises on Chicago television about fathers’ rights and offers to be their “aggressive” champion in court.
In my experience, gender wars are not limited to advocates for fathers’ rights. I have worked with women who are divorce professionals and/or financial planners who have themselves been through terrible divorces. Their experiences have defined a purpose and calling for themselves—to protect wives facing divorce from what they see as an inherent power imbalance between divorcing partners.
I am sure that some of what drives these messages is true—especially as it relates to power inequities. Advocacy has an important role to protect those who are otherwise unable to protect themselves. What concerns me is that some advocacy can transform a productive conversation (in a setting like mediation) into an adversarial exchange (in litigation) that doesn’t necessarily benefit anyone.
Mediation as a process can be structured to address power imbalances. In my mediation sessions I always make sure that both partners are heard. When one partner isn’t speaking, because of fear, I take steps to bring out that person’s voice.
Mediation as a process can be structured to address these power imbalances. In my mediation sessions I always make sure that both partners are heard. When one partner isn’t speaking, because of fear, I take steps to bring out that person’s voice, or in an extreme case, terminate the mediation. While some think the judicial system is biased against fathers (I will leave it to others to challenge that premise), I am clear that the mediation process is a neutral setting where parents can talk about their children and the dissolution of their marriage on an even playing field.
What I find disturbing about gender-based opinions on divorce—especially those that are based on the experiences of others—is that it doesn’t seem appropriate to paint every divorce with the same brush. In my practice, most mothers want their soon-to-be ex-spouse involved in the lives of their children, and most husbands understand that there needs to be a reasonable compromise to arrive at a mutually acceptable outcome for their divorce. So I would ask you to remember that anyone telling you what happened to them or what happened to others in their divorce is simply that—someone else’s narrative, which may not apply to you at all.
Each year, on average, I participate in 40-60 hours of continuing education programs, which include seminars, workshops and conferences focused on mediation practice.
I find these learning experiences to be enriching, as there is encouragement to expand the tools and strategies mediators can bring to helping others. At the end of each event, I consider what I can take from what I’ve learned to help me think more carefully about what I do as a mediator and as a financial neutral and how I can be a better version of myself, professionally.
The most recent workshop I attended was particularly thought provoking, as it gave me a new way of looking at conflict—its causes and the negative behaviors associated with it. At root, we experience conflict because something that matters to us is being challenged. A natural reaction is defensive behavior. At worst, conflict is a cycle of such behavior that creates an impenetrable wall.
As I think about how this applies to my work, I see that the divorce experience poses a challenge to both spouses. Divorce often affects much of what matters to you—your relationship to your children, your financial stability, your self-image in the wake of your failed marriage, just to name a few. These challenges, also described as threats, can create fear, anger and negative behavior.
From this place of validation of what is being experienced in the midst of conflict, we expand the discussion to one of hope. Most simply, I ask you to think about what can be better in the future if you and your spouse use mediation to have a productive conversation about what concerns you both and what the options are to create that better future.
As a mediator, I offer the opportunity to explore these challenges, to help each of you acknowledge them, to ask about these concerns in a way that addresses the fundamental question about what matters to you most. From this place of validation of what is being experienced in the midst of conflict, we expand the discussion to one of hope. Most simply, I ask you to think about what can be better in the future if you and your spouse use mediation to have a productive conversation about what concerns you both and what the options are to create that better future.
I’ve often described divorce mediation as a series of conversations that build a bridge from the marriage you are ending to your separate yet interconnected futures. That same bridge can bring you from a place where you feel that what you value the most is being threatened to a place where you can both experience something better—accomplished through meaningful dialogue.
Every mediation case is different. I sometimes refer to my cases as snowflakes, as no two are the same. There can be common themes, and yet, since our brains are all wired differently and mediation involves at least two participants, each encounter is unique.
For some, differences between individuals can be exciting, inspiring, intriguing—for others, those differences are frustrating, perplexing and downright annoying.
A relationship may start on the basis of similarities in behavior and/or interests and then face the challenge of changes in the individuals. A common phrase is, “You’re not the same as when I met you,” or “I don’t know who you are any more.” This can be a predictor of failure.
In a marriage, effort by one spouse to manipulate a “changed” partner into becoming who she/he was in the past inevitably causes resentment. Such attempts are usually unsuccessful.
In other situations, partners attempt to understand and accept the changes in each other. Clearly, this is no easy task. Some adapt better than others. Effort by one spouse to manipulate a “changed” partner into becoming who she/he was in the past inevitably causes resentment. Such attempts are usually unsuccessful.
When I experience this dynamic in divorce mediation, it’s difficult, as I often feel the friction when one spouse is not meeting the expectations of the other. Maybe it’s about one of them wanting to move faster and get the process over with, while the other is taking her/his time to make sure everything is thoroughly considered so the individual can make the best decisions under the circumstances.
Recently, I was working with a couple where one spouse was able to articulate specific requests and proposals, while her husband was not prepared to offer any requests of his own; he needed more data to analyze. The tension between them escalated. In my practice, I tend to explain how normal this kind of situation is. I speak optimistically: once there is time for thoughtful consideration, progress will hopefully follow.
While an intact marriage may struggle with the necessary adaptation to changing circumstances of individual priorities and behavior, perhaps the saving grace for a divorcing couple is that understanding and accepting the change in one’s soon-to-be ex-partner are gestures that can be made with the knowledge that you soon will no longer be married to that person!
Over the years, most of the divorces I have mediated have ended with complete agreement between spouses, allowing them to build their own plan for moving forward with their separate lives.
Generally, clients who self-refer to mediation are looking for a process that will maintain civil and respectful conversations, utilizing the skills of a neutral third party who has an understanding of what elements need to be included in their plan.
Perhaps one reason for the high rate of agreement is that most of my clients come to me voluntarily—not referred by the court system. Generally, clients who self-refer to mediation are looking for a process that will maintain civil and respectful conversations, utilizing the skills of a neutral third party who has an understanding of what elements need to be included in their plan. That’s not to say that mediation is easy, as reaching agreements often requires a couple to look inward at their own needs, acknowledge the needs of the other, and develop options that have the best chance of meeting both sets of requirements.
The end of a “successful” mediation can be filled with a range of emotions. For clients, there is often a sense of accomplishment, sometimes to their own surprise. While their marriage did not work, they were able to team up to make their own decisions for how to co-parent their children, allocate their assets and debts, and create the best possibilities for two sustainable households. At the same time, as the cloud of uncertainty has lifted, replaced by greater clarity about the future, the reality that the couple is approaching the “official” end of their marriage carries its own set of feelings and reactions, including a need to accept both loss and failure. These are competing emotions, having resolved the issues of divorce but now having to face the fact that the marriage has indeed ended.
From my chair, I always attempt to put the most positive face on what has happened in mediation. While a mediator’s skills—structuring an effective process and facilitating difficult conversations—play an important role in helping a couple meet their goals for coming to mediation, the real credit belongs to them. After all, mediation requires the courage to try a process that involves total transparency and take responsibility for doing the work of gathering information, engaging in challenging conversations with a soon to be ex-spouse, and making choices about the future.
And so along with giving my clients credit for what they have been able to achieve in mediation, I close every mediation with gratitude that they trusted me to play a role in their transition. Divorce is an experience that most want to forget so they can move on, but, for me, the honor of making a difference is unforgettable.
I am thinking about the two-year-old daughter of current divorce mediation clients. The child was hospitalized with pneumonia, something I only know only because the couple had to cancel their mediation appointment this week—which was totally understandable under the circumstances. I am keeping this child and her parents in my prayers for a return to health.
The promise of mediation— an environment that allows partners to uncouple their marriage while maximizing the probability that they can still effectively co-parent with respect and support for each other
As parents, we face many challenges involving our children, including their physical and mental health. For this couple, their choice to mediate their divorce arose from their commitment to the wellbeing of their child, to plan for the end of a marriage while also determining the best way to co-parent their child in separate households. As I read the text message about their child, seeing that they were both at the hospital, I knew that they were supporting each other as parents in their care and concern for their daughter. This reinforces for me the promise of mediation—an environment that allows partners to uncouple their marriage while maximizing the probability that they can still effectively co-parent with respect and support for each other.
It is entirely possible that, even if this couple, instead of coming to mediation, had decided to engage in a legal battle over their daughter, they would have dropped their swords and shields when faced with a crisis involving her well being. Thankfully, we’ll never need to know. I can only hope that, by choosing mediation, it’s been easier for them to work together as a team.
I recently read a thoughtful essay in the New York Times, authored by Lara Bazelon, entitled “Divorce Can Be an Act of Radical Self-Love.”
Ms. Bazelon’s observations of her own divorce remind me of what I hear from spouses who come to divorce mediation all the time, that they still feel connected (or even still love) their soon to be ex-partner. Yet, in their mind, the marriage is not working, as self-reflection uncovers a lack of happiness and fulfillment.
The author summarizes a re-evaluation of her own priorities in the following words, “I divorced my husband not because I didn’t love him. I divorced him because I loved myself even more.”
“Divorce is painful and heartbreaking. But it can also be liberating, pointing the way toward a different life that leaves everyone better off, including the children.”
The process of divorce, whether through a mediator, attorney or judge, is the building of a bridge from the present to the future. Another observation from Bazelon rings true from my experience working with divorcing couples: “Divorce is painful and heartbreaking. But it can also be liberating, pointing the way toward a different life that leaves everyone better off, including the children.”
While the author of these words did not disclose the process she and her partner used to end their marriage, it would seem reasonable to conclude that they took steps to end the marriage with dignity and respect, to preserve all that was good about their relationship, and channel that positive energy toward co-parenting their children and maintaining a strong personal connection to each other.
It is typical and understandable for a spouse who has taken the lead to end the marriage to do so in order to advance personal interests. However, as couples transition through divorce, it’s important to recognize that a truly successful outcome requires understanding both one’s own interests and also those of the other spouse and the children.
Mediation offers the best chance for self-love to be balanced with the reality that one person is not making all the decisions, even if one spouse is the first one looking to construct a personal bridge into the future. That bridge needs to be wide enough to carry the whole family safely across.
The article by Lara Bazelon cited above appeared in the New York Times on September 20, 2021. You may need an account with NYT to access the article; here is the link.