We can all look back on stressful times in our lives and feel pangs of regret for our own poor behavior. Who hasn’t wanted to take back words and acts that have been hurtful to others? We can make choices that turn out to be unwise. We are left with the consequences of our decisions.
The process of separation and divorce can be stressful, and that can impact decision-making skills.
Many divorcing spouses don’t recognize the level of stress they themselves are under during the divorce process. They may not even realize how they were affected until much later. Most are not thinking as wisely as they usually do. In addition, the overwhelming majority of people believe they ARE thinking wisely, when, in fact, after the dust has settled, they know they could have made better choices.
As a mediator, I am trained to help clients recognize needs and interests that may be obscured by emotion and avoid stress-based decisions.
Consider these “danger areas”:
When the stress of divorce is combined with the shock and numbness that lead to irrational decision making, things can backfire with long-term and even life-long negative consequences.
The mediation process acknowledges the presence of emotion within the participants and in their conversation. In mediation I help my clients look within themselves to find the needs and interests that are being held in the emotions of the moment.
While other processes, like litigating a divorce, may throw fuel on the emotional fires of a client’s heart, mediators can use empathy and understanding to assist emotional clients in navigating gently through a difficult transition. With a mediator’s eye on maintaining focus and purpose, I strive for a more positive outcome through honest dialogue rather than a negative backlash from emotionally impacted behavior and speech.
The end of a marital relationship is a significant life transition.
When I am meeting with a couple, either in mediation or in a collaborative divorce, I describe this transition as the intersection of the “road that got you here” and the “road of the future.” I ask my clients to allow the other spouse to be the sole owner of his or her “truth.”
In looking at their lives, two spouses often have a different picture of what happened in the past, why it happened, what it meant and how they felt about it. And perceptions about the present and future will differ as well.“Truths” will differ.
In our inefficient and costly legal system, much effort goes into the process of persuading a decision maker (usually a judge) that the picture of the truth held by one spouse is the “real” truth. In my opinion, this is a difficult if not impossible task. (Putting a square peg into a round hole comes to mind.) Is there a camera that recorded every second of these lives and can interpret the thoughts of the participants? I think not.
As a mediator or collaborative practice facilitator, I ask my clients to allow the other spouse to be the sole owner of his or her “truth”. Most importantly, I ask permission to enforce a simple rule–that one spouse not attempt to speak for the other. As much as we may think that we know our partner (even as we are ending a marriage), it’s an important boundary to give both partners a safe space where each can speak freely.
When we allow each other to speak our personal “truth,” we in turn can listen and we may even find that “our truth” may change–not through persuasion, but through understanding. This is a key step in moving toward mutually acceptable outcomes that help us to embrace the opportunity in our futures.
Winter means more darkness than light, similar to the emotional weather surrounding separation and divorce—sadness, uncertainty, fear and anger.Yet as the year turns, we begin to notice the daylight growing a little longer. Mediation as a process is the chance for planning to overcome the dark spaces and assist both parties to define brighter future realities.