In our best version of ourselves, we can be not only self-aware, but also prepared to listen carefully in a non-judgmental way to what others are saying. In conflict situations, however, it’s a significant challenge to be at our best and be open to what others are communicating.
When a marriage is ending, the roots lie in conflict between the spouses. In some cases, that conflict can be extreme, including abusive behavior and actions. More often, difficulty exists in a more subtle yet significant form between clients I work with as a divorce mediator.
As I learn from those who have studied and written about conflict theory, I am recognizing my own reactions. When I find myself in a conflict situation, my behavior is shaped by a defensive response to what I am hearing, interpreting it as a threat to something that matters to me. I respond with defensive statements; often this will set off the same triggers in the other person. This cycle is a major barrier to meaningful communication.
Using this knowledge, I am deepening my own understanding of what impedes your engaging in meaningful dialogue that will support making the important decisions surrounding your divorce.
The mediation process creates a unique opportunity for a conversation in which I can help you understand each other better and avoid the possibility of mistakenly interpreting the behavior of your spouse as a threat to what is important to you.
Most are looking to find the quickest and easiest path to ending a marriage, but the enormity of the decisions plus underlying conflict may obstruct this goal. The mediation process creates a unique opportunity for a conversation in which I can help you understand each other better and avoid the possibility of mistakenly interpreting the behavior of your spouse as a threat to what is important to you.
By exploring what matters to you and how you see this being challenged, you are available to a deeper conversation in which there will be less need to defend and more chance to acknowledge each other’s priorities. Then you can address the gap between the message intended by the speaker and the message heard by the listener.
Listening can be hard. The mediator’s job is not only to be a good listener, but also to help clear the roadblocks so that you are a better listener. With listening and understanding, the foundation is set for progress.
Many marriages are fueled by dreams. Some of these dreams are about the near term—maybe a special vacation, purchase of a second home, or something else that both spouses envision with excitement.
Other dreams are longer term—imagining what will happen when parents become “empty nesters” or making retirement plans for exotic travel or a move to a new place.
Dreams reflect hope and vision. They provide clarity, and they fuel focus and motivation.
Knowing all this, it’s totally understandable that the end of a marriage feels to many like the earth moving underneath them, creating an enormous sense of imbalance. After all, the dreams shared in a marriage are suddenly jeopardized, if not essentially cancelled. Hope for the future is transformed into a sea of uncertainty, perhaps creating a sense of hopelessness.
Yes, a divorce will call shared dreams into question. And especially for those who are older, what was once seen as a comfortable retirement may become more challenging.
Your dreams don’t have to end with your divorce, especially those goals that were not shared with your spouse. It’s even possible that, in a civil and respectful divorce, your soon-to-be ex-spouse will support your plans.
However, your dreams don’t have to end with your divorce, especially those goals that were not shared with your spouse. It’s even possible that, in a civil and respectful divorce, your soon-to-be ex-spouse will support your plans. Just because a decision is made to end a marriage does not mean that you cannot wish happiness for each other. Granted, in the moment, it may be hard to see happiness in your future, but a supportive ex can make it easier.
A case in point. Anne and Chris are two recent divorce mediation clients. Anne is an extremely talented designer who recently started her own business. For many small businesses starting out is hard, and making a living is even harder. In mediation, Chris has made it clear to Anne that he will continue to provide her with financial support for longer than might otherwise be required under the law. He specifically told her that he believes in her and will do what it takes to help her realize the dream that arose during their marriage.
Even when your marriage is ending, you can still have dreams, and it’s always possible that the person you are divorcing will still believe in you and your capabilities. It’s such possibilities that reinforce my belief in mediation as a process that can end a marriage without poisoning the relationship.