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!