Preparing for a Peaceful Divorce
Some months ago, we were contacted by “Equitable Mediation,” a mediation group with offices in New Jersey and Illinois. They asked us for tips that would help their potential clients prepare for “peaceful divorce” mediation. When we finished with our three suggestions, we realized that if we’re sharing them with New Jersey and Illinois mediation clients, we should also be sharing them with our D.C. Metro area clients. So you can find our response on their website (How to Prepare for Divorce – 48 Experts Share Their Best Tips). But in this post, we thought we’d share what we told them. Maybe it will help you.
And if you’ve mediated already (whether with Resolution Point or somewhere else), send us your comments on what you wish you would have known before you began your mediation.
Play the Cards YOU Dealt Yourself.
Many clients express frustration about the difficulty of mediating with their spouses who “just won’t change!” They often say to us things like “You’d think of all times, he/she would be trying to get along!” or “My spouse was always [pick one: controlling, demanding, greedy, _fill in the blank__]. Isn’t it time for her/him to change so we can get through this?!”
We encourage you to consider the circumstances you are in when you’re wondering why you’re finding yourself fighting the same battles. If your soon-to-be ex was controlling or unresponsive to conflict before beginning the divorce process, there’s very little about the divorce process that would cause that to change. Indeed, it is perhaps one of the most stressful times you each might have ever experienced. Under stress, we all tend to revert to what we know best, even if it’s difficult or nonproductive behaviors. In fact, there may be some consolation in knowing that you too are under pressure and are likely to be resorting to your behaviors and styles that have been with you the longest.
You might wonder how knowing this could make the process more peaceful for you. Understanding how your soon-to-be ex actually deals with conflict will allow you to better prepare to negotiate because your expectations will be based in reality, not on wishful thinking.
By the way, sometimes a mediating spouse will suddenly get this point and say with some resignation: “I guess I have to play the cards I was dealt.” But we then remind the mediating spouse that he/she picked the other spouse. “You have to play the cards YOU dealt yourself when you decided to marry the person you are now divorcing!”
“Here Comes Da Judge”: Your Spouse IS Da Judge!
When mediating with your spouse, picture yourself in a courtroom, and then imagine that whenever you’re speaking to your spouse, you’re also talking to your judge. If you were in court, would you be disrespectful, aggressive, unreasonable, or manipulative with the judge when presenting your wishes? Of course not! You want the judge to understand your situation from your perspective, and you want the judge to agree with you.
In divorce mediation, there are exactly two decision-makers: you and your spouse. The mediator has no vote and can’t break ties. Ultimately, you’ll need a unanimous vote for every decision, so if you approach your soon-to-be ex as you would a judge such as with respect, reasonableness, and thoughtfulness, you are more likely to be able to negotiate successfully. You may be able to avoid the side arguments that often happen when we are disrespectful, aggressive, unreasonable, and manipulative.
What Are Friends For? Seek out Reliable Information from Professionals.
In today’s world with so much access to information, it can be hard to decipher which information is accurate. If you begin your mediation process having read or heard something that might relate to your situation, you may build false expectations on how things “should” come out. Equally, you may have unnecessary apprehensions about outcomes that you’ve heard about but that ultimately may have nothing to do with your situation.
Additionally, there are certain things you should rely on your friends for such as support, sympathy, and psychological encouragement. Remember that there is a reason they are your friends: they’ll be on your side whether you’re right or wrong. They will be there to support you regardless of your position and regardless of the big picture. But for this very reason, your best friends are probably not likely to be reliable resources for facts and for objectivity. And just because your friend tells you that the “same” thing happened in his or her divorce doesn’t mean that the situations are identical and that the results will be the same in your case too.
So what’s the solution? Rely on the Internet carefully. (Ok, you can rely on this article!) Rely on friends for support. But rely on objective professionals such as lawyers, financial advisors, and mediators to help you figure out where you stand and what might happen in your case.