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The Assumption Trap | Lessons from Family Mediation Services

I often find inspiration for posts from my family mediation services. But the reality is that communication lessons are present everyday if we pay attention.

A friend of mine was venting to me recently about his mother-in-law.

He is a videographer.

Exceptionally talented, award-winning, and creative.

He has made a great career creating marketing materials for well-recognized businesses, producing large corporate training programs and webinars, and teaching video production at the college level.

His mother-in-law recently worked on a personal project developing a retrospective video for her husband in honor of their 50th wedding anniversary.

She sought video clips and photos from all her friends and family, vowing secrecy along the way.

Her previous experience editing was limited to using the red-eye feature on her phone camera. In other words, she was a video production rookie trying to create a high-quality production.

Where Our Thoughts Interfere…

My friend was insulted she had not sought his support.

As he talked about this some of his internal dialogue became clear:

After all these years she still doesn’t trust me…

What do I need to do to be respected by her…

How dare she talk about how hard it is in front of me — what gall…

I asked if he offered to help. He felt strongly that he should not impose. If she truly wanted his help she’d ask.

I am very close with his mother-in-law. Shortly after this conversation I happened to be with her and asked if her son-in-law had helped with the video.

She was insulted he had not offered to assist.

As she talked about this some of her internal dialogue became clear:

He is so self-centered…

I can’t believe he can’t take five minute to help after all we’ve done to welcome him in to this family…

And he knows I’m struggling — he really must not like me…

He was surprised she hadn’t asked for his help.

She would love his help but didn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable position.

Two sides to the same coin.

Lessons Learned from Family Mediation Services

They both made quick assumptions based on interpretations of the other’s actions.

Interpretations that assume the worst. Assumptions that fueled with time develop resentment, anger and hurt.

Unfortunately, I see this dynamic play out in my family mediation services work regularly. Both parties making wild assumptions and applying negative meaning, often unfairly, without first checking their assumptions.

Had she originally approached him and said something like, “I know you’re really busy. I don’t want to add more work to your plate. Can you give me any advice on who I can reach out to help me with my project?”

He would have then helped, or given her a good resource. And perhaps he didn’t want to help — but at least this would then be based on information, not guess-work.

Likewise, had he originally approached her and said something like “I don’t want to intrude but just so you know if I can help in any way just let me know.”

Then, she could have taken him up on her offer, or not — again, at least his conclusions would be based on information, not guess-work.

The narratives we have in our head are sometimes right on. And sometimes not!

While there are many strategies to avoid drawing assumptions, here are three:

  1. Ask clarifying questions before drawing conclusions
  2. Remember there are always two sides of the story, that have merit from each person’s world view perspective
  3. If necessary, get help from a third party to broker the communication

Avoid the assumption trap!

Ben's dog Brady riding in the car

A Mediator’s Best Friend Can Remedy Your Relationship Issues

I am a mediator and I recently lost one of the loves of my life.

A best friend.

A source of unconditional support.

His name was Brady.

My dog, Brady.

I provide family mediation, and yes, I am one of those pet-owners. You know the kind. The ones who consider their pet a member of the family.

I was thinking about our relationship today while on a hike that he and I had taken countless times together.

Brady was incredibly obedient.

Smart. Loyal. Goofy.

Great eye contact.

Even better head-nod.

Basically, he did everything I told him, listened whenever I wanted to talk, and always agreed with me.

And he was beautiful to boot! What’s not to love?

Is this not every man and woman’s dream scenario for a relationship?

I don’t know, is it?

As I moved briskly along the hiking trail I began to think about that question. Ours certainly was a perfect human-dog relationship.

But was it a dream scenario for good ‘ol human relationships?

Well….yes, and no.

No?

Some qualities of my relationship with Brady might be a dream scenario: a nightmare dream scenario!

I have never found a healthy relationship that was built on the premise that one has exclusive power and control.

I have never found a healthy relationship built upon universal subservience.

Or, complete deference.

No, those qualities make for unpleasant, unhealthy, and at times unsafe relationships.

If it creates such bad relationship issues, how could it also be a dream scenario?

But remember I wrote “yes, and no?”

Brady was a great listener.

Great relationship partners know now to listen.

Like Brady, they make eye contact, they maintain eye contact, and they nod their head to acknowledge their partner.

Relationship tips, from a mediator’s best friend:

My relationship with Brady was phenomenal.

Take these lessons from Brady to strengthen your relationships:

  • Brady was a great companion, as I was to him. Provide companionship to your partner
  • Brady and I complemented one another beautifully. Embrace the differences in your relationship and view them as complementary pieces
  • Always listen.
  • Play when it’s time to play, and hang out when it’s time to hang out.
  • Provide physical comfort to one another. Perhaps not a belly-rub, but human touch can be a beautifully powerful force
  • Avoid judgment. Instead, fully embrace each other, foibles and all.
  • Provide unconditional support.

And occasionally, give a good head-nod.

Please comment below — I would love to hear from you! 

toys for babies and toddlers

Dealing With Divorce Can Be Easier When You Think Like a Kindergartener

I am always trying to find a unique twist for my posts.

Something that sets my ideas apart.

Thinking about this post, common expressions I hear from parents in mediation kept running through my mind.

Statements like:

He’s so demanding.

She’s so controlling.

He’s rude.

She’s bossy.

Hmmm…I wonder what mind-blowing advice I could provide about dealing with divorce?

Ideas for Dealing with Divorce Co-Parenting Issues

I was discussing this with my wife and throwing out ideas.

Should I write about active listening skills, I asked?

Or the difference between positions and interests?

Perhaps a post about relationship boundaries?

She turned and gave me the most jaw-dropping, duh-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that answer.

A topic I had never even considered.

Something so obvious, so universal, that we take its power for granted.

So What Did She Say Already?

How about how to be polite?
You know, say please and thank you more.

And you know what, as I paused to think about her suggestion, mediation after mediation flashed through my mind.

I thought of a mother wishing the father would show appreciation and thank her for making sure their child honored him every Father’s Day.

I thought of a bitter and resentful father who wished the mother would politely suggest, rather than demand, decisions that were hers to legally make.

I thought of an email exchange where one parent graciously deferred to the other parent’s idea, and then later blew up because she was never thanked.

That’s right, the “magic words” that we learned in pre-school, please & thank you, hold such power and influence that they can make or break a relationship!

Why Kindergarteners can be “Smarter” than Adults Dealing with Divorce!

We teach our five year olds to say “thank you” after someone does something kind for them.

We implore them to appreciate kindness.

We chastise them when they forget, mumble, or complain.

Yet, adults overlook kindness all the time.

And sadly, the longer the relationship, more is taken for granted, and less appreciation is acknowledged.

In marriages this dynamic can slowly erode warmth, and lead to resentment.

In co-parenting relationships, this can scuttle efforts to work together for the benefit of the children.

How to be as Smart as a Kindergartener

Just as I have seen relationships deteriorate when basic niceties are missing, I have seen efforts to show more courtesy strengthen the most strained relationships.

I think of a defensive mother who opened up to collaboration after her co-parent started the mediation by thanking her for helping out last week.

I think of an impatient father slow down after his wife politely asked him to be patient with her during the mediation session.

I think of a resentful husband write an email more carefully after he received a surprisingly respectful email from his divorced wife.

3 Adult Strategies for Implementing the “Magic Words”

1.     Avoid presumptions and entitlement.

Just because someone does something nice on a regular basis does not mean it should be expected, or go unnoticed. If your wife stays at home alone with the kids every Thursday so you can play cards with the boys, thank her…every Thursday.

2.     Avoid relationship laziness.

If you need something from upstairs you can either tell your eight year old to go get it, or you can ask him to please go get it. The former conveys that being bossy and controlling is the norm; the latter engenders goodwill and conveys that respect is a core value of positive relationships.

3.     Avoid assumptions.

Do not assume that your co-parent knows that you appreciate how hard she’s working to make ends meet. Tell her. Regularly.

As kindergarteners have been told for generations, remember to mind your P’s and Q’s.

Please.

Thank you.

Please comment below — I would love to hear from you!

LINKEDIN USERS:  LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. If you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers who might be dealing with divorce can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!! 

stone marker list the par of a golf hole

Is All Fair in Love and War? Lessons for Marriages, Divorce, and Separation Agreements

Common separation agreement ideas:

We’ll just split things down the middle. That’s just the fair thing to do.”

“We just want to be fair so we’ll add it all up and split it 50/50.”

These are reasonable ideas.

But does that mean they are “fair?”

What Do You Mean? Of Course it Does!

Does fairness mean things need to be equal?

Many think so.

If that’s the case then why do golfers follow the USGA Handicap System?

Why let some kids use training wheels longer than others?

Or, why do educators modify classroom instruction for kids who have trouble learning?

Interestingly, these are unequal ways of creating fairness for golfers and children.

Yeah, But You Can’t Compare Biking to Divorce and Marriage

Actually, you can.

Do you know what often happens when families see fairness as equality?

Problems!

The reality is that we are all different.

We have different temperaments. Different strengths. Different weaknesses.

We also have different needs.

Let’s take the example of a divorcing couple’s home.

It is common for a separation agreement to stipulate a sale of the marital home. I often hear, for example, that it’s “only fair” to sell the house, pay off the mortgage, and split the profit 50/50.

This certainly is equal.

But is it “fair” if the wife has no alternative living situation, she will still not have enough for a new apartment or down-payment on a condo, and the husband is moving in with his parents at no cost?

Both need a place to live. One has a no-cost option, and one has a high-cost option that will accrue debt. In this case, it might be “fair” for the wife to keep the house, and to split the other assets in a different manner.

It’s not equal, but it sure seems fair.

So What About the Marriage Part?

Is it fair if your spouse goes out with her friends one night per week when you only go out once a month?

Maybe, if her friends are important to her and she’ll get stuff off her chest.

Is it fair for your spouse to go camping with boys for a weekend while you stay at home with the kids?

Maybe, if it re-charges his batteries.

Is it fair for your spouse to spend more on clothes this year than you?

Maybe, if her size changed and she just got a new job.

OK, OK…But What Does This Have To Do With a Separation Agreement?

Everything.

After all, the Massachusetts divorce laws stipulate that the court will use a standard called “equitable division.” This does not mean that your things have to be divided exactly in half, but it does mean that the decision has to be fair.

Wait? I thought things HAD TO BE EQUAL in order to be fair!

Fair does NOT mean equal.

Fair DOES mean giving people what they need to be successful.

Bottom Line…

Trying to make equal decisions in marriages and divorces is possible.

But probably won’t get you what you need.

Trying to make fair and reasonable decisions in marriages and divorces might be harder.

But it will improve communication, decrease resentment, and far more likely give you both what you need.

Give it a shot.

After all, that would only be the fair thing to do.

Please share by commenting below — I’d love to hear from you!

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. If you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
rainbow colored slinky toy

6 Ways to Deal with Rigid Black and White Thinkers Inspired by Mediation for Divorce Clients

Do you ever feel like banging your head against the wall when dealing with rigid and inflexible people?

Folks who get stuck in only one way of thinking? Who have trouble seeing the forest through the trees?

Ever find yourself in a conversation that seems to be going nowhere because the other person doesn’t seem to “get it?”

And as the discussion progresses they become more and more rigid?

It can be so frustrating!

The reality is some folks are wired to be more flexible than others.

By flexible I don’t mean yoga-style flexibility!

I mean flexible thinking.

Having the ability to think and live in the “grey,” roll with the punches, and think hypothetically.

One Such Person I Met in a Mediation for Divorce

Some months ago I had a divorce mediation client who fit this profile.

She and her husband often got stuck in their divorce negotiations. They got stuck in their personality differences. They got stuck in resentment towards one another.

They even got stuck on the “facts!”

One standard technique for a mediation for divorce client who gets stuck involves asking hypothetical questions. Such questions guide the client to consider alternative viewpoints, new options, and a different future.

So, I asked questions like:

What if you were able to find a way to talk to him without arguing? What would that look like?

What would need to change to be able to be at a social event with him?

Pretend for a moment that he let you take the house, how would that affect the other issues?

She argued every hypothetical question!

In fact, I quickly learned that I was making things worse by asking such questions.

I Learned That the Antidote to Inflexibility Is…

My divorce mediation client was a concrete thinker and my flexible-thinking style was not working for her.

To be an effective provider of mediation for divorce I had to adjust – be flexible.

So, I  made a guideline for myself (ironically): no more hypotheticals for her.

Instead, I framed issues in the here and now.

I focused on things she could do differently, rather than on what he may or may not do differently.

I worked with her style, not against it!

The mediation began to move forward.

As they made more progress, and she began to experience a different reality, she slowly was able to think differently about their future.

But I still did not ask “what if” questions!

Blessed Be The Flexible…

I recently came across a bumper sticker while on vacation with my wife that put it all in perspective for me:

 

Or conversely, the inflexible get easily bent out of shape.

Understanding someone’s level of cognitive flexibility can help avoid tons of needless conflict.

Six Strategies to Help You Resolve Conflict with an Inflexible Style

  • Avoid sarcasm: Concrete thinkers sometimes mistake sarcastic comments as literal comments. This can unintentionally lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  • Deal with the current reality: Avoid talking about things that don’t yet exist. Inflexible thinkers have difficulty envisioning possibilities that “could” or “might” happen.
  • Plan ahead for change: If it is predictable that routines or original plans might change work together to develop contingency plans.
  • Explain things specifically and clearly: Sometimes inflexible thinkers interpret information inaccurately, do not handle ambiguity well, over-generalize, or personalize. Proactively clarify information, and check for understanding, to prevent this from happening.
  • Stay flexible: The best way to make an inflexible thinker more inflexible is by being inflexible yourself! Rather than argue about their inflexibility, maintain calm, respectful and thoughtful communication.

Do you tend to be inflexible in your thinking?

Do you work or live with someone who is an inflexible thinker?

What additional strategies can you offer to help improve communication?

Please share by commenting below — I’d love to hear from you!

LINKEDIN USERS:  LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. If you are commenting on a mediation for divorce LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

 

vector drawing of man and woman showing different modes of thinking

3 Divorce Mediation Tips: How to Deal with Family Problems

Echos of a divorce mediation:

She doesn’t get it!

He’s SO emotional.

All they’re going to do is talk about their FEELINGS.

She’s SO patronizing.

All he’s going to do is talk about what is LOGICAL.

Can you relate to arguing with someone whose brain operates in a fundamentally different way than yours?

Common Dynamics in Family and Divorce Mediation Sessions

In a recent co-parenting mediation I experienced this very dynamic.

She felt condescended.

Like she wasn’t being heard. Not taken seriously.

He felt overwhelmed.

Like he was being dragged in to her turmoil. Not dealing with the problems at hand.

During a conversation about visitation, she kept telling him how his refusal to answer calls was infuriating. She was sick of being ignored, and having her requests constantly denied.

He kept telling her how he couldn’t answer her calls because she would talk endlessly, and how listening to her was exhausting. He was sick of her nosy questions, and receiving calls from her multiple times a day.

To solve the problem they had been resorting to familiar tactics:

She made a greater effort to explain how she was feeling about the issue.

He made a greater effort to put up walls and deny her calls and requests.

How well do you think this worked for them?

That’s right…NOT AT ALL!

They were increasing the use of the very strategy that was causing problems for the other parent.

How I Used Divorce Mediation Strategies to Change the Dynamic

As you might guess, it made the situation a whole lot worse. To help, I did three things:

  1. Find a way to speak each other’s language:

I explained how their brains’ worked differently. She operated from a place of emotions and he from a place of logic. It was as if he was speaking French and she Spanish. In order to communicate effectively they needed to find a way to speak the same language. Appeal to someone who is emotional through emotions. Likewise, appeal to someone who is logical through logic! Worst case, use me as the translator.

  1. Accept who each of you are – it’s not going to change:

I explained that if they were still trying to change one another they were destined for failure. After all, if changing one another could work, they probably would not have divorced.

  1. Find ways to get what you both need and want:

I summarized what I was hearing, and asked: “She wants to be able to communicate with you and make decisions together, and he wants to make sure that he doesn’t have to justify himself, or get stuck in an endless circular conversation. Is it possible to meet both of your interests, and find ways to discuss visitation that leads to decisions and doesn’t require either of you to explain yourself?”

Sounds Good, But Did it Make a Difference?

By the end of the session, they agreed to a new plan.

He was skeptical that she would not question his reasons for things. She was skeptical that he would not say “yes” to her requests more often.

But they were both willing to try.

By using me to translate, accepting (rather than fighting) their personality differences, and trying to address their interests, they took the first steps at changing their long-standing narrative.

As I told them, “You are who you are — you can fight it, or work with it.”

Accept that fact, and you are already on a better path.

In what ways has it helped to “accept” the differences of someone else in your life? Please share!

two men playing ping pong in an office

Ping-Pong Arguments: Two Tips for Dealing with Family Conflict Inspired by the Divorce Mediation Process

There are some great concepts that mediators use in the mediation process that can be applied right at home. Let’s break down mediator jargon to make it useful for dealing with family conflict.

My way or the highway doesn’t work well in the divorce mediation process, and it won’t in your home either…

Positions:

Many clients come in to mediation with a shared problem but opposing ideas for how to solve the problem.

A position is a client’s stance and perspective on an issue.

Why care about positions?

Positions can be helpful as starting points in a negotiation.

However, resolving disputes becomes very difficult when people become stuck in their position.

I have an ongoing parenting mediation that has created its own verbiage.

The two parents often get stuck arguing about positions. At these times I ask if they are back playing ping-pong, pounding their position over the net harder and harder in a heated ping-pong deadlock.

If either agrees they step back, take some breathes, and accept that the discussion is not even remotely helpful!

They put down the rackets and try another game.

Examples of “Positions” in a Typical Household

Example #1:

Wife: I want the kids to go to public school.

Husband: I want the kids to go to private school.

Example #2:

Parent: You are not going to that party Saturday night.

Teenager: There’s no way you’re stopping me from going to the party Saturday night.

There are only two possible outcomes here:

1. Someone wins and someone loses.

And the impact of this? Relationship destruction.

2. Stalemate.

And the impact of this? Relationship destruction.

If my way or the highway doesn’t work, how does the divorce mediation process create an “our way?”

Interests:

Behind every position lies a complex web of motivations, concerns, desires, goals, values and belief systems.

Interests are someone’s true motives – the “stuff” that is most important to them – and the needs that underlie their positions.

Why do we care about interests?

For one, it’s much harder to play ping-pong with interests.

You see, positions are a potential solution to a problem.

Interests, on the other hand, are the problems needing solutions.

In ping-pong, there is only one undeniable, satisfied, and powerful victor.

Once the discussion is about interests — the “important stuff” — there are far more ways for both to get their interests met.

End the ping-pong game, and there is hope for two undeniable, satisfied, and powerful victors.

Mediators call this the “win-win.”

Examples of “Interests” in a Typical Household

Example #1:

Wife: I’m worried about money and figure we are already paying property tax – why pay two tuitions?

(Interest = financial security)

Husband: I hated public school. I don’t want the kids to feel lost in the shuffle like I did.

(Interest = engaging and inclusive educational experience for the kids)

They now know the issues involve the wife’s financial insecurity and the husband’s fear of the children having a horrible school experience.

Now they can get down to work and explore the vast alternative ways to ensure financial security AND increase the chances their children have a great educational experience.

Maybe they explore school choice, or charter schools, or have a meeting with the principal, or explore loan options, or, or, or…

Example #2:

Parent: I keep hearing about kids driving drunk and I’m scared you’re going to get hurt.

(Interest = safety of her child)

Teenager: If I don’t go to this party I may lose my one chance to get together with Julieann. My friends have been all over me and they will think I wimped out. That I was scared.

(Interest = getting together with a girl and avoiding embarrassment)

A positional argument would result in yelling, tears, and relationship breakdown.

An interest-based discussion makes it possible to find ways to guarantee safe driving AND for the teenager save face and see Julieann.

Helping clients move from inflexible positions to underlying interests lies at the heart of mediation.

How does learning about the use positions and interests in the divorce mediation process help you think about your family conflicts?

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. If you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Frustrated African American man apologizing to woman after quarrel

5 Steps to a Great Apology

Ever receive an apology that didn’t feel apologetic?

Left you feeling worse?

Angrier?

Infuriated?

In mediation — and in life — I see apologies of all shapes, sizes and colors.

Some feel authentic and cathartic.

Some feel compulsory and meaningless.

Some feel passive-aggressive and irritating.

And some downright hurtful.

“I’m sorry you feel that way”

I remember a parenting mediation. They found one another detestable. If not for their daughter they would be non-existent in each other’s lives, or enemies.

To their credit, they were using mediation to focus on co-parenting. They knew that fostering a positive relationship with each parent took precedence over their petty grievances.

At one point the father violated an agreement made during a previous session.

He listened, respectfully, as she angrily conveyed her disgust. When she was done he said,

I hear you. I’m sorry you feel that way.

You could hear a pin drop.

He felt he showed monumental restraint by listening without defending his actions, and apologizing.

She almost blew a gasket.

What happened?

How to make a bad apology

In this case, the father apologized for how she felt, not for what he did.

This felt dismissive to the mother.

He apologized without taking responsibility.

Which is really a non-apology apology!

If you have ever apologized in any of the following ways, it’s possible that you are an ineffective apologizer:

  • “I’m sorry but you also…” (click here to learn why the word “but” is so unhelpful)
    • “But” minimizes the apology
  • Apologizing when you don’t mean it
    • The other person will always know if it’s not genuine
  • “I didn’t mean to upset you…”
    • The impact of something can be hurtful even if the intention was not

Steps to an effective apology using family conflict management strategies

1. Determine if you regret what you did

Do not apologize to get something.

Do not apologize to get the person off your back.

Do not apologize because someone else wants you too.

Apologize because you are remorseful.

This is the only way your apology will feel authentic.

2. Start by expressing remorse using an “I” statement:

  • “I’m sorry that…”
  • “I apologize for…”

3. Take responsibility for what you did without justification or blame

  • “I’m sorry that I was late…”
  • “I apologize for losing my temper and yelling at you…”

4. Empathize with how your actions made the other person feel

  • “I’m sorry that I was late. I can see how that upset you and make it difficult for you to make plans…”
  • “I apologize for losing my temper and yelling at you. I imagine that made you angry — I would have been angry if you did that to me.”

5. Make amends to rectify the situation

  • “I’m sorry that I was late. I can see how that upset you and made it difficult for you to make plans. Next time I’ll leave fifteen minutes earlier, and call you the second there might even be a chance of me being late…”
  • “I apologize for losing my temper and yelling at you. I imagine that made you angry — I would have been angry if you did that to me. I’ll make sure I’m calm before talking about stuff like this with you next time…”

Back to my angry parents and the pin-drop silence…

I let the silence linger.

Then, I turned to the father and asked, “why do you think she is upset?”

It took a few moments and some deep breathes.

And then he explained, in his own words, how she viewed his actions and why it was distressing.

I turned next to the mother and asked, “do you feel he understands where you are coming from?” She grudgingly answered that he did.

I summarized the situation, and asked the husband how he wanted to address her concerns.

He looked at the mother and said, “I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you first about what bothered me. I understand how that broke our agreement. I won’t do it again. Next time if I have too I will call an emergency mediation session if I am that concerned with what our daughter tells me.”

And here’s the magical part.

She looked him in the eye and said, “thank you.”

The tension in the room immediately lifted.

Their body language relaxed.

There was an extended pause.

And they moved forward.

The power of an effective apology.

LINKEDIN USERS: LinkedIn does not have the capability for your comments on LinkedIn groups to appear on the original blog post. If you are commenting on a LinkedIn group would you mind copying the comment directly on to the blog so my other readers can benefit from your ideas and reactions? Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
Letter D in black stone block

Should I Get A Divorce? Why Talking About Your Reasons For Divorce Might Be A Game Changer

Sometimes the hardest conversations, the ones we dread the most, provide the greatest opportunity for growth and change in a relationship. I thought about this after chatting with a friend about a tough time with her husband.

For her, the “D” word changed everything.

That’s right. I’m talking about Divorce.

What a loaded word!

It is fraught with meanings and emotions. While considering if she wanted a divorce she was overcome with questions like:

Should I get a divorce? Do I want a divorce? If I bring up divorce will things get worse? How will he react?

The decision to have the first divorce talk is hard. My friend had confided in her closest friend and her counselor. But uttering the word to her partner for the first time?

Wham! A game-changer.

The BIG Question: Should I Get A Divorce?

When the “D” word is on the table the proverbial pink elephant in the room is front and center.

My friend feared that bringing up the dreaded “D” word signaled the beginning of the end. And often it is.

Talking about divorce is often followed by many other uncomfortable “D” words: defensiveness; dumbfounded; debate; debacle; desperation; dagger; destitute; dark; denial…and for many couples once those negative “D” words are stated or felt the marriage is doomed.

But does a talk about divorce have to lead to a path of despair and destruction?

What if the big bad “D” word was followed by a different set of “D” words?

What If I Am Not Sure If I Want a Divorce?

How could you know for sure if this is the first time ever broaching the subject (exceptions like domestic violence aside)?

Imagine if the divorce talk involved more positive “D” words like dialogue, deference; dignity; discourse; delicate; discussion…

Having a talk about divorce does not have to mean doom for a marriage.

In fact, it can serve as an opportunity – a defining moment.

So What Happened When My Friend Asking, “Should I Get a Divorce?”

For some couples, parting ways is the best resolution.

To my friend’s great relief, however, the initial divorce conversation opened up the channels of communication for her and her husband. Her husband recognized that by raising the idea of divorce, his wife was really saying, “I am really hurting and feel hopeless about our relationship…”

Talking about the reasons for divorce served as a catalyst for repair and healing.

They realized they still had love for one another.

The repair work can be painfully difficult nevertheless — and was for my friend.

She found that healing her marriage required replacing the negative “D” words with ones that were more productive.

Defensiveness, for example, was replaced with dialogue. Denial replaced with deliberation and discussion.

How Can I Put Aside All Those Big Bad “D” Words When I Have All These Reasons For Divorce?

Some, like my friend and her husband, seek the assistance of a therapist to deal with unresolved personal issues that are contributing to the marital conflict.

Others are putting in more effort to listen to one another.

Some work with a professional marital mediator to help them communicate more effectively and solve problems. (To learn more about the differences between marital mediation and couples therapy click here.)

If the big “D” word is spoken in your marriage think carefully before reacting. Do you want the conversation dominated by big bad “D” words? Or, do you want to shift the focus to more hopeful “D” words?

Your decision might save your marriage from the big “D”!

Please REPLY below if there have been times in your life when a difficult conversation led to a positive opportunity for growth or opportunity?

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cartoon green button with WIN on it

Hate Losing Arguments? 3 Conflict Mediation Steps to Improve Marriage Communication and Win!

I had a divorce mediation client who loved to win.

He loved to win in basketball, business, and investments. His success in life was a result of his competitive nature, he believed.

His wife hated his competitive nature. She thought it was short-sighted and interfered with their communication and decision-making.

Losing Marriage Arguments

They both complained vehemently during private conflict mediation sessions that the other always wins arguments. Both felt the more they tried to win the argument, the more they ended on the losing side.

He’s just going to bully me until he wins…

She’s going to talk circles around me until I give in…

And here’s the irony: both were convinced they compromised their principles in order to avoid losing…again and again.

They both felt they lost every argument they had with each other. They both felt they deferred to one another. And both were frustrated, dissatisfied, and often angry.

Can you relate?

Then Why Divorce Mediation?

One day I asked them why they were in mediation? After all, mediation is designed to avoid having a winner and a loser. It is collaborative in nature and developing win-win solutions is the ultimate goal.

They explained that they did not want to sue one another. They wanted to avoid the time, money and stress litigation would likely bring.

They thought it was important to work it out together. They still had to parent together, after all. They wanted to try to do what was in the kids’ best interest.

It is interesting, I noted, that winning was not one of their stated goals for participating in conflict mediation.

Why then, I asked, were so many of their discussions framed as issues to be won or lost?

3 Steps to Improve Marriage Communication Using Conflict Mediation Techniques

Can you relate to feeling like you come out on the losing end of every argument in your relationships?

Do you begin conversations feeling defensive and guarded, prepared to defend your positions? Starting defensively is a recipe for disaster. Instead, try these strategies:

1. Talk about how you’re going to talk to each other!

Set some ground rules and hold each other accountable. Emphasize areas that usually get in the way of productive conversations.

Interrupt a lot? Agree to avoid interrupting.

Raise voices sometimes? Agree to talk with a normal volume.

Roll your eyes at each other? No eye-rolling, then.

This works best when you can agree on how you are going to respond to one another when the other makes a mistake (which will happen).

2. Understand BOTH points of view.

Change your goal of persuading the other to understand your position. Instead, make a shared goal of understanding each other’s point of view.

Truly listen.

And articulate out loud, without judgment, the other person’s perspective. Knowing that you understand one another creates a respectful and empathic tone to the discussion.

3. Brainstorm solutions that work for BOTH of you.

Brainstorm a flurry of ideas, no matter how outside of the box.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and generate options that might work for them that could also work for you.

You may come up with some crazy unrealistic solutions. But in the process you will eventually strike gold and identify a solution that can work for both of you.

Back To Our “Losing” Couple…

It was slow going and full of setbacks but they tried to adjust the winning-losing paradigm to a winning-only collaborative paradigm.

When they shifted back to their old narrative of winning and losing I would ask if it was helpful. Was focusing on winning (versus losing) addressing the things that were most important to both of them?

Eventually, they began to frame discussions differently. They generated some solutions that would never have been considered — or even identified — if they stayed exclusively in the winning v. losing mindset.

My high conflict mediation clients had learned how to win more arguments. There just was no loser as part of the equation!

What other ways can staying out of the winning/losing paradigm can lead to you to “winning?”

REPLY below to contribute to the discussion!

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