This is the fourth in our series of six articles on why adopting a positive
mindset during divorce can have a permanent effect on the rest of your
life. In our last article, we discussed how the wonderful relationship
you had when you were first “in love” can deteriorate to the
point that divorce seems like the only option. This week we focus on how
and why it makes sense to begin today to work on the steps to rebuilding
When a couple comes to the Center for Mediated Divorce, I begin by explaining
that family law Judicial Officers have very specific questions that they
ask of persons appearing before them who are requesting a divorce. Those
questions are: “Have irreconcilable differences arisen in your marriage
causing the irremediable breakdown of your marriage? Is there anything
that could save your marriage, including the passage of time, assistance
of this court, or counseling?”
I explain to couples that when they complete their divorce, using mediation,
neither of them will enter a courtroom to be asked those questions. For
that reason, I always ask those same questions of the couple. Occasionally,
both parties will hesitate and give an indication that counseling MIGHT
help. I immediately refer them to counselors with whom I have worked and
in whom I have great confidence. Especially if there are children, I strongly
urge couples to attempt every possible way to save the marriage for the
sake of those children.
Nearly always, however, one or both of the parties will answer emphatically
that there is nothing that will save the marriage. In those instances,
we move on to discuss the options that they have to complete a divorce.
In every case, however, there are positive reasons to work toward a cooperative
relationship, especially if there are children. It is important to be
able to co-parent after the divorce and to communicate without anger and
hostility. When parents cannot set aside their emotions while interacting,
children are often caught in the middle and experience trauma. Even without
children, it is important for couples to be able to interact in a positive,
rational way to solve the inevitable questions that arise when faced with
dividing their assets and debts in an equitable way.
Counseling is often a necessary path to teach the parties new ways to listen,
to communicate and to problem-solve. A neutral third-party counselor who
is trained and experienced in helping individuals learn new ways to communicate
effectively and calmly, can often make a huge difference. Once these new
skills are learned, the divorce process goes much more smoothly, and both
parties believe that they are being heard at last.
Over the last eighteen years I have learned much from my professional associations
with professional counselors who have become friends and colleagues. Recently
I used some of their techniques with a couple who seemed deadlocked in
anger and retribution. We had made little progress even after 5 mediation sessions.
Upon arrival at the sixth session, I asked if they would be willing to
be engaged in an exercise that might assist them in their discussions.
I explained to them that the base of the brain contains our “fight
or flight” section, which we use when we are frightened, angry or
stressed. Once that part of the brain is engaged it is very difficult
to use the part of the brain used for rational, analytical reasoning.
After that brief overview, the couple reluctantly agreed to a 15-minute
exercise. In separate rooms they were to write down three things they
appreciated about each other and one thing that they regretted. No further
discussion was held.
Wife said she appreciated how much time Husband spent organizing all of
the financial information and coming up with innovative solutions. Husband
said he appreciated how dedicated Wife is to the children and how tenacious
she is when trying to solve a problem. Husband shared that he regretted
that he had not taken marriage counseling seriously and had not worked
at the marriage when he had the chance.
They shared those thoughts verbally with each other, and the atmosphere
in the room changed incredibly. It was, by far, the most productive session
they had experienced. They were able to make significant strides forward.
If that couple would begin working with a trained counselor, their co-parenting
would be much more cooperative and successful.
Previously they had been angry with each other over a birthday weekend
for their soon-to-be 18 year old daughter. They had allowed the daughter
to pit them against each other in order to get the weekend she wanted.
When guided to discuss what each had really done and said, it was clear
each had misunderstood the other’s motives. Without the intervention
of a third-party neutral to help them listen to each other, it could have
been a misunderstanding of epic proportions.
All of the warning signs listed in our previous article are signposts to
indicate that trouble may be around the bend. Recognizing them early may
allow the couple to seek the assistance of a trained counselor so they
will learn to:
- really listen to each other
- share the burden of financial decisions and information
- refrain from saying hurtful things to the other
- actively work to keep from drifting apart (plan dates and time together)
- refrain from negativity and the silent treatment
- share parenting with each other
If you feel some of these danger signs are creeping into your relationship,
seeking the help of a licensed counselor may avert a breakup. If a divorce
is the only avenue left, counseling may still help you become a more positive
person and to learn to communicate in a positive way during and after
Next week — positive steps that will help after the divorce.