Relative Evolutions - Evolve, Don't Dissolve
May 15, 2014 - divorce    No Comments

Divorce Mediation Training… Check!

mediatorI completed my Divorce Mediation Training last week.  I’m now qualified to empower couples toward productive conversation about the terms of their divorce.  Yay!

The experience was interesting.  It was quite unlike Basic Mediation Training, which left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside.  My Basic Mediation class was full of social workers, therapists and managers who were looking for  new ways to approach conflict.  In Family Mediation Training, I was the only participant who was not an attorney.  I started out feeling rather uncomfortable, to say the least.

On Day One, a woman asked our instructor, “What business does a person have practicing Family Mediation if they aren’t an attorney who specializes in family law?”

The answer was simple, “A mediator isn’t there to give legal advice.  A mediator’s purpose is to facilitate discussion.”

The answer was met with shaking heads.  The lawyers went on to express their confusion and disapproval…

“How can people agree to divide their assets without knowing their rights?”

“How can I help them if I can’t give them suggestions and advice?”

“I feel like these people should have to see an attorney first.”

Their mindsets were locked in Lawyer Mode and it was hard for them to embrace a concept that contradicted years of work and training.  I understood where they were coming from, yet on a very personal level I was offended by their attitudes and approach to the divorce process.

Part of me wanted to scream at them, “You don’t know everything!  I gave my ex a ton of what I was ‘entitled’ to, and I’ve never regretted it.  Not everyone has the resources to fight it out, and not everyone cares!”

Another part of me wanted to disappear.  I was a guppy in a shark tank.  What would happen when they found out I wasn’t one of Them?

I got through Day One without confessing my non-lawyer status.  I fit in well enough.  I’ve been to family court.  I could talk about the silly things exes fight about.  I knew that pet custody is an issue that’s making its way into many final agreements.

At one point, a man asked me if I worked in the area.  I politely told him, “No, I don’t,” and then quickly exited, stage right.  (Phew!  Dodged that bullet!)

Day Two was different.  For one thing, the lawyers were becoming slightly more comfortable with the concepts of mediation.  They relaxed, and therefore I relaxed.  During a two-person role play, my partner asked if I was an attorney.  I explained my “Divorce Encouragist” title to her and then went on to babble about my philosophies on shame/blame, societal pressures and the flawed mentality of so many who go through the process.  To my delight, she agreed.  ”People forget that they used to love each other,” she said.

And from there, the overall experience improved.  I ended up telling a lot of people what I do, and they responded with genuine interest.  I listened and laughed about the crazy conflicts their clients brought them.  I heard some of their personal divorce stories, as parents and as children.  I learned about their hobbies and aspirations beyond the courtroom.

Overall, we found common ground.  And that’s what mediation is all about.

Although it was uncomfortable at first, I’m glad I had the experience of spending time with so many attorneys.  After all, I used to want to be one.  My classmates helped me see, again, the difficult position divorcing couples put their lawyers in.  As a result, my sense of purpose was reinvigorated.  Legal professionals have their place in the process, but that process has room for me too.  And maybe I can make their jobs a little easier.

For The Children

“I’m really upset about it,” a woman told me after she learned that an acquaintance of hers was getting divorced.  “I mean, I hardly even know them.  But… they have children.  It just breaks my heart.”

I bit my tongue and looked away.

Now is not the time to get on your soap box, I reminded myself.  She’s entitled to her feelings.  Just let it go.

While I maintained an even facial expression, the woman’s words infuriated me.  She openly admitted that she didn’t know anything about the situation and yet she assumed the divorce was a tragedy simply because the couple had children.

I know divorce is a sad event.  I know the separation process is one filled with anxious uncertainty, and everyone needs support.  But I also know that divorce is often the last resort of a desperately unhappy couple.  And I know that, if handled responsibly, the transition can benefit a family.  As a result of my personal experience, I prefer to view divorce as a solution to a slew of family hardships.

In an article for DivorcedMoms.com, I wrote that Divorce is tough, but childhood is tougher.  We seem to forget that kids deal with a lot of hardships independent of their parents’ marital status.  To name a few:  bullying, illness/death in the family, violence in the home, adolescence and academic struggles.  Divorce, by nature, is neither the only nor the worst of a child’s troubles.

Question:  What’s worse than a child enduring the breakup of his/her parents?

My Answer:  A child living with role models who openly despise each other.

It’s dangerous to assume that an intact marriage is a happy one.  Under pressure to “stay together for the kids,” couples model unhealthy habits for their children.  Do we really want boys and girls to grow up thinking it’s normal to accept physical, verbal or psychological abuse from one’s partner?  Do we want them to deal with conflict via the Silent Treatment or temper tantrums?  No!

Divorce is an unfortunate reality, yet it also offers an opportunity for children to learn about life.  What positive lessons might come from such an experience?

  • There’s hope in bad situations.
  • This, too, shall pass.
  • Conflict means the beginning of an opportunity.
  • I don’t have to take it.
  • It’s OK to be “me.”
  • I’m worthy of love and respect.
  • The rules of respectful communication are…
  • There are many different kinds of families.
  • I’m in charge of my own happiness.
  • Sometimes people can love each other more effectively if they do so from a distance.

 

How about we stop judging and start trusting people who make the hard decision to divorce?  The process could be a lot nicer if our society wasn’t so heartbroken about matters they don’t fully understand.

What lessons did you learn from your divorced parents?  Or what do you hope your children will learn from your divorce?

Apr 16, 2014 - divorce, family    2 Comments

I’m Not Bitter. I’m on a Mission.

Last month, this happened…

“I don’t understand why people do it,” a man told me.  “I’ve been married for more than thirty years, and even during the worst of times I never considered divorce.”

“That’s great,” I congratulated him.

“We had some bad times,” he assured me.  “But I never wanted to live without her.”

“And that’s the difference,” I explained.  “There were times when I would rather have died than continue to live in my marriage.”

As his mind opened, his face changed from a countenance of confidence to one of humble sympathy.  If our conversation had been a competition, victory would have been mine.

Like the man in the story above, a lot of people misunderstand my mission.  They assume I’m out to sell the idea of divorce in order to destroy marriages.  They think I want to break up happy families.  They judge me as a bitter woman who no longer believes in love.  But they’re wrong.

My efforts are about creating opportunities for more effective relationships.  I want to help families evolve to a different way of life instead of dissolving under stress and chaos.  On the personal side, I continue to nurture feelings of love and gratitude for every romantic partnership that has enriched my life (and all of them have).

Why am I reiterating all of this?  Because I’m building up to the announcement of My Next Step… I’ve been following this Divorce Passion of mine for several years.  What started out as curiosity has become a personal mission to help people do divorce better.  I’ve read. I’ve written.  I’ve spoken.  I’ve coached.  And now I’m ready to descend further into the trenches.

Last fall I completed Basic Mediation Training.  I had to wake up before dawn and travel two hours to class, but I didn’t care.  I fell in love with the process and all that it represents (empowerment, honesty, respect, collaboration, creativity…).  In the months that followed, I lurked online and waited for information about my next stepping stone.  It appeared last month.  In a couple weeks, I will begin a program to learn the specifics of Divorce Mediation.

To say I’m excited is an understatement.  I feel positively ecstatic about empowering couples to maintain control as they untangle their lives.  In times of darkness and confusion, I will facilitate discussions which will shed light on common ground.  After years of exclaiming, “There’s a better way!” I will play an even more prominent role in that process.  For a divorce dork such as myself, it doesn’t get any better than that.

A new day

A new day

People grow.  Relationships change.  Families evolve.  These are simply facts of life.  When a couple has exhausted all options and concluded that divorce is the appropriate solution, they need resources to help them handle their process responsibly.  I look forward to being another one of those resources.

Mar 31, 2014 - divorce, marriage    4 Comments

What About “Unconscious Coupling?”

I have to say, I’m ecstatic about Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling”.  While the public reactions are mixed, the general buzz is wonderful.  As a culture, we NEED to talk more about this stuff.  Let’s keep it rolling please.  Let’s bring divorce out of the shadows and continue to discuss and dissect it.  It is, after all, a fact of life for millions.

…But with all the existing coverage of the topic, I didn’t sit down today to write about conscious uncoupling (which is really just a fancy way of saying GOOD Divorce™).  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Since my first encounter with the word pairing, I’ve regarded it as a bit of a tongue twister which has put the phrase “unconscious coupling” in my head.

To quote Zig Ziglar, “Many people spend more time planning the wedding than the marriage.”  This is a symptom of “unconscious coupling,” and it’s a problem.  In my opinion, it’s a problem that strongly impacts the divorce rate.

I touched on this topic when I wrote about love lessons from yoga:

We find ourselves drawn to another and rush toward the object of our affections, fully opening our hearts and dancing wildly to the beat of a new emotion.  It’s easy to get caught up in the intensity as we flow together in thoughtless bliss.  We just want to be there.  We just want to do that.  All other aspects of life and self, be damned.

In other words, we pour ourselves into new relationships without complete awareness of the larger picture.  Blinded by love, we overeat, undersleep and neglect to fully consider the impact that our new partnership will have on other relationships and areas of our lives.

As time marches on, we regain consciousness.  It happens when we suffer consequences of our actions or inactions.  It happens when we become annoyed by our partner’s less-attractive habits.  It happens when we look to the future and envision a different path than what our partner would prefer.

The waking process is uncomfortable and so, naturally, we attempt to keep the blinders on.  We do this with flowers and vacations and wedding planning.  We blame the discomfort on stress.  We sever ties with those we love when their dose of reality conflicts with our desire to dissolve in the flames of love (Did I just write that?).

I am guilty of all of the above.

Why do we do this?  Is it the fairy tales we were raised on?  Is it our biologically-programmed desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain?  Is it because we have a natural tendency to think in terms of “if only…”?

Probably all of the above, of course.  And what do we do about it?  I’m not proposing we all harden our hearts and stop falling in love.  I suppose I’m merely suggesting that we surrender to the greater awareness when it begins to happen.  Face the problems and make the hard decisions early on, instead of hanging on.

A million-dollar ceremony, a lavish vacation and a baby won’t mend conflicting philosophies about religion, politics and childrearing.  Let’s harness our self-awareness and make more conscious decisions about the future of our romantic partnerships.  Let’s apply the brakes and inventory the landscape instead of rushing to the altar.

By remaining conscious in the earlier part of a relationship, we can make better decisions about marriage.

 

 

 

Mar 16, 2014 - divorce    No Comments

Sleeping With Spoons

One night last week, as I prepared to get in bed, I paused to notice the landscape atop my sheets.  My pillow was placed in the corner of the mattress, as I’ve been sleeping diagonally for the past couple weeks.  The inventory around the pillow was as follows:  the small blanket I’ve been sleeping with since infancy, my iPad®, a white cord, a pair of ear buds, two books, a few crumpled paper towels (I’d been nursing a cold and paper towels hold more snot than tissues) and a spoon.

I paused to consider the spread before throwing away the paper towels and taking the spoon to the sink.  The mess and the germs were uniquely my own.  The choice to remove the trash was all mine as well.  I was overcome with gratitude for the space and freedom in my life.  As is often the case, I took a moment to thank The Universe for my home, my lifestyle and the gigantic bed that I don’t have to share (at least, not on a prescribed basis).

I’ve often seen polls asking people to list The Best Thing About Living Alone.  I think the next time I see one of those, I’ll add “sleeping with spoons” to the list.  I think it should rank right up there with “leaving the bathroom door open” and “not sharing the remote.”

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