Every now and then, I’ll meet with a couple to discuss divorce mediation just to discover that neither spouse is necessarily seeking a divorce. Recently, I’ve had three such couples. In one consultation, I recall the husband gently putting his hand on his wife’s knee as she tearfully said, “This is so hard because we still love each other.” Another couple both agreed, “We don’t want a divorce but feel like there’s no other choice”. These occasions leave me especially heavy hearted. I have seen first-hand the devastation of divorce even when both spouses seemed certain that it was time to split up. It is difficult to fathom the depth of heartache when neither are convinced the marriage is over. In cases like these, I often remind the couple of the option of filing for legal separation instead of divorce until they are certain of what they want. I also mention the possibility of Conflict Coaching. Many couples can benefit from meeting with a coach who specializes in conflict and communication breakdown. Hearing how we sound and the words we use through the lens of an objective third party can illuminate growth areas and even inject new hope in the relationship. This is not to oversimplify the slow, painful dismantling of a marriage. I understand that years and layers of hurt are not easily overcome. However, if couples are willing to take an honest look at their destructive patterns of relating and take steps to change, in some cases, the results can be dramatic. For couples who aren’t ready to throw in the towel just yet, conflict coaching could be a good next step. Change can be excruciatingly hard work though, so hang on to the towel for wiping away the sweat!
HELP IN FACING OFF OUR FOES
Sweetening sour relationships may need more than just a spoon full of sugar. The following excerpt from the book, Friend & Foe: When to Cooperate, When to Compete, and How to Succeed at Both (by Maurice Schweitzer, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School. friendandfoebook.com) talks about the importance of using a mediator to facilitate face-to-face meetings with people we consider foes. “We often think that meeting face-to-face is the best way to build a relationship. This is certainly true for fledgling relationships and for existing relationships that need to be nurtured. When we face foes, however, face-to-face meetings can actually escalate conflict. Sometimes we need to take a break from seeing each other and have someone help mediate: A mediator can help two foes bridge their differences and repair their relationship.” The authors go on to say that based on the analysis of hundreds of labor disputes, when a mediator came in and held private meetings with each disputant before a joint mediation session, conflict was reduced, and better agreements were created.
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