Divorces are emotional. Therefore, taking the emotions out of a family mediation and treating it just like a business transaction rarely works. The key to a successful divorce settlement mediation is to tap into the emotions that best serve the clients’ realistic goals and their children’s’ best interests. Emotional upset does not usually contribute to positive outcomes (e.g., inability to focus, too quick to settle, too angry to negotiate), but redirection of emotions is often very helpful (e.g. passionate negative response to the break-up of a family –> passionate desire to raise happy, well-adjusted children)
Positive Emotions: Anticipation, Empathy, Joy, Acceptance, Trust
- Helping clients stay positive, focused on the future and assisting them in seeing opportunities in their situations is very important when people are going through a divorce.
- Family mediators should encourage empathy, especially where clients are coming to mediation after having had the empathy “knocked out of them” by the court system.
- Keeping the mood light in mediation, smiling and even freeing up the mood for a little laughter, always helps, but cannot be pushed.
- In a divorce mediation, there is often one party who is fully ready for the divorce, while the other is still in a bit of shock. Acceptance may not come for a long time and often requires therapy, but good mediators can help get the “shocked person” started down the path.
- Intense lack of trust due to adulterous affairs can threaten to blow a mediation. There is often the question: How can I trust him/her to be forthright with the financial information when I cannot even trust him/her to be faithful? This is a question that often needs to be sent back to the parties.The “non-trusting” spouse needs to make the ultimate decision him/herself. There are a lot of people who, though untruthful in body, are truthful in money!
Negative Emotions: Fear, Anger, Despair, Disgust, Frustration, Surprise
- Negative emotions need to be balanced with positive emotions (“flipped on their head”, e.g. fear of the unknown –> excitement about the opportunity to form new life dreams).
- Negative emotions often lead to black & white thinking (not generally very creative).
- The emotion of “surprise” is usually uncomfortable in a divorce mediatin situation. I have seen clients make offers in mediation that they never came close to making outside of mediation (e.g., willingness to help with transportation of children, spousal support, etc.) No matter how seemingly good the “surprise” is, the other party is often angry just because she/he has been surprised. This is always a good time to focus on the goal (e.g., You wanted spousal support, now it looks like you are going to get it. It doesn’t matter that it was “no, no, no” up until now!”)
- Obviously it is best if negative emotions can be kept to a minimum. They are often counterproductive and solicit negative feedback from other party. Balance is key.
Neutral Emotions: Sadness
- Although most people would consider sadness a “negative emotion”, I put it into the “neutral” category because it is almost always present in a divorce mediation in one way or another. It’s nice if your mediator is empathetic to your sadness, but doesn’t get too drawn in. Mediators with positive outlooks and a cheerful disposition can often be a comfort to clients and joyful people sometimes can help sad people feel a little better, though this is not always the case.