Framing Conflict

Recently on a run with my friend Beth who is going through a challenging divorce, she unloaded her frustration  and anger about her ex’s requests as we picked our way through the roots and rocks of the trail.  Years of difficulty in their marriage had given her a hair -trigger for indignation, powerlessness, and injustice and his recent requests ignited all of those emotions.  But when she shared with me the details of his “demands” I heard something completely different.  I heard great opportunity.  For example, he wants to only communicate through his attorney.  She heard him disrespecting her.  I heard she gets a break from the conflict that riddled their communication for the past 5 years.  He wants to have their son stay with him twice a week.  She heard a loss of her parenting time.  I heard that she gets to have some time to herself again.  

I reflected this back to her.  Initially she refused to hear it, but later, when we were done running and had gone on in our days, she texted me her gratitude for my perspective and said it had helped her reshape the situation in her mind.

Now, imagine she tells another friend of her ex’s demands and that friend takes her side.  She corroborates with Beth’s indignation, shares her perspective and they spend their run developing a plan for how Beth can fight back.  Beth feels righteous and emboldened.  She fires off an email to her ex, challenging him to defend himself and explain the reasons for his demands.  Now, imagine what happens next.

Framing a situation is one of a mediator’s most used skills.  How a person perceives of their conflict impacts all actions and reactions that follow.  It is why it is important to begin the process of divorce with a mediator.