Ask a Mediator

My ex keeps stirring up conflict unnecessarily.  I just want peace.  I know it takes “two to tango” but how do I get out of this dance?

While it does take two to tango, it only takes one person to put on the music and drag you onto the dance floor.  Some people, particularly those in major challenges or pain, use fighting as a means for connection.  When all else is falling in around them, conflicts give their lives purpose and gives them a sense of connection.  Often in a divorce, the other partner has moved on and wants to disengage.  That just stirs up the desire for connection.  What to do?

This is a chance to practice the art of letting go.  Not letting go of the person but of what you can’t control.  Choose your battles very carefully.  Most of these conflicts you can let run off your back.  Let go of your desire to be the best parent, to save face, to be right, to get everything “you deserve” from the settlement of assets.  Engage only when you absolutely must to protect your children or yourself from harm.  That doesn’t mean that you have to give in to a tyrant, it just means you will find that peace if you stay quiet and calm and let the moment pass.  Avoid the temptation to be right because it will only feed the “monster” of conflict.

Start with a Mediator

With roughly half of all marriages ending in divorce, transitioning from married to not-married has become a regular rite of passage.  Unfortunately, many people are scarred from this experience.  It’s never a picnic to end a committed relationship, divide up a shared lifestyle and develop new arrangements for your children, but some paths through that mess are easier than others.  Most people begin their divorce process by contacting a lawyer. Legal advice is a critical step in the process, but not necessarily the best starting point, since who you see first likely frames the situation.

Here’s the problem: law, particularly civil law, is designed to help bring justice to victims of wrongdoing.   It is oriented toward enforcing rights and distinguishing right actions from wrong.  Anyone who has ever been in a relationship or even known anyone who has been in a relationship knows that love operates on a completely different set of rules.  While I may not believe that “all is fair in love and war,” I recognize that when it comes to interpersonal relationships, perspectives are completely subjective.  When someone breaks up with us, we feel hurt, angry and wronged, but that type of wrong has little to do with legal definitions. 

And yet we keep trying to solve this problem of broken hearts and homes through a system of justice.  If you take your broken marriage to a good lawyer, she will define your legal rights, defend you from anticipated or perceived injustices from your ex, and attempt to get the best settlement possible for you.  Whether or not that will solve your problem most efficiently or is in the best interest of your children, that is what a lawyer does.  When you’re a hammer, every problem is a nail.   

The purpose of mediation is to resolve a problem.  It assumes that the people involved in a conflict know best how to solve it.  It is not interested in who is more right or wrong in a given situation, only how to move forward from the existing situation to a solution that both parties can live with.  The problem is framed as a challenge for the parties to address together rather than a win/lose predicament. This results in couples developing parenting plans or financial plans that consider what is in the best interest of the children first and both adults secondarily.

I’m not saying that one should ignore the legal implications of divorce.  In fact, marriage is a legal institution and therefore there are legal implications to ending it.  Dividing properties, retirement plans or business can be extremely complex and legal counsel provides a well-trained set of eyes to help sort it out.  I’m suggesting that where you start the process impacts how that problem is framed, how it will be solved and ultimately how the parties view the situation years hence.  I recommend legal counsel to everyone who goes through a divorce or separation.  Consider the specialties of law paralleling the specialties of medicine.  If you have back pain, by all means consult a back surgeon, but don’t start there.  Begin with your family practice doctor or maybe a physical therapist.  If you need surgery, you will be grateful for the knowledge and talent of a good surgeon, but first employ other, less invasive means of alleviating your pain.