Most people have never participated in a mediation session, let alone one to discuss your divorce. It requires some emotional preparation and a change in mindset for success. Let’s talk about what you can do to feel ready for your first session.
Let go of the need to win
This is the most important mental shift you need to make. If you’ve chosen divorce mediation, you don’t need to fight for your position or make sure you “win.” That’s courtroom talk. Clinging to these ideas will derail your efforts to collaborate on positive solutions.
Many couples mistakenly believe they need to provide evidence for why they deserve something – as if the mediator is a judge who will rule in their favor. Remember, you and your spouse are the drivers of the mediation process. The mediator makes no decisions on your behalf, so there’s no need to convince him/her of anything at all. Focus your energy instead on brainstorming a win/win solution.
Ask yourself what you really want
In preparation for mediation, it’s helpful to discern the difference between what you are asking for (the house) and what you want (giving your kids stability). Whether it’s physical items or decisions about your children, dig a little deeper into each one. You’ll be more open to possibilities, which makes negotiations easier.
If the reason isn’t immediately apparent, try asking yourself these two questions:
- What are you afraid will happen if you don’t get this?
- What do you hope will happen if you do get this?
It also helps to think about why your spouse might have strong feelings about a particular issue. Your mediator can help with this process. It might be difficult to ask your spouse about his/her underlying reasons, but hearing the question from a neutral third party feels supportive rather than challenging.
Focus on the future, not the past
You’ll get the most out of your mediation if you think of it as an opportunity to plan your future, rather than an airing of grievances. It might be tempting to treat your mediator as a witness to your frustrations or anger. Or as an ally in proving why you deserve something.
“You see what I’ve been dealing with!”
“She did this awful thing, so I should get this.”
But this assumes the mediator will form some kind of judgment, which he/she never will. Rehashing old wounds doesn’t advance the conversation because you’re not negotiating based on past actions. You’re making decisions about how to divide your marital property and (if you have children) about their future.
Prepare for emotional triggers
Take some time before your mediation session to think about what your spouse might say that could really push your buttons. Most divorcing couples have hot issues that can be emotionally exhausting. You might put up a wall as soon as the topic comes up or explode in anger. Being prepared for these reactions will help your mediation sessions go more smoothly.
Be sure to tell your mediator if you’re concerned that a particular topic will be difficult to discuss. He/she can work with you separately to prepare, create ground rules to help you feel safe, or just be very conscious of your feelings on the subject.
Be mindful of your partner’s emotions
Each spouse is coming to mediation with different levels of detachment from the relationship. Be patient and try to put yourself in the shoes of your partner.
If you initiated the divorce, you may feel a great urgency to move the process along. Perhaps you’ve already worked out a lot of the details in your mind. On the other hand, your spouse may still be accepting the fact that a divorce is actually happening. Try to remember how you felt when you first began contemplating divorce. Would you have been ready to make quick decisions about financials, children, and living arrangements? Probably not. You were processing your emotions. Your spouse needs that time too.
Mediators will ask how the divorce came about, so they can be conscious of the dynamics between the two of you, and best support the needs of both spouses. You don’t want the mediation to drag on, but you also don’t want to force decisions prematurely that one party may later regret.
Take care of yourself
Going through a divorce is a traumatic event, so it’s important to remember that your responses are normal. While divorce mediation is a peaceful process, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Be sure to get external support – family, friends, divorce coach, or therapist if you need one. Stay conscious of your eating and sleeping patterns. These can be easily disrupted by stress and wreak havoc on your emotional health. Allow plenty of time before and after the mediation sessions to relax. You don’t want to rush back and forth from work or be constantly looking at your watch. Give yourself time to process what’s happening.
By caring for your own needs, you’ll be more present, clear-headed, and positive, which will set you up for success during the mediation sessions. And by making informed, smart decisions, you’ll be off to a brighter future.
Hopefully this post has eased your mind about divorce mediation. With the right mental preparation, you can emerge from the negotiations feeling like you made the best decisions for yourself and your family.