1. Bring Your Best Self – When you reach the end of your marriage, you may find yourself in the grip of some very intense emotions. Grief over the end of a relationship that started with such promise, anger about past hurts, fear about a future you didn’t expect – these are the types of feelings that often bring out your worst self. Although the emotions may be inevitable, grief, anger and fear cannot be trusted to help you make wise decisions. It’s important to consider your core values at the start and hold onto them as you navigate your way through the process. Write them down where you can see them and let your actions be guided by them when you feel bitterness or resentment trying to take over. Work for what you believe is the most constructive, acceptable agreement for you, your spouse, and your family.
2. Don’t Deny Your Emotions – Although you don’t want your emotions making your decisions, it doesn’t do you any good to deny them, either. When you deny or suppress strong feelings, they may emerge in unhelpful ways. Acknowledge to yourself that they exist. Talk to a trusted friend. Schedule time with a therapist to help you work through them. Find a private place to cry or punch a pillow. Go out for a run. Then remember you decided on mediation or collaboration because you recognize that you may have a future relationship with your ex-spouse and want a respectful process. Deal with your emotions on your own time and then do your best to check them at the door to any meetings.
3. Speak for Yourself, Not for Your Partner – Focus on your own feelings, without ascribing motivations to your partner. Mediators and collaborative lawyers refer to this preferred method of expression as making “I” statements. Sentences that begin with “you,” such as “you are” or “you always” often lead to the other person feeling blamed or judged, which is rarely a foundation for constructive dialogue. Instead, explain how the other’s behavior affects you. For example, saying “I feel frustrated and angry when you don’t pick up the kids when you say you will” provides your partner with clear information about how the behavior impacts you, but will produce a different reaction than saying “I’ve never been able to rely on you to do what you say you will.” Speaking up about your wants and needs, without blame or aggression, is important in finding a resolution.
4. Be Creative – In litigation, you never have the opportunity to “think outside the box” because the options available to the judge are limited by statute. But in mediation or collaborative law, you can look at many potential solutions for meeting your interests, as well as your partner’s. Although people tend to shy away from conflict, conflict can actually provide an opportunity to creatively problem-solve. Be willing to brainstorm and consider as many choices as possible before evaluating those options and choosing solutions.
5. Be Optimistic – Optimism is a state of mind reflecting a belief or hope that the outcome of some specific situation will be positive. Although there is no guarantee that reaching agreement will be effortless or conflict-free, even the most difficult conflicts can be resolved when the parties have a true intention to do so. If you maintain confidence in the process, with due diligence and effort a mutually acceptable result for everyone is possible.