“I learned years ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” – George Bernard Shaw
Mediation is hard work! In the midst of conflict, we want to be right. When Jason and Judy separated, Judy insisted Jason’s work-related distractions were the reason the marriage failed. Jason blamed Judy’s constant nagging as the culprit, and claimed she was emotionally unstable. Both believed their children were suffering, and both were certain they were right.
Sometimes being right feels so important that we lose sight of reason, hijacked by reactions triggered by the threat of loss and safety. We stray from integrity and behave in ways we regret later. Jason and Judy were rational and thoughtful people, both educated and successful in their professions. Yet, when gripped in highly charged conflict, they fell into an emotional gridlock. Each clung to being right; absolutely, undisputedly, unbendingly right. Indeed, proving “rightness” can also prove the “wrongness” of the other person, a seductive trap divorcing couples fall into.
When I met with Jason and Judy for mediation, they both expressed the wish for an uncomplicated and fair dissolution of marriage. They did not want to go to court or pay separate attorneys. The first step in mediation or settlement is a review of issues, assets and debts, and to identify each agreement and disagreement. If Jason and Judy agree that the house is worth $500,000 and Judy is to get the house, we can move forward to the next issue.
Unfortunately, Judy and Jason’s process was not so straightforward. As we began the mediation session, it became apparent that Jason and Judy were so stuck in hurt and anger that they were creating the very complications they wanted to avoid. Stories of indiscretions, personal failings, and broken promises leaked out of their answers to my very practical questions. Fingers were pointed and tears were shed. Before long, I halted the session to establish ground rules for proceeding. Without boundaries and specific guidelines for communication, a negotiation can derail into a wrestling match, all in an effort to be . . . . finally right.
As a mediator, my first responsibility is to create a safe place where my clients can start constructing a new future. There is no right and wrong; there must be a vision for resolution and peace. Ideally this is a supportive process, but the reality is that the dissolution of a marriage is painful, and it challenges even the most rational people. Once Jason and Judy had a blueprint of how to communicate effectively in the context of mediation, they were able to walk through the process of creating their own settlement terms—without court action or additional attorney fees. Ultimately the dispute was resolved, there was less stress, more compassion, and integrity is upheld. This is the right way to reach resolution and find healing more quickly.
Bob Good has practiced law in Jackson County for twenty-nine years, specializing in estate planning, family law and business law. Contact him at his Ashland office, Good Bucy & Elson at (541) 482-3763.