A Message to Anyone Dealing with Conflict

There is no right or wrong way to think or feel while communicating with your spouse.  Exploring your future plans and concerns with the other person in the mediation room after years of misunderstanding and lack of support may sound like an overwhelming proposition.

However, I’ve found that practical solutions can be reached when people in mediation share what needs to be said, are validated by me in the process, and are then able to refocus on speaking their truth with peace of mind.

My role as mediator will shift as needed between grounding the conversation in the present and looking for ways to elevate participation beyond well worn patterns.

These discussions may feel raw, but they can lead to a more courteous exchange based on mutual understanding, or at least to a less stressful and more tolerable conversation. 

I’ve seen first-hand how mediation can positively transform spousal relationships and repair family discord. When it comes to deciding on a co-parenting strategy, mediation is often the key to moving forward and finalizing decisions that focus on the child’s best interests, happiness, and well-being.

At the end of our mediation, I’m hoping that you and your former spouse or partner will have a new-found recognition of each other’s needs and acquire the conflict-resolution tools you need to meet each other with fairness, honesty, and respect.

Embracing the mediation process can require a level of openness and honesty with yourself and with your former spouse or partner that may seem too taxing or unrealistic at the outset. Even though the journey may feel painful at times, considering everything that can be gained in the long term, it may prove to be worth it.

And remember, I will be there every step of the way.

We Learn to Feel Powerless

The best way to describe the concept of “learned powerlessness” is to put it into the context of conflict resolution as a way to help you understand how certain experiences can be used to gain insight. I chose to write this post to help my clients overcome and adapt from their moments of powerlessness. I’m hoping this can help others see that the negative consequences of the conflicts they experience are rooted in these moments of powerlessness. I want this article to support them in making a different choice at the next crossroad.

When pressure builds up for us, we can often feel overwhelmed and powerless. We then learn coping mechanisms as a way to deal with the uncertainty or fear. These strategies work in the short to medium term, but they need to evolve beyond our comfort zone, so that they do not lead to crisis and exacerbated conflict. There is a unique opportunity within a conflict resolution process to notice how our own actions contribute to a pattern of conflict and its eventual emotional fallout. Once we can notice these patterns as they arise, we can find a flex zone in between comfort and crisis, and then be able to firmly commit to being the agent of change in our lives.

How Do the Feelings of Powerlessness Start?

We begin learning about our feelings of fear and vulnerability start early in life and continue to re-interpret them into adulthood. Some of us may have not learned sustainable ways of dealing with our feelings that preserves our relationships with loved ones. Powerlessness is easily described by the thought, “I don’t know what to do”.

How we either resist or welcome the feeling of “I don’t know what to do” can be the pivot point between positive and not-so-positive life experiences. And as long as we think we can’t handle these experiences that we call “hard” during moments of reflection, we won’t learn the full meaning of our story. Our incomplete understanding will continue to fuel our reactions and the life experiences that we least want to have.

With effort, these memories of adversity, can be re-contextualized as “impressions”

These impressions represent the starting point of growth from the powerlessness which accompanies the physical description of our experiences as hard. After all, this difficulty we are experiencing is a passing constriction that’s only one part of the complete experience of growth and change.

Our overwhelming emotions are part of this whole transition. Included in the whole transition is an emotion we anticipate as overwhelming, and the knowledge or insight that follows. Lasting recovery, renewal, and positive relational interactions are what we can hope to expect by playing the tape all the way through.

There is real value in allowing these emotions to move through you and make you stronger.

Powerlessness  and Conflict Management

If you’re reading this, you may have already decided to leave your spouse with whom you have shared a world. This work is hard in the way I am speaking about it, but if we persevere in mediation through this adversity, the intensity of these memories will decrease each time they come back to us. 

The closer we are to someone, the more we feel extreme emotions. Expressions of frustration, judgement or withdrawal are products of the beliefs we form about ourselves and others in the aftermath of conflict. It is likely that you have never thought about much of what I am saying, but if you made it this far you are potentially on the cusp of a new frontier of learning that can positively impact all your relationships.

How to Move Forward with Our Feelings of Powerlessness

So, you may be asking, what can I do about all this?. I spoke in an earlier blog about the act of bearing witness. This pause is a starting point from which many new and freeing life choices can suddenly and progressively come into your awareness.

The reason I am inviting you to use this perspective when processing conflict is that I know how it feels to follow through with my intention to change my life. Imagine the feeling of independence that comes with no longer seeing others as the cause of our pain, but rather as those showing you the source of the pain.

Our painful memories are signs of this older pain that invite us to revisit the story of the past in the here and now. Take the first step, reach out to me and be brave so we can work together to untie this knot for good. For family mediation services and conflict coaching, contact me today.

Negotiation 101

During my family mediation practicum, I had the rare opportunity to learn from an exceptionally skilled mediator named Christine Kim. These tactics made a significant impression on me and have been very useful to my clients because they give people who are feeling lost a way forward.

I encourage you to use the following tips before you begin any settlement discussions with your spouse. You may be less inclined to do the deep work outlined in my blogs about empathy and powerlessness, or perhaps you have tried these efforts and now it’s time to push through a mediation process that is becoming unproductive. This is your chance to really make the change you want to make in life, but you’ll need all of the strength you can summon to make it happen.

To make the best use of these reflective exercises, it’s important to think about them before the first negotiation attempt or if the first conversation ends with little or no agreement. This is key because there will not be enough time to think about them carefully during a joint mediation session.

Tip #1: Ask yourself what they need, so you can get what you want

This is a great question because it allows you to focus on your main goal during a mediated conversation. It will also help you determine in advance what you are willing to concede – if anything. Minor agreements and the potential for new trust in a co-parenting situation could emerge from asking yourself this simple question.

Tip #2: Negotiate with who is in front of you, not with you want them to be

This one can be considerably harder to put into practice, especially if we are negotiating with our former spouse. During your marriage, you may have spent a lot of energy trying to change the other person. This healthy tip involves first acknowledging that the person you’re talking to is likely not going to change very much or express their needs differently (read more about acknowledgement). If they are prone to interrupting, or need to take breaks to relieve the pressure, anticipating these behaviours and allowing them to happen can benefit you and the conversation in the long run.

You may not realize it at first, but by not needing your spouse to be different from who they are, you’re giving them a gift that many people would appreciate. However, it requires us to bear witness to our own emotions and to feel our discomfort or burning in order to move forward.

Whether these two pre-negotiation exercises are used separately or as part of a larger insight-building conversation, they allow for the enormous potential to shift a conversation in a mutually beneficial way. 

Negotiating During a Separation Mediation

Negotiating with your spouse during a divorce mediation can be a painful and frustrating process. It can also lead to a positive conversation based on mutual respect and a shared love for your children’s well-being. For more conflict resolution tips and advice, check out my blog for future updates or contact me today for more information about my mediation services in Toronto.

Reconnecting With My Father: A Family Mediator’s Personal Experience

The last few months with my father have been more than I could have imagined possible a year and a half ago when I visited him in hospital. There had been much acrimony between us in the distant past, and a smouldering resentment through the in-between years, born of not knowing how to express strong emotions and a swath of chronic misunderstanding that engulfs some relationships.

Even though the separation lasted more than 20 years, it wasn’t like we didn’t try to make it work a few times. Unacknowledged love, regret, and many painful memories had made it impossible for me to see the likelihood of coming back together.

I’m sharing this story with you to shed some light on the insights that led to the flowering of a father–son love that had been hidden all along. It was one that had been desperate to come out, but was protected because of completely forgivable reasons that I will reveal later.

But how did our relationship change from the tug-of-war for rights and personal freedom so long ago? How did we get past all the missed opportunities and the time tether of despair to the almost effortlessly expressed care and love we have for each other today?

Coming to Terms with Our Own Feelings

It all starts with the desire to be free of the pain and suffering. But more than that, we have to commit to challenging our past judgements and the beliefs that extended the separation over so many years.

There are many ways that people cope with feelings of helplessness in their life. As a family mediator and as someone who has lived through it, I’ve come to understand that this feeling is a learned reality. It exists and has strength because we have not learned how to cope with our overwhelming feelings. I had tried to bury the pain of this separation with my father for so long that the terror I felt when it threatened to resurface was something I could no longer ignore if I wanted to live a good life.

Repairing a Relationship Starts with Looking Inwards

Admitting how much the pain of separation was affecting me, and how I had given up on facing it was the first step toward freedom. Looking back though, and considering all I had gained from this effort, it’s clear that it was the most worthwhile thing I could have done.  

My next step was to surrender the need to justify myself in the ways that I did in the past. It had been so long, I had forgotten most of the beliefs. They were only there as memories. Sure, I had been hurt, but my pain could no longer be a reason to deny my  father’s  pain during that tumultuous time.

Through bearing witness to the pain and allowing it to overwhelm me as many times as necessary, my old pain became less important.

I was eventually able to take responsibility for what was mine in the conflict, and not feel the shame that used to feed more discord between us.

Reconnecting with Complete Honesty is Essential

The email in which I wrote this all out was a turning point in my road to recovery with my father. In the email,

  • I said that I loved him.
  • I shared my regret for what had happened.
  • I left an open invitation for him to respond.

There were times in the following period when I was almost certain that if we were to meet again, it would have been almost too late. The fabled deathbed outpouring of emotions that happens in the movies was a regular vision when I thought about how our coming together might happen. I’m humbled by this passage I’ve just written out to you, and very grateful to have the trust and connection with my father that I have today.

Dealing with Conflict from a Divorce Mediator’s Perspective

If there is one thing I need to say to the family members out there who are feeling the pain of separation, it is that at some point one person needs to stop the tug-of-war, put down their end of the rope, and begin to fully feel and acknowledge the pain  they have inside them.

This is not so we become locked once again in the inaction of guilt, or carried away into the churning of resentment that can arrest an otherwise good life. It is so that we can, with time and persistence, find peace with our old thoughts and feelings, and to slowly and unexpectedly accept and be generous in allowing the other to be who they need to be, whether that is with us or not.

Is Silence a Sign of Empathy?

There is a lot of talk about this word out there these days from authors such as Brene Brown and Simon Sinek. Their research and motivational speaking have been inspirational to me and many others. In this blog post I aim to make a contribution to the conversation by talking about empathy in the context of conflict.

Empathy is often a subtle communication that may come across in words or with only a look. It can look like a kind face that signals to us that we’re being heard or cared for by the one with whom we have become vulnerable. Empathy is easy enough to spot when we have trust for the one sharing the space with us. However, it could become exceedingly difficult to notice acts of care in a relationship where chronic misunderstanding has led to firm judgements and impasse.

How Misunderstanding Can Lead to Conflict

If we’re angry and in pain because of these communication patterns, conflict can arise in the following ways:

  • We may start blaming the other for what has happened to us.
  • They, in turn, may feel the urge to defend their right to fair acknowledgement.
  • Or perhaps the next time the conflict starts we may simply feel we cannot get involved this time, we can feel our pain but are unable to retaliate.

A lack of response is commonly understood in our culture as a weakness, or the absence of care for the one who is expressing how they were hurt. As a divorce mediator in Toronto, my take on this silence is that it is often an act of non-participation, and a temporary halting to the pattern of fighting. This is both an act of self-care and empathy towards the other.

The moment of silence can happen after the heat of the conflict has dissipated and we seek separation from our spouse. But this choice alone does not end the need to retaliate. Mediation can help eliminate or at least make more tolerable the conversions that need to take place.

How to Bear Witness to Our Own Emotions

In activist communities, there is a practice known as “bearing witness.” Its purpose is to give space to the intense and potentially destructive emotions we’re feeling as we become aware of an injustice to our rights and values or to those of others. When we bear witness, we allow the hot fire of a reaction to overwhelm us internally and emotionally. Our self-care can now turn from silence into action that supports our greater goals in life.

“Surrendering” during a fight is an act of empathy because it opens us up to the pain of our spouse or friend while allowing us to feel our own pain. Other than the words we use, is my pain or their pain really a different feeling? Surrendering is an essential aspect to a process of self-reflection and for anyone who needs to productively participate in a co-parenting relationship for the benefit of their child.

In the relative calm after the heat of the fight when self-reflection begins, we all have the opportunity to choose the following paths:

  • Work towards lasting resolutions.
  • Repair a relationship so that we can make the necessary choices needed to move forward,
  • Continue “being right” and return to the pain of separation that comes with that unrestrained desire.

Conflict hurts, but being open to finding new ways to speak about what is important to us, can reduce its intensity over time. 

How do you want to remember your separation mediation? Contact me to see how family mediation can work for you.