DIVORCE PROFESSIONALS HAVE FEELINGS, TOO! Part 2

(PART 2 OF A 2 PART SERIES)

Part 1 of this series focused on how the emotions our clients bring into the negotiation room can impact the divorce professional(s) present. Our client’s negative comments, displays of intense emotion, and moods can wreak havoc on us both individually and, in the case of a collaborative divorce, as a professional collaborative team. A preliminary tool professionals can use to increase awareness of these dynamics and feel more ‘insulated’ from our client’s feelings was outlined.

Part 2 of this series includes two additional tools we can use to better understand, work with, and protect ourselves from the powerful feelings our clients bring to the negotiation table.

Tool #2. Use Your Feelings To Inform Your Efforts

Believe it or not, the feelings YOU experience while you are in the negotiation room can be used as a guide to better understand what your clients are experiencing. Yes, that’s right—your feelings. Why? Our emotional systems are sensitive and often ‘pick up’ other people’s feelings in the room. Sometimes this leads to our being ‘contaiged’ by our client’s emotions and when this happens we begin to experience feelings similar to what they are feeling. While this can be quite confusing, it can also be extremely helpful as information on what clients are feeling can be used to help determine what to do next to keep the process productive.

The collaborative divorce coach can be particularly helpful in this regard. Having met with and assessed each client individually and having had subsequent contact with each (i.e.-to ‘check in’ before a team meeting, in 3-way meetings around co-parenting related issues, for 1-on-1work, etc.) they have valuable ‘inside’ information to share about what each client may be feeling, talking about, or experiencing. Also, using their training as a mental health professional, coaches can regularly scan the emotional horizon to ‘pick up’ on and identify the feelings clients are experiencing in the moment at the divorce table. Once communicated to the other professionals in the room, this information can help the professional team determine how to proceed most effectively.

For example, I was on a collaborative divorce case recently where the wife was visibly impatient and annoyed with how slowly her husband was making  decisions at the divorce table. As her body language became more rigid and tense, she started to make negative comments about how he was “stalling and should move on already” and was “just prolonging the inevitable”. Within seconds, her attorney started fidgeting in his seat and made a comment (respectfully) indicating his growing impatience, too. While observing the proceedings, I also found myself growing uncomfortable, feeling impatient, and a bit anxious even though, in truth, the husband had not been taking undue time to respond, but just seemed to need more info around the topics at hand. As the tension level in the room continued to rise, I wondered what was going on.

I remembered that in our initial meeting, the wife had talked about an event, related to one of today’s major topics, that she found deeply embarrassing and felt guilty about. I guessed that her impatience was really conveying anxiety about potentially being embarrassed at the table and that her demand to speed things up was an effort to avoid this. After requesting a brief recess, I filled the pro-team in on what I suspected might be happening  (I had informed them of the wife’s feelings around this topic previously, during our initial pro-team prebrief meeting) and we formulated a strategy as to how to proceed. After a brief caucus with each client (to help reassure the wife regarding her emotional safety and to check in with the husband around his decision making needs) we were able to move forward more productively. Taking the time to consider and recognize these feelings helped the professional team better understand what was happening, balance the husband’s need for adequate time to gather and process information with his wife’s desire to avoid embarrassment, and to move the process ahead at an appropriate pace.

For mediators, who may not have specific clinical training, it is helpful to take a moment to observe the feelings in the room, including those you are experiencing while working with your clients. Maintaining curiosity about your clients underlying feelings about a particular issue or topic (and using what you are feeling, too, as information about these), can lead to deeper understanding and better outcomes. Additionally, learning to identify the emotional dynamics in the room and observing what you are experiencing as a result of these, can clear your system of their influence.

Tool #3. Listen Beneath The Words

A collaborative divorce case I worked on recently was frustrating for the entire professional team. (And, I have had similar experiences in mediated cases, too). The husband, who hadn’t wanted the divorce, repeatedly commented (during and after our team meetings) that he was very unhappy with the fact that we weren’t making any progress and that the process wasn’t working. His negative remarks kept coming, despite the fact that we had already made tremendous headway toward helping he and his wife establish two residences, untangle their complicated financial lives, and create a helpful co-parenting schedule (in just a few team meetings, no less!). It seemed that nothing anyone could do or say would convince him that we were moving aheadl. This had the attorneys and I scratching our heads in confusion, feeling badly, and wondering about whether or not we were actually doing good work for/with our clients.

As we listened to the husband’s negative comments, I began to think about the fact that, of the two spouses, he was clearly the more emotionally fragile. I wondered if his repeated denial of our progress might be serving important needs for him, emotionally: One need might be to help him feel more stable and not become overwhelmed amidst all of the changes that were happening in his life. I hypothesized that if he couldn’t see/denied that changes were really happening, perhaps he would feel less overwhelmed and his life would seem more predictable and stable.  After all, in a relatively short period of time, he had agreed to move to a new home and town, see his children less frequently (and according to a ‘schedule’), and give up many of the personal belongings and the surroundings he had felt so attached to—a veritable whirlwind of life changes.

A second reason why his negative “We’re not making any progress/This process isn’t working” statements kept coming might be to communicate the deep emotional pain he was experiencing. His sense that the divorce process seemed endless could mean that nothing we were doing or deciding was bringing him any relief from the deep sense of failure, disappointment and other intense emotions he was experiencing. Even though we professionals recognized that we were moving the case along at a rapid clip, for him time seemed to be standing still with regard to how badly he was feeling.

As the true nature of his communications became clearer, these were discussed with the professional team (during our debrief). Looking at his comments in a different light helped us all feel more ‘insulated’ from personalizing his negative comments about our lack of progress and ineffectiveness. To help make the divorce process more tolerable for this client, we brainstormed ideas and techniques that might lessen the emotional pain he was experiencing, and later several of these were proposed to him. After adopting some of our strategies, he was able to begin to settle in to his new life more comfortably, feel that the team was responding to his needs, and, not surprisingly, his comments about our not making any headway diminished.

The feelings that clients bring to the negotiation table can be quite powerful and pose challenges for mediators and for teams of professionals, too. Divorce professionals can take steps to become more aware of the nature, effects, and meaning of the emotions they (and their clients) experience and incorporate this information into decision making. This can pave the way for a more effective and successful divorce process.

DIVORCE PROFESSIONALS HAVE FEELINGS, TOO! Part 1

(PART 1 OF A 2 PART SERIES)

Even though we are professionals, it can still sting when a divorce client isn’t able to see the good progress being made, expresses deep disappointment in the process, or otherwise communicates that we have let them down. Whether we acknowledge it or not, these can dampen our spirits, stimulate us to act or speak in uncharacteristic or unhelpful ways, and even keep us up ruminating at night. And, when we feel criticized, unhelpful, or that we have contributed to their disappointment, we may be less likely to “get” what our clients are really trying to tell us.

Here are two questions worth considering:

  1. How can we, as divorce professionals, learn to interpret WHAT our client’s negative comments might be intended to communicate to us and then use this info to inform our work?
  2. Can we keep ourselves from becoming ‘contaminated’ or overwhelmed by their powerfully negative emotions, in the moment?

The good news is that there are some steps you can take to make the divorce process a little kinder and gentler on YOUR system while also learning more about your clients. There are at least three tools you can use to do so. Tool #1 is included below. Tools 2 and 3 will be addressed in a future article.

Tool #1: Inoculate Yourself Through Awareness

Our clients regularly bring strong feelings into the divorce negotiation room, such as: A sense of failure or defeat, tremendous disappointment, and even shame, to name just a few. It helps to ‘tune in’ to the feelings your client may bring to the table and to keep in mind that your client’s feelings can be contagious.

Here is an example of one of many experiences I have had with ’emotional contagion’: At times, I have found myself feeling hopelessly downhearted and worried at the divorce table–as if the clients sitting before me were doomed and would never have enough of what they needed (i.e.–money, resources, patience with each other, a genuine willingness to listen, or all of these!). When this kind of hopelessness settles in on me, I want to go into action and DO something. I have found myself, at times, entertaining thoughts of intervening in ways I might not choose to if I wasn’t experiencing these strong feelings, i.e.-I have felt tempted to extensively research topics for them that I wouldn’t normally take on, or looked for extraneous reasons to ‘check-in’ with them more than I usually would, or I have even found myself strategizing how I could anonymously help clients financially so they could keep the family home a little longer!

Left unattended, these feelings can fester and grow and stimulate any of the professionals at the table to act in uncharacteristic ways or to make impulsive decisions (i.e.-Mr. Jones is deeply worried about his escalating debts, so let’s all agree to cancel our pre-brief and debrief time to save money). Our experience of our clients’ feelings can also lead to other feelings, personally: of confusion and blurred boundaries regarding our approach to the work, to a sense of incompetence (i.e.-“Why aren’t I able to be more helpful to these people?”), and to impulses that tempt us to make mistakes.

Once I am aware that I may have ‘caught’ a client’s feelings, I can view what I have been experiencing more objectively as ‘visiting feelings’ from outside of me. This helps me to feel more in charge of myself and less vulnerable to having the hopelessness or anxiety (or any of my clients’ feelings) effect my judgment or overwhelm me.  On the other hand, I can use my newfound understanding of what clients are feeling to inform my thinking on how to intervene effectively and help the team work more productively.

Feelings Are Always In The Room

Sometimes, it is a client’s frustration, or confusion, or outrage that infiltrates the professional(s) in the room—these feelings can be quite powerful and can wreak momentary havoc, or in a collaborative divorce, divide the professional team. Whatever the feeling may be, it helps to take the advice of a mentor of mine, “While in the room, don’t ever assume that any of the feelings you are having are your own–always be curious that they may belong to your client (or even your colleague) and then use this information in the work”.

Our clients’ feelings can impact us whether we are aware of these or not, but they can also serve to increase our understanding. Client comments and the feelings behind these can be used in our work as these contain helpful information. Once we have learned how to interpret these, the information we glean can help guide our next move and assist us in maximizing the effectiveness of the mediator or of the team and the process (in a collaborative divorce).

For mediators, observing what is happening in the room and using curiosity to decode the underlying feelings and concerns of clients, can lead us to working more effectively and toward better outcomes with our clients.

In a collaborative divorce, the collaborative divorce coach is in a unique position to be helpful to the professional team with regard to calling attention to the types of feelings that might be appearing in the room and to ‘de-coding’ these and many of the emotionally based comments clients make while at the negotiation table.

More about this topic in Part 2 (coming soon)!

Your Pandemic Survival Guide

Living through this pandemic and the extended sheltering in place it demands has turned life as we know it upside down and posed many challenges to us all. As the horizon seems to indicate more of the same at least for the foreseeable future, here are some ideas, tips and tools to help get you through as healthfully and calmly as possible.

Feelings

As we continue to primarily spend the hours, days and weeks in our own spaces, coping with feelings of isolation and loneliness continue to challenge us all. The next best thing to the in-person contact so many of us crave is Zoom or video calling. Technology has enabled us to keep in touch and feel some level of ‘connection’ with loved ones, friends, and colleagues as well as providing a means to continue working and earning a living for many. It has also brought us relief in the form of online entertainment: theater and musical performances, virtual travel tours, and museum visits and offered social opportunities including happy hours, family reunions, and at-a-distance holiday and birthday gatherings. I cannot imagine a shelter in place world where these were not available and it is important to note here that not all of us are so privileged as to have reliable internet, good computers, and the time to enjoy these. I do not wish to sound ungrateful for this miraculous advantage that has kept me and so many others afloat in so many ways, but, like everything else, there is a powerful downside which does need discussion.

Pandemic-driven fears and frustrations and its subsequent isolation, despite Zoom and video conferencing, have taken a heavy toll on us all. While many try not to acknowledge or even think about these, it is important to keep in mind that at all times, there are factors pressing on each of us and impacting our energy levels, our ability to take in, process and understand information from our environment, and to communicate. While it perhaps has never seemed harder to do, being tolerant of differences and flaws and going easy on each other are most important now.

Professional and personal interaction have been stripped down and sanitized, relegated to the virtual world, which offers a poor substitute for the ‘real thing’. The experiences most of us crave: a hug, touch of the hand, and other signs of in-person closeness have been deemed potentially lethal. People, once a source of comfort, entertainment, excitement, and intimacy, are now the most dangerous threat to us all. We have had to insulate ourselves with masks and layers of sanitizer (and even that is not enough as we later literally wash off all of our contact) from each other. This weighs heavily on us all.

And, for others, the lack of personal space and privacy are a pressing issue. Mothers are spending day after day at home endlessly caring for children and many are also burdened by trying to carve out work time to keep their families afloat. Dads are feeling the pull of work vs family duties like never before. Children, trying hard to behave, in the face of the boredom and restlessness that result from the lack of structure and routine which school and daycare had previously provided. Anyone who thinks these factors are not, at every moment, impacting our nervous systems and psyches, is simply and dangerously, in denial.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

When faced with this question, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the where-do-I-even-begin challenge that arises. I say, start at the beginning with the basics: breathing, resting, nourishment, talking, keeping an eye on substance use, practicing good virtual habits and activity…all of these can help. (For worksheets/more info on any of these or for a ‘talk it out’ session, feel free to contact me at info@betsyrosscoaching.com)

Breathe

When stressed, do any of us breathe properly? A common side effect of anxiety and worry is a shallow style of breathing that many of us these days are doing habitually. Is it surprising that this virus so often seems to lodge itself in the lungs? At the start of the pandemic, there were a number of videos posted, made by front line medical professionals, on deep breathing techniques to help combat the impacts of COVID infections in the lungs. Deep breathing can also be used to anchor oneself, to calm your system and reduce anxiety. If you don’t already know, there are numerous books, articles, and free videos out there on how to use breathing for relaxation. (Feel free to contact me for a worksheet on deep breathing)

Rest

Getting enough sleep and relaxation can be a challenge during stressful times. The number one offender among the people I speak with, seems to be over exposure to bad news. Many feel they cannot afford to miss a thing, news- wise and are reading the headlines and stories (mostly negative) throughout the day from a variety of sources. Additionally, for news program fans, the sound effects and theme music, meant to grab attention, can be jolting and hard on your nervous system. Protect yourself from all of this tension by limiting your news exposure (once a day for the headlines is plenty) and do not listen to or read about the news within two hours of bedtime.

As we are all feeling a certain level of vigilance and worry regarding the next potential crisis event, many of us are keeping phones, tablets, and laptops close by at all times. To stay on alert, sleeping with the phone or tablet in the bedroom for many has become standard. Again, this is not helpful to anyone’s sleep routine and should be avoided. We must find time, particularly at day’s end, to unplug, let it all go, and rest. Otherwise, exhaustion will follow. All of the news you are missing tonight or today will still be there tomorrow!

Talk it Out

If despite confiding in friends and family during the day and regularly carving out a daily, techno-free wind down time in the evening, you are up throughout the night, worrying or with your mind racing, take action. With the legitimization (finally) of telehealth services, it has never been easier to find a skillful psychotherapist whom you can use to study your own experiencing, learn from, and try out new tools with, hopefully leading to better sleep. Think of this as, literally, talking the toxins out of your system.

Nourish

Feeling stuck at home, deprived, and having to prepare most meals oneself can be a great excuse for throwing caution to the wind regarding what and when you are eating and drinking. Increasing food intake can feel soothing in the moment, but the shift from 2-3 meals a day to 4-5 or snacking more frequently or later into the evening will not make you stronger. Over consumption, particularly in tandem with decreased exercise, will only lower your energy level and resistance, and negatively impact health. Similarly, the doomsday approach of letting go of nutrition guidelines and just eating any old nutrition free junk foods (“if I am going to get sick anyway, I might as well eat what I like now…”) can lead one down the path of carbo-craving and continuous hunger, despite consuming a greater number of calories. While chicken wings, chips, candy and the like may be calling to you, try to eat wisely. If you are struggling with this, there are many online eating and support programs that can help.

Practice Good Virtual Habits

As so much of our time is spent online these days, the what, how, and when of our virtual usage is important. Remembering to get up from your chair, though seemingly simple, can be a challenge as we are spending hours upon hours in front of our screens. (As we sit and sit, it’s easy sometimes to forget we have bodies!). Setting up an alarm or using devices that remind us to move about hourly can help.

Being mindful of the energy required for video meetings and conferencing, and planning accordingly, has never been more important. Too much time in the video fishbowl can lead to misunderstandings, decreased self-esteem, poor decision making and impulsive behavior (A few times, after too many meetings, I have wondered: Did I really just say that?). Try as best as possible to move around between online sessions as well as to change the scenery between longer meetings. Remember, the commute to and from meetings used to provide us with a restful break for our systems. Staying in one place for meeting after meeting does not provide the necessary down time we need to function well. (Contact me for a fuller list of helpful tips to maximize your virtual presence).

Alcohol, Weed, and Other Substance Use

How many memes have appeared on increased alcohol usage while sheltering at home? Jokes about bathtub sized wineglasses, breakfast cocktails, and the like seem to be everywhere, as are Zoom ‘happy hour’ invitations. Other substances may also call to us now with promises of lowered tension levels and momentary relief from worries and woes. No lecture forthcoming as hopefully, you know what your limits are, and you are paying attention to the amount and frequency of whatever it is you using. Moderation, people, please, moderation. Do remember that substance use (including caffeine) can interfere with your sleep cycle, so don’t forget to consider this if not getting enough rest is an issue for you.

Activity

As previously stated, many of us are staying in our chairs, safely in front of screens rather than risk going out into the virus filled environment. The obvious downside is that exercise for many has all but disappeared. Again, being mindful of what you are and are not doing is important. While the gym or studio may no longer feel like an option and trails and recreation areas may feel too risky, there is an abundance of online (yes, more screen time) exercise classes that are free and effective. Everything from yoga, aerobics, spinning, stretching, meditation and more is available now for you to utilize regularly. And, if all else fails, a brisk walk (with your mask on, of course) can always get your heart rate and mood up.

I encourage all of you to try each of these tools and also to find your own. I also invite anyone who could benefit to consider contacting me to “Talk It Out”, if you think it might help.

Here’s To Your Health,

Betsy Ross

You Can Have a Virtual Collaborative Divorce

While during this time of limited social contact, many have concluded that divorce is simply out of the question, others are moving forward in a virtual divorce. Collaborative divorce is a process where specially trained attorneys, a coach facilitator, and a financial professional work together, cooperatively, with clients to help them settle disputes and come to agreement. This more peaceful process (vs. divorce litigation) can be accomplished virtually when in-person meetings are not possible. While working virtually does take planning and some getting used to, there are many benefits to clients in doing so. Some of these include:

-Not having to wait until in-person meetings are possible again to move forward in your divorce process

-You do not ever have to be in your spouse’s physical presence while meeting, which is a big plus for many who find sitting with a soon-to-be-ex to be stressful

-Savings on travel time for the professionals, who no longer have to move beyond their own work spaces to attend a team meeting

-More flexibility in meeting times

-Increased opportunities for taking breaks during challenging divorce discussions and for conferring with a professional (your attorney, the coach, or a financial expert) as needed via ‘breakout rooms’

-And more

If you would like to learn more about whether or not virtual collaborative divorce is the right process for you, feel free to contact me

‘E-Therapy’: Psychological Band Aid, Effective Healing, or Both?

These are uncertain and stressful times and for those who like to feel ‘in charge’ of themselves and their life’s direction, it can be even more challenging. Help and support are available, but, like everything else these days, assistance comes primarily virtually. And, beginning or shifting to virtual or ‘E-Therapy’ can pose challenges to us as we juggle our work and our children’s schedules, struggle to find quiet and privacy (many sessions are conducted in cars), and contend with the ebb and flow of our own energy levels (it takes a lot of energy just to move through the day, no less accomplish anything).

What can we expect then to achieve in E-Therapy at this time? As reported by a number of my patients, many are viewing their sessions as a lifeline connecting them back to their sense of themselves through this time of uncertainty and constant change as well as providing an emotional resting place or ‘time-out’, amidst the chaos. Others talk of gaining deeper insights to previously unknown strengths and aspects of themselves as well as a re-prioritizing of important values such as connection, kindness, and community. Others still are focusing primarily on problem solving the new challenges that 24/7 life at home in a pandemic has brought to them and to their families.

Whatever your need, a psychological band aid to get you through the rough spots or deeper exploration to move you toward potential healing, talk therapy on the telephone or via video chat can help. Whatever your circumstances, life at home these days seems to offer an abundance of free time, so, what better time is there to consider giving talk therapy a try?

To learn more or to set up an initial consultation, feel free to email me at info@betsyrosscoaching.com

To Your Health,

Betsy Ross, LICSW, CGP

I’m Moving Out…Into The Basement!

“We want a divorce, but our home is worth less than we bought it for and we can’t afford two houses” has become a mantra among today’s divorcing couples. With unemployment at an all time high, housing prices ‘under water’, and a sluggish economy, many couples undergoing a Massachusetts divorce are becoming much more creative and working together when it comes to living arrangements. Read more

coparents

Co-Parenting Questions: What is a good parenting plan for my family and me?

From: LM, in Norfolk County

Excellent question, LM!

An effective parenting plan is created just for you and your family and is not a one size fits all (or ‘template’) plan. Crafting your plan (like making a scrumptious meal from scratch) will take some time and skill. Working with the right professional, who can truly LISTEN and LEARN about you and your family, ask the right questions to develop an understanding of how you have done things in the past (and even present you with good ideas on what might work for the future) is essential. The plan with the best fit for your family will be based on:

-Your particular children’s ages, personalities, temperament, and coping skills

-Yours (and your Ex’s) own personalities, relationship skills, and how communication abilities

-Your past marital/couple relationship style and your co-parenting relationship goals

Keep in mind that all of the above change over time, too, so your parenting plan should regularly be reviewed and updated to better suit the needs of your ever growing/changing children and family. The best Parenting Plan is one that is customized to fit the needs of your particular children, of your particular co-parenting relationship (accounting for each of your communication and decision making styles) and for your family’s work/school/activity schedule.

Talking With Your Children About Divorce

If only there were a fool-proof formula that parents could follow and feel reassured that they were saying the right thing, the right way, and at the right time when it comes to telling the children about your separation or divorce. Unfortunately, there is not because every situation is different and every family (in terms of communication styles, personalities, history, etc.) is different, too. But, luckily, there are some guidelines to follow that will surely help. These include:

Read more