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)!

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

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.

Should Unhappy Parents Stay Together?

Many of the unhappily married parents I speak with talk about staying married for the sake of their children. “We’ll wait until the kids leave for college, so they can grow up in a home with a mom and a dad” is an all too common refrain. The problem with this logic, though well-intended, is that it doesn’t consider the negative impacts on children of growing up in a home with parents who are not true partners, who don’t love or even like each other, who fight or ignore each other, or worse. Read more

A Divorce Coach Can Save You.

You may have heard about divorce coaching, but did you know that a skillful divorce coach can save you and your family: time, money, and aggravation? Here’s how:

A Divorce Coach Can Help You Know What You Need. Many divorcing clients have difficulty sorting through the options and possibilities to pinpoint what is most important. It’s easy to get off track or feel overwhelmed Read more