This article is included in a collection of stories to be published as “Family Conflict During a Pandemic: Stories of Struggle and Hope “
Choosing to move through your separation with courage in the face of fear is the one battle in a divorce worth winning. It requires that you share your truth with the person from whom you are separating, with authentic self-awareness.
As professional family mediators, we understand the depth of the divorce experience. We witness your process and see you as people with deep emotions and with a history that, for better or worse, has shaped who you are. We also stand witness to the history of your relationship and the underlying conflicts that have developed.
Just as doctors diagnose and treat your physical conditions, divorce mediators diagnose and treat your relationship conflicts. We guide you to make best decisions together. We support you in having the courage to continue through the difficult and often painful process of divorce.
The word “courage” derives from the Latin word cor, which means “heart”. During divorce, many people try to shield their hearts. The truth is that the more you speak from your heart during divorce, the closer you get to the heart of the matter. This is where you and your spouse can reach your best possible agreements.
“Courage leads to vulnerability,” says professional mediator Kristyn Carmichael. “When we mediators are vulnerable with clients, we connect with them in a way that we couldn’t if we held them at arm’s length.”
When the mediator moves into a vulnerable position, by asking sensitive questions in a positive and neutrally-framed way, it gives separating spouses permission to respond truthfully, without defensiveness or threats. Spouses actually need to voice the truth, to best solve problems through divorce conversations.
Courageous conversations contain the secrets to discover life-altering opportunities during divorce. When a mediator asks difficult and courageous questions, it provides spouses the opportunity to give honest and courageous answers. The most challenging problems may evolve into opportunities, when you feel the freedom to explain what you need and why you need it.
Jamie is a child with serious underlying health conditions. In the early days of the pandemic, one of Jamie’s parents had not participated in basic social-distancing practices and continued to resist doing so. The other parent had withheld the child from parenting time for three weeks, fearing harm would come to Jamie.
Mediator: How do you both keep Jamie safe and continue allowing her to share time with both of you?
Parent: Look, this is a control thing. The health issues are being exaggerated. The reason that I’m not following these restrictions is because it’s what my soon-to-be-ex wants.
Mediator: I’m curious, hypothetically, what if the only way to have time with Jamie right now was to practice the social-distancing guidelines being proposed? If it was the only way to keep Jamie safe, would you consider it?
Parent: I don’t know.
Mediator: Can you imagine, for a moment, a scenario where something harmful did happen to your child?
Parent: No, I couldn’t imagine that. I wouldn’t — [long silence] Okay, we need to figure this out.
Divorce can be filled with some of life’s most impactful problems. Equal to the magnitude of these problems lies the magnitude of the opportunities. This is also, and maybe especially, true during the pandemic.
We can begin to view family conflict as a chance to act courageously. Only through conflict do we grow. Choosing to grow takes courage. Any problem has an answer if we have the courage to search for it. And, in searching, there is an opportunity to land at an even better place.
This is the complete interview by Robert Benjamin with Randy Lowry, President of Lipscomb University and founder of the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine, filmed as part of...By L. Randolph Lowry