Numbers vs. Feelings: Different Perspectives in Divorce Mediation

©2016 Shawn D. Skillin, Esq. In divorce mediation, there is almost always a numbers person and a feelings person. The numbers person was probably what I refer to as the “Managing Partner” in the marriage. The person who balanced the accounts, took care of getting the bills paid and the taxes done, made the investment decisions, etc. This spouse was often the more organized and logical partner in the marriage. They are more logical in their decision making, they are linear thinkers and often have a good grasp on how this divorce thing is going to look from a logical perspective. They are often focused on practical matters: schedules, finances and logistics. The other spouse is often the “feelings” person. Numbers aren’t really first and foremost in this person’s mind. They are worried about where they will live, will they have enough money, are the children going to be ok, will they ever find love again. They are often slower to process the practical issues of divorce. How do you bring these two parties together into a space where decisions and planning can take place? It’s not always easy. Recognizing where each person is coming from is the first key. You have to take each client “where they are at.” You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole, so once you’ve identified this problem, start chipping away at the sharp edges. Help the “numbers person” to recognize that the “feelings person” needs some time to process their feelings so they can take in the practical information and be ready to make decisions that will stick. Pushing them forward too quickly will only result in a one step forward, two steps back scenario that ultimately frustrates the “numbers person” even more. With the numbers person, my favorite saying is “slower is faster.” Assist the “feelings person” by acknowledging their feelings, but gently reminding them that being involved in the decision making process requires their active participation. Help them figure out what they need to help them move forward. Gently remind them, that if they fail to make any progress, the other person may ultimately get so frustrated they will end up in court just to move things along. Help them to outline what information they need and what resources they may need utilize to help them move forward. Set deadlines for getting certain tasks done. By acknowledging where each party is, the mediator helps normalize the situation for both parties. This can make everyone feel heard and more comfortable in moving forward. Shawn Skillin is an attorney, family law mediator, collaborative divorce practitioner. She is a sought-after speaker, trainer and consultant at the High Conflict Institute. She is the co-founder of the Family Resolution Institute, in San Diego, and is a senior mediator at the National Conflict Resolution Center. Learn more about Shawn and contact us to learn how she can help train your group.

Realistic Expectations in Divorce: Do Leopards Ever Really Change Their Spots?

© 2015 Shawn D. Skillin, Esq. As a mediator, I met with a divorcing couple today.  I like both of them very much.  We are the same ages, have similar interests and if I wasn’t their divorce mediator, I could be friends with each of them.  But what struck me again today, was how divorcing spouses treat each other and annoy each other, and yet at the same time they find this surprising and frustrating. You are getting divorced.  There are multiple reasons why you are getting divorced.  Many of them boil down to that fact that you each have a different perspective on various issues.  One of you likes the house neat and tidy, the other leaves dirty socks and wet towels on the floor.  One of you is fussy about the budget, the other just wants to know if the ATM card works.  You each have a different set of expectations for the children and approach discipline in different ways.  You both have frustrations, disappointments and hurt feelings.  You have argued over these issues many times, you can recite each other’s point of view word for word.  You have stopped even pretending to listen. Yet when one of you decides to file for divorce there is often an expectation that somehow this will change.  The other person will now see your point and finally change their perspective, after all you must have gotten their full and undivided attention now!  Right?  Mmmm…not so fast. In divorce, your individual perspectives don’t magically change.  Divorce is not a cure to relationship issues!  You still see things differently.  These differences continue to annoy and frustrate you.  Yet, both parties often continue to treat each other in the same way and expect a different outcome.  These communication styles didn’t work during the marriage, they aren’t going to work during the divorce.  The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  You each need to consider learning new ways to approach your issues.  You need to be able to use Flexible Thinking, Managed Emotions, and Moderate Behaviors.  This sounds simple, but is difficult when under the stress of divorce.  Being aware of your words and behaviors are the first step.  Remember your feelings are yours, they are what they are, but how you manage them and what you say, out loud or in writing, is up to you.  Consider how your former partner reacts to you when you state your feelings or make a request in your customary manner.  If their reaction is generally negative, consider a new approach.  It may be as simple as trying a more neutral tone, or asking a question instead of stating a demand. Consider using the BIFF Response® method as you your guide.  Brief, Informative, Friendly and Firm. Be brief, keep it short. Your ex probably tunes you out fairly quickly. If you can keep it brief you are more likely to be heard. Be informative but stick to the facts and limit the emotional content. The emotional content can be the distracter, the thing that makes your partner tune out and miss your actual point. Be friendly, even if you may not feel that way, your approach can go a long way in determining whether your communication is successful or not. You don’t need to be overly accommodating, just polite. Be firm, the object is to bring the conversation to a close and not open the door to more issues, especially unimportant ones. Here is an example I use in mediations frequently: Your son, John, has returned from his time with the other parent and he has an ear infection from swimming in the ocean only one day after a big rain storm.  You both know that the recommendation is to stay out of the ocean for three days after a rain storm to allow any contamination from storm drainage to clear.  You son has a fever, his ear hurts and now you have to find the time to make a doctor’s appointment, get him to the doctor, go to the pharmacy and pick up his prescriptions and probably miss out on some sleep with a cranky child the next night or two.  You are furious that your ex was so irresponsible.  You need to communicate with the other parent and you want to unleash your fury.  But is that really what you should do?  Will that solve any problems or make you feel better?  Will it change your ex’s behavior?  Probably not.  If you just unleash, will he/she even listen to the important information you need to convey?  So why not try a BIFF Response? You send an email like this.  “Dear Ex – Hope you are having a good day.  I just wanted to let you know that John has an ear infection.  He’s OK, but has a fever and his ear hurts.  He is on antibiotics for the next 10 days and he has some ear drops for the pain.  I will put the medications in his backpack when he comes to your house on Monday.  The schedule for the antibiotics is 6 am, noon, 6 pm and bedtime.  Ear drops for pain every 4 hours as needed.  Doses are on the bottles.  The total co-pay for the visit and the medications was $40.  Receipts are attached.  If you could reimburse me for your half by Friday, I’d appreciate it.  Thanks.” Sometimes it helps to construct a BIFF Response by pretending you are writing on only one side of an index card.  This forces you to think of being brief, because of the limited space.  Therefore, you have to include only the most important information or requests. Try a new approach, you know the standard one doesn’t work, so what do you have to lose?   Shawn D. Skillin, Esq. has practiced law as a family law litigator and minors counsel, and became interested in finding a more collaborative and solution oriented approach to family law cases and since 1999 has successfully mediated hundreds