How to Deal with Emotions During Divorce Mediation

Divorce is regarded as one of life’s most stressful experiences. The process presents several emotional challenges for each spouse. Divorce can evoke a range of intense emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt, and confusion. These emotions can be magnified due to the complexities of disentangling shared lives and starting a new life as a single individual.

One of the most challenging aspects of the divorce process is managing emotions during case-related discussions. These discussions could be about the division of property and debt, child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, or any number of additional issues that arise when going through a divorce.

Handling these discussions with poise and emotional balance often feels like an emotional balancing act. On your left shoulder, there is the risk of suppressing your emotions and not advocating for yourself effectively. On your right shoulder, there is the risk of emotions taking over, leading to intense arguments that do not lead to your best outcome.

What is Divorce Mediation?

Divorce mediation is a process that involves a neutral third-party mediator who facilitates communication between the divorcing spouses. The goal of the process is to help the spouses reach a mutually agreeable resolution, rather than resorting to a combative, win-or-lose scenario commonly seen in traditional court proceedings.

Divorce mediation is very different than traditional litigation in approach. In traditional litigation, the conclusion of all aspects of the divorce (division of property and debt, child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, etc.) is decided by a judge, and the process is adversarial and combative. In divorce mediation, the conclusion of all aspects of the divorce is determined by the spouses with the assistance of the mediator. This process empowers spouses to craft an agreement that reflects their unique circumstances and needs. Divorce mediation emphasizes open and productive communication. The mediator facilitates a communicative environment where spouses can express their needs, concerns, and desired outcomes safely and respectfully. The process also encourages active listening by both spouses and thoughtful responses to the other spouse’s perspectives. This process aids in reducing emotional conflict, fostering mutual understanding, and paving the way toward a resolution that satisfies the interests of both spouses. 

What are Some Common Emotions During a Divorce?

Divorce brings up many difficult feelings for both spouses involved. These emotions are a normal part of the divorce process, including:

1. Fear of Losing 50% of Assets or Losing Your Standard of Living

Divorce often brings significant financial changes, which can induce fear. The possibility of losing assets, dealing with monthly spousal maintenance or child support payments, or being forced to adapt to a lower standard of living can evoke a deep sense of fear and anxiety.

2. Anxiety About the Future

The uncertainty of what happens post-divorce can lead to feelings of anxiety and worry. Typical future concerns include where you will live, how will you pay the bills, if you need to return to the workforce, and how well you will parent as a single individual.

3. Guilt Over the Impact of Divorce on Children

When children are involved, parents struggle with guilt over the impact the divorce may have on them. This guilt can simply be from a concern about emotional trauma, a change in lifestyle, or the potential effect(s) on the children’s future relationships and emotional stability.

4. Anger at Former Spouse

This emotion is often sparked by feelings of disappointment that the marriage is ending, a perceived imbalance in what is happening now financially or with the children, or disappointment that the marriage has ended in divorce. It is not uncommon for a divorce to ignite feelings of resentment and anger towards your spouse, especially if the reasons for the divorce involved issues of misconduct or other wrongdoing.

5. Grief Over Divorce

The end of a marriage often feels like a death, leading to profound feelings of grief. This grief can encompass a wide range of feelings, including sadness, loss, and despair. These emotions can be particularly intense for long-term marriages or those involving deep emotional bonds.

How Can These Emotions Affect the Divorce Mediation Process?

While strong emotions are only natural given the circumstances, failing to keep them under control can undermine the divorce mediation process in four ways:

1. Breakdown Communication

Effective communication is essential during the divorce mediation process; however, intense emotions can impair this critical aspect of the mediation process. Emotional distress can lead to miscommunications or a communication breakdown. When one or both spouses are unable to communicate their perspectives, their concerns, or their needs, it makes it significantly harder for the mediator to facilitate the parties to reach a mutual agreement.

2. Combative Communications

When emotions spill over into interactions between the divorcing spouses, the exchanges can become combative. This adversarial approach can strain the overall spousal relationship further and may create an environment of hostility during the mediation process. This not only makes the divorce mediation process more painful but can also lead to outcomes that are less satisfactory for both spouses.

3. Unwillingness to Compromise

Cooperation and compromise are the foundation for a smooth divorce mediation process. However, heightened emotions can cloud a spouse’s judgment, leading to inflexible stances and an unwillingness to compromise. This lack of flexibility can prolong the divorce mediation process and prevent the mediator from facilitating the spouses to mutually beneficial agreements.

4. Stall Productive Negotiations

When emotions run high, it can be challenging to stay focused on the practical aspects of negotiations during the divorce mediation process. Resentment, anger, or fear can overshadow the need for reasonable decision-making and can lead to unproductive disputes over minor issues during the divorce mediation process. These emotional reactions can divert each spouse’s attention away from the focus of the mediator and stall the ability to facilitate a negotiated settlement.

What are Some Strategies to Manage Emotions During Divorce Mediation?

Here are six strategies for managing emotions during the divorce mediation process:

1. Ask for Clarification to Prevent Any Misunderstanding

Misunderstandings between divorcing spouses can often fuel conflict; therefore, it is essential to seek clarification from your spouse or the mediator whenever you are uncertain about something said during a session. By asking open-ended questions or paraphrasing statements made by your spouse or the mediator, you can ensure that you have understood correctly and avoid unnecessary conflict.

2. Take a Break if Needed

When emotions run high during a mediation session, taking a break can help to prevent the escalation of conflict. The break allows both spouses time to pause, walk out of the room, reflect, and calm down. The break can provide you with an opportunity to return to mediation with a calmer disposition and open mindset.

3. Focus on the End Goal of Mediation

Throughout the divorce mediation process, always remember the end goal is to reach an amicable resolution on all pending issues. Keeping this objective in mind can help you stay focused and prevent emotions from overshadowing the purpose of why you chose mediation over litigation.

4. Use Active Listening

Active listening is an easy way to manage your emotions during the divorce mediation process. Instead of focusing on emotions, you must pay full attention to what your spouse or the mediator is saying, understand his or her message, respond appropriately, and remember what was said. Another benefit of active listening is the ability to empathize with your spouse, reduce misunderstandings, and help maintain a more respectful dialogue during the mediation process.

5. Avoiding Speaking in Absolutes

Using absolute language, such as “always” or “never” can result in increasing conflict. Instead of using absolutes, you should use neutral language that simply acknowledges the complexity of the divorce situation and maintains an open mindset that can negotiate to an amicable conclusion.

6. Respectfully Express Emotions

Divorce – even in mediation – is an emotional process, and sometimes you need to express your feelings or acknowledge your spouse’s feelings. However, the manner you express your feelings and acknowledge your spouse’s feelings is important. Your expressions in session must be helpful and your acknowledgement to your spouse must be respectful. Both can be accomplished by simply using neutral language and ‘I’ statements to express your feelings without resorting to inflammatory or derogatory language.

A skilled divorce mediator can be crucial in helping spouses navigate mediation’s emotional ups and downs. The mediator will employ various strategies to help manage emotions, ensuring respectful and productive discussions. The mediator establishes clear guidelines for communication at the start of the mediation process. These ground rules, such as not interrupting each other, avoiding inflammatory language, and showing respect, help to cultivate an environment conducive to productive discussions. The mediator helps spouses articulate their needs, concerns, and desired outcomes constructively. This assistance aids in reducing misunderstandings and encourages a clearer understanding of each spouse’s perspective. The mediator fosters an environment where spouses feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or retribution. This sense of safety facilitates open and honest communication, a key component in achieving a mutually satisfactory resolution.

Should you and your spouse agree to divorce mediation, please know that our divorce mediation attorneys in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon are here to help and ready to meet with you and your spouse to discuss if we are the right fit for your mediation.

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