Mediation

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part I

To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part I | Rachel Alexander{4:00 minutes to read} Certain relationships are problematic and challenging, whether in mediation or litigation. This article looks at one particular challenge – power imbalances – and how they are managed in mediation vs. litigation.

Many, if not all, relationships experience power imbalances at different times. In fact, power imbalances are one of the main concerns expressed during individual intake calls.

What is a “power imbalance?”

Here are some examples of possible imbalances:

    • She pays all the bills: I have no idea what our household finances are.
    • He has a Wharton MBA and I am a school nurse; how can I competently discuss our assets in a mediation setting? I am totally disadvantaged!
    • She wants the divorce and I don’t – I don’t even want to be here. I’m devastated, and she already has both [emotional] feet out the door.
    • There is a history of emotional and psychological abuse. He manipulates and bullies, and I am afraid of being made uncomfortable during sessions and punished afterwards.

While violent and dangerous situations need a more structured, heavily resourced environment, there are more moderate cases of power imbalance that can be appropriate in a mediation setting.

Spotting power imbalances

Power imbalances often show up in a secondary manner. For example, a new client might ask: May I bring my friend?

While I ultimately discourage this because of a myriad of issues including confidentiality, the more important question we discuss is: What purpose would be served by your friend’s presence? From there we uncover feelings of unsafeness, concern about being intimidated and losing her voice. Once the concerns are expressed, we can determine how to manage them together. We contract for candor and safety.

How does a mediator address a power imbalance? Two of the 6 recommendations follow. (The remaining 4 will come in Part II.)

First: Onboarding the “Victim” to Participate in Protecting Him/Herself and Creating a Workable Environment

Speaking with the “disempowered” party about how to best create a safe environment and making a contract for candor with the client – to express to me any time she feels this dynamic is surfacing – encourages an environment where we are collectively responsible for the hygiene of our working space. The mediator asks the client to stay aware of how she is doing in the sessions and verbalize immediately any time she is feeling uncomfortable and that the dynamic is in play.

Second: Adopting a Helpful Presumption

There is this working presumption: When a relationship feels unsafe for one person, it is certainly also destabilizing and threatening for the other. The power dynamic often can be reframed and understood as both people experiencing intense, threatening feelings but acting them out differently.

The mediator’s recognition that both people are experiencing a loss of power can already begin to shift the power imbalance, affecting how the mediator treats the parties, thus affecting how the parties respond. Instead of regarding one party as “perpetrator” and the other “victim” – an unhelpful, polarizing space to work from – the mediator can approach the parties with the sense that they are both suffering. While the disempowered spouse may feel threatened, bullied, abused, the “powerful” spouse may also feel out-of-control, attacked, maligned.

Power imbalances are worthy of our attention. More to come on this important topic in our next article.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Look Who is Coming to the Mediation Table

Look Who is Coming to the Mediation Table by Rachel Alexander{4:54 minutes to read} What happens when attorneys join clients in matrimonial mediation? It’s anyone’s guess!

Generally, in my practice, divorce mediations are intimate, including only the parties and the mediator. This often adds to the sense of confidentiality and privacy. It works well for many clients who want to speak candidly about difficult issues in a safe, unbiased environment.

Sometimes, however, for a multitude of reasons, clients wish to include their attorneys in sessions. A client may feel that by having his attorney present, his rights are better protected or that a power imbalance between the parties is being equalized.

Having attorneys in a mediation can be instrumental and necessary. Attorneys offer legal advice, share their experience before various judges, and appreciate how relevant legal issues are currently being decided in our courts. An attorney can help reality test; they have been in the litigation trenches and can speak to the trends, uncertainty, time and expense involved in trial. This information can be helpful in shedding light on what a litigated process and outcome could be, refining the clients’ understanding of their likelihood to prevail on certain issues and not others.

While there are indisputable benefits to including attorneys throughout the process, there are some downsides of which clients should be mindful. When litigation attorneys, unfriendly to and/or untrained in mediation, enter the process, the mediation can morph into a mini litigation.

Attorneys, being people, bring with them their biases, preferences, styles and personalities, in addition to their training as adversaries. Any of this can actually delay, even derail, the process of settlement. An attorney might have a personality where he is compelled to pick over every minor issue, like a kid picking at a scab on her knee while her mother admonishes her that she’s making a scar. A client might be saying, “Yes, I’m fine with this particular issue, let’s move on,” but the attorney replies: “Wait just one minute! Is this really fine with you? That might be fine with you, but it’s not fine with me.” (exaggerated for emphasis)

An attorney is generally trained to fight for a client, not a family, not its future.

Conversely, a mediator is trained to look at the whole family and the fallout of an acrimonious, imbalanced settlement. The attorney, in his zealous advocacy, might focus on micro “wins” rather than the macro, long-term big win: a post-divorce functional family and a settlement agreement that will actually be adhered to by both parties. The mediator works from a fundamental, guiding principle that any sustainable solution must include the interests of both parties affected by its terms. If one member of the family “loses,” no family member can escape the ramifications over time.

It shouldn’t go unmentioned that there are other professionals who may be coming to the mediation table in addition to attorneys.

Financial Advisors/Accountants/Actuaries for Pension Valuations, Etc.

Having the couple’s financial advisors as part of the mediation can be quite helpful. Mediators aren’t necessarily money managers, so including the expert who is actually managing the parties’ funds or can advise how to separate their assets equitably is helpful.

Therapists

When clients are working with therapists, particularly as a family, having the family therapist involved, usually by phone, can be very appropriate. The therapist’s input can help inform such aspects of an agreement as the parenting plan, communication boundaries between parties, involvement of third parties (boyfriends, girlfriends) with the children.

So when we say, “Look who’s coming to the mediation table,” it can be almost anybody that the parties feel is reasonably necessary.

I am open to include anyone in mediation whom the clients determine is helpful, relevant and necessary. When other professionals can further the creation of a fair, stable and comprehensive agreement, they are most welcome at my table!

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

The Mediator Will See You Now…

The Mediator Will See You Now... by Rachel Alexander

{4:18 minutes to read} Often, with the best intentions, clients prepare for mediation by trying to resolve as many things as possible before setting foot in my office. They think they’re doing themselves a great service, getting a running head start. However, in my experience, the opposite is true. The time to see the mediator is immediately.

I encourage people to see me first, and after that the timeline is their own. By seeing a mediator once, you have not committed yourself to a course of treatment nor boarded an express train for divorce. Au contraire! You have gathered information. Learned of options. And relieved the burden of facing complex decisions both ill-equipped and unaccompanied.

When it comes to seeing the mediator, the sooner the better.

Even one initial mediation session saves a couple time, aggravation, and money, but it should occur before they have assembled an agreement.

1. In the Midst of Crisis. When two people are struggling in their relationship, they can be like two fighters doing that thing where it looks like they are hugging each other but really aren’t. The intervention of a third party, even the presence of an unbiased person, can help people relax and become more capable of solving problems together. Getting that intervention sooner rather than later often makes the difference in how quickly things can be resolved.

2. Accurate Information. Without a full picture of the governing law, relevant issues, rights and obligations, launching into an agreement can result in attachment to bad and misinformed decisions. One of the parties typically will be fixedly committed to what was agreed, dug into something based neither in law, fact, or even the reality of their own, or their children’s, needs. It can be difficult and time consuming to loosen this grip enough so they can grasp alternatives and new information.

When you’re drowning, even an octopus may resemble a lifeline of sorts. Couples scrambling to get relief from the current discord and distress are vulnerable to glomming on to even rickety proposals, so desperate are they to glean the potential of peace.

3. Couples making all these decisions themselves and then coming into mediation and saying, “Here’s what we decided,” relegate the mediator to a position of scribe… (See The Difference Between the Mediator, the Draftsman, and Bartleby the Scrivener.) …or messenger of the bad news that what you have arrived at needs revision.

We then may have to spend a lot of time and energy explaining, unwinding, and trying to unfasten them from what they ill-fatedly committed to. This can create unhappiness when parties discover that their plan is actually unviable.

Discord can also result if one party feels misled or exploited because they find out that their agreement is actually quite unfair to them. Trust may have been compromised. It can take time to clear this bad taste from the palette.

In the first mediation session, couples are provided with a folder filled with information. If they choose to depart from mediation, they will at least do so having a framework and some tools with which to work. Clients will have several worksheets, lists of items, and guiding questions to consider.

Like going to a doctor, don’t wait until crippled with rheumatic fever. Go at the first sign of distress.

Going to a mediator sooner can help map an efficient and effective path forward.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Sundays, Bloody Sundays

Sundays, Bloody Sundays by Rachel Alexander{4:42 minutes to read} Sundays are not known to be the bright spot of the week. Sundays, especially Sunday evenings, can be bleak for everyone, but they can be particularly difficult for the newly divorced. On Sundays, the weekend shuts its eyes, and only Monday gleams on the horizon. For most, this means a return to work or school; a putting away of our freer selves; a tucking in and straightening out in preparation for our weekday responsibilities.

My divorced and divorcing clients often note that weekends are the toughest. This is why I found the following so remarkable and hopeful.

Recently, I was mediating with a divorcing couple whose relationship was amicable and child centered. The parties, already separated, had implemented a fluid parenting plan which included coordinating their schedules so that one of them was home for the children after school. The arrangement included overlapping time and a sharing of responsibilities, such as trading off who made dinner and started with homework. Both parents parented in the children’s primary residence.

Not only did both parents see the children every day, they supported one another’s parenting efforts and considered each other’s work obligations.

While we were mapping out their shared parenting schedule, they expressed, with dread in their throats, “What about Sundays? Who is going to manage those?” Sundays were a day of scrambling to get homework done, confirming carpooling arrangements, preparing for the work week. Sundays were heavy on burden, light on joy.

How, we contemplated collectively, could we transform Sundays, or at least this family’s relationship to it?

Together, we decided that Sunday would be a transition day for custody, and that, to make the transition easier on everyone, it would be one of the nights when both parents would spend time with the kids. Then we set about structuring the day to include some order, goals, and something to look forward to. We also addressed the potential potholes of the parents having extended time together.

Here’s what we came up with:

The children would be included: If all homework is done by 5pm, they can choose the family evening activity.

Choices would include:

  • Seeing a movie of their choosing;
  • Playing board games; or
  • Cooking something together for dinner.

The value is two-fold: It incentivizes and empowers the children to take responsibility for completing their assignments before the Sunday night frenzy that parents and children often endure, and it provides the family with a structured activity which can be grounding and relaxing. Participating in a simple, defined activity together can provide an alternative to the shapeless periods that are vulnerable to dysfunctional interactions; the reopening and re-experiencing of intense, unresolved issues and emotions. A planned evening activity provides a simple format for the family to develop new dynamics. It provides a time and space to build a new normal, which can even be however loopy or normal as the family decides.

Sunday evening could actually become something to look forward to.

Simple family activities can anchor a family feeling somewhat adrift in the new living and parenting arrangements. It can make a safe place for a family feeling its way a bit in their new circumstances.

Disclaimer: This is not meant to be a global recommendation nor would this solution be responsible for every family. Each family has different wants and needs. As with all things mediation, strategies are specific to participants and their locations on their very personal processes.

However, even parents with sole custody on Sunday nights can make use of the above if they find it helpful.

Planned, enjoyable activities can change Sunday evenings from dreaded to anticipated with glee! This is an example of mediation alchemy.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Is There Room For Other Professionals in Mediation?

Is There Room For Other Professionals in Mediation? | Rachel Alexander{3:18 minutes to read} People going through divorce often discover they need more help than they initially imagined. Not only are they divorcing, but they now need:

  • Their own health insurance;
  • Life insurance to secure child support/alimony obligations;
  • Therapy to support the period of adjustment;
  • A real estate agent to list the home or find a new one;
  • A mortgage broker to refinance the home;
  • An actuary to value and help divide pensions and other retirement assets, and so on.

Having multiple facets of life unsettled can be overwhelming and even isolating. One can feel completely out of his depth trying to address all of these complex factors at once; at a loss as to where to begin and whom to reach out to.

Divorce can feel disenfranchising and unmooring. One antidote to this experience is receiving proper support, sometimes in the form of a team.

As a divorce mediator in NJ and NY, it’s my job to understand and anticipate not only my clients’ needs but to also identify other experts to whom I can confidently refer. Instead of merely identifying a concern and leaving the client floundering in midair, I aim to connect the client with the colleague who can help.

I believe part of my job as a mediator is to acquaint myself and build relationships with other professionals in adjunct fields. These connections extend the services I can provide and further support couples through the entire divorce process.

As an attorney and mediator training in Focus Oriented Therapy, I hope to bring substantial value to the table, but I am certainly not a forensic accountant, actuary, mortgage broker or real estate agent. Notwithstanding, should a client need an insurance agent or financial planner, part of my job is to pick up the phone and match them with the right one.

Recently, a client received news of her husband’s serious medical diagnosis. Together we identified that they would be well served to speak to an eldercare attorney who specializes in financial planning in cases where rehabilitation/nursing care might be required. Had I not deliberately networked with other specialists, I might not have known about this niche speciality, much less know an individual to whom I could refer. Sometimes an introductory phone call or email is all that’s needed. Sometimes, as in this case, I will coordinate and participate in the initial meeting.

The colleagues I partner with are competent and committed. They regard my clients with the compassion that the circumstances of divorce require and that the individuals deserve.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Why Do People Get Divorced?

Why Do People Get Divorced? | Rachel Alexander{6:12 minutes to read} First, it should be said, no one divorces lightly. No one has ever walked into my office and declared: “We heard there was a special on divorce. We weren’t considering it, but this deal is too incredible to pass up!

No one comes in because they’ve just had a bad day or are bored. Couples thinking about divorce are despairing. Divorce is an action of last resort.

Many people come to divorce after years, even decades, of bearing their situations. Some clients (and friends) have shared that they knew they had made a mistake on their wedding day, thirty years ago.

Overall, in spite of all the social, economic and inherent incentives to remain married, one or both people are up against something that supersedes all of that. The scales have tipped. Usually the relationship has turned toxic so as to erode its own integrity.

Friends, let us make no mistake, divorce is in no way the best, only or even appropriate option in every instance. Relationships are trying and require attention, commitment and patience. No one should be encouraged to abandon them at first disappointment. Our expectations of marriage and one another are often flawed. But, when a relationship—a marriage—no longer serves the two it is intended to support, staying together may not be the healthy, responsible choice. This article addresses that.

Toxicity

Some relationships contain a low-grade abusiveness, where parties put the other down, use sarcasm, withhold contact or communication. While no one is walloping the other or setting things on fire, nasty remarks and undermining behaviors can have the same deleterious effect over time.

Loneliness

Just as Mark Twain once asserted that “the coldest winter he’d ever spent was a summer in San Francisco;” the deepest loneliness can be found in a marriage that’s failing. When loneliness seems greater with a person then without, people divorce. Marriages that no longer provide connection, or physical intimacy, lose ground.

Infidelity

It’s usually not one incident of infidelity or the infidelity itself, but what underlies, such as chronic disrespect, emotional abandonment (on the part of one or both parties), self-centered behaviors, dishonesty, loss of trust, and so on. Often infidelities are symptoms of marital or individual issues that have gone unaddressed.

Financial Challenges

As with infidelity, it is usually not just encountering financial challenges that result in a divorce, but the way the parties are able or unable to communicate or work together and problem-solve around money issues. No one is at his best under constant stress, and the strain of ongoing money worries can erode a relationship.

Loss of Authenticity

When one can no longer be who he is and remain in the marriage. When the relationship offends someone’s sense of self in one’s life. When one feels her very life force is losing its air to the marriage, she may need to leave.

Unattended Problems

…Do not go away, and few people can let things roll off their backs easily. and few people have backs off which things easily roll. It’s usually good to find a way to address things that bother us if we are not able to dismiss them as meritless or meaningless and give them no more thought. If we get a bodily sense about something, it requires our attention.

One bad fight, or some dramatic event that is an aberration, normally does not end a marriage. However, when the same problems need addressing repeatedly, two people could be up against a significant difference that is there to stay.

I remember someone saying, “Mediation. Why would you want people to get divorced? You should be encouraging them to stay together [for the children]. Why would you want to make divorce easier?”

Because access to all care should be easier. Because there is no moral imperative compelling divorcing people to be put through a punishing process. All people who are in pain and need should be able to access a remedy without undue cost or impediment.

Divorce emerges as an option after things have unraveled, often over many years. The relationship typically is in death throes; spouses feel they have no other choice.

When there are other choices, we explore them in mediation.

Sometimes spouses adhere to the marriage based on their bonds to things other than one another. Even if the relationship is floundering or lacking, when both people have a strong investment in the system of marriage, they may well remain together. It is their way of life; there are grandchildren.

Perhaps unhappiness is the real reason that people divorce. When the relationship is identified as the cause of unhappiness or an inhibitor to happiness, people are moved to action. As well they should be.

I believe relationships are meant to support one another’s wholeness, not diminish it. I’d like to see us all move toward holding one another, and our connections to one another, in highest regard. That, in fact, might be the antidote to divorce.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

How Do We Understand Family During Divorce?

How Do We Understand Family During Divorce? | by Rachel Alexander {4:18 minutes to read} How do we understand family in a way that’s useful during divorce?

First, it’s helpful to deconstruct and decide exactly and specifically what family means to you. When you spend some time “asking into” your initial wants, you can unearth your root values.

For example, is it important to you to sleep under the same roof as your children? Of course that’s understandable, but what if we look further into it?

Gurumayi from the Siddha Yoga tradition teaches that by asking “why” of the same item again and again, we uncover its essence. That is, asking of oneself why do I want to sleep in the same home as my children? And then asking “why” of your answer, again and again, maybe a dozen times or more. Perhaps what is wanted is the experience of closeness, or of protecting, feeling safe, necessary, loving, loved…etc. Perhaps there is a wanting to be there when your little one wakes up and needs comforting. Perhaps there’s a concern for your children being soothed during the night.

Ask Yourself

Some of what is discovered in this exercise can lead you to core things that are important to you and those that hold meaning for your family. For example:

  • Family might be a sense of belonging, feeling wanted, feeling like you’re an important component in a system that depends upon you for its completeness.
  • Family might mean protecting, loving and growing.
  • Family could be tight or spacious, safe, fun, challenging.

How would you describe your idea of family?

  • If family was a room in the house, what would it look like?
  • If it was a town you are visiting, what are the laws, the atmosphere? If you were Mayor elect, what would you do for this town of yours?

What does your family already have that you value and don’t want to lose?

  • What is your family like when it’s at its best?
  • What is everyone doing, saying, wearing, discussing?
  • How are you interacting and what are you like when you are most connected and fully yourself?

Divorce presents the opportunity for determining what family can be for you. Rather than being confined, even tormented, by ideas unconsciously inherited, why not proactively choose the family you want to be!

Avoid getting fixed on what isn’t, because you may miss what is, and what is emerging.

Ask the Kids

Perhaps ask your kids what family means to them and what is most important and how they’d like it to be now, given the new situation. How would you like it to be when mom and I are at soccer together? What would you love for dinner when you’re at dad’s? What would make bedtime at mom’s more enjoyable?

Focus on what is wanted, not just what is not wanted. It will be more powerful and helpful. If the conversation turns to sadness and lamenting what will not be (and likely wasn’t the experience of the recent years either), make space for those feelings too, but refocus this talk on what is wanted. This conversation is useful to have again and again over the coming years, as things settle and expand from immediate needs for security to greater possibilities.

Define family now for yourselves. Do this with your mediator and co-parent. Do this with your children.

Architect your new family. Create! Build!

Good luck and be well.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

Are We There Yet? (Or How Long Does Divorce Mediation Take?)

Are We There Yet | Rachel Alexander{4:00 minutes to read} How long is this going to take? When can we get this over with? When people are in distress, they want to know two things:

  1. That it will end.
  2. When it will end.

A clear framework and expedited process can contain some of the amorphous misery of divorce.

Mediation truncates the divorce process by, among other things:

  • Not involving the court until absolutely necessary;
  • Circumventing the back and forth between attorneys; and the ensuing back and forth between attorney and client relaying the conversations between the attorneys;
  • Facilitating a direct negotiation between the parties;
  • Beginning with the end in mind and focusing throughout on creating a settlement agreement;
  • Avoiding lengthy proceedings to act out all the inequities of the marriage;
  • Bypassing procedural impediments that are unrelated to the substantive issues and unrelated to an eventual settlement.

Mediation is typically completed within a handful of sessions, after which the mediator drafts a Memo of Understanding, Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement for the clients and their attorney to review. Once the parties have signed off on the Agreement, the divorce papers can be filed and a court date set (usually in a matter of several weeks). That said, mediation is client centered. Ultimately, both the timeline and number of sessions is shaped by the needs of the clients.

Shorter Timelines

Sometimes mediations are quick, even completed in one or two sessions. This might happen with parties who have:

  • Grown children or no children;
  • Completed foundational work with a mediator in the past, usually before attempting to reconcile, then deciding to move forward;
  • Had a short-term marriage where finances were held separately throughout;
  • Been separated for a long period and their emotions have cooled.

Longer Timelines and/or More Time in Mediation

Mediations tend to take longer with couples who have:

  • Long-term marriages;
  • Young children and complex, unconventional work schedules;
  • Multiple retirement assets requiring QDROs;
  • Collected a lot of misinformation from divorced friends from which they must be disabused.

Divorce mediations also generally take longer when couples:

  • Are in the thick of their conflict, still experiencing, even on a daily basis, all the things that have led them to seek a divorce;
  • Enter mediation without having had initial support for high, unresolved emotional conflict;
  • Contain one party who is fiercely opposed to the divorce;
  • Have already established an agreement on their own without adequate financial disclosures or knowledge of facts and pertinent case law.

And sometimes people choose to take more time. Sometimes clients prefer to set a pace wherein they can digest information, process emotions, and consider options.

Some clients make use of the mediation as a safe environment to discuss important issues that are peripheral to the final agreement, but nonetheless impact their lives. In some cases, the mediation is the only place divorcing people can speak at all.

How long does mediation take? As long as you need. As long as is necessary. As compact or deliberate as you make it.

Faster than litigation. Less harmful than a speeding bullet. More powerful than two litigious attorneys. You get the idea…

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

 

What Are We Celebrating Here?

What Are We Celebrating Here | Rachel Alexander{3:54 minutes to read} The holidays, now encroaching practically on back-to-school week, are here again. For many, ringing in the cheer has been replaced with wringing of the hands.

The holidays are difficult for most of us at one time or another, but when you are in the throes of a pending or recent divorce, they can be especially hard. With the holiday season almost upon us, I have been thinking about what we are celebrating and what it means to be connected to one another.

In a deconstructionist way, I have been considering what we are meant to be celebrating in the holiday season. Here’s what I came up with:

A reminder of where we are in our year, in time, and an invitation to contrast this year with last, to notice how we’ve grown, improved, aged. And to take stock of what, and who, we have lost. We connect to the space-time continuum. We locate ourselves in our own timeline and notice that it is not without end.

We connect to things past. If we have children of our own, we may experience a connection simultaneously to the future—the breadth can be awesome—who we came from, who we created, and the through-line of that.

We may celebrate our affiliation to a particular belief system or religion—traditions and customs we have practiced most of our lives, that connect us to our younger selves and those who raised us.

We make space for imagination, suspended disbelief, and all that is positive and childlike. The notion of a jolly fellow so loving he not only provides gifts for all the world’s children, he personally delivers them! By flying a sleigh! We are allowed to rejoice in receiving and delight in giving. We partake in making small wishes come true. There is a connection to a sweetness that is extraordinary and somehow uniquely possible during the holidays.

There is a sense of unity—the whole nation, much of the western world, celebrate at approximately the same time every year. We share a language, a happy this and merry that which we do not access the rest of the year.

For so many who, this year, are somewhat displaced, spending their first holiday apart from their children, their first holiday without exchanging gifts with their spouse, it’s important to identify everything to which you are continuously connected.

May we all pass this holiday season with a kindness and lightness toward not only one another, but ourselves.

May we forgo judgment and blame, and let ourselves be just as we are.

May we rest in the knowledge that we love and are loved; that we belong, even if we’re not experiencing it specifically at the moment.

Let each of us be reassured that we are part of this big, messy, imperfect human race, most of whom are also grappling with getting through the season with a modicum of grace and gratitude. Let us be in contact with that which is bigger than ourselves, yet resides within us.

May we be safe and be well.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305

Curiosity: The Little Word that Could

 

Curiosity: The Little Word that Could | Rachel Alexander

{5:80 minutes to read} Curiosity: A simple word that can unlock possibilities, shift paradigms, and free us from the bondage of our own “rightness.”

In Focus Oriented Therapy, we are called to settle into the here and now, sense into our body, check in with ourselves with a “childlike curiosity.” This invitation, this language, has amazed me. I have become enthralled with the concept of curiosity! It asks such a complete departure from unconscious living. It holds an almost touching possibility of compassionate attention.

I am curious about how effective an approach of curiosity could be in divorce mediation. Could curiosity be a golden key to unlocking conflict?

In conflict like divorce, people often contract into rigid positions, false certainty, their own “rightness.” Rather than the actual conflict that needs resolving, the immovability of the parties itself becomes an obstacle to settlement. With this stiffened, positional attitude, negotiation is impossible. Thinking is usually black and white, unnuanced, inflexible.

Resolution requires a movability, a spaciousness. I propose that curiosity provides that.

We can introduce curiosity by shifting slightly, and approaching first ourselves with a “childlike” and “interested” curiosity. What does this approach look like? It is similar to the way we would approach a frightened little child whom we had never met. It is how we might approach an injured animal we wished to aid. We don’t race towards it. We assess, move slowly, check in with the little one as we move closer. We don’t yet know what is wrong, what is needed, or even if we should get closer. This brings a living, aware and open attitude. It requires a continual checking in with our own internal sense and our sense of the other. It makes room for both. It implies our acknowledgment of the unknown.

Curiosity allows us to back up a bit from the entanglement and immediacy of the situation. It loosens our grip and asks us to observe what is taking place before engaging. This is anathema to how we tend to be when we are threatened, angry, deep into a conflict.

With curiosity, we regain our composure. We change stances and become more of an explorer, a visitor in our own situation. We want to see what’s going on, within and then also without. We don’t need to assert, change, judge, fix, condemn. We merely need to look into what is occurring.

If we become curious about the other:

  • What makes the house so important to her?
  • What is this experience for him?

We begin to listen and relate differently. Our attention turns. Our approach becomes more of a listening observer.

This doesn’t mean we give up ourselves and cave in to the demands of the other. Quite the opposite. In this place we are stronger and more effective because we are more present. We are more fully there, have more of ourselves “online,” accessible and thus can more fully assess what’s needed. We settle and slow down a bit. We start to inhabit a more comfortable, attuned separateness, as well as make possible a more helpful engagement.

In conflict, a genuine curiosity into what the other is up against, what she is hoping for, what he is struggling with, a shifting to understand the other immediately introduces a tone of respect and concern. Still from a safe distance. A humanness emerges. In this space, a space when the parties acknowledge the other’s otherness, their own wholeness and separateness, possibilities emerge, blood pressure drops, and settlements form.

Here is an example. A painfully introverted friend recently had to go to a large networking event, alone. She knew no one going and was filled with dread. We introduced curiosity. Instead of looking at herself from the outside, a stance which engendered self-consciousness and anxiety, she adopted an attitude of curiosity into what would be happening around her. Who are these other people attending the event? What are they there for, what are they all about? Could there be something of value, perhaps even something fascinating or precious to be discovered in conversation? Cloaked in the thick buckskin of curiosity, she would enter the event with greater ease; an explorer, with clear intent and interest. Curiosity can anchor us when we enter the unknown.

Curiosity is not obsession or fascination. It doesn’t grab, demand, insist. It is light and careful, perhaps even cautious. It is an approaching with a light touch, an asking, a checking into. It is the antidote for stuckness, meanness, holding fast. An appropriate and helpful stance to hold in conflict, divorce and certainly in mediation.

Rachel AlexanderRachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305