Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict
- Dorothy Thompson
So you and your spouse have decided to engage in the collaborative process and you have both retained attorneys, along with mental health professionals who will serve as divorce coaches. You have discussed the use of other professionals and understand that they may be brought in to the process if it seems appropriate. Now what happens? What can you expect? What will be expected of you and your spouse? What can you expect of the professionals you have engaged?
Much of the literature describes collaborative practice as being a more civilized way to resolve disputes. It offers parties the opportunity to explore their own needs and interests and find solutions that meet the needs of the entire family. And, the agreements that are reached tend to be more lasting, durable agreements. All true, but that does not mean that it is an easy process. There is conflict at the heart of divorce and that conflict should be acknowledged and addressed. What collaborative practice offers is the prospect of identifying and working through that conflict with the help and support of experienced professionals.
And, with those professionals, couples can prepare for conflict, become aware of their own conflict styles and develop skills for effectively resolving conflict. These skills are invaluable- not just in reaching an agreement now but in the future- continuing to co-parent together, through birthdays, holidays, marriages and other passages of life.
So, working with the basic premise conflict is inevitable and that it can be addressed in a productive fashion, here are three tips.
Husband: I tuned out because you nagged me.Instead of reacting immediately with a counter-attack, try to take a step back. Ask the other person what he or she meant. If the Wife asks Husband what he meant by his statement, he might say, “I always felt as though you were criticizing me when you asked me if I had completed something you had asked me to do and rather than getting angry, I tried to pretend that I didn’t feel anything.” Being non-defensive does not mean that you are defenseless. If you can respond non-defensively, simply asking for more information and clarification, rather than engaging in a counter-attack, the conversation can take a very constructive turn.
Wife: I nagged you because you tuned out.
Divorce can be a scary, painful time. It can be difficult to look to the future rather than re-hash the past. There may be deep conflicts that partners would rather forget than resolve. There is an African proverb, “smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.” If you can face your conflict, it does not have to be a win-lose proposition. With the collaborative process, a new, more satisfying dance can be created.
Andrea Hirsch is a family lawyer in Washington, D.C. Trained in mediation and collaborative practice, she actively promotes these alternate forms of dispute resolution. Andrea is a founding member of the Collaborative Dispute Resolution Professionals and the DC Academy of Collaborative Professionals and in 2010, Andrea became a co-founder and principal of the Collaborative Practice Center of Greater Washington.