Your spouse cheated. He or she is leaving you for someone else. Perhaps you've argued for years and just finally had enough. Regardless of the reason, for the vast majority of cases, divorce is emotional. People are emotional. Deciding how your life will be after a divorce is emotional.
Unfortunately, making sound decisions while emotions are running high doesn't work. When we get emotional, we stop thinking rationally, which can lead us to do and say things that we will regret later. It's easy to blow up an important part of the settlement agreement by letting anger and frustration get the better of you. When emotions take over, we stop listening to the other person and focus on the feelings instead of the goals we have for the negotiation.
So, how do you stay unemotional in a situation that is going to have such a big impact on your future? Use the following tips to keep you on track, both with your emotions and divorce mediation.
My oldest son recently informed me that hangry has actually been added to the Oxford English Dictionary and it makes sense. When we are tired or hungry, we are often more irritable. That's human nature and a great example of why we need to take care of our basic needs before entering an emotional situation.
One of the keys to managing your emotions in mediation is setting yourself up for success. That means to make sure that you get a good night of rest before you come to your session. Have a full meal ahead of time. While I tend to have snacks available for my clients, they won’t help much if you haven’t eaten all day. The last thing you want to be is “hangry” when you need to make major life decisions.
Before going into any negotiation, whether it's mediation or something else, it's important to know what tends to trigger your negative emotions. For example, if you know one of your emotional triggers is someone interrupting you, it'll be easier to remain calm when it happens. Knowing yourself is the first step to a successful negotiation.
As it relates to negotiating your divorce specifically, you might find certain topics are triggers. In many cases, the topic of spousal support is a trigger. If you know that there is a particular topic that is a trigger for you, it's important to take some additional time to prepare for the conversation that will happen surrounding that topic. Be even more intentional when it comes to listening to the other person's proposals and concerns regarding the topic.
While you can plan ahead, it’s important that you also pay attention to your emotions during your negotiation. By taking the time to notice your thoughts and feelings in the moment, you’ll be able to respond more quickly to those emotions, instead of becoming triggered by them. If you find that your emotions are getting out of control, stay clear-headed and focused by taking a deep breath or drinking some water.
If you notice early enough that your emotions are beginning to spiral out of control, you may be able to reign them in by focusing on the facts. Simply redirecting the conversation back to the task at hand and away from the increasing emotions or the people involved may just be enough to avoid an emotional outburst you’ll later regret. This strategy may not work for you if the situation or conversation has already become emotional.
If emotions are running high, suggest taking a short break to regroup. This can give everyone a chance to regain their composure before moving forward. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting outside of the room and taking a few breaths of fresh air. Most of the time a short break can actually saves time by creating an atmosphere that allows the rest of the session to be more productive.
If you notice the other party is getting frustrated, this is a great time to engage the idea of actively listening. They may feel that they aren’t being heard or acknowledge for their ideas, and by taking the time to do just that, you can effectively reverse their tense emotions. Let them know that you are listening and understanding the ideas they are proposing, even if you don’t agree.
One effective way to demonstrate active listening is to repeat back what the other party said to confirm that you fully understand their point. I regularly do this during mediation cases. Not only does it show that I'm actively listening, but it also gives the person a chance to clarify their position if I misinterpreted something.
At the beginning of a divorce mediation, I ask people a few questions including what they hope to accomplish, their biggest concerns, and I even ask them to consider what their future self would like to be able to say about how they handled the divorce process.
If you find yourself becoming angry, frustrated, or emotional in general, remind yourself of your big-picture goals. Raising children together can be a big goal for many, and if you want to be able to remain friends with your soon-to-be-ex for that purpose, allowing your emotions to run high won’t help you achieve that.
Emotions have the tendency to cloud judgment, but when it comes to your divorce mediation, they don’t have to. By utilizing the previous steps, working to stay composed, and taking a break as necessary, you can keep them from becoming your worst enemy at the negotiation table.