When in conflict, ask yourself, "What are the unmet needs?"

When you are in conflict, what are your unmet needs?  What are the unmet needs of the person with whom you are in conflict?

You may think that when you are arguing with your spouse about the dishes not getting done, that it is all about the dishes getting done.

It isn't.

There are probably other nights, maybe even a lot of other nights, when the dishes have not gotten done and you have not argued.

What is the difference between the nights that you argue about the dishes and the nights that you don't?  The unmet needs that each of you bring to the table.

Picture this.  I've worked a long day and I'm just getting home at 7:30 pm.  It's not only one long day that I've worked, though.  I worked all weekend as well, so I've really worked 9 long days in a row. 

I don't feel very well.  My stomach is bothering me.  I'm exhausted. 

I bought a can of soup on the way home because I just can't imagine either preparing a real meal or eating anything that isn't easy to digest.

I open the silverware drawer and find a couple knives and nothing else.  I know that there were clean dishes and silverware in the dishwasher that morning because I took a knife out for my breakfast, but the sign on the dishwasher is now set for dirty dishes, not clean.

"Honey, are there clean dishes or dirty dishes in the dishwasher?" I ask.

"What does the sign say?" he responds.

"Well, it says dirty, but I know that there was a lot of clean silverware in there this morning and there is no clean silverware in the drawer now."

"I thought I was doing a good thing by emptying and loading the dishwasher and that you would notice that," he responds.  "You're right.  I didn't empty the silverware."  He sounds dejected and defensive because I have noticed the bad stuff and not the good.

I have no patience for his feelings.  I'm irritated that once again, he can't be bothered to put the silverware away and now it's all dirty as a result.  I yank a soup spoon out of the dishwasher and start washing it.

It is only after I have eaten the soup that I can bring myself to thank him for taking care of the dishes and I only half mean it at best.  He responds half-heartedly as well.

This is not the first time that my husband has done this chore in this fashion.  He does not like putting silverware away.  Most of the time, it is just one of his personality quirks that I endure, just as he endures mine.  It may result in a fleeting moment of irritation on my part from time to time, but usually there is nothing more.

This time, however, I had a lot of unmet needs.  I needed rest.  I needed food.  I needed compassion.  I needed nurturing, even if only from myself.

He also had unmet needs.  He needed compassion and connection and recognition.  He had stepped up to do some chores, recognizing that I had been pulling many long days of work.  We had not spent significant time together for days.  Over that 9-day stretch, when we had had dinner together, he was the one who had made it.  I had just been too busy.

All of those needs, both his and mine, came to a head over dirty silverware.  It wasn't really about the silverware.  It wasn't even about the one soup spoon I had to wash in the moment.  It was about our needing rest and food and compassion and nurturing and connection and recognition.  That was the real discussion to be had.  Once I got some food, I could start to see that.



Are you trying to defy the laws of gravity in your conflict?

In their book, "Designing Your Life," authors Burnett and Evans talk about "gravity problems," things like gravity that you cannot change no matter how hard you try.  If you trip and fall, you fall down, not up.  That is just the way it is.  You can waste a lot of time and energy railing against gravity or you can simply accept it for what it is and figure out how to work within its parameters.

I often see people in conflict railing against what I would see as "gravity problems" in others.  They want the other person to change.  It may be in the other person's best interest to change.  However, the other person has no ability and/or no interest in changing.  That is a gravity problem, my friend.

When you see it as a gravity problem, then you can start to make better choices about how to deal with it. 

Sarah is always running late.  She has always run late.  She will always run late.  She pays lip service to wanting to be on time, usually under pressure from John who prides himself on being punctual. 

John grew up in a military family, where being 15 minutes early was on time and being on time was late.  Being late is horrible!  Sarah's tardiness drives John crazy.

When Sarah and John divorce, John wants to meet at a half-way point to exchange the children.  It should work beautifully, John thinks.  However, every time they meet, John is stuck waiting in the car for at least fifteen minutes for Sarah.  It is bad enough when he is stuck in the car by himself, but it is worse when he has two impatient children in the car with him. 

John wants Sarah to just be on time.

John has a gravity problem.  He can want Sarah to be on time all he wants, but that is not going to get Sarah to be on time.  Sarah is who she is.  If he couldn't get her to be timely when they were together, he certainly won't be able to get her to do it when they are apart.

If John doesn't like waiting for Sarah in the car, then he can ask to change the way that transportation is handled so that they each pick up the children from each other at the parent's home.  That way, the children are always waiting at a home, never in a car, for the other parent.

He can ask to change transportation so that they each drop off to each other.  That still might result in occasionally waiting in the car with the kids for Sarah to get home, like if she had plans right before.  However, most of the time, she will likely be home.

If John really does not want to stop meeting at a half-way point, he can intentionally arrive at the half-way point fifteen minutes later than the designated time.  That will make him more likely to arrive about the same time that Sarah does.

Look at a conflict that you have with someone.  Do you have a gravity problem?  Are you trying to defy the laws of gravity?  What is the best that you can do with the situation, recognizing that you do not have control over gravity?

moving workplace conflict from dysfunctional to functional

When I get a call about workplace conflict, I often find that:

1. The situation has been brewing for a long time.

2. There have been repeated violations of social norms.

3. The person monitoring the situation tends to want to avoid conflict.

4. A quick fix is most desired.

It is unlikely that there is a quick fix available in this scenario.

The quickest fix might be to coach the person monitoring the situation.

Teaching people how to handle conflict respectfully and functionally is a process.  Having people learn new ways to handle conflict and actually implement these new procedures and keep acting on them until they become habits takes time.  A lot of time.  It takes 21 days to cement a habit and that's when you're doing the action daily.

When you are looking at conflict, you have to look at what is happening in the system, not just what is happening with respect to one or two individuals.  What are the unspoken rules with respect to conflict in the organization?  Are there certain people who are allowed to be "high maintenance?"  I have seen this with high performers, owners, friends of owners, those with tenure or seniority, and more.  Is the company really going to do anything about these people's behaviors?  Or are the rest of the people simply expected to tiptoe around these people?

Is the company so hierarchical that there is no place for true discussion among those of different ranks?  Is the expectation simply that those below will do what they are told to do by those above?  This often means that those below will be blamed for the conflict and told what they need to do, without anyone above taking a moment to listen to why this is happening.

Is there an unspoken rule that everyone gets along, that there is no conflict in the organization?  This can drive conflict underground and you will see it coming out in passive-aggressive ways.  This also can result in no accountability for bad behavior.

To move workplace conflict from dysfunctional to functional, you have to look first at what is causing the conflict. 

1. Put on your investigator hat and start asking questions.  Be curious.  Be open-minded.  Make your questions as open-ended as possible.  Don't presuppose that you know the answer -- you will start to hear only things that support your answer and discount everything that doesn't.  Get an outsider's perspective. 

2. Call in someone else, like me, to do the investigation for you and/or to talk the situation through with.

Only after you know what is causing the conflict, both from a systems perspective and at a personal level, can you effectively address the conflict and move it from dysfunctional to functional.


How to Give Your Spouse the Best Christmas Present Ever

When things are going well in a marriage, when you've been together for years and years, you can take your spouse for granted.  Of course we made it this far.  We are going to make it forever.

Or, in the alternative, you can be good about giving gifts when things are good and bad about it when things are bad.  I remember a bad patch with my husband when I didn't want us doing anything for Valentine's Day because it felt like there just wasn't any point to it.

In the divorce mediation business, I see a lot of people who either don't make it to their next holiday together or who have to celebrate at least one holiday while in the midst of their divorce.  Seeing this makes me appreciate the fragility of relationships.  I can be grateful for what I have because I could have so much less.

This Christmas, give your spouse the best Christmas present ever.  First, answer this question:  Which of the 5 Love Languages speaks most to that person: 1. Quality time; 2. Words of affirmation; 3. Gift giving; 4. Acts of service; or 5. Affection? 

Now, use that information to give your spouse a Christmas present perfectly designed to tell your spouse, "I love you."

If your spouse values quality time above all else, then give your spouse the gift of quality time.  Schedule a babysitter and go out to dinner and the theater.  Spend a day exploring a new town or city.  Go shopping with her.  Go fishing with him.  Go on vacation, even if it's a mini vacation of just a day.

If your spouse values words of affirmation above all else, then you already know that you have to give your spouse a card at every holiday and it has to be the right card.  Then you need to write at least a paragraph.  If you have the ability to write a poem, even better.  You can also whisper sweet nothings, but written words can be looked at again and again.  Did you have a memorable song, poem, or reading from your wedding?  You could have that framed. 

If your spouse values gift giving above all else, then your options are limitless.  Pick a great gift based on your spouse's interests.  Don't get a gift card.  Your spouse will want you to put more thought into it than that.

If your spouse values acts of service above all else, then you are going to get to do some chores.  What are some things that your spouse typically does for you that you could do instead?  Make dinner?  Clean the bathroom?  You could stay home doing the chores with the kids while she gets to go out with her friends for a spa day.  You could get tickets to see his favorite team and take him to the game. 

If your spouse values affection above all else, then spend the day doing little things to show affection.  Hold hands.  Kiss.  Cuddle.  Put on some music and slow dance.  Give your spouse the gift of massage.  It could be a foot massage or a back massage.  It could be that you spring for a couples massage for both of you.

Wishing you and yours the best Christmas ever!

Post-Election Conflict

We have been through the most divisive election I have seen in my lifetime.  I am still trying to make sense of all of it -- the lead up, election night, and the country as it stands now, still sharply divided.

I have seen posts from people across the nation whose families are sharply divided as a result of this election.  There are marriages on the rocks as a result of this election.  There are families whose members celebrated Thanksgiving apart as a result of this election and will likely celebrate Christmas separately as well. 

People are moving as a result of this election.  Hate crimes are up.  Anonymous threatening letters are left at residences, at mosques.  Children chant, "Build that wall," at other children in school. 

People are protesting as a result of this election.  They have taken to the streets, and what was supposed to be a peaceful protest has turned violent in many instances.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Riots are the voices of the unheard."  This election has brought forth a lot of voices of the unheard on both sides.  The Alt-Right and KKK are celebrating, seeing Trump's victory as a victory for them, for their unheard voices.  Clinton supporters are protesting, seeing Trump's victory as a quashing of their voices.

Many of us feel unsafe in our own country, more unsafe than we did before the election.

At work, things are no better.  Hate speech has increased.  While some workplaces have been quick to crack down on hate speech, I would imagine that others are more inclined to let it slide.

Trust has been eroded on both sides.  Clinton supporters are shaken by Trump's rhetoric and his Cabinet postings.  Clinton supporters are horrified that all of Trump's negative qualities were so easily ignored by his supporters.  Trump supporters are shaken by Clinton supporters' protests.  Trump supporters want to move on as we have in the past after other elections, want Clinton supporters to just recognize that Trump won and let it go.

There is a quote from "The Way We Were," that keeps running through my head:

Hubbell Gardner: People are more important than their principles.

Katie Morosky Gardner: But Hubbell, people ARE their principles.

There have been calls for people to reach out to those with whom they disagree.  This would be the Hubbell view of the world -- people are more important than their principles.  See the good in them, despite the parts with which you disagree.  After all, we are all people.

There have also been calls for opposition against those with whom they disagree.  This would be the Katie view of the world -- people ARE their principles.  See people for all that they are and judge accordingly.  Don't give them the benefit of the doubt just for being people.

I am wondering if there is a way to hold both Hubbell's view of the world and Katie's view of the world at the same time.  People ARE their principles.  At the same time, PEOPLE are more important than their principles.

We have learned a lot about each other this election season.  We may not like what we have learned, but we do have the opportunity to grow from it if we learn from it.

We need to have discussions with people with whom we disagree.  At the same time, we have to expect that during those discussions, we will disagree.  We need to find a way to be open to hearing what is being said by the other person, while also ensuring that we are heard as well.

Martin Luther King, Sr., said, "Don't hate.  It's too big a burden to bear."  It's true.  Hate eats away at you over time.  It can be easy in the immediate, but it's hard to maintain.  We cannot move forward together if we hate each other at the same time.

Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."  We are in a time of challenge and controversy.  We have been tested by this election.  We will be tested by this election.  We all have a choice to make -- where do we stand?  Can we hold both Hubbell and Katie in our hearts at the same time?  People ARE their principles.  At the same time, PEOPLE are more important than their principles.


Parenting Across the Miles

When people with young children divorce, they create a schedule of parenting time for each parent with the children.  They typically look at what their parenting schedule has looked like while the family was intact and what they want it to look like once they are living in two separate households.

In many instances, at the time of divorce, parents are committed to living in close proximity to each other, be it in the same town or in neighboring towns.  They want to remain involved in their children's lives and want their children's lives to be disrupted as little as possible.

Then, a parent meets a new significant other (S.O.) who lives farther away.  The parent is torn between the love for the new person and the love for the children.  Wanting to have it all, the parent looks to move to a point that is close enough in proximity to make the new S.O. happy, while also being not so far away as to make the children or the former spouse unhappy.

That is when the trouble begins.

The former spouse complains about the move and refuses to drive the children any further than before because "It was your choice to move."

The S.O. believes that the former spouse is completely unreasonable and unjustified in this position.

The former spouse doesn't like the S.O., thinks the S.O. is a bad influence, and doesn't want the S.O. spending so much time around the children.

The S.O. doesn't like the former spouse and thinks the former spouse is a bad influence on the children.

The parent who remains in the same location believes that all of the children's activities should center around that same location.

The parent who moved only realizes after the move how much commuting is involved in living half an hour or more away.

The parent who moved demands to exercise the exact same parenting time as before, even if it is causing a problem for the children, because the parent doesn't want to lose time.

In the alternative, the parent who moved unilaterally stops taking the children on certain days, leaving the other parent scrambling.

The focus is on the needs of the parents, and not on the needs of the children.  The focus must shift back to the needs of the children if you want to be successful with respect to co-parenting.

Success in co-parenting isn't measured by whether a child likes you best or whether you won the argument.  It's measured by the extent to which you support your children in being well-adjusted, emotionally and physically healthy individuals.

You may have thought that once the divorce was over, you were done with having to make big decisions (and have big arguments) with the other parent.  The truth is that while divorce provides an end date to your marriage, it does not provide an end date to your co-parenting.

The sad truth is that ten years after divorce, a study found that one-half of women and one-third of men were still intensely angry at their former spouses.  Even if you're not talking to the other parent, that parent is taking up a lot of space in your head, and none of it is good.

If a parent is moving, and you can't work out together what to do in terms of revising the parent-child contact schedule and transportation for contact, it's time to come back to mediation, where you can have a difficult conversation and be supported in the process.

In mediation, you can discuss what is the best contact schedule going forward.  You can also discuss how to handle transportation responsibilities.

The parent who stayed may be burdened with more transportation responsibilities, not only to exchange the children for parent-child contact, but also for extracurricular activities that the other parent used to handle. 

The parent who stayed may see child support reduced, as the other parent has increased transportation expenses associated with exercising parenting time with the children.

The parent who stayed may also end up with more time with the children, which can be both a blessing and a curse.

In the alternative, all of this might be reversed.  It could be that the children have a stronger bond with the moving parent and would prefer to move with that parent.  Then, it could be that the moving parent got more time with the children, got more transportation responsibilities, and also got child support for the first time.

In mediation, you can explore how best to support your children's connections in each community.  Children need to be able to have access to friends and supports in each community.  A parent who lives in a community where the children have no connections is being set up for failure. 

If you are the parent who stayed, you may be OK with the moving parent being set up for failure.  After all, that person moved.

Are you OK with your children being set up for failure?  Children of divorce typically rely more on their friends for emotional support than they do on their parents.  They need access to friends and supports in each community.  Also, they want the love and support of both of their parents, whatever their parents' imperfections might be.

If you have the children going to school in one community, consider having the children go to summer camp or other recreational activities in the other community.  Find a way for the children to have friends in both communities. 

The parent who moves will have to work harder to help the children make inroads into the new community.  You can't just count on your children to make friends on their own at school if they aren't going to school in your area.  You have to look for opportunities that will allow your children to make connections.

At the same time, the parent who moves will have to work harder to stay connected with the children's school and extracurricular activities and friends in the first community if the children are still going to school there.

Co-parenting across the miles is difficult work.  Mediation can help to get you on the right track again.


What to do with an annoying person at work

Let's be honest.  Even if we like our jobs and we like the majority of our co-workers, we all have at least one person we have to be in contact with at work that we would rather do without. 

If we are lucky, that person is external, rather than internal -- clients, customers, other business people from other organizations, etc.  We don't have to see them on a regular basis and we can grit our teeth and get through it when we need to.

When the person is internal, though, we are in a different position.  We may try to grit our teeth and get through it, but the constant gritting of teeth can lead to jaw pain or even a cracked molar.  Moreover, our body is constantly triggered into fight, flight or freeze.  Over time, we become a little extra sensitive or hyper-vigilant to the other person's behaviors which annoy us. 

We may find ourselves actually looking for that little bit that annoys us most just to prove to ourselves that yes, that person still is incredibly annoying and justify our dislike of that person.

We may find ourselves avoiding that person and praying that person avoids us as well (then perhaps noting that they did and feeling left out).

We may find ourselves making snarky comments about the person to other people and/or to the person directly.  Even if we are able to keep from making a snarky comment with our out loud voice, we may still be thinking plenty of snarky comments and our facial expressions may give us away.

So, what can we do about this annoying person?

I know that you want to have a magic wand that will make the other person less annoying.  You don't have that level of control over the other person.  You do have that level of control over you, though.

Take some time to answer the following questions for yourself:  What is it that you find annoying about the other person?  What behaviors of theirs are particularly challenging for you?  Why are they triggering for you?  Should you even be around this other person?  What can you do to be less triggered in this situation (if anything)? 

When you process what is annoying you and why you are triggered, you are able to move from responding only emotionally to analyzing the problem intellectually.  You may find some parts of yourself that you didn't realize existed and might not even like very much.  You may find that if you make a list of the positive attributes of the person and remind yourself of those attributes when you are triggered, you are better able to see the good in the other person and be less triggered.

1. Do you have the ability to fire the person?  If so, that is an option.  You could instead a. try to work it out with that person, b. find a way to move past it yourself, c. build in small, measurable goals for that person that have to do with changing the behaviors that are most annoying to you (and see if that person can meet those goals).  If not, then....

2. Does the other person have the ability to fire you?  If so, you can a. try to work it out with that person, b. try complaining to a person above that person (if any), c. find a way to move past it yourself, or d. look for another job (before that person fires you).  If not, then....

3. Are you on equal footing with the other person?  If so, then you can a. try to work it out with that person, b. try complaining to a person above that person, c. find a way to move past it yourself, or d. look for another job (before you crack a molar from gritting your teeth).

Please note, however, that sometimes we are triggered by people who may actually be dangerous to us, whether emotionally, physically or sexually.  While most conflicts result from good people with different ideas as to how the world works, there are also conflicts that result from one or more people behaving in a toxic manner.  If you are in that situation, your choices are limited.  It is unlikely that you will be able to work through the conflict with this person.  You may find a way to move past it yourself.  You may find that you don't feel emotionally and/or sexually and/or physically safe in the workplace as a whole or around this person in particular.  If you are in that position and your complaints to upper management have been for naught (or there is no upper management to whom to complain), then your options are 1. stay and be miserable or 2. leave.  There is no third option. 




9 tips for divorcing mindfully

Divorce is never painless, but there are ways to make it less painful.

1.  Do not demonize the other person.

Demonizing the other person is a short-term gain with long-term consequences. 

You loved your spouse at one point.  You loved your spouse so much that you got dressed up and said to a room full of people that you wanted to be with this person for the rest of your life.

I understand that you no longer want to be with your spouse.  You can make that decision without making your spouse the devil incarnate (unless your spouse really is the devil incarnate).

In the short-term, you may feel better believing your spouse did everything wrong and you were the innocent victim who did everything right.  You may want to be compensated for the suffering you have endured just in being married to that person. 

Most people in Maine and NH are not compensated for the suffering they have endured being married to another person.  Moreover, unless there are piles of money and assets involved, you could spend a lot more money in attorneys' fees attacking the other person than you would actually receive if the Court actually decided to compensate you for your suffering.

Litigation is painful.  Yes, you get to tell the Court how awful the other person is.  However, the other person also gets to tell the Court how awful you are.  No one looks good on cross-examination.  Every petty, rotten thing you have done or the other person thinks you have done may come up in cross-examination.  You can have a divorce that goes on for over a year if you choose to demonize the other person and fight it all out in Court. 

2.  Do not put the other person on a pedestal.

You may not want the divorce.  You may not have known it was coming.  You may be willing to do anything (well, almost anything) to keep the other person, to win the other person back, or to prevent the other person from leaving.

In the short-term, if there is a way to save your marriage that is ethical and respectful, then, please, see if the other person will give it one more try.

If, however, the marriage is ending, the other person has moved on, then it is time for you to move on as well.  Putting the other person on a pedestal interferes with your ability to find love again.  It keeps you in that painful position of adoring someone who does not love you.  You deserve better than that.

3.  Do not involve the children in your warfare.

People will say to me, "The children have a right to know why we broke up."  Not in most instances, they don't.

You want to tell the children so that they can see that you were right and your spouse was wrong, that it is not your fault that you are getting divorced.  It may not be your fault, but it is certainly not your chldren's fault.

The children love both of you.  If they are biologically yours, they have received 50% of their DNA from you and 50% from the other parent.  Even if your child looks just like you or acts just like you, there is still another half of that child that is genetically just like the other parent.  When you teach your child to reject the other parent, you teach your child to reject 50% of him/herself, whatever parts remind your child of the other parent.

If the children are not biologically yours, if you adopted them, then they have already experienced the loss of one set of parents, even if they were too young to remember it verbally.  Losing a parent is traumatic.  

The children need to know that you both love them and will both be there for them to the best of your abilities.

4. Protect your children from abuse.

Protecting the children from abuse is not the same as involving them in your warfare.  If your children have been abused by your spouse, notify the appropriate authorities.  You will need to look at what safeguards should be in place to protect the children.  Seek out as much information and support as possible.

If you have been abused by your spouse, please note that people who abuse their spouses are much more likely to abuse their children than those who do not abuse their spouses.  Even if your spouse has never hit your child, your child has likely been exposed to the trauma of watching you be abused by your spouse.  Your child also may have experienced emotional abuse and/or the power and control games used by an abuser.  If you are not there, your spouse may choose to hit your child.  In the future, when your spouse is in a new relationship, your spouse may abuse that new partner in front of your children.

Do what you can to protect your children from being abused.

5.  Own your part in the divorce.

We all play some part in a relationship beginning and ending.  What was your part?

For example:  "It's not my fault that we broke up.  She was the one that was cheating."  Sometimes people have affairs because they are unhappy in a relationship.  Sometimes people cheat because they like to cheat.  Sometimes someone has an affair but wants to stay in the relationship.  Some people consider cheating a "fireable" offense, while others are willing to work through the issue.  What choices have you made and are you making?

For example:  "He's always drunk.  I can't take it."  Maybe he was "always drunk" before the two of you even married but you thought that you could change him.  Maybe you got sober and he didn't.  Maybe he was injured and now lives with chronic pain and this is how he medicates that pain.  Maybe it's your job to nag and it's his job to drink in your relationship.  What choices have you made and are you making?

You can only learn from your part in it if you know what it was.

6.  Divorce impacts cognitive functioning in the short-term. Give yourself time to process things.

Recognize that divorce can impact your cognitive functioning. 

It is not just the conflict and the stress associated with it.  You are grieving and that takes its toll on you as well.

Moreover, you are learning new things, a lot of new things, all at once.  Your brain is used to functioning on auto-pilot for large portions of the day.  Now, it is being asked to figure out how to live separately from someone you once loved.  You have parenting schedules with your children that you never had before.  

If you need more coffee to get through the day, that's OK.  If you need to take a mental health day from time to time, that's OK, too.  You will bounce back, but you have to give it time.

7.  Allow yourself (and your children) time and space to heal. Be gentle with yourself.

The grieving process takes time.  When someone died, people used to engage in ritual mourning practices for a year.

Give yourself a full year to grieve.  After all, you are grieving the loss of not just your spouse, but also some pretty significant hopes and dreams.  Allow yourself to experience the full range of emotions that come with grief.

You may find the first holidays after separation particularly triggering.  Maybe you loved your in-laws and are having your first Christmas without them. 

Then, the first heavy snow falls in January and you realize that you have to shovel the walk and snow-blow the driveway and clear off the car, when your spouse used to take care of this for you.

In February, you want to be able to take the kids to Florida on vacation as you used to do, but you really don't even have enough money for a staycation. 

You see a movie about a couple in love in April and it reminds you of you and your former spouse, back when things were good.

Your former spouse and her new boyfriend come to pick up the kids in June.  You didn't even realize she was dating, let alone that she had someone who was serious enough to come with her to pick up the kids.

Your anniversary was in September.

You have the kids for Thanksgiving, but you will be alone for Christmas, as your former spouse has the kids and your parents live far away.

Once you've been through a full year, you will have a better idea of how to live with the changes that divorce brings.  You will have strategized how best to celebrate holidays when your former spouse has the kids.  You will have a year's worth of experience living singly under your belt.  You will have new memories and new patterns.

8. Budget, budget, budget.

Your financial situation often worsens and sometimes precariously so in the months after you file for divorce.  You are now supporting two households on the same income you once used to support one.  Your standard of living is likely to temporarily decrease. 

Now is not the time to buy or lease a new vehicle.  If you do so, you may not be able to buy the condo or house you were just looking at, as you just killed your income to debt ratio.

9.  Mediate if possible.

Mediation is a win-win-win.

It is a win financially, as it typically costs (much) less than litigation. 

It is a win emotionally, as you are able to move through the conflict, as opposed to being stuck in the adversarial process and posture in the court system.

It is a win in terms of personal power, as it allows you to have much more control over the outcome than when you put the case before a judge to decide. 



When Your Game Face Makes You Out of Touch With Your Emotions

Our game face, or our poker face, is the face we put on for the outside world that masks what is happening for us internally.  We develop it over time, some better than others, some better at certain situations than others.  When we have our game face on, we can go out into the world feeling like a complete train wreck inside and still look pretty good on the outside.  We may look so good that those that don't know us well don't know that there is anything wrong at all.

I spent a day at the beach last month with my 20-month-old nephew.  He does NOT have a game face.  His emotions are written all over his face and they can swing wildly, depending on what is happening.

A new person?  Huge grin.  "Hiiii," he says, walking right over to meet the person.

However, if you tell him he can't eat goldfish crackers until he has just half a grape more, you get the pouty face, and he won't look at you.

I made the mistake of telling him he couldn't get the goldfish crackers himself (because his hands were covered in sand), but I was willing to feed them to him one by one (because mine were not).  This earned me an angry yell from him, which might be interpreted as something along the lines of, "You are the worst aunt in the world!"

Buddy, you have no idea.  I wish that the worst thing that ever happened to me was that somebody wanted to feed me goldfish crackers because my hands were too dirty to get them myself.

As we get older, worse things do happen to us.  Life gives us life lessons and at some point, we start to develop a game face.  We put it on at school, at work, with acquaintances, with family we don't trust, and so on.  We can get so adept with it on that we can forget what it is like to have it off.

"How are you?" someone asks.

"Good," you respond because that's the polite response, that's what's expected.  It doesn't mean that you actually are good.  It's just surface-level pleasantries.  If you know the person well enough, you may joke, "Do you really want to know?"  And if you truly trust someone, you put down the mask.  You know that when they ask, "How are you?" they really want to know the truth.

The problem with the game face is that it blunts our emotions, so we experience them less and others may not experience them at all.  It is very easy to read my nephew.  You know exactly when you have upset him and why he is upset.  He knows all of this, too.  You can react in that instant to address the problem.  You move through the conflict in five minutes or less (usually), all is forgiven and mostly forgotten, and you move on.

When you have your game face on, it is harder to emotionally hurt you in the moment.  However, by being less reactive to what is happening, you may also be dulling your senses and allowing some pretty hurtful things to take place without your knowledge.  You may internalize them and feed on them later.  You may just internalize them and have them become part of what you say to yourself, without ever processing whether you should be saying these things to yourself. You may never address the issue with the other person and the other person may never even know that there was an issue. 

Think about where and with whom you wear your game face.  Why have you chosen to maintain that facade with that person?  What keeps you from revealing your true self to that person? Are there unresolved conflicts between you?  Or does it go deeper to a lesson you learned from another person before?

Would it help to talk it through with the person who taught you to wear the mask?  (Not necessarily.) 

Would it help to process what is going on for you and whether you want to make any conscious changes?  (Probably.) 

Could Your Relationship Survive a Crisis?

Last Sunday, I broke my arm while paddleboarding.  That's a story in and of itself, but we'll save that for another day.

The bigger story, at least for the purposes of this blog, is how it impacted my relationship with my spouse and what that says about our relationship.

First, there was the immediate impact.  I called him from home, dripping wet.  "Where are you?"  I asked.  He knew from my tone that something was wrong.  He came home immediately to help me to change into something dry and accompany me to the hospital.

Two big empathy tests there and he passed both of them successfully.  Not everyone does.

1. Can your spouse discern when you are in crisis just from the tone of your voice?  Check.

2. Is your spouse there for you when you are in crisis?  Check.

Then, there is the short-term impact.  It turns out that while there is a lot you can do one-handed, there is also a lot that requires two hands.  Since your spouse still has two working hands, these chores fall to him, even those of a more personal nature. 

For example, there is clothing that requires more than one hand, but which doesn't need to be removed throughout the course of the day, and a spouse can help you to put that on in the morning and remove it in the evening.  There is other clothing that just needs to wait to be worn until you have two working hands again.

Then there are dishes to be done (can't hold a dish and wash or dry it at the same time), laundry to be done (can't fold or carry a stack of laundry or put a pillow in a pillowcase or make a bed), meals to be made (you try making dinner one-handed), floors to be swept (it's getting what you've swept into a dustpan using only one hand that's the challenge), dog to be walked (can't hold the leash and pick up poop one-handed, let alone tie the poop bag).

His chores have more than doubled.

What I can do takes twice as long and I'm learning as I go.

In the first few days, how does it go?  If you are someone who hates asking for help, as I do, then you can feel like a burden.  Truthfully, you are a bit of a burden. There's a lot more work for your spouse now, as I've pointed out.  However, in the short-term, it shouldn't be a problem.  My husband opted for the white lie:  "You're not a burden."

3. Can your spouse handle the additional work in the short-term?  Check.

4. Can you ask for what you need? Check.

Let's talk longer term.  We have been at this a week now.  It's time for a fight.  He's been doing double-duty for a week.  I have been doing less than usual, except that my body is healing a broken bone, so it's pretty sure that I'm the one working overtime.

So, we argued.  He's got a little compassion fatigue and I'm a bit frustrated and fatigued as a result of my current limitations.  It was a quick flash, followed by some time alone in separate corners, and then time to talk it through and make up.

5. Can your spouse ask for what he needs?  Check.

6. Can the two of you work through the problems that arise as a result of the shift in responsibilities?  Do you still have compassion and understanding for the other person while doing so? ("While doing so" may be extended to include not just the immediate moment.)  Check.

In times of crisis, we learn a great deal about ourselves and our partners.  We learn who will be there for us and who will not.  My spouse will be there for me.  Will yours be there for you and will you let him/her do so?

The Value of An Experienced Mediator

Yesterday, I spoke with someone who was interested in receiving mediation services from me until he learned that I charge $200 per hour.  Suddenly, he wasn't so interested in me anymore.  In fact, he wanted to know if I could refer him to a cheaper mediator.

Look, I understand the value of a dollar. 

I also know from having been a litigator before I was a mediator that people are more likely to pay an attorney to advocate for them and fight against another (and pay a lot of money to said attorney) than to pay a mediator for assistance in having a difficult conversation.

We like to think that we can solve our own problems.  We like to think that we can navigate conflict on our own.  We can a lot of the time.  Then, there are the times that we wait too long, that the conflict gets too big, and suddenly (although it wasn't sudden at all, if you look back on it) there is a lawsuit and everyone needs lawyers.

You can certainly hire me to mediate at that point.  However, it may be cost-effective to hire me proactively, long before it gets to that point.

I charge $200 per hour for mediation services.  What do you get for your money? 

You get someone who has mediated over 1,000 times since she trained as a mediator in 2004 and 2005.  That means that I have sat with over 2,000 people in conflict and have helped them to have a difficult conversation.  Not many people can say that.

I have seen conflict of almost all shapes and sizes.  There is little that happens in mediation that surprises me anymore.  You have to do something really big, really outrageous (and please, don't).

I am comfortable sitting in conflict.  I can help you to be comfortable, or at least less uncomfortable, moving through your conflict.

Is it helpful that I know the law in two states?  Yes.  However, what is more helpful is that I know people.  I listen to not just what you are saying, but who you are.  I listen and learn from you, getting to know you on a deeper level so that I can best help you to navigate the conflict successfully.

Other people may offer you their standard, cookie-cutter advice.  "You just need to do this." And whatever "this" is, it is what they would do in that scenario and it is the same advice that they give to everyone because they do it themselves and it feels comfortable to them.

I support you in your figuring out what is best for you to do in your situation.  You are the one who is going to have to live it, long after I am gone.

In life, as in mediation with me, you get to decide what works best for you.  Do you want an experienced mediator who looks to meet you where you are?  Do you want to feel supported and empowered during the conflict?  If so, then let's talk.  I could be the right mediator for you.

Mediation Mutt



My dog has become a regular in my mediation practice.

When I first introduced her to the practice, I thought that she would be a pretty passive participant.  She has been coming to work with me for years, though it used to be only on days without clients.  In those days, "going to work" meant that I worked and she slept.

Well, now that she has entered the mediation world, it turns out that she wants to have a much more active role in "going to work."

1.  She thinks that her job is to bark when people knock and then greet them enthusiastically when they enter.  I could do without the barking.

2. She knows that if she wins the clients over, then they will pat her during the mediation.  Ideally, they will let her sit somewhere between the two of them and perhaps they will both pat her at the same time.  That is perfect, as far as she is concerned.

3. She also will perform her own interventions during the mediation if she thinks that it will help.

  • If someone is crying, she may go to that person to comfort that person.
  • I had a mediation where the couple had argued heatedly, had settled down, and were ramping up for another heated argument.  My dog groaned loudly.  We all looked over at her and laughed.  The tension was dissipated by a dog groan.

We see service dogs in hospitals and in nursing homes, helping people through some of their most difficult times.  Many therapists in my office building bring their dogs with them to work.

My dog has decided that she can provide some comfort to people in the midst of conflict as well.  And she is right!

I watch people reach out to her or call her over as the conversation gets tough.

When we pet a dog, our brain releases oxytocin, a hormone which makes us more likely to trust and less likely to respond negatively to external stressors.  Oxytocin is a very helpful hormone to have present in the midst of a difficult mediation. 

Petting a dog has a calming effect, helping to lower your heart rate and blood pressure.  This helps to counteract the fact that your heart rate and blood pressure are rising in the midst of a difficult conversation.

So, make an appointment to mediate and get two mediators for the price of one -- me plus my dog.