Category: Blog

Do you really need that?

I recently attended a conference on Nonviolent Communication. A statement at the top of the handout we received read: “All human actions are an attempt to get a need met.” Wow. Fascinating. And totally applicable to mediation.

In mediation, people often come in entrenched in their positions. All kinds of emotions come out as they defend those positions. We see it expressed in ways that run the gamut from disengaging to yelling. The premise of nonviolent communication is that the clients’ emotions express feelings that stem from a perceived need, and the actions people take (crying, speaking loudly, talking over someone else) are their attempts to get the need met.

The problem is, people may not even recognize they have a need, and only be in touch with the feelings invoked by not having that need met. Therefore, they can’t express the actual need. What they do instead is put forth a strategy they have developed to get their need met. This can be the cause of conflict with others. For instance, a neighbor may insist they need to put up a fence in their yard, when their actual need may be privacy, or to have the neighbor’s dog stay off their lawn. If putting up the fence is a problem for their neighbor, what other ways can the need be met that might be agreeable to both parties? Can the dog be kept on a lead when it is outside? Will a privacy hedge work?

In a divorcing couple, both might insist they need to stay in the marital residence. That may seem like an impasse, until you ask the question, what needs are they trying to meet? A need for stability? For the children to have continuity? For keeping up relationships with neighborhood friends? Obviously, they can’t both stay in the house, and sometimes for financial or other reasons neither can stay in the house, so how else can they get these needs met?

The next time you are in conflict with someone, ask yourself “What is my real need, separate and apart from my strategy of trying to get it met?” What is the other person’s need that is not being met by my deciding to meet my own need this way? If you separate the needs from the strategies, you will move the discussion from an emotional exchange where neither party can move from their positions, to a problem solving session. In that space, you can work together to create mutually acceptable solutions.

As the presenter put it: “Hold on tight to your needs, but be wide open to the possible strategies for getting those needs met.”

When You Want a Divorce and Your Spouse Doesn’t

Deciding to Divorce is a devastating decision to have to make. None of us get married with the thought of divorcing in the future. We marry our chosen spouse for many different reasons. The bottom line is, this is the person you chose to go through life with and somewhere along the way, it all changed. And here you are reading this blog.

There are many issues. How do you have the conversation regarding separation or divorce? How do you get your spouse to mediation? And what happens when one wants the divorce and one doesn’t? How do you both move on productively?

You have a life with this other person that may include children, a house, cars, marital debts/assets, and many other possessions. Not to mention the feelings and memories that go along with this life. But what if, you want a divorce and your spouse doesn’t? What if this other person who you have formed a life with, whether it has been for a short time or if you have been married for over 20 years, wants to stay married? He or she may feel blindsided by your decision and this can make the process of moving on even more difficult. If you alone are making the decision to divorce, your spouse feels helpless and that they have no control about what is happening in their life.

You have already let go and emotionally started to move on with thinking about life without your spouse. Your spouse has not done so yet and getting to that same place will take him/her a long time. So, beginning the mediation process can be complicated by the emotional aspect of a person who is still trying to hang on. People need time to process information and when one spouse has been considering divorce for months and maybe years, the other spouse has been in the “dark”. The news comes as an incredible shock, and you both find yourselves on completely different pages of this book of life and marriage. This is a very common scenario in mediation. People need time to vent their feelings and time to process. Getting the spouse who does not want to be apart to transition their thoughts and feelings is a complicated process and takes time. Mediation can help people deal with the emotions associated with moving on and redefining their role as a spouse/partner to ex-spouse/ex-partner.

Communicating your wants and needs to your spouse is crucial. If a separation or divorce is what you want, then you must have the conversation with your spouse, no matter how hard it will be. The mediation process allows you the ability to speak openly and privately with your spouse about many issues, with a neutral third party (the mediator) in the room to help you with the conversation. Learning to talk openly and gaining new tools for communicating in the future will help both of you.

Moving on productively for both parties is one of the main goals of mediation. Being productive is a very individual thing and each couple must find what works best for their specific situation and family. Finding the best solutions for your unique life and family and creating an agreement that works for both of you is what mediation is all about. The mediation process puts the control and ownership for your life and decisions in your hands. Even the spouse who initially did not want to divorce can feel empowered and that they have some control over the situation they did not originally want, but find they must plan for and participate in.

Renee LaPoint