UPDATE: Download a PDF of these Strategies
A recurring theme in my practice is the question of how to convince a reluctant spouse to participate in mediation. Here’s the scenario:
The person calling me is usually the spouse who is ready to move on. This individual has contemplated divorce for a long time, has made the decision to separate and has only recently told his or her spouse of the intention to leave the relationship. The other spouse is in a state of high emotional stress. He or she is trying to cope with the loss and is not emotionally prepared to engage in any process that will result in separation or divorce. If he/she will not mediate, the other spouse will commence litigation.
Here are strategies that have brought my clients to embrace mediation. Some are actual tasks and activities and others are simply ways to frame your discussions to help your spouse understand the benefits of the process:
- BE PATIENT: According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce is the second greatest stress that we can experience in life. Only the loss of a loved one ranks as a greater stressor. Be considerate Don’t push. Understand that your spouse may be traumatized and fearful. Any suggestions or conversations that you have should be firm but gentle. The spirit of this conversation: “Although we are divorcing, we should both be respectful of what the other is feeling.”
- SUGGEST COUNSELING: Sometimes, engaging in a few counseling sessions can help both of you obtain the objectivity and emotional safety necessary to explore the best option for moving forward. The spirit of this conversation: “A counselor can help us to have a safe conversation to help us both understand and accept what is happening to us.”
- EDUCATE YOUR SPOUSE: We are never comfortable or safe with what we don’t know. Find ways to educate your spouse about the mediation process. If he or she will not discuss it, try sending a link to a mediation website that is content-driven. That way, your spouse can become acquainted with the concept of mediation in his or her own time. The message you should convey is: “how can we achieve a mutually acceptable outcome” or “how can we find a way to raise our children together” rather than: “I’m taking you to court”. The spirit of this approach is: “You will feel safe and comfortable with mediation if you take the time to understand it.”
- MAKE IT ABOUT THE KIDS: Make sure your spouse knows that in mediation, you both will be in complete control of all decisions regarding the parenting and support of your children and that you won’t risk uncertain resolutions that can be imposed upon you by the courts. Instead, spouses work together to create a tailor-made parenting plan that specifically meets the needs of their children. When parents work together, they ensure that their children will not only survive the divorce, but thrive. The spirit of this conversation: “If we can’t do this for ourselves, can we work together to protect our children and ensure their success?”
- MAKE IT ABOUT THE MONEY: Of the three different processes that are used for divorce – namely litigation, collaborative law and mediation – mediation is by far the least expensive and the least time-consuming. As a result, you will spend significantly less money than either litigating or engaging in the collaborative law process. The mediation process allows you to structure mutually acceptable outcomes regarding property division and related topics. The spirit of this conversation: “We’ve worked hard to save our money, let’s not waste it on litigation.”
- MAKE IT ABOUT THE TIME: Tell your spouse that the length of the mediation process is measured in hours, not months or years. The average couple can complete mediation in five to seven sessions. The spirit of this conversation: “A protracted conflict will only be detrimental to our family.”
- MEDIATION IS ABOUT THE DIALOGUE, NOT THE DEBATE: Let your spouse know that mediation promotes healthy discussions that allow you to explore mutually acceptable outcomes. The spirit of this conversation: “We can work together to create outcomes that we both find acceptable.”
- MAKE IT ABOUT CREATIVITY: In mediation, you are not only in control of decisions regarding your children, you’re also in control of all the economic decisions. The process will allow you to creatively structure parenting plans and financial settlements that the courts may not consider. The spirit of this conversation: “We are in complete control of developing all decisions, and we will only agree if we both feel safe and comfortable with the outcome.”
- MAKE IT ABOUT THE ETHICS AND INTEGRITY OF THE PROCESS: The process of mediation is governed by specific standards of practice and ethical principles that ensure that participants make safe and educated choices. The parties can feel safe knowing that safeguards are in place to assist both parties in making their decisions. The spirit of this conversation: “This process has integrity and will allow us to safely navigate our divorce on our own terms.”
- SUGGEST HAVING A CONSULTATION WITH A MEDIATOR: Find a qualified mediator that will educate both of you about the mediation process. Preferably, find a mediator who will provide this service free of charge to negate any excuse about cost. In most cases, individuals feel better about the process if they feel comfortable not only with the concept of mediation, but also with the professional providing the service. The spirit of this approach is: “You have nothing to lose by meeting with a mediator to explore whether the process feels right for you.”
These approaches have been used by my clients successfully to help their spouses not only accept the fact that they separating, but to also help them choose the path to a more peaceful divorce. Used with kindness and understanding, you and your family can reap the benefits of the mediation process.