Surprises Can Create Opportunities

Jul 22, 2021

In a recent divorce mediation session, my clients were discussing a real estate matter. After one spouse spoke, the other exclaimed, “This is the first time I’m hearing you say that!”

In that moment, the conversation stalled, while both processed what had been said. They were surprised. But from my perspective, informed by experience, this encounter was quite normal.

The idea that you always know everything that resides in your partner’s mind is idealistic—not typically based in reality—especially when you are on the verge of ending a relationship that is failing as a result of poor communication.

The idea that you always know everything that resides in your partner’s mind is idealistic—not typically based in reality—especially when you are on the verge of ending a relationship that is failing as a result of poor communication (one of many possible reasons for a marriage or relationship to end).

There’s something else to consider. In any marriage, healthy or not, you will evolve in your behavior, your priorities, your values, your needs, your opinions. So will your partner. You don’t stand still. You will change and likely recognize that this is happening, but your spouse (and/or you) may not see it. Acceptance and understanding of change are very important to the health of a marriage, and I would argue that they are just as important when spouses are planning for how to move forward at the end of a relationship.

What I find particularly interesting about these spoken “surprises” is that they are often a catalyst for a process known as “brainstorming,” which is key to the facilitative approach to mediation that I apply in my work. In brainstorming, the participants in a mediation (you and your spouse, in a divorce) will address a topic/issue/problem by offering up any conceivable option for consideration, no matter how far out. This process maximizes the choices available for addressing the matter at hand.

More often than not, a statement by one of you that is surprising to the other opens up possibilities that neither of you may have considered before. This new information can serve as a pathway to further discussion and, in the end, can result in an unanticipated solution.

A surprise in the moment, therefore, can be the first step toward building an agreement for the future.