Understanding doesn’t mean agreement—but it’s often a good start!

Mar 31, 2023

At the beginning of the divorce mediation process, I send out a questionnaire to each spouse to help me find out how the couple communicates. In the responses I often discover that both find it hard to communicate effectively. This is not particularly surprising, as poor communication is often a symptom of a broken marriage. So, as a couple enters divorce mediation, the objective of successful communication is often facing off against inherent challenges experienced during the marriage.

When communication centers on disagreements, there is a strong tendency for each side to dig in, assume a strong position, and exhibit intense emotions. Depending on how you participate in these difficult conversations, you may “fight to be right” or, alternately, opt for getting it over with—give in, be done with it and be free.

I believe that mediation should promote mutually acceptable decisions. Difficult dynamics, if not addressed during mediation sessions, can often result in agreements that are regretted later by one or both spouses.

Divorce mediation involves an aspect of negotiation. More importantly, there is an opportunity in every mediation process to encourage two-way conversation. This promotes understanding and allows each of you to learn from the other.

Divorce mediation involves an aspect of negotiation. More importantly, there is an opportunity in every mediation process to encourage two-way conversation. This promotes understanding and allows each of you to learn from the other.

I have been engaged in my own learning experience over the past 15 months [credits to Cheryl Picard, author of Practising Insight Mediation, and my teacher, Jacinta Gallant from Prince Edward Island, Canada]. I’ve learned that conflict is rooted in an individual’s perception that something that matters greatly is threatened by the other person. This can worsen when your spoken intention is interpreted quite differently by the other.

It’s little wonder to me that, in the absence of a neutral mediator who can help you better understand each other, the chances of a resolution that suits both of you will be diminished.

For me, the golden nugget in all of this is that you can understand what’s important to each other without necessarily agreeing with what is being said. At the same time, if you understand each other, it’s showing that you are listening to each other. Think how much better you each will feel if you are being heard!

Once you are all engaged in a learning dialogue—confident that what you are saying is being interpreted as you hoped it would be—the foundation has been built to explore choices that address what matters to each of you. From there, the path to agreement will hopefully be clearer. Like any building, the ability to withstand the test of time will depend on having a stable foundation.