Pillars of Trust

Apr 17, 2023

In any successful relationship, trust is the foundation. When you can trust someone, you are more likely to be open and more willingly vulnerable in that person’s presence.

In many broken marriages, the trust between spouses has diminished—a little or even to the point of being missing entirely. For example, trust evaporates when there has been infidelity or a lack of honesty.

In divorce mediation cases, the absence of trust can be quite challenging. An underlying principle of mediation is that you both make a good faith effort to work toward an agreement that will satisfy both of you. Even when trust is at a low, protocols that include full financial disclosure (and possibly sworn financial affidavits) can provide the fuel for agreements in spite of loss of trust.

While it can be difficult or in some cases nearly impossible to rebuild trust, there are elements of trust, which I describe as pillars, that you can consider employing during the mediation process.

While it can be difficult or in some cases nearly impossible to rebuild trust, there are elements of trust, which I describe as pillars, that you can consider employing during the mediation process. The goal does not have to be rebuilding trust (although when that does happen, the chances of a better future relationship are greatly improved). The goal can simply be to prevent your mediation discussions from stalling or going backwards.

Here is a list of those pillars that help to form a foundation of trust. Recognizing and addressing these can lead to a better mediation process.

  1. Boundaries—Understanding what your soon-to-be ex-spouse’s (STBE’s) boundaries are, whether expressed in terms of physical space (important when still living together) or emotionally. Remember that a decision to divorce is a decision to live separate lives, and your STBE may not want your opinion about a future choice being contemplated. Many divorces are rooted in a desire for independence.
  2. Honesty—The mediation process offers you both a chance to express yourselves and be heard. Doing so truthfully will make a big difference, and part of this is being honest with yourself.
    3. Openness—This has several aspects including: (a) being open minded, willing to consider options, especially those offered by your STBE. You can listen without having to agree to what is being offered; (b) being open-hearted, another way to describe the willingness to show your vulnerability, just as you probably did when your marriage was in a good place; (c) being open to requests. During mediation, you may be asked to take on a task involving research or pay for something that you don’t want to. Anything you can do when asked contributes to the bank of good will.
    4. Reliability—Regardless of your track record or that of your STBE, focusing on doing what you say you will do during mediation can make the process much smoother. It sets a positive impression of the present. It’s also an essential element of successful co-parenting, remembering that what you are doing is for your children.
    5. Judgment—It is very hard to find someone who can avoid being judgmental at all times. However, if you can resist the urge to judge what your STBE says or how he/she wants to go forward in the world, you will make a meaningful contribution to the steady progress of mediation.

Keeping these pillars in mind as you navigate the difficult conversations of mediation may create a positive vibe—or at least prevent a negative one—and may even help the process go faster, which is what most clients seek.