If you haven’t seen the blog about Pushing your Buttons then I recommend you have a look as it helps to understand what can be the most difficult part of resolving issues for many separating couples. From my perspective as a family mediator two of the most common barriers I see to resolving issues are the fact that the couple pushes each other’s buttons so much they can’t get near constructive discussions about what options could look like; and secondly not being able to work out which compromise is best.
There are times when both parties are on the same page about what arrangements they want to put in place following a separation. It could be they both agree that one party should stay in the house they have been living in together, and that the other will secure another house somewhere close by as part of the divorce. Or it can be that both parties are on the same page about what arrangements should be made for their children, in terms of the structure and how much time they spend with each parent. For those people resolving issues is often easier because they start from knowing they’re on the same page and they just need to work out the details of how they do what they want to do. It, of course, helps if the couple have enough money to set up two homes quite easily. It is often harder where there is not enough money to do this and parties have to think creatively about this. This can give rise to fears about living in a cramped, unsuitable home in an area neither want to be in. This is a button pressed which makes it more difficult to find a way forward for reasons outlined in the previous blog. Often the couples who are able to talk constructively have both come some way through the healing process and are not trying to discuss issues whilst still feeling emotionally raw.
There are challenges too where one parent feels their children should share their time 50:50 (or thereabouts) between parents but the other parent feels this would not work. Again where one parent is reluctant to even discuss other options it can be a fear behind a button being pressed that is the big barrier.
It is not rocket science to work out that compromise might be needed in making arrangements following a separation. There is simple maths to this.
If person A wants scenario X and person B wants scenario Y then in order to move forward either:
- Person A needs to agree to do scenario Y; or
- Person B needs to agree to do scenario X; or
- People A and B need to agree an alternative to X and Y namely Z.
Z might be a mash up of scenarios X and Y. It could be starting with X and moving to Y, or somewhere closer to that (or the other way round). Or it could be a totally different scenario that is neither X nor Y. Hopefully you understand the point I am making and are not breaking out in a cold sweat with memories of algebra lessons!
If you accept that compromise needs to be made somewhere then how do you know what is the right compromise and what is throwing away things that are important to you, just for the sake of being able to move on (often not conducive to moving on in the right frame of mind)?
The starting point comes in understanding all of the options that are open to you. You might not like some of them. You may hate some of them! But understanding options is crucial to being able to appraise the situation. FACT: You can only make informed choices if you have information. If either of you are refusing to even explore a particular option then I would ask yourself what button it presses – what is the fear for you wrapped up in a particular option? By going through each possible option and understanding what it will look for each of you, you are in a better place to properly look at what each compromise will look and feel like for each of you. One of the bonuses of family mediation is being able to sit down together in a safe space and look at what each option looks like with an open mind. Nothing anybody says in mediation binds them to that discussion. You only look at formalising a particular option once you are satisfied that this looks like the best way forward (or sometimes the least worst option) for both of you. So you can explore options that are perhaps not your best options, or that you’re not sold on, together so you can properly understand what they might look like. By appraising all of the potential ways forward it is often easier to see which option would work best as you can compare them against other options you’re exploring. It enables you to have conversations around “that bit doesn’t work because of X, but what if we did this here” and tweak each option around what would work for you.
The next step is understanding each other’s fears and red lines, and how you each feel about the different options. You might not agree with each other’s views. They might baffle, frustrate and irritate you but by understanding each other’s objectives and fears you are far more likely to find a workable compromise solution.
Thirdly, by understanding all of the options open to you, and how you each feel about each one you then have more of a sense of what compromises you might be wiling to make. With money issues there can be a strong feeling that neither of you want to live in a particular area but you might look at working more hours, or renting for a period of time to enable you to avoid that. With children issues you may look at one parent having an extra night in the week and then look at how things go with that before you look at your children having a second extra night that week. Sometimes it can be about building up trust with a first step to enable you to take the second step.
With money issues there can be implications for each of you financially for a long time to come so it’s important to properly appraise the decisions and get legal and financial advice on them where needed. You need to feel confident about decisions you make for your future, and properly understanding the financial implications means you’re less likely to have a nasty surprise later on, or be filled with regrets or resentment. Such emotions are rarely conducive to having a positive next chapter in your life.
In looking at issues relating to children there is less of a finality to them as you will likely need to keep arrangements under review. They may need to change as children start new clubs, or get older and want to see their friends, or to accommodate changes in either of your working patterns. Sometimes it can be helpful to remove the pressure to find the “perfect solution” for your children and simply look at putting in place one that might work for you all and then reviewing it once it’s been in place for a period of time. You can also involve your children in discussions about what they think is working well and what isn’t. You may find this blog about Child Inclusive Mediation helpful in that regard. It is important to recognise that one or both parents may have fears around putting in place a solution that is not what they would like. If trust is an issue then there may be concerns that this solution you’re trying will become the status quo and it won’t change. In such cases a compromise can be having a clear step by step plan for reviewing arrangements or for changing them. It can also help to understand what each parent needs from the other by way of support and to help rebuild that all important trust.
Compromise is essential and often inevitable in finding a resolution that is tailor made to your family following a separation or divorce but there is of course a difference between compromise and capitulating. It can be empowering to have properly understood all the options and created your own resolution around your respective needs and objectives. It can feel like a mountain to climb but all mountains have a peak and then a downward slope and there is such a huge benefit for all of you in having worked out your own compromise, rather than having had someone else’s compromise forced upon you (as would be the case if you used the court or arbitration processes).
If you’d like to explore more about family mediation then please contact us to find out more. You can also sign up to our free mailing list with resources to help you manage your separation as peacefully as possible. We also have a free Facebook group which is a safe space for those going through a separation to talk to others in the same situation, and professionals, about things they’re finding tricky. Join Soulful Separation Support.