Honoring your marriage when it ends through the right process By Felicia Soleil, Attorney/Mediator
“We want to transition out of our marriage more thoughtfully.”
“We owe it to ourselves to do this peacefully.”
“Not all of it was bad.”
These are reasons I’ve recently heard from my divorce mediation clients when asked why they are choosing mediation as opposed to litigation for their separation and divorce, particularly in longer-term marriages.
Most of these couples report lengthy discord during the last few years of their marriage, multiple attempts in counseling, and the continued inability to resolve their conflict leading to the demise of their intimate partnership. And yet, these same couples also value the underlying “ties that bind,” including a shared history, children, grandchildren and extended family.
Whether they also report the goal of remaining “friends,” they at least want to remain “friendly” and have a respectful and cordial relationship with one another as they move forward. And they don’t want the legal process to undermine that.
That’s not to say that these couples don’t initiate mediation under a lot of stress, distrust and fear. What they seem to be looking for is a safe space to recognize those negative emotions exist, without having those emotions fuel settlement-related decisions they may regret later.
This can be particularly true during major holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. Often, long-term couples continue to value time spent with adult children, grandchildren and extended families during holiday get-togethers. Sometimes, newly separating and divorcing couples will use the holidays for a “soft exit,” whereby they get everyone used to the idea that they won’t be a couple anymore, while being able to demonstrate that everything will be okay.
Couples in this situation are often catalysts for change in how others can see themselves moving forward, managing conflict in a healthy and emotionally mature way without disrupting everyone else around them. I like to remind these clients that they can “set the example” for peacefully moving through this major life transition.
Of course, clients may select mediation without such lofty intentions, and merely want to get through their transition with less cost, in less time, and more efficiently, so they can put the marriage behind them and move on. However, a common theme in these instances is to not let the process interfere with these goals, while using an intermediary (the mediator) to keep them on track and hold that space.
Helping clients hold a safe space from the outset begins with establishing mutually agreed-upon parameters from which to proceed, including agreements to abide by many of the same ground rules they would have to follow if asking for court intervention. Therefore, these clients can have those same protections and assurances, but those protections and assurances come from a place of accountability to one another and the mediator, rather than from a place of an authority figure telling them what to do.
Using mediation, they can work on rebuilding trust one step at a time, and these small successes often lead to more thoughtfully and peacefully achieved settlements and resolutions all the way around.
And such resolutions can help remind the parties that “it wasn’t all bad.”
Felicia Soleil is a divorce mediator and family law attorney located in Gig Harbor. She helps her clients in achieving resolutions that foster both a compassionate ending to their union and a healthy new beginning so they can focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out. Felicia can be reached at 253.853.6940. All consultations are strictly confidential and currently conducted by appointment via Zoom videoconference or phone.