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What are some of the ADVANTAGES to CO-MEDIATION?

Q.  What are some of the advantages of co-mediation?  I think about filing for divorce, and I want to ensure it doesn't destroy our children. But my husband and I cannot talk anymore without yelling and screaming. He had an "affair".  He says it was because we argue all the time. I think that is an excuse. I can't trust him any more, and how can I believe that he hasn't hidden other things from me, like what we own? But I have heard such terrible things about divorce court.

La Quinta, Ca

A.    Hi Elizabeth. I want to tell you that your upset is quite natural. This is my therapeutic answer:

Destructive interpersonal conflict occurs when healthy modes of communicating have failed, as when parties lack a sense of how to productively communicate in the first place or where they have become so antagonistic or defensive that they react first and review later.  Issues of betrayal can really make it impossible to have any kind of beneficial dialogue.

The conflict that is inherent in divorce and custody contests is frequently related to distrust over how to cooperatively co-parent children.Challenges such as finance and asset division are also often topics of angry contention. Suspicions that parties aren't being transparent or forthcoming often underlie them. When this occurs, negotiations can become problematic and heated because they become imbued with meaning and feelings beyond the scope of the topic, particularly where a person’s feelings become too big and intense for them to be able to manage and express productively. In the mental health field we refer to this as “affect regulation,” which means that the difficulty in moderating emotions and their expressions in what is said and done can be a primary factor in impeding the resolution of high conflict disputes.  

Historically, emotionally conflicted cases were managed through the court’s inherent authoritative power.Yet, solving the dispute of tangible assets without resolving the underlying negative emotions and animosity among the participants is often a half-measure that invites the perpetuation of this conflict. Increasingly, the courts and child advocates have come to realize the costs and dangers in letting these emotional conflicts persist. Prolonged and antagonistic legal battles may provide a form of settlement or judgment that defines people's economic relationships (often coercively), but with the consequence of emotionally damaged parents and children. That does not offer finality, but the reverse and it tends to be short-lived.

This is one of the many destructive attributes of our adversarial legal system:It treats people by reordering the external parts of their experience, and ignores what is happening inside of them.

When emotions become charged, the parts of our brain that we rely upon for clear judgment and thinking shut down and go offline. We call this the “reptile” brain.   Naturally, then, we react aggressively and intensely and with little ability to filter our thoughts, speech and behaviors. 

The role of a licensed psychotherapist as a therapeutic co-mediator is to educate and support parties to learn or reclaim the ability to interact constructively – and certainly without a continuing cycle of distrust and abuse. As long as one partner behaves provocatively the other finds it hard not to respond in kind. By focusing on emotional reactivity and a spouse’s perception of threat, loss, and hurt, we re-establish empathy to the “aggrieved” partner(s), helping each to regulate their emotions back to more manageable levels. What a relief this can be for people who are suffering huge relational anxiety! The meanings beneath the tangible issues being negotiated are heard and incorporated into the dialogue as we model a productive way to communicate differently about difficult earlier situations. We map out strategies for how to handle similar situations when they unavoidably arise again in the future. The benefits of such a model are felt and seen in a reduction in traumatic experience for children as well as the parents. Anxiety diminishes. Trust and sanity returns. New opportunities arise.

Likewise, undue court time and unfortunate legal expense can be reduced.  Indeed, court can be avoided almost altogether. This means you are directing your life, not some stranger to your family.

Elizabeth, the fact that you are asking these questions tells me you are on the right track. Who knows where it might lead? Perhaps in a direction of wellness, however things sort out? 

David Hayes, M.A., MFT
9171 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 680
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Office:  310.975.9024 Fax: 310-273-1010


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