Have you heard the phrase “Don’t drive angry” from the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray that was out many years ago? Well, the same could be said about the display of anger in a divorce mediation: Don’t Mediate Angry.
As I researched anger for the podcast episode this week, I learned that there is good anger and bad anger. Bad anger is disruptive, counterproductive, offensive, and unhealthy. Good anger is expressed in a way that the communication becomes productive and can move a negotiation forward in a much better way in mediation.
That being said, it has to be understood that a divorce mediation has two sides to it: One side is the legal considerations, and the other side is the emotional entanglement of the marriage. Even in a no-fault divorce state, the reason for the divorce is the backdrop through which mediation decisions are made.
Anger is part of the 7 Stages of Divorce Grief, which are Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance and Forgiveness. Divorcing people need to feel anger at some point, especially if they were the wronged spouse, in order to gain control over their new lives. It takes time for people who have found themselves in life changing circumstances to pivot and evolve. They need emotional wings to move them forward.
Good anger will provide a voice and a new perspective especially for spouses who become co-parents after the divorce is final. So what does good anger sound like? It is communication that is straight forward, done without blame, while communicating the thoughts and feelings of the one who is hurt. There are no passive aggressive comments, no undertones of mean-spiritedness, no sarcasm in the voice, no threats, and no hidden meaning. Good anger is spoken in a calm, focused, voice, and clearly communicates the thoughts and feelings of the one speaking.
Sometimes, in a divorce mediation, even in a no-fault divorce state or country, the actions of the other spouse have to be called out if the other spouse is asking for benefits or considerations that ignore the reason for the divorce. Mediation is not the place for therapy, but feelings are exposed while discussing assets and debts, alimony and co-parenting. Focus is important while communicating feelings of hurt. Not to dwell on the hurt, but reasonable anger over an injustice can help level any power imbalance that may have existed prior to the divorce.
I see anger as a spice to the conversation soup, an ingredient that done well, can help create a divorce settlement that benefits both spouses.
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