Life has changed a lot in the past few weeks. As I have shifted by life and business to work from home I have been thinking about transitions and transformation. Transitions often mean unexpected change which can be stressful. It triggers our fight/flight/freeze response. We become anxious, defensive, and make poor decisions in our attempt to gain a sense of control. The irony is control isn’t as helpful as we think. To gain control is an act of force, it requires tension and it is a response based in fear. When we do this in the context of our personal relationships it can lead to a series of win/lose battles that ultimately make things worse.
What if grabbing for control isn’t the only way to calm our anxiety and fear response? What if instead of being right, we need to be healed?
Conflict is an outward sign of an inner wound. It tells us that something is wrong. We can try to argue with it, or make demands of it, but to what end? Imagine you are a kid climbing a tree and you fall and break your arm. Another kid sees you and berates you for being stupid and not holding on tighter. Fault is assigned. Has the wound healed? Or do we have the same broken arm we did before, now with a dose of shame?
The path to healing is different. It requires us to set aside the question of right or wrong and instead ask “how can we do better?” Changing that one question opens up a realm of possibility because we aren’t restricted to two answers. We become creators of our new way of being and relating to each other. This is where transformation occurs.
Transformation requires us to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Using conflict and change as a catalyst for healing requires us to go deeper. We need to seek understanding rather than just yelling louder. We need to be accepting of the fact that the same events can be experienced differently. We need to enter the conversation knowing that the initial response is not the same as the final word and that we are the ones who will lay the path between those two points. We need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to honor the vulnerability of those around us. When we do this, we find that the healing process transforms. Our dignity and shared humanity is restored and these renewed connections provide the security and peace we seek.
Collaborative divorce is designed to be a transformative process. We understand that a divorce is much more than the legal decree. Our team addresses the emotional, financial, and legal needs of the family’s transition. Over the years families build routines and traditions that provide comfort, predictability and security. Divorce upends that. This is the reason the first person our clients meet with is the divorce coach. Divorce, like any loss, takes us through the stages of grief. Acknowledging that grief and meeting people where they are is the first step in creating this new space for healing and setting the stage for our work together.
Our collaborative process is grounded in values. As a collaborative attorney I understand that while the law gives us our parameters, the best answers for the family are going to come from our clients. We run suggestions through the gut and heart before we talk about legal terms. We do this for a couple reasons. First, it keeps us focused on values and interests rather than positions, and second, it builds empathy between the parents. By helping clients build empathy and understanding we not only find solutions to the current situation, we prepare them to work together long term with new communication and decision-making skills they didn’t before. I’ve always told my kids that my job is to raise them to not need me and, in a way, I want to do the same thing for my clients.
What I see over and over in collaborative cases is hurt transformed into healing. I see it in body language of clients more relaxed in each meeting. I see it as fear subsides and the tone of our conversations change. I see it when the professionals can talk less because the clients are able to talk to each other in a new way.
In times of stress it is important to stop, take a breath, and remember that we have a choice in how we respond. If we let fear make our decision and fight for control we put ourselves in a battle that never really ends. However, if we choose healing and find the right professionals to guide us in the process we open ourselves and our families to the space transformation.