I believe “truce is better than friction.” Sure it sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s a belief that guides my work as a family law mediator and my life.
For years, I was a divorce attorney and, all modesty aside, I was really good. I helped my clients kill their ex-spouse (financially, that is).
Then people started actually dying. I had one client commit suicide and another whose former wife tried to kill herself when I won his case. Then, to top it all off, while I giving a closing argument, the opposing party dropped dead in the courtroom.
I took this as a sign that maybe the bloody courtroom battles I specialized in were not the best route to getting a divorce. Given that divorce impacts everyone, including children and extended family, I decided that there had to be a better, more peaceful way to get divorced.
That better way was mediation. Don’t get me wrong; I am not some peace-seeking hippie. I doubt holding hands or singing kumbaya is helpful, especially when your soon-to-be ex-spouse had a fling with your local Starbucks barista.
However, dialogue has always been a successful tool in conflict resolution. Moreover, it just seemed like the practical choice.
Think about it, most marriages fall apart from a failure of communication. Too often couples argue and, instead of listening, they are waiting for their chance to make their point. Or worse, they don’t talk at all until it’s too late.
In mediation, I ask couples to truly listen to and communicate with each other as they work towards a divorce. The structured discussion helps them recognize that there may be lots of different ways to meet each of their goals, and that the answer doesn’t have to include destroying the other person at all costs. Statistics show this truce often leads to more effective and long-lasting divorce and custody agreements.
My belief in truce over friction applies my personal life as well.
Not long ago, I was visiting my folks in Indiana and my father was nagging me about everything I said and did. Not that this was new for him. As fundamentalist Christian with an obsession for Fox News, he was never too excited that I’d moved to California, married a significantly older Jewish man, and I didn’t have any children.
So one day I decided it was time to get past the friction. “Dad,” I said, “it seems like there’s something on your mind but it’s not what we’re talking about. What is it exactly that you’re concerned about?”
He responded, “I am concerned that you are going to adopt the Hollywood Lifestyle.”
I nearly fell over in shock. Then I realized we had never really talked about my life on the West Coast.
I explained to my dad, “I am 43 years old and I own my own business. My house is miles from the Sunset Strip in a quiet Catholic community near the beach. When I get home from work, I barely have enough energy to take care of the dog and cook dinner.“
Just taking the time to ask the right question, have the conversation, and truly listen to each other, has changed our relationship forever. While my dad may never past all of his preconceived notions, we reached a truce are able to talk about his concerns rather than snipe or fight about them.
And this is why I believe truce is better than friction.
Diana Mercer is an Attorney-Mediator and the founder of Peace Talks Mediation Services, www.peace-talks.com. She is the co-author of Your Divorce Advisor: A Lawyer and a Psychologist Guide You Through the Legal and Emotional Landscape of Divorce (Fireside 2001).
Peace Talks Mediation Services, Inc.
8055 W. Manchester Ave., Suite 201
Playa del Rey, CA 90293
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