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Mediator’s Thoughts for Parents During the Pandemic

Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation by Dan Simon

Divorce or separation is a big challenge in itself. Usually, we decide to divide our paths when we are quite sure that we can no longer share the future, ideas, upbringing of children, or even to share the same space with our partner. All this can be made much more complicated by the pandemic. In the worst case, it may force you to stay together in one household much longer than you planned. Being forced to be with a partner 24/7 can lead to unpleasant feelings and experiences that result in many conflicts. You may feel confused and worried about what your partner will do and when. You may also feel insecure about what you can do about it yourself. Such feelings can lead you to pre-prepared reactions – you protect yourself in advance, you are suspicious of your partner’s motives and goals, and you defend your viewpoint. In such moments, you already know how the negative, destructive spiral of conflict begins to spin and brutally pulls you down. You may often find that the worst thing about such a situation is not the inability to achieve your rights, interests, or the pursuit of them. The worst part is how such a situation forces you to behave toward yourself and others in a way that is unpleasant, even repulsive. And that’s not fair! Because you are a good person. Normally, you can follow your moral compass and distinguish between right and wrong.

What can you do in such a situation? Head to the Moon. Afford yourself a change of perspective, leave the Earth (your current position in conflict), and move yourself to the Moon, where you have a better overview. Everything is lighter on the Moon. You can take three essential steps here now (they may not be a giant leap for mankind, but they can certainly be relevant for you).

Step 1: Understand what the conflict is doing to you

Conflict creates effects manifested as helplessness and self-absorption. These lead us to react blindly, rather than responding to our partner. Such a reaction weakens you in conflict. Take a look at yourself from the Moon and try to find out what thoughts and emotions tend to appear when you are in conflict? What happens to your body – what physiological changes occur when you are part of a conflict conversation? When do you need to defend yourself? Under what conditions is it difficult for you to perceive the perspective of a partner? When you realize you‘ve become self-absorbed in conflict, it will paradoxically make you less self-absorbed and, therefore, stronger.

Step 2: Choose a strategy for acting in conflict – you cannot control the other, but you can control yourself

Our moral compass best fits the strategy of compassionate strength, where we can stay true to our principles, values, and beliefs while being open and understanding of those different from ours. You can use compassionate strength in different ways. For example, you can create space and time to respond – not to react right away – and suggest that you return to the conversation within a particular time or date. You can also take the initiative and start asking questions that will help both of you better understand what the other is trying to say. This approach often calms the conflict. You can also create a list of sentences and things in advance that you won’t say next time in the conflict conversation because you know that the other will explode then.

Step 3: Decide in advance what your global goal of further conversations with the (ex) partner is

In what situations do you feel good about how you handled the conflict conversation? Is it when you win, or rather when you can be proud of yourself how you acted? What do you need during a pandemic while you are locked up at home: to win or to survive together?

See more on this topic here.


Dan Simon

Dan is a leader in the field of transformative mediation. He is the author of the chapter on divorce mediation in the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation's ("ISCT") TRANSFORMATIVE MEDIATION SOURCEBOOK. He is a Past Chair of the Minnesota State Bar Association's Alternative Dispute Resolution Section. He served… MORE >

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