How a Mediator Can Help Spouses Build Trust During Divorce Mediation

Those who are seeking out divorce mediation often fail to realize that the process requires trust in one another – something neither party has. Despite intrinsically knowing this, people still want to mediate. I suspect it is because so many spouses worry about litigation and simply and honestly do not want their family affected by the cost, aggravation, and stress associated with it. I also believe people are really beginning to understand and believe that mediation can be a smoother road. The problem lies in each spouse realizing that the mistrust they each carry can derail the process if neither can get past it.

Divorce in and of itself is about a loss of trust. So how can spouses go through a process of splitting “stuff” let alone children and timesharing and co-parenting issues when there is no trust and where trust has been replaced with a stifling fear and insecurity? Well, that’s some of what makes divorce so ugly, so difficult and so painful. This is why litigation is still a common response to divorce. In that process, no trust is usually built. The outcome is forced whether it is thru mediation that happens after so much time and stress and money have been spent that neither party can fight anymore and accepts or at trial with a judge imposed result. In neither case do the parties walk away with trust? In fact, more often than not, the mistrust continues and post-judgment litigation ensues sooner than later.

Is it possible to rebuild trust in a mediation process? It is but it is not easy. I have a certain path I take. The first and most important step for the mediator is making the issue of trust the center of the entire process. It is the foundation and hence has to be seen as such. Buying into this is key.

1. I begin by talking about how the breakdown of trust has led them to my office.
2. I then move to the fact that without trust in one another the process has a much greater chance of breaking down.
3. I then talk about trust based on each of them looking out for the good of the other during this process. A lot of times this is so foreign to the spouses because they have been engaged either in hurting the other – whether intentionally or not – or having an indifferent attitude toward the other. And, spouses in divorce are so fearful for themselves(for a variety of reasons) that they really do not consider the other at all except in negative terms. That fear, that complete turning inward, is what exacerbates the tension and strife in divorce. But if they change their primary focus to the other, analyze the case for the good of the other first, and then look at themselves, little by little, a certain trust is built.

Rome was not built in a day and neither is trust going to happen after just a lot of talking. But the concept needs to be front and center in every session and it needs to be part of each and every issue. For every issue of the divorce, each spouse has to ask this vital question, what is in the best interest of my spouse BEFORE he/she asks what is in my own best interest. This encourages more rational and realistic thinking, a better understanding of the family needs and often has the effect of inspiring each spouse to be better people learning what it really means to love.

The mediator’s role is to help the spouses realize they cannot eat the elephant whole – it must be eaten in bite-size pieces. That is, the trust-building does not happen in one big bite – that one day each decides to trust. It is “a process that takes place over time, one trust-building act followed by another, one trust-allowing thought followed by another. It is unknowable, at the start of trying to rebuild trust, whether or not it can be achieved.” It is further the mediator’s role to frame questions that act as door openers that help the couple see opportunities to trust, acts that can show trust. This short article accurately describes how the trust must be built slowly getting us started and focused on acting differently and seeing differently and although it is about rebuilding trust post-divorce, I find it applicable to how I run my mediation process.

We all hopefully seek to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. We know that tragedy and adversity are often great builders of character and give people the opportunity to transform. Divorce on its face carries so much pain and fear and resentment that it is tempting to use it to lash out, to allow it to transform us into a worse version of ourselves, to use it as an excuse to hurt the other person. But those of us working with people in this very delicate state know that the negative just makes more negative. And for me, that negative was not worth any amount of money. What I am proposing is just another path that we who work with people during this challenging time can take to be better brothers and sisters to those in need as well as competent professionals. I cannot assure you this path leads to trust or better versions of people. That is up to them. But you never know!

I happen to believe in God. I don’t like divorce. In fact, I pray for every couple I work with that they turn to the Lord for help through a divorce. I try to help people see the detriment of divorce. I also realize I have to deal with people where they are and a lot of times it is about the journey with them. I pray that I, as my brother’s keeper, allow Christ to work through me promoting and modeling only Him so that He can step into the situation the way He chooses. It ain’t going to be me that changes anything. My job is to love as He does and be skilled and diligent in my profession. The rest I leave to God.

I recommend to everyone to read Matthew Kelly’s book “Becoming the Best Version of Yourself” – you can get the CD here and only pay to ship.