From Crisis to Catharsis: Mediating for Positive Change

"If you are patient in one moment of anger,
you will escape a hundred days of sorrow."
- Chinese proverb

During a divorce, negative thoughts and emotions including fear, anger, guilt, mistrust and frustration, are common. In the case of a litigated divorce, individuals rarely have the opportunity to fully express these emotions or otherwise tell their stories. Rules of evidence in formal court proceedings usually disallow narrative formats, and judges often maintain that personal family matters should remain confidential. Yet, much like a balloon that is pumped with air until it bursts, emotions that are not released can build up and create enormous pressure psychologically and otherwise. Settlement may be accomplished, but true healing may never be achieved.

Enter mediation. In mediation, the emotions can be just as important as the issues. While it may not be the express role of a mediator to provide for venting, mediation can offer a safe space for some constructive and controlled emotional expression. The idea is not to fan the fire of emotion by blaming or criticizing; rather, it is to share in a calm, mindful and productive manner. This can result in many positive, transformative outcomes for individuals and families. First, individuals can gain new insights and realizations about themselves and their partners. Second, partners may learn to better communicate with each other in the future about children and other important issues. Finally, closure may eventually be achieved resulting in what may be termed a good divorce.

All of this falls under the psychodynamic principle of catharsis, the purging of emotions. This human need for catharsis is often overlooked, but it can be one of the greatest benefits of mediation and other forms of alternative dispute resolution. Emotions change perceptions they affect how we interpret words and actions, and our willingness to compromise. When they are confronted and shared, the result can be quite positive. Emotional impasses begin to get knocked down so parties can move toward a more thoughtful, reasonable agreement one that will actually work for them and for their families.