Stephen H. Sulmeyer, JD, PhD
1. Is it enough to discover a party’s interest behind their goals in a divorce?
While it is important to look beneath parties’ positions to discover their interests, rational discussion of interests is insufficient to resolve the kinds of emotionally-charged conflicts we typically see in our collaborative cases.
2. How does reaching agreements in a divorce situation differ from other types of negotiation?
Divorce is not a business negotiation. In addition to discussing financial issues that push people’s survival buttons and creating parenting plans that mean less time with their children, we are also dealing with shattered dreams, feelings of tragedy, failure, betrayal, abandonment, sadness, anger, even hatred. To defuse heated emotions, to cut through impasse, and to get to the deepest levels of resolution, we need to help our clients explore their deeply held and often unconscious emotional needs, survival-based fears, identity-preserving beliefs, and spiritually-informed ideals that keep them stuck when they remain hidden and lead to freedom when they are revealed and embraced.
3. Does it matter if we also understand such hidden structures in ourselves in addition to our clients?
If we insist on masking our professional and personal anxiety by playing it safe, all we will find is what we already know. To guide our clients into the vulnerability and resilience necessary to access their deepest needs we have to take a much scarier and uncertain path. We need to develop the capacity to be comfortable with the discomfort of our own vulnerability; to allow ourselves to question and relinquish our need to be seen as competent and smart; to allow ourselves to sit with the unsettling anxiety of not-knowing; and in this way to become skilled at mustering our own resilience.
4. How can we accomplish this?
We should engage in deep personal exploration of our beliefs, fears, defenses, and hopes around conflict, competence, and identity and learn to apply the fruits of our discoveries to new ways of working with people embroiled in deep conflict toward deeper layers of resolution.