I have written before about the benefits of mindfulness and conscious coupling. In this blog I focus on the mindfulness of the attorney or mediator who is working with the couple. Let’s call it “conscious lawyering.”
For a couple considering divorce, the process is going to involve uncomfortable feelings and situations. As a collaborative lawyer or mediator, I am part of that process, too. So the first step to conscious lawyering is taking care of myself; by being mindful of my own emotions and reactions at the negotiating table, and by being able to look at a situation objectively with a wider lens.
For example, I know that if I’m to approach my work consciously when meeting with clients, I need to figure out who is sitting across from me: Where are they in this moment? Are they scared? Resentful? Angry? I want to know how I can help channel whatever they are feeling into a more productive conversation. I don’t want to inflame the anger or make the resentment even stronger; I want to find a way to transform it into a turning point as they move through the divorce process.
The problem couples often face, though, is that it’s easy to mistrust the other spouse and to use things like an extramarital affair or some other wrongdoing against them. While these emotions may arise unconsciously in the client, and feel almost satisfying to him or her, it’s not conscious lawyering if I jump right into that emotional sandbox with them; that’s just being reactionary, and it usually leads to making the situation even more difficult for the client.
I recall a client who was furious at his wife for secretly having a long-term extramarital affair while at the same time telling my client that she was willing to work on the marriage and engage in couple’s counseling. My client thought they had a strong marriage built on trust and they had just hit a “rough patch.” He didn’t understand how the woman he thought he knew could be so dishonest. When we first met, he told me he was so angry that he wanted to ask for full custody of their young children and limit the time his wife could see them. He reasoned that if she could abandon him and the kids during those nights and weekends that she was with her lover, then he was obviously the more stable parent. I empathized with his hurt and anger, but I knew it wouldn’t help him if I encouraged him to try and get back at his wife by limiting her time with the children. Instead, I had to help him see the situation from his children’s point of view. What was actually best for them? What would it be like for them if they couldn’t spend as much time with their mom as they did with their dad? Another attorney may have viewed this situation as an opportunity to engage in a custody battle. I saw an opportunity to take a deep breath and help my client see things from a different perspective.
If you are considering a divorce, resist the temptation to go to that dark place where mistrust and the desire for revenge reside. Try to find a lawyer who is conscious and aware of his or her role in your conflict and will help you be your best self through this difficult process. And listen to your gut—you’ll know who the right lawyer is for you.
If you have any questions, contact me here.
570 Lexington Avenue, Suite 1600
New York, NY 10022