Part 1 – Rites of passage are important. We celebrate marriage, birth and death with rituals and gatherings; weddings, funerals, baptisms, graduations, leaving parties & naming ceremonies. The list is endless. We mark these important milestones because we feel it is important to do so. It is a part of being human; it is part of who we are.
There is no recognised rite of passage for separation and divorce. Yet the grief experienced on such separation can be every bit as painful as on death, possibly worse, as ending a relationship is a choice implying someone is at fault, but you don’t usually choose to die. The ending of a relationship says something additional, shared life is over by choice, there may be some blame in this. This extra dimension elicits extra painful emotions and often conflict.
Separation and the Grieving Cycle
The grieving cycle involves a journey through denial, anger, blame and often depression before acceptance can be achieved and people can move on. It takes time and couples travel at different speeds and get there at different times. Frequently one of them (or both) are so angry that they experience powerful instincts to fight their new enemy, to hurt them back, to try and get more for themselves, to try and lose less. In this fragile state they may rush into aggressive litigation and find themselves stuck on that path. Such instincts are powerful, can take over and make rational thinking impossible and lead to poor decision-making. To understand this better we will look at some common wrong rites which are really ritualised revenge, which is often experienced on separation. Ways of getting someone back, of striking at your nearly ex:
- A furious mother may stop children seeing their father, running him down, turning them against him. This hurts the children badly.
- An angry father may stop paying the mortgage on the family home or supporting his family. This causes terrible anxiety and insecurity.
- There may be an emotional explosion, the police may be called, an injunction sought, with an exclusion from the home.
- Someone might issue court proceedings to ‘take their ex to the cleaners;’ have a ritualised fight via fierce letters and court.
- Many threats and angry exchanges take place escalating the conflict which rapidly acquires a life of its own.
These activities are common, instinctive rites of passage and are frequently motivated by displaced grief. They are completely illogical and keep people stuck in fighting mode over everything and nothing. People think it’s what you do in this situation. You must fight for what’s yours or you’ll lose out. Yet fighting is destructive and expensive in every possible way and does not produce good solutions. The release of anger through court and similar rites of passage may feel cathartic – but it does not produce good solutions, just pain and more anger. And revenge. Often fighting costs more of the value of the difference between people – which is truly mad, yet these legalistic processes do nothing to deal with the underlying problem and so get hi-jacked for an emotional journey that is irrelevant to the legal process.
A Better Way
Once people have worked through their worst grief – especially if they have received some counselling or steep legal bills – they often regret the path they have set and wish to change direction. This is where mediation can help – as it is an opportunity jointly to decide to take a different more constructive route together at the same time, to set new ground rules as a separated couple, create a new and better shared expectation for the future. Fraught couples can experience a different, creative and positive focus, a new rite of passage, without fighting. It is never too late to mediate. It’s never too late for an outbreak of sanity. We need to make the court rule that says ‘costs must be proportionate to the value of a case’ actually work. All it takes is for judges everywhere to refer all cases to mediation where the joint costs are close to or exceed 20% of the case value. Huge numbers of cases will then settle instead of lumbering on to trial with people thinking there is no way out of their litigation. See my next blog on this ‘Stop the Madness!’
The way things end is important, we remember endings forever along with how everything began. Choose a decent ending you won’t regret and be ashamed of. Choose mediation, whatever stage you’re at, because it helps.
Author: Mary Banham-Hall, Family Mediator, Milton Keynes & Bedford
Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).
Read more about family mediation at: www.focus-mediation.co.uk