A Different Way To Do Divorce – A Tutorial On Compassion

By Laura Melton Tucker, November 10th, 2010

Listen to this entry.

On my way to a mediation services board meeting last night, I was trolling my mind for an answer to the night’s ice breaker question.  Our director emails the agenda before each meeting, and the meeting opener is usually a question that we all answer in turn.  The question last night was, “Tell one thing you’ve learned about conflict this month.”  Hmm.  Where to start?  I could go personal, and describe how emotionally draining conflict is.  We spent the weekend huddled with extended family.  They are dealing with the husband’s potential cancer.  A second opinion this week will decide if an operation is necessary.  Our weekend was an attempt to emotionally  shore up these people we love for the news ahead.  Scrap that idea. Too draining to talk about.  Hmm, I pondered.   I could go even more personal and talk about a conflict with one of my children.  Eeek.  No.  I might start crying.   Aha! Light bulb flash.  Bright idea!  I started to rehearse my answer in the car:  “I learned that conflict can be done well.  A couple came to mediation this last month, one year after their divorce.  They referred to themselves as having a “California Divorce.”  This, they explained, is a divorce that honors the children by keeping them in the family home, while the parents move in and out. While one parent is “in residence,” the other is “off campus.” There’s enough problematic overlapping time, however,  that this progressive couple was returning to mediation to iron out issues surrounding their unusual arrangement.  The conversation they held in my presence focused on how to have family dinner with ALL of the family present, how to do busy mornings with Dad showing up to help make lunches, how to share weekends so that the parent not on duty still feels included.  At one point, the ex-wife turned to me and said, ‘Please write that we’ll treat one another with compassion while in the presence of the children.’ Compassion?” I asked.  I’ve never written this into an agreement before. This family inspired me to pronounce, in my imaginary conversation to the board: “Conflict can be done well!”  Alas, a strict schedule didn’t let me deliver my car-rehearsed speech.  But here’s how I would have continued if given the chance:

Following that magical mediation moment when the ex-wife turned to me and asked me to use the word compassion in the agreement, I responded, “Say more about compassion.  Explain what you mean by that.”  The wife, who is a trained therapist, knew her emotional bearings and spoke with facility:  “I mean that when we’re together in the house in front of the kids we speak to one another with an awareness of the other’s feelings.  We show each other through our choice of words that we acknowledge one another’s sensitivities, needs, peculiarities, without judgment.  I don’t want to feel judged.  Especially in front of the children.”  There was some general talk about gender differences.  For some guys, the ex-husband maybe,  the subtleties of interpersonal interaction can be difficult to observe.   The ex-wife offered to model for her ex-husband compassionate interaction – she would give him a tutorial.  The feeling in the room was light, even warm.  This couple was here to do hard work, but they remained respectful.  They said aloud, several times, what a great parent the other was.  They expressed gratitude for their unusual divorce arrangement.

Later in the week after the mediation, one of them sent me a wonderful blog entry by Laurie David in the Huffington Post. It was as if the blogger had been sitting in on the mediation and weighed in with her two cents.  Her blog addresses one of the focuses of their mediation session – the value of having a family dinner with both divorced parents present. My clients were big fans of the idea, and were using mediation to iron out details to make the dining process work better.  In Laurie David’s blog, she describes the very same arrangement as that of my clients –  families who share one home with two shuttling divorced parents.  She calls this co-mingling, ambulatory, group dining prone kind of arrangement, a “loving divorce.”  Sit with that.  A loving divorce. I loved reading this because Laurie David helped me name what I observed about my clients.  Theirs is a loving divorce.

Conflict is draining.  It tends to bring forward our fears, and to bring out in each of us our protective armor.  We see things in black and white when we feel the cloud of conflict fogging our view.  We shut down.  We raise our voices. We enter power locks.  But sometimes (and here’s the takeaway), conflict helps us find new solutions, see things differently, feel the other person’s feelings, become compassionate. After my clients left that day I looked up the definition of compassion   Here’s what I read:  “Compassion is a strong desire to alleviate another’s suffering and to share in their happiness.”  Synonyms are commiseration, mercy, tenderness, heart.  This couple is on to something.  I hope I meet them again – in different bodies, with different stories, but the same mercy, tenderness, heart….compassion.

5 Responses

  • Chris Housel says:

    Laura,
    Beautiful. Our oldest daughter just went through a divorce this past year. They have 3 children and it was a shock to us all. We have grieved the loss of this union along with our daughter and even through the turmoil of anger and resentment we believe our daughter is doing her best to have a “loving divorce”.

    • Chris, thanks for your note. I’m sorry to hear about your daughter’s divorce. You’re absolutely right that a divorce happens to everyone – even extended family. Your daughter is modeling for her children something they’ll appreciate later in life…perhaps even now, yes? Sending you love…

  • Mark says:

    Compassionate being is what meditation targets.

  • Beth says:

    Wonderful approach. I do hope that others follow this kind of lead! How much better the world would be if we all showed more compassion. Thanks for sharing this story.

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