How to Mentally Prepare for Mediation

People who separate will often experience very strong emotions that will at times feel unmanageable. Sometimes they feel as though they have made some progress only to be triggered by an event that reminds them of their former partner, or a memory about the failed relationship.

As result of the shock and other pressures that arise, adults who separate are likely to experience many if not all of the following emotional stages[1]:

1. Denial

2. Anger

3. Bargaining

4. Depression

5. Acceptance

Partners will undoubtedly be at different places during the legal separation process.

If you are the person who originally wanted the separation, chances are you are ready to go! You want the legal separation to be concluded as soon as possible, because you are ready to move on.

If you are the person upon whom a separation is imposed, you will need a lot of time to adapt to the idea, but the system will push you to embark on the legal separation process. You may find that things move too fast!

The fact that partners are at different places of detachment from the relationship will greatly impact the dynamic between the partners during the negotiations.

For example, imagine that your partner is in the acceptance stage and you are in the depression stage. It will be hard for you to engage in discussions about, say, selling the house, when you are feeling so low.

A partner who experiences some deep sadness or depression may not be capable of generating creative solutions to the issue of post-separation parenting without some external support.

Here are two important tips on how to prepare mentally for mediation:

1.     Have patience. A legal separation often will go as fast as the slower of the two partners. This does not mean that one has to wait forever for the other person to be ready to take on the next step in the legal separation. It does however mean that you must be mindful of the emotions of the two partners and that your strategies and expectations are set accordingly.

2.     Have no expectation about outcomes. Don’t go in any mediation meeting expecting to get exactly what you think is the appropriate outcome. Being fixated on what you want will diminish your ability to be creative and to find solutions that might be appealing to your counterpart. You will focus on your own self and be obsessed with being right. Consider that if your idea was so appealing and appropriate for the other party, you would not need mediation in the first place because the conflict would have resolved.

During the mediation process, I help clients identify where they are at during all stages of the legal separation process, and we develop strategies to help when needed.

I also find it extremely beneficial in my family mediation files, to meet with the parties separately at the appropriate time. I find that this fosters extremely creative avenues of resolution.

[1] Elizabeth Kübler-Ross developed these five stages of grieving in her book On Death and Dying (Touchetone: 1997). These stages have since been widely used in the context of grieving the loss of a family or a relationship. See also:  ttp://

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