Pandemic Relationships

Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic

Grief and loss in family separation

At this time of Covid 19, we need to practice social distancing. Information is dynamic and messages about how to stay safe are conflicting. The goalposts keep shifting and we’re learning to manage and navigate as we go. There is a risk of feeling isolated, stressed in a new world that feels uncertain, unclear, frightening. Parents may find themselves navigating the blurring boundaries between their worlds (work/life/leisure), and their sense of self (professional/personal/work/parent/remote distance teacher/other life roles). These shifting sands have an impact on how one can manage and engage with others and the world.

At separation, the intimate adult relationship is severed. For those who have ongoing, unresolved emotional connections and children together, this can interfere with parental capacity and co-parenting. For their children’s best interests, parents need to build their post-separation adult parental relationship.

How does grief and loss feature in family disputes?

Separation and the relationship ending can signify a loss of dreams, expectations, trust, and an experience of grief that can be similar to a death.

At separation, parents can be vulnerable with a web of emotions that is complex and dynamic. These emotions often include fear, anger, grief, embarrassment, shame, guilt, betrayal, loss, and relief. Each parent has a different experience of these, as does each unique child. These can be further complicated by mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, availability and helpfulness of supports, the behaviour of others (including the other parent), other motivations (new partner, work commitments), financial well-being, etc. These emotions can overcome rational thinking. Neurological evidence demonstrates the primacy of emotions over cognitions (thoughts) as separation can be experienced as a threat to a person’s wellbeing and even survival of self (including economic, social security, support systems, etc.). The primal impact of the potential experience of losing children (or time with children or control over children), can have a fundamental impact on one’s sense of identity. Often at a time when they are most raw, parents need to put these emotions aside.

When there are children, parents may have no sense of closure as they need to repeatedly engage with the other parent and co-operate to work in their children’s best interests. This can be tricky as their conflict and their separation story can continue to have an impact on their ongoing interactions.

Parental conflict has a profound impact on children. The degree of parental conflict is a major risk factor associated with children’s adjustment to parental separation. It is the ongoing unresolved parental conflict, not separation, that has adverse effects on children and can have developmental impacts. Children’s adjustment improves when conflict declines.

Now add Covid 19 and all its impacts; the uncertainty, fear, stresses and stressors to this already complex mix.

So, tips for parents are to consider their own willingness to negotiate and make decisions, their capacity to negotiate, voluntariness, and degree of authority to make decisions at this time. In the current Covid 19 climate, these considerations are far more complex. Parents may feel less able, more worried, more fearful. Being aware of how you feel and think, enables a parent to identify how to build their own capacity to support co-operative post-separation parenting and ensure their parental capacity is not diminished but remains ‘good enough’. This does not mean you get it right all of the time.

Selecting appropriate and helpful language in these conversations is vitally important.

Self-awareness, acting in good faith, giving the other parent the benefit of the doubt, being interest-based rather than adversarial, remaining accountable, allowing for flexibility and patience, is even more important than ever particularly when you can feel and be, stressed and wanting to fight/flight/freeze, feeling easily provoked and triggered. Parents need to manage the pathway between rigidity and chaos in their parenting, creating space and time to decompress and de-stress, therefore building capacity to focus on their child/ren.

Finally, particularly at this time, developing and maintaining strategies to support self-care and mindfulness, good mental health, nutrition, physical wellbeing and safety, building toleration of stress, are of paramount importance for parents and children.

 

Building upon Social Work foundations, today Jodie Grant is a highly skilled and knowledgeable Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) and Mediator. Commencing work in the Family Law field nearly 20 years ago, Jodie has maintained clinical practice whilst fulfilling education and training roles, leading and supporting professional best practice. Jodie also works as a coach, FDR clinical supervisor, and Restorative Engagement Facilitator/ Direct Personal Response Facilitator.    www.shiftingsands.net.au

 

image by  vijendra singh – usplash.com

DIAGNOSE AND TREAT INTERPERSONAL CONFLICT: A HIDDEN SYMPTOM OF COVID-19

 

Health experts know that all human diseases have both primary symptoms as well as hidden symptoms and side-effects.

With the coronavirus, primary symptoms include fever, persistent cough, and fatigue. Latent symptoms include social, psychological, and job-related problems that manifest in high unemployment, depression, and the fraying of family and business relationships.

Conflict between spouses, children, and their parents, business partners, and with citizens and their government can be some of the most pernicious and long-lasting side effects of this pandemic.

Dealing with conflict as with a serious health problem, the first step is to obtain treatment for primary symptoms; then focus on the long-term latent symptoms. With the coronavirus, treatment of primary symptoms may involve bed rest or possibly hospitalization.  Once you’ve recovered (and most patients do), you need to address the latent symptoms or longer-term side effects.

Latent symptoms may be longer-lasting—and in many cases very damaging. Divorce, bankruptcy, behavior, and learning problems for children exposed to parental arguing, or even domestic violence can scar people for years, or forever.

Just as we are ready to shelter in place, social distance, and wash our hands, we should consider the following steps to minimize or resolve conflict that is happening within our families:

  1. Be aware of escalating behaviors that are initial symptoms such as raised voices or refusal to discuss concerns (both are harmful) or blame others.
  2. When those around you show stress or depression make every effort to feel empathy for their emotional pain. Try to put yourselves in their shoes rather than react to their behavior.
  3. If resources (money, food, freedom of movement) are scarce, work with those in your family or business to float options to solve the problem rather than to complain or push others to accept your way of doing things.
  4. Research and use the resources in your community (therapists, financial planners, lawyers, and mediators) to help you gain information and tools to solve your problem. During this crisis, many of these professionals are offering reduced fee or free services.

If you treat conflict with the same care you would with a cough or fever, your odds of a fuller recovery when this pandemic passes will increase significantly.

 

Forrest (Woody) Mosten is a mediator and collaborative lawyer in San Diego and Los Angeles. He teaches mediation and peacemaking at UCLA School of law and is the author of 6 books. In 2019, Mr. Mosten received the Lifetime Career Achievement Award from the Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

image by jackson simmer – unsplash.com

NEVER WASTE A CRISIS

 

It was 26 March 2020. My country stood poised on the eve of its first-ever national lockdown. Hospital scenes from what looked like a post-apocalyptic World had been flashing for weeks across our tv screens. China, Italy, Spain, the US… and now it was here. My country had seemingly also succumbed to this new deadly enemy. As a nation, we were gripped with fear.

The anguish within me was exacerbated by the knowledge that my much-beloved husband’s services as a Family Physician would probably be in great demand over this time. I knew the statistics and I knew the dangers. I felt overwhelmed by a future I could only imagine but not control.

It took the wise advice of my sage-like older brother to bring back hope and courage in the face of an uncertain future. His words to me were a simple “Never Waste a Crisis”.

I pondered upon those words late into the night as I counted down the minutes to the final locking down of our borders and our people. “Never waste a crisis”. One sentence, one command but a maxim so pregnant with potential.

Life is full of crises…divorce, separation, the loss of a job, financial devastation, family disunity. These are all crises of monumental magnitude.

The issue is not so much how do you survive your crisis, but rather how do you thrive despite the overwhelming negativity of your crisis? How do you make the crisis work for you?

The answer is not in action but in choice of attitude.

From a mediator’s perspective, we would define this as a “reframing” of the crisis. This is simply the process of bringing a new perspective to an existing situation or problem. It is like putting a new frame on a painting where we are suddenly able to see that piece of art in a new light. How we frame a situation inevitably impacts our response to that situation.

In other words, a loss of a job while soul-destroying can be reframed as being an opportunity to find a new line of work. Tensions between spouses who wish to remain together can be reframed as learning opportunities for spousal likes and dislikes. A divorce can become a catalyst for new positive ways of living. A lockdown can be reframed as an opportunity for family re-connection, whilst seemingly endless time at home can be reframed as a chance for re-discovery of self, for spring-cleaning and new skills development.

How we respond to the challenge of a crisis is the key to whether the crisis will overwhelm and destroy us, or whether we will triumph in the face of that crisis.

Every crisis brings with it a unique opportunity for change and upward momentum, the challenge of a crisis is to embrace it rather than run from it and to work towards the positive outcome present in every crisis. Never Waste a Crisis.

 

Tracey-Leigh Wessels is an Attorney and Mediator practicing in Durban South Africa. Tracey-Leigh was admitted as an attorney in South Africa in 1997. In 1998 she obtained her accreditation as a Family & Divorce Mediator through SAAM (The South African Association of Mediators). She has since 2011 been focusing predominantly on Family and Divorce Mediation matters.

image by matthew t rader – unsplash.com

 

KEEPING THE BOAT STEADY

 

Imagine you and your spouse are in a boat on the sea.  If you have children, they are sitting between you. Staying on course, (paying bills, childcare, cooking, house cleaning, washing, etc) means that you have to coordinate rowing with your spouse because one person on their own will not succeed in making progress. If your spouse becomes provocative and causes your boat to be unsettled, or stands up and rocks the boat in anger, your job is to stay calm and keep the boat steady. While your instinct is to respond in kind, you know that the consequence of joining in and rocking the boat in reciprocal anger is that you could all end up in the water.  Knowing this also keeps you from becoming reactive and challenging to your spouse, because you will be the one threatening the safety of everyone in the boat. Responding in a neutral, or sometimes positive manner aims to keep everyone secure. Remind yourself that managing difficulties in this way empowers you. Tell yourself that this level of patience is temporary and is time-limited.

Practicing composure and patience needs cultivation.  This means that you are engaging in a process of trial and error.  You will not always behave as you mean to and will most likely make mistakes. What is important is that you learn from your missteps. Talk to yourself kindly and aim to make changes to whatever patterns of behaviour need to change, so that you do not repeat any actions that took you off course. You know that everything changes and how you behave now will have far-reaching consequences. Holding onto the goal of keeping the boat steady with endurance and perseverance, guides you towards your goal, reaching land.

 

Delma Sweeney: PhD., DASS (Distinction), CQSW, Dip. Supervision. Delma retired as Director of Mediation & Conflict Intervention at the National University of Ireland Maynooth in 2015, having delivered mediation programmes in many specialist mediation fields to masters level for 16 years. With over 24 years’ experience as a mediator, she has worked with many conflict situations, such as family mediation and large-scale multiparty mediation. Delma is an accredited psychotherapist with the Irish Council of Psychotherapy and currently works as a psychotherapist.

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Boundaries

 

Paul Simon wrote a song with the incredibly profound title: Remember: one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.  Through his own unique and creative artistry, his lyrics touch on an issue that, in the context of interpersonal relationships, is almost universally honored in the breach than respected for the principle.  Consider this:  when a person first meets someone to whom they are attracted and in whom they are interested, they are all about respect and boundaries.  They assume nothing and are curious about everything.  They would never presume or assume that they were in a position to speak for the object of their attraction.  The magnetic pull of the attraction is exquisite and the compelling curiosity to learn more is genuine.  Hope does indeed spring eternal in those halcyon days of falling for someone.

By contrast, examining the couple’s behavior in the middle or toward the end of that relationship, we find the most telling characteristic of the relational landscape is the incredible absence of boundaries.  In this state of “range free relationships” the partners can be seen clucking about noisily like relationship-chickens transgressing each other’s turf with no respect for one another’s autonomy.  The awareness that this action constitutes a trespass of one another’s turf, much less the acknowledgment that it does, is by then long gone with the wind.

This sad and toxic state of affairs is the predictable product of one’s ego.  It is this ego in each of us which allows us to become blinded by our own myopic, subjective perspectives and, correspondingly, less mindful of the need for respect of the boundaries of the other.  Of course, this is only important if one wants the bilateral quality of the relationship to succeed long term.  What came so easily and naturally at the beginning of the relationship needs to be supplanted by a willful and mindful commitment to show respect by honoring boundaries.  We need to remember that no matter how much we think we know our spouses and partners, it is always better to demonstrate respect by taking the trouble to ask than it will ever be to simply assume.  The line: Good fences make good neighbors comes from the Robert Frost poem perfectly titled The Mending Wall.

 

Chip Rose has been a major contributor to the field of family mediation and collaborative practice since 1990.  An active private practitioner of family mediation since 1980, he has provided training, techniques and practice models throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.  He is past president of the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, as well as being a founding board member and the recipient of APFM’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.  Retired and living in Oregon, he is still active in the field and can be contacted at chiprosemediation@gmail.com.

 

image by evgeny dzhumaev – unsplash.com

NEGOTIATING A BUSINESS PLAN FOR YOUR RELATIONSHIP

 

Imagine being in a business with a partner with whom you no longer get along.  You understand that your and your family’s financial well-being and security are based on the successful manufacturing of your product. Imagine also that you take tremendous pride in the quality of your product which you believe is of great benefit to all who use it.  Would you destroy the business, or undermine the quality of your product, your baby, that you conceived and nurtured because of the problems in your relationship with your partner?  I would hope not.

The analogy to trying to live with a partner from whom you would rather separate or divorce, but with whom you have a child should be fairly obvious.  Keeping in mind that the current living situation is temporary, you and your partner can put together a plan that allows the business (parenting) to continue and allows the product (child) to thrive.

To do so, you need to negotiate a business plan that outlines the roles and responsibilities of each partner with respect to the children.  Then, you need to keep all conversations and communication focused on issues related to the roles, responsibilities, and product.  As in business, be focused on your jobs, and set specific, circumscribed times to discuss issues that arise secondary to your roles and responsibilities.  Make an agreement that within the close quarters of the home, personal business, i.e. business not related to parenting, is to be discussed separately and away from the children.  Agreeing upfront to stick to a business relationship at this time will go a long way to helping and your children avoid damaging personal conflicts.

 

Arnie Shienvold is a psychologist/forensic evaluator/mediator licensed in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Ohio.  Arnie is the past president of the Academy of Family Mediators, the Association for Conflict Resolution and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.  His time is divided between doing forensic evaluations, psychotherapy, mediation, parenting coordination, and teaching.

 

image by hans peter gauster – unsplash.com

Grieving in Lockdown: Love, Loss, and COVID-19

We woke on the morning of May 7 to the news that Dad had passed away. He had died at 11:30 the day before the start of a mini birthday season in our family—my sister Judi’s on the 10th and mine on the 11th.   These days had long been the focus of “Family Time.” wherever we were in the world and whatever our ages.  My sister and I were part of a happy four that became a happy ten, when we married and had our kids.  And, with my marriage, the season now included my husband Michael’s birthday on May 7.  Dad the quiet head of our family, was always there in the background with mum planning the parties.

Now, here in our home in Ireland, far from his hospital bed in Scotland. Remote. Not able to hold his hand.  Certain he knew we loved him and he us.  He was gone.  Trying to navigate this strange reality of grief through FaceTime I heard Judi’s voice, “Dad’s gone, Fiona.”  I heard their tears and my own. Not able to see their faces. Not able to be with them.  Shared grief held us close as we mourned together across the Irish sea.  Should any family go through what we went through? Of course not…but it’s our new reality and it will be for months to come.

How many families have experienced this remote world of intimate but fractured loss?  Like so many unable to be with loved ones hospitalized and imperiled by the virus, we had already gone through weeks of distance-deepened worry.

My sister had phoned on a Sunday, 11 days before.  She was distraught. “The hospital has phoned Mum. She has to go in. Dad has taken a turn for the worse.”  She continued, “I thought he would make it. He was doing so well. I had stopped worrying. I shouldn’t have.” Voices were fractured with emotion as we considered what to do.  We agreed, our mum cannot be on her own. Judi needs to be there. The guidelines don’t allow me to travel. I will have to manage my worry from a distance while Judi and her husband could drive north to Scotland.

Dad is in the isolation ward, covered in PPE. (Who even knew what PPE was until the pandemic struck?) Mum, in the same protective equipment, is allowed in.  They hold hands, glove to glove, not skin to skin.  After a while, Mum leaves the room, and Judi enters. Only one person allowed in at a time.  Enveloped in PPE, my sister, by his bed, phones us in Ireland. This is the last time I hear my dad breathe. We talk. My sister sings. We cry. Michael reads a Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd” and says ‘The Grace” said at the end of every church service. My dad raises his hands in the style of the Church of Scotland, receiving the age-old blessing. We are silent in our world. We hear him breathe. I am with him if only in my head.

As the days pass, apprehensive and fearful, wait for news. Conversations at home are filled with worry and uncertainty as we try to work out what to do.  Do we stay, do we go? Will we get stopped if we try to travel? There is no road map. No helpful pathway to guide us in our grief during a pandemic. I walk the roads of our village, trying to think of what matters now. How many people elsewhere are doing the same? Do I need to see Dad one last time? Do Mum and Judi need me there, or is it more difficult with more people in the house? Mum is also isolating; we cannot bring risk with us. Can I grieve properly without seeing my dad or attending his burial?

Then, there was peace. Letting go. A presence of mind. Dad by my side. That is what family is. You are never quite alone. Their imprint is on your soul. Their voice in your head. Distant arms around you. That is what we have to hold onto, us, the virtual mourners. A life lived together to lean into. A relationship well-loved to give security.  Our family had to adapt. Judi and Mum and gone through the dreadful weeks of PPE and seeing dad so very sick. We all needed him back in our minds, as he was. Well and himself. We shared photos, told stories, and made plans for the burial and for the time when we could grieve together as a family.

For us in Ireland, there was too much distance, too much aloneness.

Ireland does funerals well. The Irish understand loss and, even in this time of social distancing, we felt our community surround us. Candles were lit, cards dropped in, prayers said, and stories shared. On the day of Dad’s burial, people stood with us, quietly and in their own homes but they were there. How did we become these people linked by air, space, and WiFi, and not by touch?

My dad would say from time to time “Well, you have to die of something.”  And, at 93 having lived through the great sweep of the 20th century, it took a pandemic to take him.

I cannot say that any part of this has been easy, but we are a family mourning the passing of a man whose life was full and whose time had come. We have gratitude for his long, rich life. So many other families are mourning lives interrupted. Younger lives taken before their time. And grief in this pandemic has no recognisable ritual. No funeral, no wake, and no bedside vigil. Instead, nurses hold iPads to the ears of those we love and are losing. Farewells are done by skype. Carers sit by the bedside where families used to sit.

It is hard to know the long-term effect of all of this. We will need time to reflect and remember. And, when we can safely travel, we will need to be together to ritualise our loss. For the moment, those surrounding such grieving families, should not underestimate the importance of the small ritual or gesture that can be offered. It is what we have for the moment.

Fiona McAuslan, Donabate, Ireland

 

photo of candles by Esteban Hernandez – unspash.com

Using the 5 B.R.A.V.E. Skills framework during the COVID-19 confinement period will help you stay grounded.

Going through a divorce is hard! Being quarantined with your soon to be ex during the dissolution of your marriage creates another layer of difficulty. Stressful times can make you feel out of control, hurt, sad, anxious, fearful, insecure, and powerless. Uncertainty is a part of the human existence. Even though intellectually you know that this time will pass, it is very unsettling. It is important to acknowledge that you are most malleable when you find yourself in a difficult situation. Tough times are opportunities for your own personal development. It is essential to challenge the way you perceive situations that you don’t like. If you don’t push through your comfort zone, you are likely to repeat the scenario again. Letting go of your former thoughts and behaviors and setting the intention to follow the 5 B.R.A.V.E. Skills of balance, resilience, autonomy, valor, and empathy will create the opportunity for change and healing.

BALANCE:

A balanced life is essential for personal effectiveness, peace of mind, and living well. It means creating time for the things you have to do, as well as the things you want to do. It is up to you to create harmony between your life responsibilities while finding time to participate in activities that bring you pleasure, personal fulfillment, and rejuvenation. Being in close quarters with your soon to be ex can be unsettling, so now more than ever it is essential to take practice self-care. Make it a priority to nurture yourself while focusing on creating an efficient and positive mindset. Part of living a well-balanced life is acknowledging how to deal with adversity, unforeseen events, and uncertainty. You have the power to decide how, where, and when to concentrate your energies. Make a list if it will help create structure for you. This quarantine is not forever. Focusing on physical, emotional, and spiritual balance during this indefinite time will reduce your stress, improve your mental state of mind, help boost your energy, and improve your mood. You are in control of what you engage in and how you react. Remember, your breath is always patiently waiting for you so set the intention of focusing on that prior to taking action.

RESILIENCE:

Everyone has varying levels of resilience, but it is a skill you can improve with practice. It requires that you pay attention to your experiences, listen to your emotions, and be open-minded. You can learn from disappointment and failure as well as success and motivation. Being isolated with your soon to be ex is tough and emotionally exhausting. Your ability to adapt and bounce back during this time will be tested. It is essential, now more than ever, to spend your time and energy identifying and focusing on the things you can control. Putting your efforts where they have the most positive impact will allow you to feel more empowered and confident. Only you have the ability to decide how you are going to interpret the adversities in your life. Seek support from your friends, embrace the challenge, and stay mindful of your responses. Remember, that much of what you are facing in quarantine is temporary. You have overcome setbacks before, and you can do it again!

AUTONOMY:

Nothing gets you to depend on yourself more than fear or stress. Being quarantined and living under the same roof with your soon to be ex can be complicated. It is with utmost importance to deliberately set the intention of acting on your own values and interests. Think about what really matters to you and how you can move through this in the healthiest way possible. Take charge and become a creator of how the days will unfold instead of a victim of the situation. The choice belongs to you. You are capable of making rational and informed decisions on your behalf. In this moment it is essential to be self-aware, self-reflective, and to self-manage in order to fully maximize your potential. Establish and write down your personal visions and goals. You can use them as affirmations or friendly reminders of your intentions. You are moving through your suffering when you develop a stronger belief in yourself and your capabilities. You can do difficult things!

VALOR:

Hardships can be debilitating and painful. Going through the divorce process requires courage and strength. Living with your soon to be ex for an extended amount of time adds another layer to an already challenging situation. Set the intention of finding a level of acceptance for the circumstance. The only way to diminish the fear and stress is to move through them, face what you have a tendency to avoid, and keep persevering despite your desire to freeze. If you allow yourself to stay stuck in your misery or anxiety, you cannot grow, and the situation has no opportunity to be different. Learn to say NO, ask for what you want, let go of little negativities that weigh you down, and practice defying the status quo. Just because things have always been a certain way doesn’t mean that they will remain the same. Aim to confront the challenges and fears you are facing and allow your valor to drive your responses and decisions. With forward movement will come empowerment and resolution.

EMPATHY:

No one wants to live in a war zone! Divorcing couples who are stuck in the same household must take the time to practice empathy. Not only does it result in a greater level of harmony, but it can resolve conflict and disagreements quicker. It is important to understand that true empathy works in two ways. First, it is about nurturing the ability and desire to have compassion for someone else. It requires being open-minded to the feelings and experiences of another. Empathy also involves working on setting aside your own personal biases, opinions, agenda, and beliefs, and making a conscious choice to accept the other person as he/she is and for who he/she is-flaws and all. Second, empathy is practicing having the self-awareness needed to better understand yourself, your motives, and your emotions, and the effect you have on the other person through your words, actions, and behavior. Only you can decide how to get through this period of confinement with the most peace. Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged. Set the intention of being mindful of your body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and the words you choose. You have the power to make conscious choices which will guide you through this taxing period.

Encourage yourself to remain open to new thoughts and behaviors and nurture your ability to forge ahead in a healthier direction. Allow yourself the permission to feel the feelings that come up during this difficult time and the opportunity to move through them in a productive way. Looking from a different angle and consciously deciding what you want to do is the first step in taking your power back. You have control over how you react when you set the intention of looking at a challenging situation with objectivity and purposefully deciding what you want for yourself. Using the 5 B.R.A.V.E. Skills will give you the framework you need to follow so that you can move on and come out of this COVID-19 quarantine period with your soon to be ex less stressed, stronger, and more confident. You will rise!

How will you use the 5 B.R.A.V.E. Skills framework to push through your own self-limiting boundaries?

 

Jennifer Warren Medwin, MS is a CDC Certified Divorce Coach, Supreme Court of Florida Family Mediator, and a Certified Marital Mediator in Pinecrest, Miami, Florida.  Jennifer specializes in working alongside individuals and couples who are contemplating divorce and are fearful of high conflict and with those who hope to save their marriages. She partners with clients to develop the clarity, confidence, courage, conflict management strategies, and communication skills they need in order to move through the process. Jennifer uses her knowledge of coaching and mediation to help her clients emotionally prepare for the dissolution of their marriages or the reconciliation of their relationships in the most organized, time-efficient, and productive manner. Additionally, Jennifer is a member of the National Association of Divorce Professionals (NADP) and a contributing writer for Your Tango and Thrive Global. Her approach to divorce coaching and mediation is one that provides clients with guidance and compassion through a difficult time in their lives.

originally published, April 10, 2020

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/divorcing-couples-in-quarantine-together-can-be-b-r-a-v-e-and-practice-5-essential-skills-to-alleviate-stress/

Webinar–hear the authors speak!

 

 

Washington-area contributors to new book helping couples and families cope during pandemic join forces for

“Relationship SOS” webinar on June 11

In response to the urgent needs of couples and families feeling the strain of financial difficulty, online schooling, working from home, and the threat of societal unrest, Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic was produced in only three weeks. 74 mediators, lawyers, financial experts, mental health professionals, and child advocates from 10 countries (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Poland, South Africa, Trinidad, UK, and US) contributed their expertise to the book, created by long-time family mediator Michael Lang, along with Peter Nicholson, Managing Director of the digital communication company OGX, based in Ireland.

Three of the co-authors from the Washington, D.C., area will appear together with organizer and editor Michael Lang on the

“Relationship SOS” free webinar

Noon ET (9 am PT) Thursday, June 11

Virginia L. Colin, Ph.D. is a professional family mediator in Fairfax, Virginia. As a dedicated advocate for resolving family conflicts peacefully, outside of court, she is the Director of Colin Family Mediation Group LLC and co-author of The Guide to Low-Cost Divorce in Virginia.

Ellice Halpern, J.D. is the founder of award-winning Little Falls Mediation. She is Adjunct Professor of Law at GMU’s Antonin Scalia Law School, teaching Alternative Dispute Resolution and Mediation. She mediates court-referred cases in D.C. Courts. Ellice is a graduate of Cornell University and Georgetown University Law Center.

Jenifer Joy Madden is a parent educator from Vienna, Virginia, and founder of DurableHuman.com. She is an Adjunct Professor of Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University wrote How to Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age through the Power of Self-Design, and hosts the Durable U online parenting classroom.

Request an interview or book copy at info@durablehuman.com or call (703) 403-7034

Access “Relationship SOS” webinar at: https://durablehuman.com/RelationshipSOS

Kindness and compassion in times of fear and uncertainty

Uncertainty caused by the pandemic can bring stress, fear, even panic.  Tania Perlin offers tips for self-care and compassion that can ease our anxiety and help us manage our lives.In the eye of the storm

Two weeks ago, I listened with disbelief to the news that schools will remain closed after March Break, and then with a further shock that many courts would be closed until further notice. The continuous news feed, telling us to stay home, social distance from others, and close businesses are creating palpable fear.

The knee jerk reaction for most of us is to panic. Our clients are scrambling to get their mediation dates pushed up, asking if we can do remote mediations. Parties are calling lawyers and paralegals asking for advice regarding emergency matters and court hearings. Those involved in family litigation are very concerned that their motions for custody, spousal support, and other pressing issues will not be heard for an indefinite period of time.

The stress of these uncertain times is greatly multiplied for those going through the litigation process. Litigation itself encompasses and swallows one’s life in a cloud of uncertainty and darkness. It causes parties to literally put their lives on hold, sometimes for years. It depletes mental and physical energy, finances, and at times, hope. Each litigant knows that feeling of hopefulness when heading to court for a motion or hearing, the hope that maybe today will be the end of this hell and life can return to normal, only to exit the courthouse feeling dejected and hopeless, as the wheels of the process turn at a very slow pace.

On top of this daily reality faced by litigants, current court closures and restrictions have added a whole new dimension to the seemingly endless litigation journey.

Reframing and taking control

My parents came to Canada as refugees from the former Soviet Union.

In order to get here, they went through many difficulties, from religious persecution to indefinite waiting in refugee hubs, not knowing what awaited them. They left everything they knew in order to ensure freedom for their children.  The lesson that they imparted to me was to stay in the moment. No matter how uncertain life seems, focus on what’s in front of you.

My parents chose to control what they could and let go of things they could not. It was not easy, but it helped them survive.

The present situation may seem very dark, especially for litigants who are waiting to resolve family law cases where children are involved. However, I would suggest reframing current events and finding purpose within the havoc.

For once, everyone is in the same boat. For the first time, all litigants are facing the same closures and delays, which are unaffected by one’s ability to hire a lawyer.

We cannot control the 24/7 news feed, other people’s behavior, government directives, court, and other closures, or COVID-19 itself. What we can control is ourselves. We can be accommodating to other litigants, and help find alternative ways to resolve cases. If courts are closed, private mediations are still available through video conferencing. Talking to the other side about settlement and perhaps coming to an interim agreement, which could become a final one.

Recognizing that in one moment, everything can change gives us a different perspective on what is really important in our lives, and what we want to accomplish through the litigation process. Fostering kindness and compassion will serve all of us well, even after the current crisis is over.

Taking action

If your dispute is not one that lends itself to mediation or out of court settlement, I would encourage you to deal with fear and uncertainty in other pragmatic ways. Court closures and getting cases heard is something that you can’t control. We know that our minds tend to create doomsday scenarios that add to the stress of litigation.

Here are some practical ways to help deal with fearful thoughts. (These techniques may also help manage stress during litigation.)

  • Consider reducing your news consumption. The fear and panic created by the continuous newsfeed are affecting mental health and exacerbating symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
  • Every time you have a fearful thought, say the word STOP; then bring yourself to the present moment. Look around you and find five things you can see, four things you can smell, three things you can touch (following social distancing and safety directives, of course), two things you can taste, and one thing you can feel. You can then say to yourself, “Even though it’s stressful not knowing when I will get to resolve this case, I cannot control this. I can either use this time to live in fear and panic, or I can use this time to do something positive for me.” Read a book, catch up on work, do a craft, spend time with family, etc.
  • A good way to combat fearful thoughts and anxiety is to do something for someone else. You can still video chat with someone who may need to see a friendly face. Or you could text or email those who are alone and would love words of encouragement. Some of my clients have created video group calls while they talk and eat lunch from their respective homes.
  • Walking in nature, yoga, tai chi, dancing, or any other physical activity that takes your mind away from ruminating thoughts, recharges, and energizes the mind and body.
  • Meditation also gives your mind a break from ruminating thoughts and lets your body and mind recharge. There are numerous meditations on YouTube for all levels of expertise, which are very helpful for those wanting to start a meditation practice.
  • Your practice does not have to involve sitting in a lotus position for a long time. It could be as easy as focusing on relaxing music for a little while and bringing your focus back to the music every time your mind wanders.
  • Measured breathing is a great way to reduce uncomfortable bodily sensations. For example: take a belly breath (diaphragm breathing) to a count of 4, hold to a count of 5, then release to a count of 6.
  • Doing this a few times will send a message to your body that all is well and will create a calming effect. You can find diaphragm breathing demonstrations on YouTube.  https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/uz2255

Patience is hard to cultivate when all you want to do is get this ordeal over with. In time, life will get back to normal, but meanwhile, we can all do our part by fostering kindness, compassion, accommodation, and love toward our fellow human beings. Remember: this too shall pass. We have the potential to come out of this storm a better, stronger, kinder, and healthier society. It’s all up to us.

Tania Perlin, Toronto, Canada

image from unspash.com

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