If you have read this blog before, you know that as a rule, we strongly encourage divorcing couples to resolve their disputes through mediation. Given our strong support of the process, you may be wondering if we ever think it is not a good idea to engage in mediation. Well, the sad answer is yes. There are cases where one or both spouses show such scary behavior that mediation is not possible.
While virtually no one is always on their best behavior during a divorce, if certain negative personality traits take over, it can make things especially difficult. This does not mean that people who demonstrate such personality traits can never engage in successful mediation, but it does mean that if you spot these traits—either in your spouse or in yourself—there is reason to proceed with caution.
In honor of October, here are a few of the scary characteristics that can derail divorce mediation:
Ideally, you will go into divorce mediation trusting your spouse 100%. Although this ideal is extremely rare in divorce, you must at least trust your spouse to be financially honest. Spouses – even divorcing spouses – are bound by law to be honest with each other about their income, their assets, and their financial obligations. To help keep the parties on track in divorce mediation, they sign a participation agreement pledging honesty during the proceedings. If either party violates this agreement, it can be difficult to repair trust and move forward.
Vindictive spouses are out for revenge. They are not interested in mutually beneficial solutions but instead feel the need to win at all costs. Successful mediation is built on the idea that both parties are pursuing a fair resolution. If you believe that your spouse would rather burn everything down than concede anything, mediation will be challenging.
If your spouse seems to lack empathy and yet still manages to come across as somewhat charming, you may be dealing with a narcissist. Narcissists think they are special. They want to be the center of attention and do not consider other people’s needs to be as important as their own. They may take positions aimed at making themselves look better, such as insisting on primary or joint custody just to look like a good parent, rather than out of a true desire to be a good parent. Successful mediation requires a commitment to reaching a fair resolution, so someone who is continually trying to manipulate things to be heavily weighted toward their own needs will not be easy to work with.
A person suffering with borderline personality disorder is terrified of abandonment and yet often pushes people away first to avoid being left. If your spouse vacillates between putting you on a pedestal and treating you like trash, you might be looking at some borderline traits. Life with someone like this is an emotional rollercoaster and trying to mediate with them will be no different. In fact, it may well be worse, as divorce will trigger all their deepest fears. A person who fears being abandoned by everyone, including their own children, may engage in manipulative tactics in a frantic effort to avoid this.
People with high anxiety often have trouble letting go of perfectionism. This can translate into difficulty with compromise. The anxious person does not mean to be unreasonable but may be unable to manage the overwhelming fear that certain scenarios stir up. For example, they may be terrified at the thought of running out of money or of losing their home and having to move. Anxiety often spikes especially high around parenting issues. A highly anxious parent may be afraid to leave their children alone with the other parent, even if that parent is a perfectly competent caregiver. This can lead to an insistence on primary custody and an effort to control the rules and environment in the other parent’s home.
Negative Traits and Scary Behavior in Divorce
We all have personalities that include both positive and negative traits. Divorce can bring our worst traits to the forefront, which can lead to scary behavior that may stymie mediation. Hiding information, unfairly blaming the other party for everything that has gone wrong, using the kids as weapons, and trying to manipulate the other party with extreme emotional reactions, such as yelling, sobbing, or making threats, are all forms of bad behavior.
Since October is not just the scary month, but also National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is important to point out that the ultimate form of bad behavior is domestic violence or abuse. If you have any question about whether your spouse’s behavior is veering into this kind of territory, take a look at this post for guidance on exactly what domestic violence is and when it should (or should not) make mediation completely out of the question.
What about the other types of scary behavior? If you have identified your spouse in any of the profiles above, you may have a new understanding of where their behavior is coming from. But what can you do with this information? Does it completely rule out mediation? What can you do to move forward, and how can you know when it is time to move to litigation?
In most cases, there is a lot you can do. Come back next month for some details. Meanwhile, do not let yourself be scared off by this post! In the vast majority of cases, divorce mediation offers a host of benefits when compared to litigation. These potential benefits include cost savings, improved privacy, and generally lower levels of conflict.
If you and your spouse are interested in talking to an experienced divorce mediator, contact us today for an initial consultation.