The other day the words just came out of my mouth. Emotional safety. What did I mean by that phrase, exactly? I meant being in a space where people could be themselves: vulnerable, imperfect, and capable of expressing their emotions without fear of judgment or interruption. That is my definition of emotional safety.
As divorce lawyers, we are all (theoretically) trained to deal with risks and breaches that impact the physical safety of our clients. We have tools to deal with threats to physical safety and actual physical violence. We can go to court and get a restraining order or order of protection. We can refer clients to domestic violence support agencies. We can, to the extent possible, acknowledge and address obvious acts of physical aggression. What we are not so good at, nor have we received adequate training, is how to address the impact of emotional insecurity and how that state of mind directly impacts the skills needed to build a healthy relationship.
I am in the business of helping people transition out of their primary relationship. When a client shifts their perspective away from living life where things “happen to me” to living a life where things “happen by me” or “through me”, life holds robust opportunities for personal growth and empowerment. This is how the Conscious Leadership Group frames the “4 Ways of Leading in the World.”
Much of what I write about in terms of Collaborative Divorce practice derives from my belief in the power of transformational change. Moving through the grief and pain of a divorce, instead of trying to avoid it, leads to healthier lives, healthier children, healthier communities, healthier states and a more peaceful country.
If you haven’t seen Oprah’s podcast featuring Glennon Doyle’s Super Soul talk yet, take a look. It speaks to what I am talking about. Her description of her hot yoga experience after she discovered her husband’s infidelity, where all she could do was lie on her mat, sweating and crying, is priceless. Any environment that creates a safe space to feel your actual emotions, is where people should be spending their time in the early stages of a divorce. Take a moment and conjure up your favorite, most peaceful place. This is the place where you can think, and more importantly feel. This is not about maintaining the façade we are taught to show the world, but it’s about how we really feel.
Which option sounds more appealing? Option #1 — spending time in your safe place or in therapy learning how to grow into the person you were destined to become. Or option #2 spending hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of dollars battling your spouse in an overburdened judicial system. Do you want to fight to prove how you deserve more than half of your children’s time; more than half of the family wealth; how you have been wronged by your spouse who you declared your love and devotion “till death do us part” in front of your friends, family and faithful spiritual companions; and, how your former spouse deserves nothing? That is certainly an option.
In the Collaborative Divorce model, clients each have the support of two lawyers. In Vermont, a mental health coach is also part of the team. In some states, the model utilizes two coaches so that clients each have their own coach as they work through the tricky emotional terrain that is divorce. In the safety of a carefully structured process, clients can feel emotionally safe enough to use their words to express their goals, interests and desired outcomes. People have a variety of reasons why they are not honest in their relationships. Now that the marriage is actually ending, there is really nothing to lose from respectfully speaking your mind in the presence of your spouse and the team of professionals who are there to support each of you.
Divorce is a grieving process. Collaborative Divorce is designed to create an emotionally safe process to feel your feelings, express them appropriately, and learn more effective communication skills for your future. You do this so that you and your former spouse can show your children how to work through challenging times, and how to face adversity with courage and emotional intelligence. You CAN emerge from a divorce stronger than before. You can either encourage growth or stunt it. The process can promote healing or promote hatred. The choice is yours.