I just finished reading a piece from the Harvard Business review about how to effectively ‘Collaborate’ with business associates. With thanks to the author, I apply some of her thoughts to working with Collaborative Practice as a divorcing couple.
Collaborative divorce works by treating the couple, and their professionals as a Team. The task at hand for the team is to reassign the responsibilities and obligations of the couple and and redistribute their assets and liabilities so that each of them AND their children can move forward with their respective needs being met as well as possible. Not exactly a ‘simple’ task, bot one in which either the couple can see themselves as adversaries trying to ‘win’ or as team members working together toward overlapping goals. In CP, we support clients in that latter view.
So what’s so difficult and ‘risky’ about working in Collaboration with your soon-to-be-ex? It almost always comes to some question of Trust. “How do I trust this person?” It’s understandable and normal as a couple has moved toward ending their marriage, that there be, well an reduction in the amount of trust between them. And yet, they need to trust each other enough to work together at the tasks at hand. How do they do that? As it was put in the article that moved me: “How do we lay the groundwork for trust so that when we need to collaborate we can quickly slip into a workable partnership?” She offers four thoughts that I’ll use as a starting point:
1. “Start with simple exchanges where the cost of betrayal is low.” As with most of the process, you’ll work with especially the involved Mental Health professionals to find a starting place. What’s a topic where you DO trust the other person? There is one….even if it’s only scheduling a next meeting and trusting that s/he will show up. Another good one will involve gathering documents that relate to finances.
2. “Remember that our collaborators are competent” You know full well what you’re soon-to-be-ex is good at. Step aside for a moment from the normal desire to paint him/her as a complete fool, so that you both can benefit from what s/he is good at. Do this also with your professionals!
3. “Don’t take advantage of our collaborators’ deficiencies.” You also know what s/he is not so good at. It doesn’t help you to call attention to wait for him/her to mess up and then to call attention to it. Really, if they’ve been really bad at remembering tasks, don’t sit in the wings for them to forget something so that you can say “See!!” Try pretending that s/he isn’t going to do it on purpose. Instead, raise it in private with your professionals so that they can come up with ways to bolster the deficiency…so that you both benefit.
4. “Give others their due, and expect yours in return.” When your soon-to-be-ex does something, don’t just take it as a given. Even worse, don’t treat it as an unexpected surprise! Instead, recognize that you two are working together and that every you or s/he does to accomplish your goals benefits you both. Acknowledge it as such. A simple ‘thank you’ can go a lot further than a ‘fiiiiiinally!’
If you think this sounds difficult, I encourage you to think about what is at stake here. Your marriage is ending, but engaging in Collaborative Practice with your soon-to be-ex is about giving yourself the best chance at starting your post-marriage life positively. It may not be easy, but aren’t you worth it?