Dear Nick and Dear Nora:
Rose’s turn to complain
After listening to Paul’s epiphany — and demonstrating that she understood what he was saying — Rose finally got the chance to air her grievances.
Rose was left abruptly in a bad situation. Of course she’s angry, and of course she’s not going to make the divorce easy for Paul. In fact, she may use our mediation sessions as a place to punish Paul. As with every experience during a grieving process, Rose’s wrath may be more intense than anything she or Paul has experienced before. It is likely to feel as though it will go on forever, but it won’t. It’s transient. I can explain this to Paul, but it is so contrary to what appears to be real to him that I won’t get through.
I can ask him to trust me, which probably won’t work either. Instead, I have to look for opportunities to encourage Paul to “don’t just do something, stand there.” The temporary nature of the powerful emotions encountered during grief is a critical principle. However, I can’t employ it as often or as effectively as I’d like because I don’t have a reliable technique to communicate it to clients.
What I am usually able to do is prevent what happens at the sessions from kindling more of the same, perhaps with increased intensity, at future sessions.
For the next hour, Rose suffered publicly. As she vented, she blamed Paul for sleepless nights, loss of appetite and an outbreak of eczema — which she was ready to display and disappointed when I told her it was not necessary.
I didn’t doubt that she was suffering, but the dramatic way she expressed herself prevented me from gauging the intensity of her pain. A half-hour into her angst, I got the sense that I was seeing a performance for an audience that wasn’t in the room. Was Rose entertaining friends and family with dramatic versions of her encounters with Paul? When the session was over, I asked Rose to stay for five minutes and Paul to wait for me outside.
• • •
Once Paul left the office, I said to Rose, “Of course this is very hard for you. I don’t think there is any way that it couldn’t be hard. I don’t know how or when it will get better, but I do know that the passage of time helps. That’s of no comfort right now, so I wonder if you are getting any support. Are you?”
“Of course I am. I come from a very close family. They are all on my side and they hate Paul. My brothers would shoot him if they thought they could get away with it. My mom and dad probably would, too; they are all really angry.”
“Do you get support from anywhere else?”
“How often do you see your family? Where are they?”
“They live in Fullerton — the nice part. I go down there every other Sunday and stay for dinner. Then my mom and dad come up here for either Saturday or Sunday when I don’t go there.”
“Do they babysit?”
“Sure, if I ask. We will either hang out or my mom will watch the baby so I can go out.”
“Do they give you any financial support?”
“My dad is not going to let me go without, but he wants me to get everything I need from Paul.”
“Do you talk about the case with them?”
“Am I not supposed to?”
“You can talk to anyone you want to talk to.”
“Then, yes, I do. I talk about it a lot with all of them. This is the biggest, worst thing that has happened to our family in years.”
“OK, I’ve got it. That’s it. If you see Paul in the hall, please tell him that he can come in.”
Rose got to the door and paused, “I guess you could say that Paul’s parents give me a little support.”
“His mom will always take care of the baby — and the dog, too, if necessary. She raised a bad son, but she’s been nice to me. His father has been nice to me, too, even though I know he didn’t want Paul to marry me. He always has a couple of hundred dollar bills for me when I see him. It’s his way. At first I told him that I didn’t want his money; I was Paul’s responsibility. He said it was for his grandchild, and I was his grandchild’s mom, so who else would he give it to?”
I asked, “Why do you think Paul’s father didn’t want you and Paul to get married?”
She said, “Her. Because of her — ask Paul about it.”
I’ll describe Paul’s reply in the next letter.
— Brian H. Burke is a certified family law specialist practicing family law and mediation in Santa Barbara. A researcher and educator in the field of divorce and family conflicts, he is also the creator of the Legal Road Map™. Click here for more information, call 805.965.2888 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.