A bridge is a means of connection, and when I think about how I got to where I am today, the phrase “bridging the gap” comes to mind. The gap was the space between what I wanted for my life and what was happening in my life, and it felt huge. Deborah Denson Conflict Management Services came to be after my life fell apart. It was that “you cannot hold it together anymore” kind of falling apart when my 23-year marriage ended and with it my career. Then three months later, my oldest child committed suicide. I was plunged into a deep, dark river of self-reflection.
As a life-long learner, I knew I had valuable skills for managing adversity, and I had a clear glimpse of the real me, not just as mother or wife or friend, but the real me underneath all the masks. I also knew I wanted my life to matter, yet I didn’t know what that might look like. I asked myself a lot of questions.
How can I walk through my days being of service to others, which is my passion and my calling, and be fully self-supporting? How can I share all that I have learned doing what I love?
The answers to these questions and many more started to fall into place when I heard about the Institute for Conflict Management, an executive masters program, at Lipscomb University.
I enrolled after a ten minute meeting with the director, and I cannot even remember what we talked about. I just know that I trusted my intuition and decided to say “yes.”
I quickly found that my years in Al-Anon and therapy dovetailed with my study of Nonviolent Communication and would become my building blocks. The masters program put my personal knowledge and experience into a professional framework that made sense and helped me build my bridge. Today I am a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 Listed General Civil/Family Mediator and have a private practice helping people get unstuck. Whether navigating divorce or trudging through the muck of some other conflict, my goal is to guide clients gently back to the truth of who they are. It’s really that simple.
You have everything you need to get back home, and you’ve had it all along. You just need to remember to click your heels.
My practice mirrors how I try to walk through my personal life and is based on the underlying assumption that we are hard wired for connection and have an innate capacity for compassion. It’s about trusting ourselves and taking 100% responsibility for the circumstances of our lives, even when it feels like we are being pushed in a direction we don’t want to go. It is about accepting that pain and disappointment are part of our humanity and live side by side with infinite possibilities. It’s about saying “okay, here is this thing that makes me angry or sad or scared,” and knowing that something new is going to come out of this.
This is particularly challenging in divorce when everything we have known is getting ready to change in a big way. Divorce is a highly emotional process and everything is on high alert and may feel like walking blind towards an unknown future. Divorce is also a legal process. I often see people turn to an attorney to be their voice and ignore the intense emotional aspects they are facing. The fear of losing all safety and security can lead us to turn over all of our decision making to a perceived expert, and this may be the best strategy. And it may not, especially when children are involved and you will be co-parenting with your ex for the rest of your life.
There is another way, and this other way may be the jump start you need to healing.
The alternative is mediation, more specifically transformative mediation. Transformative mediation seeks to empower individuals to step into their lives and make informed and voluntary decisions for their lives while at the same time connecting to the needs of the one sitting across the table. Modeling empathy and understanding as part of the mediation process can immediately de-escalate conflict in a way no amount of legal positioning can. It also goes a long way to start the healing process while saving you time and money as well.
I once facilitated a mediation between two parties who were confident they could not be in the same room with one another, much less come to any agreements. They were mediating solely to show the courts they made a “good faith effort.” I was not surprised. Parties typically come into mediation very clear about what they don’t want. I was also not surprised that through transformative mediation, this couple not only stayed at the table together, but they also created agreements that worked for both of them. Time and time again I get the opportunity to witness such transformations, both personally and professionally, and when it happens, the shift is palpable. The benefits over a negotiated or adjudicated settlement are huge.
Everything you accomplish in life starts with that still small voice inside saying “yes.” Yes this is my reality right now. Yes this hurts and feels overwhelming. Yes I can trust the process, and yes I can walk through this conflict one step at a time with a laser sharp focus on what matters most.
Deborah Denson is a Mediator and Conflict Coach in Nashville, TN. She shares her personal journey learning to manage conflict and life in general on her blog, where she combines original art and wit into a daily dose of insight and humor for readers.