Pathology Pointing: Why it Doesn’t Work in Divorce

Pathology Pointing: Why it Doesn’t Work in Divorce

written by: Rachel Alexander,
by: Rachel Alexander,
Alexander-pathology-dplic 6154234 s-2015 Alexander-pathology-dplic 6154234 s-2015

PATHOLOGY POINTING: WHY IT DOESN'T WORK IN DIVORCE December 5, 2017Communication, Divorce, MediationPosted By: Rachel Alexander, Esq.

What is the difference between Pollyannaism and a Balanced Realism Approach?

{4:36 minutes to read}

Pathology Pointing

Our western medical model is pathology-based; our biology is organized around identifying problems. Evolutionarily, problems = danger. But could there be usefulness to hanging out in what is working? This takes a kind of courage — perhaps to overcome some fear that issues will get bigger or take over if you don't keep watch over them. Who will do the worrying if I take a nap?

The question is this: can we turn towards what's good even while there is bad stuff going on? This requires tolerance and vigilance. Can we rebuild healthy tissue to overwhelm the unhealthy cells? Can we implement this as part of our strategy even while eradicating the cancer? This reshaping brings more possibilities than dead ends. (Which reminds me of my hair — see how the negative comes right up?!)

In addition, focusing on one or the other's pathologized or problematic behavior usually just results in vilifying one person and victimizing the other, positioning the parties in defensive, adversarial postures. We are not ignoring any of the problems, rather we are addressing them in a potentially more effective way.

What's Right?

Why don't we ask this question at least as often as we ask what's wrong? In order for something favorable to take hold, it needs our attention. Literally. It needs about 1-2 minutes to imprint on us and become a resource we can recall. So says positive psychology. Whereas negative experiences imprint automatically and remain with us always, favorable experiences must be consciously attended to in order to root.

In divorce mediation, exploring what is already working is often the most important time spent. We know there is a lot that hasn't functioned well; after all, we're here. But often there is much that operates well. When we locate that, we have a blueprint for what can be built.

How to Focus on Strengths

Here are a few lines of inquiry that help people establish a way into what works:

Tell me about a time that: What are you most proud about? This focus serves multiple purposes. It helps people re-organize their thinking by turning their attention to what they have done well in the past and what they have now that's worth protecting. Someone focusing on what they do have is likely to want to blow things up as an expression of their anger and grief, taking the family down with them; they are more likely to attend to what is valued. This approach transforms into positive self-regard and self-efficacy — two things much needed in divorce. Additionally, it helps people identify what each party calls successful or functional, and then dialogue about it, developing common ground.

  • You felt heard by your spouse;
  • Your spouse came through for you;
  • He or she demonstrated great parenting;
  • You were relieved the other was there; or
  • You functioned well as a family.
  • The way your children relate to one another and each of you?
  • How your kids are developing as students? As individuals?
  • The ways you and your spouse have provided for/nurtured/guided them?
  • How you both are handling the current conflict?

Like anything new, shifting focus takes discipline, and the development of new muscles. Most of us are pretty toned in the complaining portion of our anatomies but are a bit flabby in identifying what is going well.

Even rewiring a room takes skill, patience and some expertise. Rewiring our minds is a much bigger job. Our minds, in fact ourselves, are far vaster and more miraculous than any structure, so be kind with yourselves as you begin to remodel your own interior.

Rachel Alexander Alexander Mediation Group 119 West Valley Brook Rd Califon, NJ 07830 (908) 832-2305