Often times in mediation, we discover how conflicts bring forward other issues, including those of worth.
A couple came in to see me to mediate the terms of their separation.
While still living together, the questions I usually ask a separating couple include:
- What are your thoughts about who will move out?
- What schedule do you want for the children to spend time with both of you?
- Do you want to separate finances now? That will require (most likely) support payments (Child and maybe Spousal), and determining who will pay which expenses.
- Or – you could just maintain joint accounts, and continue paying bills, including the new bills for an additional apartment, together, for the time being.
- Is there anything else you need to discuss right now?
However, as we talked, it seemed to me that Allie wanted a more detailed and final separation, more like a comprehensive divorce settlement. She wanted to separate their money. She didn’t want Warren to look at her spending, or comment about what she spent money on.
This couple can afford to have one kid in boarding school, and one kid in private day school (and they do) – and yet, most of their conflicts revolve around money.
But was the conflict really about money?
Allie had not been working outside the home during their marriage. Their older child had special needs and Allie had been the parent who organized and brought the child to all of the diagnostic and therapy/treatment appointments, while at the same time managing the household. Allie spoke clearly and eloquently about the ways she had contributed to Warren’s and to the children’s successes – Warren had been able to work late and to travel as much as his employer wanted him to. He was able to be completely dedicated to his career, because Allie was home and completely dedicated to keeping the family running.
Warren agreed and acknowledged that Allie had done great work as a parent and homemaker; but I could see Allie did not hear Warren’s compliments and recognition. But, an off-hand comment to the contrary stung her deeply.
She said that during their marriage, she would occasionally want to pamper herself in some way, but that Warren would make disparaging comments about her spending, which made her feel ‘worth less,’ than Warren, because her work did not bring in money to the family.
It was these feelings of being worth less than Warren that caused Allie to end the marriage. Allie said to me, during mediation, “I want spousal support that will give me what I’m worth.”
This struck me as a very difficult goal. Is our “worth” as human beings tied to how much we earn (or don’t earn) in our jobs? I, personally, don’t think so. Would their children feel that their mother is worth less as a person, because she is not earning? Definitely not.
But – can the amount of monthly spousal support that Warren pays to Allie make her feel that she is worth more? I would posit that the answer to that question is – no.
“There’s a hole in the middle of the prettiest life,” as the song goes* – and nothing will fill it up.
How mediation can get to the heart of the issue:
It doesn’t help that Allie has not handled money much, during their marriage. Warren pays all the bills for the family, invests their savings and retirement assets, and Allie admittedly is ‘not good at understanding finances,’ so she may not have a realistic understanding of what are the options for the monthly support.
Warren started out by offering her 50% of the family income, and he said that they would each pay 50% of the family expenses, but Allie felt that would be too much book-keeping.
That surprised me – because 50% would meant Allie is an an equal – what could be more fair than that? And symbolize better that they are of equal worth? This process is what mediation is about though. Working toward understanding.
* For Real, by Bob Franke