About Me

Meredith Richardson, Esq., is a conflict management specialist.  She works as a Mediator, Facilitator, Trainer, and Conflict Coach in Maine and New Hampshire.  Follow her on facebook as Meredith Mediates: http://www.facebook.com/MeredithMediates.  To receive monthly tips on conflict and upcoming events and retreats, email her at meredithmediates@aol.com.

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The Worst Valentine's Day Ever

When you're young, the worst Valentine's Day ever may be the day at school when everyone got a flower or a card except for you.  That's pretty bad.

When you get a little older, your worst Valentine's Day ever may be caused by someone breaking up with you right before or even on Valentine's Day. That's an awful experience.

When you get older still, the court system (at least those in NH and Maine, where I practice) can help you to have the worst Valentine's Day ever.  Your divorce may be scheduled for Valentine's Day.

Every year, I am amazed to find family divisions of the courts open for business on Valentine's Day.  Who wants to be in court with an ex- or a soon-to-be ex- on Valentine's Day?  No one.  Who wants to have every Valentine's Day be the anniversary of their divorce?  Only those who 1. are lousy at remembering dates; 2. hate Valentine's Day anyway; or 3. appreciate the irony and can laugh about it.  For the rest of the population, Valentine's Day seems to be tailor-made for an administrative court day, where only emergencies are handled, and the rest of the day the court staff can catch up on paperwork and the judges can catch up on writing orders.

Here's my promise to you.  If you mediate with me privately, away from the court system, I will never make you mediate on Valentine's Day.  Never, ever, ever.  I never want to be a part of your worst Valentine's Day ever.  Do you?



Did your grandfather ever beat someone up?

In my family, my grandfathers sometimes engaged in physical confrontation with others outside of the home.  I know about this because of the stories that were told.

When my maternal grandfather was young and had been married just a few years, he became upset with his supervisor at work, lost his temper, and hit him.  He lost his job for that.  Even worse, because he was unemployed, he was then eligible to be drafted to serve in World War II, leaving a pregnant wife behind.  The moral of the story?  Even if you are really, really angry, and you will get really, really angry at some point, don't hit someone in anger.  It could result in an even worse outcome.

My paternal grandfather owned a grocery store.  One night, he and his daughter (my aunt) were working together.  She was on the register and he was out back.  He heard her scream, "Daddy!" and came running.  A man had my aunt pinned up against some of the shelving.  My grandfather grabbed the man from behind, pulling him away from my aunt, and threw and kicked him to the floor.  When the man would get up, my grandfather would again grab him and throw him to the floor, until, finally, he literally threw him out of the store.  The moral of the story?  Don't anger my grandfather.  Well, that and if someone were to attack, my grandfather was physically capable of keeping us safe and that is part of the job of fathers and grandfathers, to keep their family safe.

My grandmothers each play their own part in these conflict stories.  In the first instance, I know that my grandmother was very angry at my grandfather for the outcome of his punch.  She was left pregnant and alone until he returned from World War II.  Neither of their children was born when this happened, but the story has survived multiple generations, being told first to my mother as a child and then to me as a child.  My grandfather was not the hero in this story.  No one was.

In the second instance, my grandfather was seen as the hero.  I think that you can credit part of that to his rescuing my aunt.  In that, he was a hero.  However, the violence that he used against the other man may have been (and likely was) excessive.  That never comes up in the telling of the story.  It would be impolite (and unheard of in our family) to mention it while the story is being told.  My grandmother (and my grandfather) believed that he was a hero and this is the story that has survived multiple generations, being told first to my father after it happened and then to me as a child. 

Think about the stories that your family hands down from generation to generation about conflict.  What messages have you received without even realizing it?  What messages are you sending to your own children?  Do you want to send these messages or is it time to rewrite some of the stories?


when a former boyfriend gets added to the mix

The other day, I was catching up with an old friend.  She had recently returned from a conference led by her good friend (and former boyfriend) where she had had a really good time.  Her husband had suggested that they move (again) and she was not thrilled with the idea.  She was unhappy at her job as well.

I do a lot of divorce mediation.  I have heard variations of this story a number of times.  I already knew what happened next.  She decided that her former boyfriend was her true love and they should be together and live happily ever after.  Yes, she wanted to quit her job and move, but it was to be with her former boyfriend.  I was just waiting for her to say the words.

I was as wrong as wrong can be.

My friend and her husband are still happily married.  They are in the process of moving and looking for work in the new location.  The visit with the friend/former boyfriend was lovely, but nothing more than that.

We can make up some pretty big stories in our heads based on little concrete information.  Past experiences shape our stories, even past experiences that have nothing to do with the person currently before us.  I wasn't thinking that my friend was divorcing because of her behavior.  She is still on her first marriage.  I was thinking it because in my professional world, people divorce everyday, sometimes for reasons just like these.

We all make up stories in our heads as to how the world works.  Most of the time, we go along with our stories, not even knowing that they are there.  When we get something hugely, horribly wrong, as I did here, we have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to make changes to our stories.

What stories do you tell yourself?


Divorce is Seasonal

It may seem hard to believe, but divorce mediation is a seasonal business.  There are certain times of the year when people are much more likely to hire me to mediate their divorce.

This is the divorce mediation calendar of the year in southern Maine and NH:

January 1-31:  New Year's Resolution #1:  DIVORCE!  I wish I had more money for it.  Christmas was so expensive.

February 1-14:  I don't want to talk about divorce right before Valentine's Day.  We've made it this far.  We can make it through Valentine's Day.

February 15-28:  I want a DIVORCE!  I wish I had more money for it.  We have school vacation coming up for the kids and we've already planned a trip/scheduled our vacation time around it.  I should wait a little longer.

March 1 to May 31:  I WANT A DIVORCE!

June 1 to August 15:  It's summer.  Life is good.  We're on vacation.  The kids are on vacation.  We can make it through this.

August 15 to November 9:  I WANT A DIVORCE!

November 10 to December 31:  I don't want to start the divorce process around the holidays.  It will make the holidays awkward.  How can I afford Christmas presents and divorce?  I can't.  Let's just get through the holidays.

And so it goes, for one year after another. 

Not everyone follows this pattern, of course, and it may be different in different areas of the country. 

What it says to me, though, is that in my region, spring and fall are the danger zones for marriages.  It is also a time when preventative maintenance could be the most beneficial.

So, think about your own marriage.  When is the last time that you told each other, "I love you.  I'm grateful for you because ___?"  When did you last have a date, just the two of you, or some other form of quality time?  When is the last time that you gave each other gifts?  When is the last time that you and your partner did something nice for each other - some act of service?  When is the last time that you were affectionate (G rated) with your partner?

What is one thing that you could commit to doing each week in your relationship for the month of October?

What will you commit to doing to get you through the divorce danger zone?


9 Ways To Be Mindful In Conflict

Mindfulness has become the new buzz word.  People are engaging in mindfulness, in mindful eating, mindful meditation, and more.  My challenge for you is to be mindful in conflict.

First, what is mindfulness?  Google defines it as:  “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

So, how can you apply it to conflict?  Here are 9 tips on being mindful in conflict:

  1. 1.       Focus on the present moment.  When in conflict, some people want to dredge up all of the past problems that have ever been.  Focus just on the one problem at this instant.
  2. 2.       Focus on the present moment.  When in conflict, some people want to jump ahead.  “If you do that, then I’m going to do this, and this, and THIS!”  Focus on just the one problem at this instant.  Don’t jump ahead.
  3. 3.       When your feelings bubble up, calmly acknowledge and accept them.  Ride them out.  Let them pass.  Let them be a part of the conversation without taking over the conversation.  Take a break if you need to.
  4. 4.       When judgmental thoughts intrude, such as, “He’s a jerk!”  “What an idiot!” calmly acknowledge and accept them but don’t invest in them.  These thoughts signify that you have been triggered and are in fight mode.  That is all that these thoughts signify.  Bring yourself back to mindfulness.  Take a break if you need to.
  5. 5.       When thoughts intrude such as, “I can’t take it!”  “I have to get away!” calmly acknowledge and accept them but don’t invest in them.  These thoughts signify that you have been triggered and are in flight mode.  That is all these thoughts signify.  Take a break and bring yourself back to mindfulness.
  6. 6.       When you feel your body reacting – your muscles tensing, your face flushing, your fists clenching, your legs twitching, calmly acknowledge and accept that this is happening.  If your fists are clenching, you are reacting in fight mode.  If your leg is twitching, you are reacting in flight mode.  Bring yourself back to mindfulness, back to the present moment.  Take a break if you need to.
  7. 7.       Now, be mindful of what is happening for the other person in the conflict.  What do you observe in terms of bodily sensations in that person?  Does that person appear to be in fight, flight, or freeze?  How could you help that person out of that reactive state? 
  8. 8.       What do you hear from the other person in terms of thoughts?  Does the person sound like s/he is in fight, flight, or freeze?  What could you say to help the person out of that reactive state?
  9. 9.       What do you see in terms of facial expressions in the other person? What feelings does the person appear to be experiencing?  Is there anything you can do to help the person navigate those emotions?

When we are truly mindful in conflict, we are best able to see all the options available to us and are best able to navigate the conflict successfully.  We still experience emotions, but they don’t drive us to do or say things we might later regret.  We still experience reactions in our body, and we have the ability to slow things down and figure out why we are being triggered in this fashion.  We open ourselves to fully understanding what is happening for both ourselves and for others involved in the process with us.  

Is it easy?  No.  Like meditating, it takes practice.  It’s hard in the beginning and it gets easier over time.  With certain people, it will be harder than with others.  You will think you have it mastered, and then there will be a situation or a person that will be particularly triggering and you will feel like you are back at square one.  It’s OK.  Conflict isn’t easy, and neither is mindfulness.

Just keep practicing.