divorce and family mediation in nyc

jennifer safian, divorce mediator

212-472-8626    info@safianmediation.com

Divorce and family NYC mediator Jennifer Safian of safian-mediation.com discusses the struggle of letting go of some material items during divorce no matter the financial value or lack thereof.It is not unusual that couples working through their divorce will be moving along in discussing major issues such as – what to do with their home, how to share their retirement savings, and how to create a parenting agreement that is good for the children – when suddenly, they get paralyzed over one small issue which may seem totally uninteresting to anyone else, but which creates a major stumbling block for them.

I recall a couple I worked with a while back: They had come to an agreement about sharing their time with their children, about where they were each going to live as well as how to deal with selling the marital home. These are all important issues.

Next they had to work out the division of the contents of the house. In addition to their furniture, they had put together a large library consisting mainly of art books that they had accumulated over the years. As they visited exhibitions, they purchased the catalogues, and as they travelled together to many different countries, they acquired books as mementos of their trips. When it came to dividing up their art books, they became completely stuck. The conversation turned much more contentious and seemed more painful than anything they had discussed thus far.

After all, they were only books, so why would that be?

When people go through divorce, they experience major loss:

  • Loss of their partner
  • Loss of their united family
  • Loss of their dreams of a perfect married life

Splitting up the books became the symbol of these losses. It triggered emotions that were unbearable for each of them. The conversation was no longer a conversation, but a tense and agonizing discussion which reflected much of the pain of the divorce itself. It was more about all the other losses than about the books, but somehow the books carried with them good memories and shared interests. They were also part of their home; a symbol of the united family.

The couple would have to go through the exercise of listing all the books and trying to divide them up. With each book, they felt they were ripping out a piece of themselves, but as painful as it was, they got it done. In the end, it seemed to have had somewhat of a cathartic effect, and from that moment, they were better able to move on to the next step.

Why are some material possessions so difficult for us to give up, regardless of their material value? We spend many hours adding numbers, and assigning values to our homes, furniture and collectibles in order to divide them up “equitably.” However, the difficulties lie far beyond the equitable distribution of those material things. The break up, the loss of our partner, the loss of our dreams, of a united home – all of that has broken down and we may feel that we have lost ourselves as well, that we don’t know who we are anymore.

Ultimately every crisis we face can also become a learning experience. As we begin to put one stone on top of the other to rebuild our lives, we will find a new stronger self which will allow us to move forward.

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Jennifer Safian

jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator
divorce and family mediation
upper east side of manhattan (nyc)
new york, ny
(212) 472-8626
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  1. Daniel Burns February 10, 2014 at 10:34 am - Reply

    This is so true. I recall my decision to walk away from my divorce litigation practice came after spending a couple of hours in a court conference room listening to a couple argue over the dining room set when I realized that it was not the dining room set at all but it was the difficulty they each had letting go of the marriage. As we often say in mediation “what its about isn’t what it’s really about”.

  2. Jennifer Safian
    Jennifer Safian February 10, 2014 at 11:35 am - Reply

    thank you Daniel for your comment. I like that line!

  3. V Jonas Urba March 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Jennifer, this is a fascinating topic and may be most relevant for the divorcing couple who have shared a “life of the mind”. The most contentious books were probably the ones that each of them had read, had enjoyed, and had discussed at dinners, trips, etc….. Those were very special times and, as cerebral partners, they may have anticipated reliving the memories associated with the books and wondering whether a future partner would match the one they left?

    I worked with a couple who were losing themselves through a vacant lot in a northern state. This couple’s intentions, discussions, and dreams of leaving Florida and returning to their native, northern home state were imbedded within a vacant piece of land. The Florida homestead, with a much greater value, meant nothing to either side. In this case it was not the possessions but the location (Florida) of the possessions that mattered most. Neither party enjoyed Florida residence but their professional licenses were tied to Florida and surrendering property in a northern state felt like Florida’s grip on both professionals would forever hold.

    • Jennifer Safian
      Jennifer Safian March 5, 2014 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Thank you Jonas for adding your great comments.
      I like the “sharing of the mind” thought and those books read and discussed together. Divorce cannot take away those enriching moments they might have shared which have probably contributed to who they each are today.
      The Florida connection of your couple is a great example of “losing themselves.”

  4. Rabbi Jonathan Gerard March 5, 2014 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Jennifer, for helping professionals from two closely allied fields come together to help our clients.
    There have been times when I have helped splitting couples resolve conflicts over material possessions by convincing them to leave the disputed property to their children. That often takes the toxicity out of losing it. And of course they won’t lose their children (except by their own behavior) so in this sense, neither will lose their collection of art books (or dining room set)
    I was once helping a couple with a pre-nuptial agreement and they came to disagree over the family home–which had come to one through several generations. The one didn’t want to lose it if it had to be sold in a divorce. The other did not want to start off a marriage as less than an equal. When I suggested that they leave the house irrevocably to any children the marriage would produce it led to their dropping the whole idea of a pre-nup. A surprise resolution of what had been a source of high emotion and serious conflict only moments earlier.

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