For couples facing the challenges of divorce, coming to accept what they cannot change, and find the courage to change what they can, requires wisdom to know the difference. Yet this prayer of serenity seems counterintuitive to couples engaged in marital impasses burdened by surging emotion that cloud perceptions. It is emotional turmoil that makes negotiating a way forward near impossible. When emotional conflicts go unresolved the rust of resentment takes its toll.
Those of us who live in wintery climates under the watchful patrol of snowplows know the threat of salt to the underbelly of our precious vehicles. If not protected from the elements, the steel can slowly rust into thinning metal that opens gaps and threatens a cars integrity and passengers safety. Similarly, couples facing divorce who don’t protect each other from the basic elements of judgment, cynicism, and fear, run the risk of falling apart and losing their integrity to navigate forward toward a secure future.
Couples deciding to take the leap and let go of what they can no longer sustain need tools to regulate elements of emotion and perception in order to face their future uncertainty with wisdom. This article aims to provide such a perspective. It draws on an integrated model of change called Theory U. The intent is to provide the protective ingredients that each individual within a coupleship needs in order to face loss without rusting into resentment.
Couples divorcing with children are often anxious about the uncertain future not just for themselves but also for their children. Collaborative professionals guided by Theory U consider 3 Core Questions at the beginning when engaging distressed couples facing change.
1. In the face of the disruption of divorce, how could you cooperatively co-parent into the emerging future?
2. What evolving economic framework can guide and support your journey as co-parents within separate households.
3. What strategies can help you to function as emotionally intelligent co-parents as you shift your family system towards a new structure?
When considering these questions, I want to propose three big ideas. According to MIT professor Otto Scharmer, the first idea is that there are two fundamentally different modes of learning: learning from the past and learning from the emerging future. In order to learn from the emerging future, we have to activate a different kind of awareness that supports a deeper learning cycle involving not only opening the mind (transcending cognitive/perceptual boundaries), but also opening the heart (transcending emotional/relational boundaries) and then with purposeful intention, opening the will (transcending boundaries of our individual will).
Scharmer calls this The U process of learning from the emerging future and it follows three movements:
2. “Retreat and reflect: allow the inner knowing to emerge,” and
3. “Act in an instant.”
The quality of results produced by collaborative professionals and divorcing couples depends on the quality of awareness and learning from which they individually and collectively operate. The formula for a successful divorce process is not “form follows function,” but “form follows consciousness.” The structure of participants awareness and attention determines the pathway along which a successful divorce unfolds.
As noted by Scharmer, “the success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervener.” We as collaborative professionals might say it this way: The success of our actions as change-agents does not depend on what we do or how we do it, but on the inner place from which we operate.
Yet often that “place” is in the blind spot of our everyday experience. We can observe what we do and how we do it. But the quality of the source (inner place) from which we operate in “the now” tends to be outside the range of our normal observation, attention, and awareness.
We cannot transform the behavior of divorcing couples unless we transform the quality of attention that we apply to our and their actions within those encounters. The proposition of Theory U is that the quality of the results in the collaborative process is a function of the awareness that people engaging the process operate from, which leads to a differentiation among four levels of awareness. These four levels affect where actions originate relative to the structure of the collaborative process.
Our next written blog will unpack the nature of the 4 Levels of Awareness and its relevance to the success of the Collaborative Process.