Episode 3 – Emotions in Family Law Mediation with Michael Aurit

Episode Summary

In this episode, we spoke with Michael Aurit, an Arizona family law mediator. We talked about how to manage intense emotions that arise in others amidst divorces or custody fights. Learn more about Michael at https://auritmediation.com/.

Show Transcript

David Enevoldsen: All right, hello, everybody, and welcome to this week's episode of the Emotional Embuffination podcast. On Emotional Embuffination we are working on becoming emotionally buff enough to overcome any conflict in life. And just as importantly, we're trying to soar to new levels of success and happiness, and that's what this is all about. The podcast is just one of a bunch of resources I have available. You can also check out the Emotional Embuffination website, which is e-m-b-u-f-f-i-n-a-t-i-o-n.com. embuffination.com. On today's show, I had the opportunity to interview Michael Aurit from Aurit Mediation, and he is a family law mediator, which means that he's dealing with people that are in the most extreme emotional situations because they're going through divorces and fights over their children and who gets custody and that kind of thing. So, this is kind of a perfect look into emotions in my mind. And this is a lot of where I came from. So, I hope you enjoy this. I very much did myself. I thought the whole interview was really interesting. I enjoy talking to Michael and I hope you do as well. So, check it out.

David Enevoldsen: Michael. How are you doing?

Michael Aurit: Oh, wow. I am so happy to be here with you, David. Thanks for, thanks for inviting me.

David Enevoldsen: Absolutely. Thanks for agreeing to do this. So, before we get into anything else, introduce yourself. Tell me who you are and what you do.

Michael Aurit: Sure. Well, my name is Michael Aurit, and I am the co-founder with my wife, Karen Aurit. The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, located in Scottsdale, Arizona. And I mediate healthy divorces. We dedicate our entire practice now four mediators strong, who are full time mediators with the practice to helping people through a healthy divorce from beginning to end, without court, without fighting. We we improve their communication strategically. And we work very thoughtfully to reduce their conflict and in doing so, are able to help them reach their best possible agreement. That's our goal. Every moment we're working with them and we're able to do it in a matter of 2 to 4 months for the vast majority of cases, at a fraction of the cost of average litigation. We're setting people up for healthy co-parenting and we're allowing for their healing to begin sooner and for some people to begin at all by really avoiding the harmful effects that litigation often causes.

David Enevoldsen: Well, it sounds like you're speaking speaking my language right now because the project I've got going Emotional Embuffination is all about dealing with conflict and particularly the emotional aspects of conflict. Before I jump into kind of the emotional side of this, just for anybody that's not aware, can you explain kind of what mediation is? Because you said kind of going through that and that can be a better alternative than going through litigation or something. What does that mean? Like just what's the distinction between going through?

Michael Aurit: Yeah, sure. So, to really break it down and really kind of put it in its simplest terms. Litigation is an adversarial process, and it's adversarial because each party, each spouse, husband and wife, mom and dad are going to hire their own attorney. And one of the first things that most attorneys that I know will tell their clients is that they're no longer able to communicate with one another about the substantive issues. The communication happens through attorneys, and attorneys typically approach one another with demands rather than requests and conversation. And so, when two sides are approaching each other with demands, there is inevitably resistance. And so, you have an adversarial process that causes friction and conflict and escalation of conflict, and it distracts the focus from the issues and from what people actually need, what their interests are, why the things that they want are important to them, and instead becomes a zero-sum game of win and lose of who's the better parent. Of who's the worst person. And that is in a nutshell what many litigated cases look and feel like, as opposed to mediation. Where instead of each party being represented formally by an attorney who fight both parties work together with a neutral professional mediator who in most cases is an attorney who's not acting as an attorney. Instead, that person is neutral. And that person is going to help these two people together, in many cases, in all cases in my office, in the same room now, the same Zoom room online via Zoom.

Michael Aurit: Right. That person is going to help raise the issue. Tell them the law and then facilitate a conversation strategically so that they're able to express what they want, what they need, why they need it. And that mediator is going to help understand both of their needs and help them create agreements that incorporate as many of those things as possible so that they're able to, at the end of mediation, have their best possible agreements. They haven't gone to court. They haven't slugged it out. They may have gotten legal advice from an attorney along the way. And David Enevoldsen is one of our absolute favorites of all time who believes in a healthy process and is willing to support clients who are in mediation. Without charging a retainer. Which is a testament to David's belief in the in the process of belief in the integrity of mediation, which those in the mediation community appreciate. They can get advice, but they're going to do it in a very different way. And that's going to instead of deteriorate their relationship, it's going to strengthen their relationship. And many of our clients are parents and they need to stop fighting so that they can protect what's best for their kids, their kids health and well-being. So that gives you a little bit of a difference, right? Or a lot bit?

David Enevoldsen: No, I think that's spot on. And speaking as somebody who has spent a lot more time, and I'm putting my attorney hat on here, speaking as someone who spent a lot more time on that litigation side, you know, as one of those two that's butting heads and trying to even even in scenarios where, number one, it does happen like that a lot. You know, there's a lot of times where I just talked to another attorney and it's your client did this and you need to do this. And then I go back to my client and they get super defensive and everything just kind of fireballs out of control very quickly. And who is involved, I think, can make a big difference in terms of how much it fireballs. But even when you have people with their best intentions as attorneys or coming together and trying to work things out, for some reason, when I put on the hat of, "Hey, here's all your rights, let's make sure we're protecting your rights," there's a very different mindset, I think, that comes out in the process than when you've got somebody who's a neutral third party standing there saying, "How do we get you guys to an agreement so you can move on with life? And that's reasonable to everybody." And it's even in those scenarios where everybody is trying to keep the right hat on and do their best to be fair and come to a resolution it very often ends up becoming a big fight and going to trial or something like that. So, I love the mediation process. I think there's a lot of benefits to it. So, I think that was a great description. Thank you for that.

Michael Aurit: And at the same time, David, I just want to add that you're right. It really depends on who is involved in the process, even in a court process, right. Even in the litigation process. Where attorneys work with clients to help de-escalate and better regulate their own emotions, as opposed to fire up those emotions and stoke the flames, you are going to have a very different outcome. And attorneys have an amazing choice. Right? It is a serious choice that will affect hundreds, if not thousands of families that they work with and it will affect their own lives. They have a choice to fan the flames of conflict in how they speak to their clients and how they present information to their clients and what they do and don't do for their clients. Or how they help clients because of their objectiveness, because of their friendliness toward the idea of collaboration, because they reject the notion that spouses that are going through divorce could be enemies. And so, divorce attorneys have a, they're at a crossroads when they begin to practice, which way are they going to go? And my fear is that too many have gone down a path that they may not have intended to. But because of whatever forces exist out there, they're on that path. And I want to tell you, here in Arizona, I want to start to redirect divorce attorneys to still be able to do the work they do, but understand the needs of children psychologically and emotionally, understand their coping behaviors that are normal that cause many child custody battles, David. Normal child coping behaviors that are used by parents in court against one another to attain parenting time to attain legal decision-making authority are normal. And where where attorneys have that information. And that's just one example of a plethora of of education that attorneys can be passing on to their to their clients when clients are informed, right, when an attorney is a counselor at law they are able to make better decisions. And the cases would look very different if there was a turn in the culture of of family law.

David Enevoldsen: I agree. I agree there. And if there is any place that emotion pops up more than any other, I think it's in the family law arena. Just because it's people feel like they're losing their spouses they're, they're dealing with affairs. They're dealing with the perception that they're losing their children or sometimes the reality that they're losing their children. And so their emotions run very high. And I feel like it's more extreme in the family law universe than anywhere else. Maybe we can talk about that a little bit, because that is, of course, the Emotional Embuffination emotional stuff. So, you're dealing with divorces, custody fights, that kind of thing. Tell me a little bit about I mean, do you have any tricks, tips, concepts that you use or employ during the mediation process to kind of manage some of these extreme negative emotions that pop up?

Michael Aurit: Oh, my goodness. Yes. But, but we only have a few minutes and we could do a ten part series on this topic, David. Maybe.

David Enevoldsen: Maybe we could pick one or two. Just grab one.

Michael Aurit: All right. You know, I, I mean, we we, we operate we are strategic mediators. We're strategic in our approach. And so we have honestly well over 100 mediation techniques, mediation strategies in what we call our own glossary, that moment to moment working with people we utilize. One of the overarching techniques in terms of managing emotion in others is actually based on a Japanese martial art known as Aikido. Are you familiar with the martial art Aikido?

David Enevoldsen: I am extremely familiar with the martial art Aikido. I actually did it for many years. I used to teach it and I have a second degree black belt in Aikido.

Michael Aurit: Whoa.

David Enevoldsen: So, yes, I have some familiarity with it. I haven't studied it in a while.

Michael Aurit: Oh my. I'm gonna go now. See you later, everybody. I was going to talk about it, but that's.

David Enevoldsen: But please, explain the concept. I mean, in fairness, I haven't done it for a while, so it's not, it's not fresh. I actually stopped doing it when I went into law school, but for quite some time it was a major part of my life. So, I do have a lot of respect for the art and the concepts coming out of it. But please explain. No pressure.

Michael Aurit: Yeah. Goodness, goodness, goodness. So let me explain. Let me plug this in first off. Let me let me try to explain now as I'm visibly blushing, of course. You know, Aikido is kind of based on this notion that force follows force blindly. It's it's based on really, I think, the idea that that centers around the notion of resistance. Right. That that normally when someone pushes us, we resist that force. When someone pulls us, we resist that force. And and it's based on the idea that when we resist, that causes conflict, right? That notion of someone is pushing and here you are and you resist that you've now created conflict. Right. And so, when we when we when we create conflict there, there's a winner and a loser that a conflict is a contest. And so Aikido really kind of focuses on this notion of active non-resistance. That's what Karen, my wife and I have have really kind of framed it as active non-resistance. It's we don't resist the force. Don't worry, that's not passiveness. Okay don't confuse that with passiveness at all. What we do is anything but passive. It's extremely active but it's do no harm. Right? So, so in Aikido when Aikidoists are practicing, they center themselves. They they move in the same direction as the challenger. So, someone comes at them, comes at them strong, instead of meeting that force and resisting it, they move with that force and are able to control the situation in a much more effective way. In Aikido the first step is neutralizing the aggression through not resisting the force and then actually stepping in, moving closer to the other, right, on an emotional level.

David Enevoldsen: Can you give me an example of how that works? I get the of course I get the concept physically, how does that translate into emotions? So, somebody is somebody like all upset about some issue in the female arena. How does that how does that physiologically translate into the emotional framework?

Michael Aurit: Gotcha. Gotcha. So, all right, I'm in a mediation. I'm in a mediation and I've got mom and dad right there. And one of the parents says, "I want full custody. I want full custody of those kids." I have a choice in that conversation. I can resist that. "What do you mean you want full custody? Now, do you really want full custody? Do you know what full custody means?" There are thousands of responses that I could give as a mediator, as as anyone on the other side of that statement. But what we're going to do first in Aikido to manage that emotion and to shift that emotion. To shift that person's thinking and emotions, because the thinking and emotions are obviously connected, right? We think therefore we are. We think and we feel. And so, we can disrupt that in a very graceful way. Now, we can neutralize that by acknowledging it. 
"I want full custody." Maybe there's no response. "They're my kids." Maybe their response is, "I hear you. I hear you." You've got to let that energy pass. If you stop that energy, you cause conflict. That person has an emotional venting that they need to do. They get it out. "I want full custody. They're my kids." Let it pass. Let it go. That actually neutralizes the aggression. That's the first step to neutralizing aggression is letting letting that aggression pass. And then, then we want to get closer to that person. We want to strengthen trust. Neutralize aggression, strengthen trust. How do we do that? Well, let's align with them. "So, I want full custody. They're my kids." My response. "You love your kids very much. I can I can I can feel that." "Yes," they say. I've aligned with them now. Right. "And you want to spend as much time with your kids as possible, don't you?" "Yes," they say, "yes, exactly."

Michael Aurit: Then I continue. Now that I've strengthened trust, I'm not their adversary. I'm their friend. Because I am. Because I care. It's got to come from a place of care. And maybe my response is, "Well, of course we know, we know that it's essential to the kid's psychological and emotional well-being to have a meaningful relationship with with both their mom and their dad because they need both of you." So we've shifted. We've shifted. And now I'm going to redirect them. I'm going to maintain maintain control. And I'm going to continue this education. Right. That I was talking about earlier. Many parents, I might say, "In similar circumstances, have found an approach that works with parenting time that they like and their kids like it. Hey, let's take a look at this two, 2-2-5-5 schedule. You know that there are others I can show you, but I'm just curious, what do you think about this? Could something like this work? What do you like about it?" And then they tell you what they like because you've asked them, you've tapped into something deeper than their surface surface level emotional outburst that came from a place that they don't really even fully understand. They weren't they weren't mindful in that moment. And now I've engaged them. I've neutralized their aggression, I've strengthened the trust, I've redirected, I've shifted direction. I've maintained control of myself. And I've helped that person maintain control of themselves because now they're looking at that parenting plan. They're assessing it. And maybe they're saying, "Well, actually, this could make sense. I want to learn more about this. I want to understand more about it." And in 10 seconds, we've got a different ballgame.

David Enevoldsen: I like it. And you've tapped into several things there that resonate with me. The book that I wrote, Emotional Embuffination, there's a chapter, well, there's a couple different chapters that I think tap into directly what you're describing. One is all about cognitive dissonance, because very often I think people are yelling about things that aren't exactly what they're actually yelling about. Sometimes there's emotion coming out. It comes through a certain framework. "I want full custody of my kids" and really, you know, two weeks ago they were in an equal parenting plan arrangement and now all of a sudden they want full custody. And why did that change? Oh, they found out about the affair. You know, like, sometimes there's just some other thing that's going on that they're really upset about and the thing that they're reacting about is not the thing that they're really reacting about. And so, if you're responding to that thing, you start to create defensiveness. And that goes into another chapter of my book, which is all, it's described, I describe it as "don't argue with facts," because I think very often the impulse for people is to say, "Let me tell you why all the things you just said are wrong," which almost never works.

David Enevoldsen: I mean, all through 2020, I was watching people on the Internet saying, "Let me tell you why the opposite political position is totally wrong." I don't I don't remember a single person reading a bunch of comments that they were fighting with someone online that went, "Oh, you're right, I'm wrong. I'm going to embrace this opposite viewpoint." It just made everybody more pissed off and created a more toxic environment. And I think the same thing is true in the family law context or anywhere else when you just just as you described with with the Aikido framework, if you just come at someone and you're just defensive or arguing with them, it really just escalates the problem and doesn't get you anywhere. I really like this concept and the framework you've used for it. It resonates with me on different levels as well. Maybe that's a good one to kind of end with for now, because I like the idea of just taking one nugget and it seems like we could do more with it. Did you have additional thoughts on that or.

Michael Aurit: You know, just invite me back sometime.

David Enevoldsen: Yeah. I would love to do some more of these. Maybe we can kind of turn it down there so we don't turn this into too long. If somebody does want to reach out to say somebody's going through a divorce or kind of dealing with some custody thing, and they're like, I want to try out a mediator, how do they and I'll add some links to anywhere I post this, but how would they reach out to you?

Michael Aurit: You know, the first thing that they could do is just come to our website. All of our contact information is there. It's auritmediation.com. The last name is a-u-r-i-t mediation.com. And you can learn all about us and our team and how we can help people have the healthiest possible divorce.

David Enevoldsen: Awesome. All right. And I'll post a link like I said where I'll put this on YouTube I think and I'll have a link there. So if somebody wants to check out Michael, I can, I've worked with him for a number of years now. We kind of go way back now, it seems, and I have seen a lot of good stuff come out of Michael. I've seen him directly working. I think he's super patient, he's super calm. He's got a really, I don't know what your numbers are, but I've seen a lot of cases settle effectively coming out of your office. So I know he does a good work. I know he's really, really helpful in terms of bringing people to agreement and kind of getting through divorces or custody fights effectively. So I, I highly recommend him. I think he's a great mediator. With that. I think we can probably wrap up today and maybe we'll have to reconvene because I think that we are very much on a similar page in terms of the emotional stuff. And I would like to convene with you some more about some other techniques and tricks, because it sounds like you might have some very similar concepts that I do or maybe some different concepts than I do but coming from a different angle. So, I like to converse more about these.

David Enevoldsen: But for now, maybe I'll, I'll let it wrap up. So thank you for, for letting me interview you today. I very much appreciate it. And go check out Michael if you if you need a mediator.

Michael Aurit: There you go.

David Enevoldsen: All right. So that's all we have for this week's show. I hope you found something in here useful. I hope you got some little nugget that you were able to use to improve your emotional states or reduce conflict in your life, or to do something to make your life or the people around you's lives better. Remember, you got to keep working on this stuff emotionally. Emotional Embuffination is all about working on it. It's not, you don't go to the gym and then just do one rep of something and then walk away and say, "I'm buff forever." You keep going. You go on a daily basis. Same thing is true with your emotional states and your emotional strength, so you got to keep working on it. I hope to see you again next week on the next show. Remember, the ideal state here is to become emotionally strong enough to go from saying "The struggle is real," to saying "What struggle?" because everything just becomes so easy to deal with. Thank you all for listening. I hope you have a great week and I'll talk to you next time.