So, you are in the middle of your divorce negotiation.  You prepared for this meeting and expected your partner would come to the table ready to negotiate in good faith.  You may even be in a good mood looking forward to finally getting your divorce behind you.

But the wind goes right out of your sails when your spouse makes a proposal so completely out of line, you stop to catch your breath.  You pause and ask them to repeat themselves only to hear them deliver the same crazy proposal with a completely straight face.  It’s not only off base and something you can’t possibly accept, but it’s downright insulting.

Surprise gives way to disappointment, which gives way to anger.  It’s all you can do to keep from walking out.  Is all your hard work down the drain?  Hardly.

With a little bit of work and some patience, you can salvage this negotiation.

 Stop and Take a Deep Breath

While the crazy proposal may have knocked the wind out of your sails, it is important that you not act hastily.  Take a moment and literally stop to breathe.  This gives you time to make sure your reply is considered and thoughtful rather than emotionally driven.

What’s more, research indicates that deep, controlled breathing can actually help your brain work better.

Logic Before Emotions

It’s really tempting to get upset when you are hit with an upsetting proposal. While your emotions are valid, you don’t want them interfering with your ability to think clearly and use logic.

If you find you are struggling to be logical, use a professional like your mediator, attorney or mental health professional to manage your emotional responses. If you find yourself emotionally hijacked, try taking a break.  Making a list or writing down your thoughts can also help.

Make Sure You Understand What is Being Asked

Sometimes you can be so thrown by an outrageous ask you don’t really hear the proposal. Take time to make sure you listen carefully before reacting.  If you stop and ask questions, you may find you need not be as upset as you thought.

Make Sure You Understand the Motivation Behind the Proposal

Take a moment to make sure you really understand the motivation behind the proposal.  Understanding a person’s emotional, financial and legal interests can really help you understand why a proposal is the way it is.  The proposal may not seem so irrational after you take a moment to understand what’s behind it.

Check Yourself to Make Sure YOU are not the One Off-base

A little self-check never hurts.  Being mindful of your own emotional responses can go a long way to making sure your discussions are based on rational analysis instead of emotional reactivity.  A hallmark of strong emotional intelligence is the ability to dispassionately observe one’s own thoughts, feelings and triggers.  If you notice a proposal triggers you, take a careful look at yourself. Make sure your reaction is based in carefully considered, rational thought.

Be Willing to Make a Considered and Thoughtful Counter-proposal

When you receive a proposal, there are really only so many things that should happen next. You can either

  1. agree to the proposal,
  2. take time to think, or
  3. provide your counter-proposal.

Storming out of the room in a fit of righteous indignation is not a good option to choose if you are serious about reaching agreement.

Yes, the proposal you received may not be terribly serious or may be made in bad faith, but you can only control yourself.  If you are serious about reaching an agreement, STAY IN THE ROOM.

While you’re in the negotiation, take the time to look at the proposal you don’t like and counter with a proposal with which you can live.  In my opinion, there is no such thing as impasse.  Being “stuck” just means you haven’t found the right proposal.  So, keep digging, stretching and thinking to find a workable idea.

Even if your negotiating partner may be unrealistic or even acting in bad faith, you can be a positive force in the room.


Stressed party meditating at a stressful negotiation

Need some tips for how to make and receive proposals?

Remember, there is no such thing as impasse in mediation! When you are stuck, it doesn’t mean you storm away from the table and declare a failure. It just means you and your mediation team haven’t found the right proposal yet.

Download our helpful "Summary for Accepting and Receiving Proposals".

Here’s a great little cheat sheet you can use during negotiations to become a pro at negotiating. Follow the tips on this sheet and make specific and plausible proposals based on rational evaluation rather than emotions.

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