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Interview With Liz Merill — Mediator And Divorce Coach

Liz Merrill is a Mediator and a Divorce Coach with a specialization in High Conflict and Narcissistic relationships. She lectures regularly on high conflict divorce strategies and is a sought-after speaker and podcast guest. She also engages in regular pro bono work for families who are experiencing financial hardship and offers pro bono services through various nonprofits and the Colorado Court system. Her understanding of psychological and physiological reactions to trauma, conflict, and anxiety brings a holistic approach to her work with families caught in the High Conflict cycle. After her own litigious high-conflict divorce, she saw the need for a holistic approach to divorce mediation, which included non-violent communication skills, managing trauma, and an understanding of how personality traits and personality disorders create high conflict in a divorce. When she started working as a mediator for the courts, she discovered how badly equipped most divorce professionals are to manage the specific needs of people in high conflict relationships and how damaging it can be to the individuals and, most importantly, the children and family systems. Now she helps hundreds of people in crisis find workable solutions so they can reduce anxiety, save money, and move on with their lives.

Liz Merill, Mediator And Divorce Coach

Who is Liz?

I’m Liz Merrill, divorce mediator, and divorce coach. I live in Fort Collins CO with my three teenagers, my two dogs, and a cat - it’s a busy household! I love working with people in conflict, but it’s ironic because I myself am quite conflict-avoidant! I actually specialize in high conflict relationships and divorces and I’m extremely passionate about this work, in part because I was married to a “high conflict person” for over 20 years and went through a long and litigious divorce, which sucked! I think with better support and information earlier on, could have sucked less.

I’ve spent the last 5 years of my life supporting other people, women, and men, who are going through similar experiences. I’ve helped hundreds of people navigate their relationships, divorces, their own “high conflict situations”. I run multiple support groups and workshops for men and women, I speak regularly on the subject, and the reason is that it’s become clear to me that it’s a rising, widespread problem in this country. You certainly see it reflected not just in family court, but in the politics and social issues around us and everywhere in between.

I was surprised at first by the number of people who contact me about mediation when what they actually need is support with a high conflict partner. So I’ve started doing a lot of work helping parties prepare for mediation, preparing for their divorce, navigating their divorce, liaising with other divorce professionals, and so forth.

So, what I’ve discovered, when I started researching it, is that narcissism is on the rise in this country, according to many studies. Yes, It’s a buzzword that people are talking about everywhere – and for a while, I thought it was just people overusing the word. But then I started talking to more and more people who really WERE in relationships with narcissists. They are in abusive relationships And like most forms of domestic abuse, this happens privately, behind closed doors. People are isolated and often feel like no one understands their situation, from their own friends and family to divorce professionals and the court...they really need support from someone who understands what that’s like on a personal and a professional level.

Much of this is very hard to prove and the court and divorce professionals often have a hard time parsing out. Our courts and many of our divorce professionals don’t always have the training, background, interest, or bandwidth in learning how to manage it. And that’s why I’ve started specializing in high conflict relationships - it can very quickly turn into a very abusive situation, especially in the adversarial landscape of divorce. I think that early intervention and education are vital for both divorce professionals and clients.

What’s your background?

My background is kind of interesting and certainly unusual for a divorce mediator: i spent most of my adult life playing oboe professionally! It’s true! I used to (not so much these days) travel around the country (and sometimes out of the country) to play oboe professionally in orchestras. It’s work that is extremely grueling, but also very rewarding. One of the things that I loved about playing in ensembles, from small chamber groups to massive symphony orchestras, is that we are all trained to listen deeply and to literally “vibe” with the people we’re playing with. In many ways, I think these skills serve me well as a mediator and a coach.

What is it that you do for your clients?

Working with parties in mediation particularly requires the ability to listen and “vibe” with both sides. If I am able to get both parties to feel heard and safe, then we are more likely to be able to come to a place where they can relax their positions and go beneath the surface to talk about what the issues really are. Because it’s usually not just about the money, is it? It can be about what something represents, a connection that’s been lost, or feelings that have been hurt. I love helping parties who come in seemingly a million miles apart resolving their issues in a way that feels aligned and compliable.

When I am coaching an individual who is going through a divorce, I definitely have to listen deeply and help the client feel safe and heard! A lot of my clients are in a “trauma bond” with their spouse or partner and it’s so important to hold space for them so we can work on calming their nervous system. I use some simple somatic techniques that are very effective in descalating emotions and creating disengagement, which is so useful when divorcing a high-conflict person.

Other things I do for coaching clients involve helping them navigate the landscape with their divorce: we work together to prepare materials for their attorney, put together a team of divorce professionals, when appropriate. When they have a mediation coming up (not with me), I’ll help them prepare for that - same with court. Believe it or not, clients with a divorce coach actually end up saving thousands of dollars in legal fees because they are getting the support that helps them be a “better” client for their attorneys and CDFAs, and they learn powerful communication, negotiation, and disengagement skills, which can help in and out of the courtroom.

What do you mean by high conflict?

The term “high conflict personality” is in many ways a euphemism for a narcissist or borderline, but the nature of these personality disorders means that they aren’t likely to present themselves for a diagnosis. So we use the term “high conflict” in divorces instead of personality disorder, but really it’s a description of behavior, hallmarked by long-term patterns of interpersonal dysfunction, lack of reflection on their own behavior, lack of change, black or white thinking, and so forth.

Who should hire/work with you?

Who should hire me? Well, anyone who is in a conflict that they can’t manage! A lot of times we have conflicts in our lives that we live with, but don’t manage. That can, of course, lead to divorce, broken relationships with family members or co-works, loss of work, and more. What I love about working in mediation and this field in general, is that that work is all about relationships. And getting in there and doing the nitty-gritty work that is involved in learning about the root causes of conflict can ultimately improve someone’s life from top to bottom - not just around that one area of conflict. It can also help people potentially save tens of thousands of dollars.

What is your big goal? Where do you see yourself in 10 years from now?

Well, my big goal is to see my 3 teenagers grown, happy, and independent, of course! Professionally I want to grow my business and the work that I do so that I can one day pass it on to one of my kids, who may be interested in carrying on my work. I think it’s so valuable, I really do, especially in today’s climate where there is so much conflict and so little productive dialog. I think if people could really talk, listen, and hear each other without getting just completely reactive and escalated, we could get to the deeper reasons behind peoples’ fears and maybe even realize that at the end of the day, we all want basically the same things. At least that’s my hope. I think that conflict resolution skills transcend political and geographical boundaries and with a little effort, a little training, we can transform the relationships we have with other people, cultures, religions, and politics.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and visit my website for more info!



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