Lovingkindness- the crucial ingredient for Family Dispute Resolution


Our clients approach us, as Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners, to assist them towards resolution of the disputes arising from their separation.  Generally, this requires that we work with them to achieve some type of behavioural change.  In order to fulfill this role, we have to be our best selves, in other words, this requires that we have the mindset to promote growth and personal development, and that we reflect a state of lovingkindness.

Family Dispute Resolution

Family Dispute Resolution assumes that there is a dispute involving one or more points of difference between the parties, that the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner will provide some “help” to promote different thoughts and actions, or behavioral change, with the potential that the parties are no longer in dispute, or to the same extent, or in the same way.[i]

Family Dispute Resolution Process

The Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner engages in a process to provide opportunities to impact on the dispute. They provide an opportunity for clarification of the presenting points of difference; they influence the parties towards some type of change that will impact on these differences; and they seek to facilitate the application of this change to narrow or eliminate the differences.

Outcome satisfaction with the process

There are big differences regarding client satisfaction with the Family Dispute Resolution process for different dispute resolution providers. 

Research shows that “[ii]There is no convincing evidence that practitioner gender, qualifications, theoretical orientation, professional discipline or even years of experience impact noticeably on producing a successful outcome.” So what is it that differentiates those who do this well?

It seems that the difference comes not from what is done, but from how it is done. I suggest that this difference is based not on what the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner does regarding the steps in the process, but their approach or mindset within the process. I propose that this is a mindset that promotes lovingkindness, and creates a climate that establishes a sense of safety and security, the confidence to share, to be open to different thinking, and to be willing to yield for the common good.


As a child, one of my mother’s favourite sayings was “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” The underlying message being that to see others in a benevolent light as loving, caring and trustworthy, tends to bring out the best in them, resulting in a world more likely to be characterized by these values. There is also an underlying assumption that we have the potential for this mindset within us, and that we can make the choice to live our lives in this way.

For those in dispute, focusing on those coping with a family separation, it can be difficult to access these values, and to have the capacity to see this as a choice. Working with a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner demonstrating this approach could be the factor making this choice a real possibility.

I suggest that this quality is lovingkindness- that Lovingkindness is “like a star by which to guide our life journey, a distant goal toward or away from which we move along the way in the countless choices that we make each day.”[iii]

The power of attitude to life

This notion is also described in the work of Viktor E Frankl.[iv] Viktor was a jewish psychiatrist and psychotherapist who survived the most atrocious suffering in concentration camps during the second world war. He explores what it was that enabled some to rise above this and develop the fortitude not only to survive, but to use these experiences as a basis for personal growth and development. He attempts to capture what is the essence of human nature that allows us to move through the parts of our life that are challenging, to learn from these and create a better future for ourselves.

Victor describes some qualities that could be seen as part of the growth mindset- an openness to curiosity and surprise. [v] He speaks of the essential capacity to connect with the “loving contemplation” of an image carried within of something uplifting and spiritual, a beloved, a family member, someone or being that provides inspiration. For Viktor, nothing that was done to him or what he had to endure could touch the strength of his love, his thoughts, or the image he had of his beloved wife. [vi] His consciousness of this anchored him in higher, more spiritual things that could not be shaken by camp life. [vii]

The important learning from Viktor’s work for this exploration, is his conclusion that everything can be taken from someone except one thing- the last freedom, being the freedom to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.[viii] 

Viktor also describes how he set about facilitating a change of attitude for those around him. He quotes Nietzsche- “He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.”  His aim was to strengthen them, to give them this “why”, for them to take responsibility to find the right answer to their problems, and to fulfill the tasks that life constantly set for each individual.[ix] Viktor developed a process of Logotherapy to assist with facilitating this on a therapeutic basis.[x]

This freedom of choice, the ability to choose to engage from a perspective that is not fixed but sees current problems as a challenge to be overcome, is what can be cultivated and supported in Family Dispute Resolution to enable the family to move through and beyond such a difficult time at separation.

A growth mindset

The work of Dr Carol S Dweck provides an opportunity to understand this further.[xi] Her research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life.[xii]

Carol describes a fixed mindset which is based on the assumption that your intelligence and your qualities are something that you are born with- you have a certain amount of intelligence, certain qualities and certain traits that determine your success and outcomes in life. These qualities are “set in stone” and you have no ability to influence your outcome at any point in time.

Carol then contrasts this with a growth mindset that assumes that human qualities including intelligence can be cultivated. Each person has a unique genetic endowment that provides them with different temperaments and different aptitudes, but experience, training and personal effort can  result in lifelong learning, brain development, and behavioural change.[xiii] Each situation presents an opportunity for growth and personal development.

Mindset in Family Dispute Resolution

A growth mindset is based on the belief that basic qualities are things can be cultivated through effort, strategies, and help from others.[xiv] It is these efforts and strategies that I believe can be cultivated in Family Dispute Resolution with the assistance of a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner who also demonstrates this mindset and supports this way of thinking.

The significant factor following a family separation is how the parties deal with the consequences of this.  Those operating from a fixed mindset are often stuck on the past and concerned with how they will be judged, while those with the growth mindset, how they can improve and move on.[xv]

Carol states that those with the perspective of the fixed mindset are very likely to feel judged and labelled by rejection. She describes how this mindset gives no recipe for healing their wound, and that their hope is often to wound the person who inflicted this. Revenge becomes their redemption.[xvi]

On the other hand, those from the growth mindset are seen as seeking understanding, forgiveness and the ability to move on. Although they may be deeply hurt by their experiences, they want to learn from them. They do not feel permanently branded, but value learning something useful about themselves, something they can use to have a better experience in the future.[xvii]

In Family Dispute Resolution the mindset of either of the parties as well as the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner can impact on the process and therefore the outcome. As the person managing the process, the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner must begin with an understanding of their own mindset in the process. An appreciation of their own mindset would be essential to understanding how they are in the process, what it means to be in this space, and how this can impact on those they are assisting.


The concept of lovingkindness  can be found in many ancient texts and features strongly in Buddhist writings as well as those from the Ancient Greeks, Hinduism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

Lovingkindness is associated with 5 key concepts:

• it is chosen-it is an act of heart and will,. A conscious, and intentional choice among possible ways of being;

• it is enacted– it is actualized in the doing;

• it is empathic– it is about understanding and doing what is needed for another’s well-being, even at a cost to yourself;

• It is selfless– it is given with and from gratitude and empathy;

• It is consistent– it is a chosen way of being, reliable, steadfast, an act of heart and will.[xviii]

Lovingkindness is  not only a kind act, but must be done with loving intention, intentional choices made with interest in, and compassion for, another’s well-being.[xix]

Working in a Family Dispute Resolution process as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, countless choices are made throughout the process, that over time become our dispute resolution habits, character or style as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. The path of action that is chosen at each fork in the Family Dispute Resolution process is not predetermined, and is influenced by many factors including temperament,  context, training, professional development, and mentoring. Above all it is the result of choices made about the practice of dispute resolution on a daily basis.

Best practice would require being mindful of and intentional about the choices that we are making. This requires attention to, and reflection on, what the alternatives are, what choices are available, and why we make a specific choice.

Potential dimensions of this reflection and the choices that could be made include:

• being compassionate

• being empathetic

• being contented

• being generous

• being hopeful

• being affirming

• being forgiving

• being patient

• being humble

• being grateful

• being helpful

• yielding.[xx]

While all of these might be part of lovingkindness, the qualities of compassion, empathy, affirmation, forgiveness, creating hope and encouraging yielding where appropriate, are those that stand out for me in the context of Family Dispute Resolution.

Lovingkindness has been described as a “habit of mind and heart”.[xxi] As well as developing the daily practice of incorporating habits and values based on this list of dimensions, there are other essential qualities to consider.

Lovingkindness requires paying attention, being mindful of the world around -being fully present in and paying attention to the moment, observing and noticing without judgement. [xxii] A crucial ingredient to be able to focus on the practical action of living out of lovingkindness.

For me, as a person, and as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, I see compassion as a [xxiii]key component of who I wish to be and how I want to practice the process of Family Dispute Resolution. Compassion, being the intention to alleviate suffering and contribute to the well-being of others,[xxiv] sometimes at cost to yourself.  This communicates caring and support for a person’s welfare and happiness, as opposed to indifference or unkindness.[xxv]

Empathy is another quality essential for good dispute resolution. A desire to understand someone else’s perspective and experience, the ability to accurately understand other people and perceive the world through their eyes, going beyond imagination to correctly understand at least a part of what a person is actually experiencing.[xxvi] This requires deep listening, a foundation skill for good Family Dispute Resolution.

The loving habit of affirmation notices and acknowledges what is already good in the present. The attitude of affirmation is to catch people  doing something right, to notice and affirm the positive.[xxvii] This is particularly powerful in Family Dispute Resolution as when the experience is one of being accepted just as you are, it becomes possible to change.

Forgiveness  involves both head and heart. It is a choice to let go  of feelings of anger, resentment and entitlement, to release any lingering desire to return hurt for hurt, or at least to be open to reconciliation. The way of lovingkindness does not hold onto what is hurtful, but mourns with and for those who suffer, even when they are enemies. True forgiveness lets go  of the desire for revenge and any lingering resentment. It is a choice to accept and move on, without expectation of return. Most importantly, it is an acceptance that may inspire change rather than waiting for it to happen.[xxviii]

To be hopeful is to look for the best, not because of and often in spite of the current evidence. Hope is a powerful healer and hope itself can inspire change. It has a way of moving things forward beyond the objective present. Hope is more likely to whisper than to shout, to be a still small voice that change is possible. Interestingly, when someone seems to lack hope, you can lend them some of your own! [xxix]

Yielding is to give way, to negotiate and compromise. It can be a voluntary act of kindness with particular emotional consequences. But there is no justice when yielding is all one-sided, and lovingkindness seeks a balance in meeting the needs and concerns of all involved. There is an underlying requirement that the yielding is done on the basis of free choice- to honour autonomy while also recognizing and embracing interrelatedness.[xxx]

The power of demonstrating lovingkindness

By demonstrating lovingkindness in Family Dispute Resolution, this has a profound impact on all participants in the process. The focus moves from what is being done, to how it is being done. The love and kindness demonstrated for the humanity that each has in common, has a flow on effect, facilitating a greater opportunity for deep listening, compassion, yielding, affirming, hope and movement towards a different perspective.

This is well documented by the work of Marco Iacoboni. He looks at the mirror neurons in the brain and as a neuroscientist has established how subtly we read the world around us.[xxxi] When we see someone else demonstrating a state of lovingkindness, mirror neurons in our brain help us to read their facial expressions and body language and actually make us feel the state of that other person.[xxxii] By seeing the practice of lovingkindness, the participants share it.  

Our brains are capable of mirroring the deepest aspects of the minds of others, they help us to recognize and understand their deepest motives behind their actions, the intentions of other individuals.[xxxiii] Marco goes so far and to suggest that our brains are built for mirroring, and that only through mirroring- through the stimulation in our brain of the felt experience of other minds- do we deeply understand what other people are feeling.[xxxiv]


By practicing lovingkindness in our Family Dispute Resolution Sessions, we are exposing those we work with to this state of being. With a compassionate and empathetic attitude, we can demonstrate forgiveness and affirmation, foster hope and encourage yielding. Our clients, with the aid of their mirror neurons, the creation of a safe and supportive space, and the atmosphere that we create, will have the opportunity for a different experience, the potential for small changes that will promote empowerment for them to experience lovingkindness towards them and by them.

The virtue of lovingkindness can only be developed by being practiced. Being observed opens up the possibility of experience. Experience leads to practice, and practice to change over time. Being the beneficiary of an act of lovingkindness or a witness to this, can have the power to inspire or move, shame or open, reconcile, transform, strengthen or evoke repentance. Most often this will be a gradual shift, a subtle softening, the seeing of a new possibility, a willingness to consider.[xxxv]

Viktor Frankl points out that this is a choice that every human has no matter how extreme their suffering. William Miller states that this is our fundamental human nature, what we are meant to do and be. He says that lovingkindness is the one good and reliable thing that we can pass across time, across death, across generations. [xxxvi]

The Circle is Complete

I began with a hypothesis that being the best Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner involves the practice of lovingkindness. This requires a spirituality,  a connection to the essence that we all share in common. For me this is the choice to recognize the humanity in all others and treat them with the same lovingkindness that I would hope they would show me. This is the ‘why’ that I live for.

Lovingkindness requires a mindset that is respectful, non-judgmental, curious, open to new learning and loving towards others and their unique experience. A growth mindset that recognizes challenges, and sees them as an opportunity for growth and personal development. A mindset that recognizes the right for all human beings to choose their own path in life, including how they wish to resolve issues arising from a relationship breakdown.  I, as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, aim to assist them to seek understanding, forgiveness and the ability to move on.

I will do this first, by being mindful of my own mindset, and what I bring to each opportunity with each unique family situation. I will pay attention to the moment, observe closely, without judgement, but with compassion and empathy. I will aim to show care and support for the welfare and happiness of those I am privileged to work with. I will show respect for their right to make their own choices, to assist them to alleviate their suffering,  and to contribute to their well-being and that of their children. I will listen deeply to accurately understand them and perceive the world through their eyes, to notice and affirm the positive. I will look for the best in them and let go of any negative feelings that get in the way of this.

By demonstrating lovingkindness in Family Dispute Resolution I hope to invite all participants to share this experience, and that this will in small but profound ways influence their thoughts, their actions and therefore the outcome of the process. By providing a sense of safety, security and respect,  I hope that this will promote the confidence to share, for the participants to be open to different thinking, and to be willing to yield for the common good. This for me will be me being my true self as a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, something I must work on during each Intake or Family Dispute Resolution session, and each day of my life.

“In the end, we come to love kindness itself, and for itself. It becomes pleasing simply to love, without regard to return. Then is lovingkindness complete and your true self is realized.” [xxxvii]

[i] S 4(1) and 10F of the Family Law Act

[ii]  Australian Institute of Family Studies  CFCA Paper No 38 2016 “Defining and delivering effective counselling and psychotherapy” by Lawrie Moloney

[iii] “Lovingkindness- Realizing and Practicing Your True Self” by William R Miller page xii

[iv] “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E Frankl

[v] Ibid page 29

[vi] Ibid page 50

[vii] Ibid page 72

[viii] Ibid page 75

[ix] Ibid page84-85

[x] Part 2 from page 103

[xi] “Mindset- Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential” by Dr Carol Dweck

[xii] Ibid page 6

[xiii] Ibid page 5

[xiv] Ibid page 7

[xv] Ibid page 13

[xvi] Ibid page 148

[xvii] Ibid page 148-149

[xviii] Loving Kindness- Realising and Practicing your True Self by William Miller page 12-13

[xix] Ibid page 15

[xx] Ibid Chapter 4 “Practicing Lovingkindness- Twelve Choices We Make. Page 14 and following

[xxi] Ibid Chapter 5 page 17

[xxii] Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the present moment and your life. By Jon Kabat-Zinn

[xxiii] “Mirroring People- The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others.

[xxiv] Supra n xix page 22

[xxv] Ibid page 24

[xxvi] Ibid page 28

[xxvii] Ibid page 49

[xxviii] Ibid pages54-57

[xxix] Ibid pages 44-48

[xxx] Ibid pages 75-78

[xxxi] Supra n xxii page 3

[xxxii] Ibid page 5

[xxxiii] Ibid pages 6-7

[xxxiv] Ibid page 119, 126

[xxxv] Ibid pages 79-81

[xxxvi] Ibid page 82

[xxxvii] Ibid page 82

More resources