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This week I conducted two, tough, family mediations. The circumstances of the couples were very different, however both couples had difficult issues, which needed to be sorted out.
One couple began their mediation in separate rooms, due to an extreme communication breakdown (they ultimately chose to sit at the same table). One couple had separated recently, which was clearly heartbreaking for them, but also necessary. What needs to be said about these and other similar conversations, is that there is never enough money for everyone to feel comfortable. Everyone would prefer to keep the house to him or herself, no one wants to be without the children, and trusting the other is difficult during a separation. I often reflect after a mediation – what worked, what didn’t, how could I have helped in a different way? What struck me with these two, was the level of commitment they all had to the process.
In mediation training, we call this, “Staying in the Fire”. Mediation is a voluntary process; we cannot force someone to come to, or to stay at the table. We cannot force someone to engage – to think outside the box – to explore alternatives – to consider the situation from the children’s perspective – from the other’s perspective. We explain the benefits of course, and we talk about BATNA – the best alternative to a negotiated agreement – but it’s up to the individuals to participate. Sometimes, participating, means sitting in silence, allowing one person to process information, thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, both are loud, there are tears, breaks are called and there are check-ins with lawyers on a point. Sometimes a visual helps – with ideas or calculations - and the easel stand is used. Claudette, one of my colleagues at the Mediation Centre, uses the phrase, “Be hard on the problem, not the person”.
In both of these very difficult mediations, agreements were reached – they chose a process, which allowed them to decide what their future will look like. These families get to move on with their lives, without the additional stress of further unresolved conflict – and without the stress of the Court process, and a third party making their life decisions for them. And they learned new skills along the way, which will assist them in resolving their conflict in the future. When you are choosing your process, know that none of them are easy, as separating is damn hard! But if you want a hand in crafting your future, are willing to listen and consider other points of view, and want to resolve conflict, I recommend mediation.