If you are a family mediator, you might expand your practice to offer mediation to help couples stay married. The process, called “marital mediation,” uses the specific settlement focus of mediation to preserve a marriage in ways not attempted by family therapy. The process uses your family mediation skills to help couples negotiate new terms for their marriage. Couples may use mediation to enter into a written post-marital contract defining their own solutions. These contracts could define: how to cooperate in preparing a joint income tax return; who owns what marital assets; how much of their joint funds can each spend without checking first with the other; exactly what would happen to a pension or a house or any other assets if they get divorced: or even how to decide when they leave a good party. (That last issue is tough; one mediating couple ended up using separate cars for a while.)
To help spread the word I am offering one day of Marital Mediation Training on May 13 in Wellesley, Massachusetts. See www.mediate.com/fiske for details, links to other marital mediators, and the beginnings of a bibliography.
Marital mediation is similar to divorce or separation mediation in many respects, yet the entire tone and energy of the couple is different. There is a centripetal force in the room. He may stand up when she enters, or they may hug each other. They look for ways to strengthen their relationship, to put things together and not take them apart. Some marital mediators do not focus on the goal of a written contract, preferring to help the couple change their relationship through better communication and new behaviors. Others, such as the author, find a written post-marital agreement offers concrete settlement features for which many couples are hungry. “We have spent years in therapy and we just aren’t getting anywhere any more,” I often hear. “We want to change how we behave, or define new legal rights, or replace marriage #1 with marriage #2.”
For the mediator, this shift in emphasis is challenging. How do you introduce the possibility of staying married to a couple that have come in to discuss divorce? “Haven’t you been listening to what we’ve told you for the last 10 minutes?” one or both of them may exclaim loudly or, worse, wonder silently. Mediators who decide to add Marital Mediation to their practice need to set the stage in order to introduce the radical idea of working on the marriage without losing her or his neutrality in the eyes of both spouses. This subtle assignment requires careful preparation and skillful timing, and the result is worth all the work. If they say no, at least you’ve tried. The next couple, believe it or not, may come to you for the express purposes of helping them negotiate terms for their new marriage.
A number of family mediators are beginning to use mediation to help couples stay married. Susan Boardman in Connecticut, Laurie Israel in Massachusetts and Ken Neumann in New York and I have written an article for the Conflict Resolution Quarterly urging family mediators to consider adding this professionally satisfying branch of mediation to their practice. (for example, see www.mediationtostaymarried.com, a website of Laurie Israel or www.maritalmediationworks.com, a website of Susan Boardman, or my website at www.mediate.com/fiske ). I have a growing feeling that there are a lot of us out there, for example, mediators in Columbus, Ohio called Resolve (http://www.resolvemediationservices.com/couples.html ). One of the reasons for this article is to use www.mediate.com as a clearinghouse to stimulate other marital mediators to connect with us and among each other.
If you decide to add this new and growing area of marital mediation practice you will greatly enhance your own flexibility and resources just during that first meeting with the couple. When a couple agrees to try to stay together you will find deep professional satisfaction in working with them towards their specific settlement of issues that may have lain “too deep for tears” and their creating, with your help, a more enduring marriage.
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