February 2, 2021/by Lesley Friedland and the FamilyKind Team
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” —Maya Angelou
How Does Marital Mediation Help Relationships Work Better?
By Rich Heller, MSW, FamilyKind coach, parenting coordinator and parent educator
Marital mediation takes mediation — which is used in so many different ways in the world — and applies the process to marriages. People who come to a marital mediator are looking to resolve differences. These may not be differences that they have experienced as conflict; often they may be differences they have been ignoring to avoid conflict. This type of mediation is not necessarily to make the marriage work, but rather to help the couple find a relationship that works better than the one they have been experiencing.
There are several different mediation styles in the world. For the purpose of this post, we will be talking about mediation through the Understanding based model. In the Understanding in Conflict perspective, the mediator is neutral helping both parties to understand what is really important. It is the “why” of their position.
Positions are perspectives or stands we take based on our interests, values, and/or principles. Positions tend to be very absolute, while interests, values, and principles are grounded in context and circumstance. Often when we take a position, we are making a judgment about context and circumstance. That judgment may or may not be correct. Even if it is correct, context and circumstance are in flux. In essence, a position is based on a two-dimensional snapshot of a three- or four-dimensional world. The mediation process is designed to help identify the position as well as the interests, values, and principles underneath it. In so doing, we create the opportunity to release the position, while preserving the qualities that give the individual’s life value.
In the marital mediation process, we start by building agreement in very small ways and building up as we explore the interests beneath the position. As agreement is built step by step, parties tend to relax their position, which is often a defensive response to a perceived threat. As that position relaxes, both parties are able to better see through one another’s eyes and understand one another’s interests, values or principles. Once this happens, there is room for real creativity and something new to emerge.
The inevitable hurdle to this process is the dynamic, or dialogue that the couple is used to having when feeling threatened in some way. The dynamic is the argument they have over and over and over. It usually starts with something like “you left the cap off the toothpaste…” How the other person responds determines whether they are going to enter into this familiar dynamic or not. Identifying the usual dynamic and agreeing that it is not helpful is the usually the major hurdle in the marital mediation process. It does not always happen quickly or easily, but it does inevitably happen when the process works.
For example, “Daniel” and “Sophie” came in for marital mediation after 25 years of marriage. Daniel is a big picture guy; he runs a business that has been struggling for a while because his attention to detail is not what it could be. Often he works at home, and while working, he has a tendency to focus only on his work, which leads to messy habits. Sophie is super detailed oriented and runs a tight ship. She gets things done; she is frustrated that Daniel is not as financially successful as they both would like him to be. Also, Sophie is very upset that Daniel drops crumbs, leaves his clothes lying about and leaves his office a mess.
In principle Sophie and Daniel want the same thing. They both want a clean neat and orderly house. They both want a successful business. They both love and support their family in different ways. However, they have a dynamic particularly around keeping the house neat and orderly. It starts out with Sophie berating Daniel over leaving crumbs on the floor or leaving his dishes around the house. He responds mostly passively and occasionally with an aggressive retort. The passive comments he makes just annoy the heck out of Sophie. As a result, the aggressive retorts end up causing full-blown fights.
In the course of marital mediation, their dynamic around his business, her house, and everything in between would come up frequently. It was very familiar and even comfortable for them. They recognized it right away when it was called out.
However, it only took them several meetings to finally get it under control by recognizing how destructive their actions had been. Soon, with the help of a marital mediator, they were able to recognize their dynamic it whenever it started and make the conscious decision to stop it.
Once they stopped going to their dynamic, they made real progress in their marriage. They recognized their common ground and how to help each other. Daniel limited the areas where he ate. Sophie helped Daniel with the detailed work of his business. As a result they were both much more successful in both areas. Did they go back to the dynamic? You know it. However, they now knew what it was and had the ability to stop it if they wanted. They went back there far less often.
This is a really simple marital mediation example in some ways; couples certainly come with far more complex issues. Regardless of the complexity of the dispute, as long as the mediator remains neutral, he or she can build agreement by calling out barriers to empathy and understanding. With a willing couple, the process will inevitably be successful in helping the couple understand each other better and have greater empathy. This will allow them to choose and develop the kind of relationship they want to have.
I am proud to be working with other FamilyKind consultants to offer high quality marital mediation. For more information about this important topic, family professionals should attend our upcoming Peer to Peer webinar which focuses on Marital Mediation.
To learn more about FamilyKind’s marital mediation program, please call 212-769-3057 or email info@FamilyKind.org.
“Daniel” and “Sophie” are composite characters not meant to represent any specific couple.
Upcoming FamilyKind Happenings
February 21, 5 pm: Family Cooking Lesson with Celebrity Chef Katie Chin
Join celebrity Chef Katie Chin, an Award-winning cookbook author, caterer and blogger, as she and her daughter, Becca, teach us how to prepare and cook Chicken Potstickers and Long Life Noodles (vegetarian) for the Lunar New Year. 2021 is the Year of the Ox, which the Chinese zodiac suggests will be a year of hard work, honesty and positivity.
This 90-minute, interactive class on Zoom, will take place on Sunday, February 21, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Recipes/ingredients and list of utensils/equipment will be provided in advance so everyone can cook along with Katie and Becca.
Register today by clicking here.
February 22, 1 pm: Peer-to-Peer Webinar: What is Marital Mediation?
Marital Mediation is a relatively new modality designed to help couples improve their relationships. Using mediation techniques and skills, the couple, along with the mediator, work on identifying areas of conflict in their relationship, and developing solutions to solve them. Our speakers, Ana-Lisa Gertner & Rich Heller, will answer these and other questions:
How is Marital Mediation distinguished from therapy?
Who is a good candidate for Marital Mediation?
What makes for an unsuitable candidate?
How does Marital Mediation differ from divorce mediation?
What topics are covered in Marital Mediation?
Register today by clicking here.
Thursday, March 11, FamilyKind’s 9th Annual Awards Benefit & Virtual Symposium
Join family law leaders from around the world as they address their region’s adaptations to support families through separation and divorce during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Distinguished faculty include: Patient (Pepsi) Samukelo Thuto (Botswana) Founding Firm Partner and Attorney at Law Judge Vanessa Aufiero Da Rocha (Brazil) Panelist representing Brazilian Judicial System Michal Feffer (Israel) Attorney and Executive Director of Israeli not-for-profit Stephen Madigan, MSW, MSc, Ph.D. (Canada) The Vancouver School for Narrative Therapy and Yaletown Family Therapy David Allison (England) Solicitor, Mediator & Collaborative Lawyer Hirotaka Honda (Japan) Barrister and Solicitor / Attorney at Law Maurice Q. Robinson (USA) Moderator and Adjunct Professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law’s Kukin Program in Alternative Dispute Resolution For the Symposium, CLEs are pending and contact hours for social workers will be offered. Following the Symposium, we are proud to present our Awards Benefit from 5:45 pm to 6:30 pm in which we will honor Hon. Jacqueline Silbermann (Retired) and Philip Katz, Esq., and Hon. Evelyn Frazee, J.S.C. (Retired). The evening will also include world class entertainment. For more information and to register, please click here. Please click here for more attendee details and sponsorship information.
Sign Up for Our Online Parenting Class for Divorcing or Separating Parents (Court Approved!) During COVID 19, parents ,needing court-approved parenting education for divorcing and separating families, can take the online version of our class. This 4.5-hour class is approved by the Office of Court Administration and satisfies all New York State court mandates of parents experiencing divorce, separation or are unmarried co-parents. The link to register for the class is https://www.nyparentingclass.com/.
Parents have 30 days from the time they register to complete the class and may review any portions they desire. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-769-3057. Here is what parents who take FamilyKind’s online classes say:
“I learned some specific skills that will help me better communicate with my co-parent.”
“I am confident that I can use these skills to improve the relationship with my co-parent.”
“I learned something new about how my children are affected by conflict.”