What Is Marital Mediation?
Marital Mediation is useful for couples who want to stay married, or if not married, to stay living together. It differs from Couple Therapy in that the focus is solely on addressing and resolving specific issues that block forward movement. There is little or no attention paid to the history of the issue. The process begins by helping couples identify their common commitment to their union and then responds in a flexible manner.
Marital Mediation uses mediation techniques to improve lines of communication, help couples address areas of friction, and develop “guidelines” that focus on the behavioral changes each person will make in order to lessen future conflict. The process can result in a written agreement, (a post-nuptial agreement which would be executed with formalities including review by outside attorneys and notarized). Or, the process can be used simply to improve communication and help couples gain a deeper understanding of problem solving techniques. Whether or not to have the mediation result in a written agreement is entirely the couple’s choice.
The approach to Marital Mediation can vary, from determining what each person wants even using a written list of possible issues and discussing them until they agree in writing, to a more open-ended approach that involves seeing what develops, and how disputed issues might be transformed by talking with communication assistance.
Marital Mediation uses mediation techniques to improve lines of communication, help couples address areas of friction, and develop “guidelines” that focus on the behavioral changes each person will make in order to lessen future conflict.
What to Expect.
Because Marital Mediation is so focused on specific issues or problems it is usually very short term. A typical Marital Mediation involves several sessions, each 1 1/2 to 2 hours long. While the process is not meant to be therapeutic, the effect of a successful mediation on one or both of the clients may be psychologically beneficial.
The goal of the Marital Mediation process is to bring about behavioral change, rather than internal change based on insight as with couple counseling. However, given that people make attributions about their internal states by observing their own behavior, it stands to reason that changing behavior can influence one’s attitudes.
The mediation process is meant to empower couples. The emphasis is always on the couple, respecting their ability to recognize their own issues and craft their own solutions. The couple is frequently reminded, that it is up to them and that they own the result.
Steps in Marital Mediation
1. Explaining the Mediation Process. The mediator explains their role as a neutral third party and that their role is to listen to the couple, help them talk to each other, and help them craft an agreement (whether written or spoken) resolving their issues in conflict.
2. Listening to the Presenting Problem. The mediator listens, making sure each client gets to say what he or she wants to discuss, paying great attention to their interactions and communication difficulties.
3. Looking for Issues Ripe for Mediation. Listening to the couple, the mediator seeks issues that can be mediated: sometimes the clients identify them, and sometimes the mediator has to discern. A sound hypothesis is critical, since the mediation centers on this issue: exactly what is their conflict about?
4. Teaching Basic Communication Skills. In every case, the couple’s stress and marital disharmony has been exacerbated by poor communication skills. From her/his neutral seat the mediator can “normalize” and give feedback to what the couple is feeling. The mediator can help each one understand the hard but true fact that BOTH are right: each has a right to their feelings. In so doing, each spouse acknowledges the other, a central foundation of the marriage: s(he) has her/his own reality to be heard even if the other considers it not to be true. These and many other skills can be taught to the Marital Mediation clients for future use on their own. One strength of the process is to give couples their own communication tools, with recognition of the backup value of further counseling or mediation if necessary.
5. Reaching an Agreement. Whether in a written legally binding Marital Agreement, or in a more informal unwritten understanding, the purpose of Marital Mediation is to lead to an agreement of some sort. This focus on the future is a common thread in all my Marital Mediation work.