When couples are facing issues with their marriage and are starting to consider divorce, a marriage mediator may be an answer to saving the marriage that the couple did not know existed. While most people associate mediation and marriages with divorce mediation, there is a growing practice with mediators stepping in before the parties are at the point of divorce to help the couple talk about and consider their difference and how these differences may be overcome to allow the couple to stay together. While it is not the answer for every couple, it does allow couples that would like to work constructively to stay together to learn about conflict resolution and possibly save their relationship. This article will explore the world of marriage mediation. It will define marriage mediation and explain the general process. After this, it will explore the role of the mediator and what to expect from them.
Marriage Mediation Defined:
Marriage mediation is the intentional attempt to resolve conflict and keep a marriage intact through work with a mediator. The goal of this process is to help the couple address any issues that they are facing and move forward in the relationship stronger. Couples will practice listening and sharing with a skilled third party who will teach them ways to possibly overcome any of the issues plaguing the couple. While many people also call marriage mediation “mediation to stay married,” it extends farther than just issues that could push the couple to divorce. Instead, it can cover any range of issues that a couple may be facing and help the couple learn the skills needed to overcome them. It can have some similarities to couples counseling; however, the couple focuses on dispute resolution techniques to create solutions for their relationship.
The Marriage Mediation Process:
Like any other mediation, the marriage mediation process follows a similar path to resolving issues. However, some key differences make marriage mediation stand out and help the process be successful in keeping couples together. The process will also depend heavily on the needs of the couple and can be adapted to address specific issues that the couple is facing. Typically, a marriage mediation will follow these steps or something similar:
- Agreeing to Mediate: Before the process can begin, both parties need to agree to participate in the mediation. Mediation cannot proceed effectively without one of the parties, so the full participation of both parties needs to be present. While the parties may have their differences, the commitment to the process can help encourage some growth with the parties.
- Choosing a Mediator: This part of the process will be discussed more in-depth in the next section, but the couple needs to choose a mediator that they can trust, as well as one that is suited for their needs. If a couple is struggling with making financial decisions, it may be helpful to have a mediator who has a strong financial literacy and can help them understand how the decisions they make affect them.
- Establishing the Ground Rules: An important aspect of marriage mediation is that there need to be ground rules to encourage productive conversation and problem-solving. Again, these rules will need to be tailored to the couple, but will usually include that the parties need to practice active listening and approach the subjects of discussion thoughtfully and respectfully.
- Identify the Issues: While the process may take place over one or several sessions, the first step is to identify the problems that the couple is facing. This will lay the foundations for the discussions and the plan moving forward. The couple may walk into a mediation knowing that they have issues in several areas, or they may request help in a particular area. Additionally, a couple will likely discover issues that they had not realized as they are working with the mediator and may need to adapt the plan to fit that need as well. As the meditation continues and new issues pop up, the parties may need to return to this step again and again.
- Discussing Possible Solutions: This is the area where marriage mediation shines. The parties will begin to talk about ways that they could work together to overcome obstacles in their marriage. This can include the couple brainstorming ideas and the mediator suggesting and teaching new skills that can be used. While not every single issue will be easy to resolve, it can be helpful for the couple to see a way to work through it.
- Make a Plan: Once the couple has discussed the issues that need to be addressed and has identified the possible solutions, it is time for them to make a plan for issues that arise moving forward. For some problems, this can be very specific based on the needs of the couple. For others, this can be a general plan for dealing with conflict. Regardless, having a plan will help couples feel confident that if they face issues again in the future, they will be able to tackle them together. This plan can be written down and signed by the couple, but it is not necessary.
This general structure may be adapted to fit the needs of the parties, such as the mediator meeting with each spouse separately to discuss the issues or having the couple work through practice scenarios to help solidify certain skills. Regardless, the parties will move from agreement to agreement on either end of the process while developing a plan and skills to resolve whatever may come their way.
The Role of the Mediator:
Mediators are one of the driving forces behind marriage mediation. They will help guide the couple through a discussion of their issues and teach dispute resolution techniques that will be helpful regardless of the problems that arise. A mediator does not take the place of a mental health professional but can offer assistance to the couple when they are in a rough patch. While a counselor can help the couple identify the underlying issues that are contributing to their conflict, a mediator helps determine positive resolution techniques that can help the parties deal with issues when they arise. Because of this distinction, many mediators will encourage the couple to start or continue with counseling or therapy while they are participating in mediation.
The role of a mediator in marriage counseling is to offer a practical solution to the issues that they face. Throughout the mediation, a mediator will play an important role in a few key areas. These areas include:
- Enforce: The mediator will often establish and enforce the rules in a mediation. The couple may contribute to the rules and shift them based on their exact needs, the mediator will help keep the couple within the bounds of the rules and keep the conversation productive. It is the mediator’s role to step in when someone is behaving poorly toward another.
- Guide: While the parties will be the ones driving the process, the mediator is also responsible for guiding the couple towards solutions and helping them to identify the issues. This can include helping the couple transition from the identifying stage to the solution stage. It can also include making suggestions for problem-solving techniques that can help the couple address the issues thoughtfully and productively.
- Teach: Similar to guiding above, the mediator may also teach the parties conflict resolution techniques to take with them into their next dispute. This will usually happen between two sessions. The mediator may suggest for the couple to try the next time the issue presents itself. They will often attempt to use the technique the next time they encounter the conflict and will report back on the success or failure of the technique.
- Edit: Based on the ways that the couples react to the suggestions and conflict resolution techniques, the mediator can also assist the couple with making changes to their conflict resolution plan and adjusting it to fit their needs. This may mean shifting the resolution technique slightly to make it work better for the couple, or it may mean changing the whole responsive plan. However, it is the mediator’s job to help the couple adjust their plan to help fit their specific needs.
Because a mediator will play a role in so many different steps of the process, choosing the correct mediator for the process is important. Some marriage mediators are also mental health professionals, which can be particularly helpful when one or both parties struggle with mental illness that affects the relationship. Other mediators will have specific training or life experience to help a couple solve their unique problems. However, no matter the reason that a couple chooses a mediator, the mediator must be able to establish trust within the mediation to encourage the parties to work together to find a solution that they can use moving forward. Trust is the most important part of the process and ensures that the parties can be committed to the work.
Marriage mediation is an important growing field when it comes to relationship counseling and intervention. Understanding and knowing the ways to help solve conflict and move forward together can help strengthen and renew a relationship that was close to failing. In some cases, mediation may not save a marriage, but knowing that they tried everything possible to make the marriage work is often reassuring and helpful moving forward. But when marriage mediation works and a couple learns to solve conflict together, their relationship can find a steady balance of communication and conflict resolution that can help them solve other problems that come their way.