There are two principal aspects to the role a mediator plays when helping couples resolve their issues during mediation. One relates to the substance and the other has to do with the process itself. Substance refers to the issues that must be addressed and resolved when a couple is separating or divorcing. Process relates to the ground rules that are established, and then how the conversations take place and move along, ultimately to resolution. Each is equally important, in its own right. Two earlier blog articles (Issues & Additional Issues in Divorce Mediations) described the specific issues that need to be discussed in divorce mediation. In this article, I focus on the process itself.
1. Facilitating conversation: As a mediator, I believe my most important task is that of facilitating conversation between the couple. For this process to work, I need to help move them from their rigid positioning to a “deeper” place where they are identifying and expressing their underlying interests and needs. It is only when they work on this deeper level that meaningful progress can be made and they can end up in a win-win situation where both of their needs are met.
2. Setting the pace: I help the couple to move their discussion along, while allowing them to set the pace. They determine how frequently they want to meet and how much time they may need in between sessions, whether to gather information or to process emotional issues that come up. In contrast, if the couple were pursuing a litigated divorce, the pace and scheduling would be out of their hands entirely and dictated by a judge and the court system.
3. Problem-solving: I help the couple problem-solve and explore options for the many issues that need to be addressed. I may help them brainstorm ideas, but it is the couple that chooses their own solutions, not me. For the process to work to the benefit of both of them, I need to remain neutral. So while I facilitate their discussions (as described above), I remain impartial and do not take sides.
4. Protecting against power imbalances: I need to be sensitive to power imbalances between the parties, whether they be overt or less obvious. So for example, if one party is intimidating or overly assertive toward the other, I’ll take steps to make sure the weaker party’s voice is heard. See my blog article, Power Imbalances in Divorce Mediation for additional information on this subject.
5. Holding the space: I “hold the space” for the couple so that they feel safe and heard during the mediation process. Interestingly, if I have done my job well, the couple doesn’t realize all of the effort I’ve put into ensuring that the process runs smoothly. And that’s just fine with me!