Very little has been written to date about an intriguing and ‘new’ use of mediation in the family setting. Most people have heard about divorce mediation, which gives divorcing couples the opportunity to reach agreements about their property, parenting and support without having to go through a litigated (contested) divorce. The mediator, who is neutral, facilitates the conversations the couple needs to have, and helps them brainstorm options – enabling them to come up with better, win-win solutions for themselves and their children.
Most people are unaware that mediation can be helpful for couples that find themselves in a somewhat different situation. Specifically, I’m referring to couples who wish to stay married and are NOT looking to divorce, but who want to work on difficult issues that are affecting their marriage. Some couples address these issues in couples’ therapy. In certain instances, their therapist might suggest that they meet with a marital mediator to resolve, through the mediation process, a specific and clearly identifiable concern of theirs, while the therapist continues to work with them in therapy.
Janet and Bob, a couple who came to see me, were referred to me by a couples’ therapist they were seeing about an issue that was seriously impacting their family. They had been married for seven years and had two young children, ages two and four. Janet, who had bipolar disorder (often referred to as manic-depressive disorder), was diagnosed many years earlier and had been on medication for it since that time.
With the medication, Janet generally functioned well; the problem was that once or twice a year she would go off her medication – often with very frightening consequences. They both stated that they loved each other very much and wanted to stay in the marriage, but needed to find a way to handle this situation, especially given the concerns for the safety of their children.
As their mediator, I helped them work through a difficult, often emotional, discussion of this issue. Janet agreed to see her doctor more frequently to monitor her condition. They also established a written plan that would be followed in the event of a future incident. With this in hand, they returned to their couples’ therapist to continue working on the deeper aspects of their relationship.
I have much experience as a mediator and am especially gratified that my mediation and facilitation skills are transferable to many different situations. While much of my work continues to focus on divorce mediation, I am delighted that I am also able to help couples who wish to resolve difficult issues within their marriage.