Powerful Magic

It’s easy enough for things to go awry in any relationship. If it’s one that matters to us, we hopefully eventually make the effort, realise what’s amiss and address the issues. Whether it’s a familial, friendship or romantic relationship, we all appreciate at some level that we need to pay attention and make an effort and, sometimes, compromise. That’s when we are invested, where the balance of our personal happiness depends to some degree on that relationship remaining healthy. The problems that we mediators see arise where the primary relationship has failed, to quote the Matrimonial Causes Act, has irretrievably broken down. Leave aside that that phrase always makes me think of a car that has catastrophically failed its MOT and has to be scrapped. The fact is that the two people involved often see no need to maintain any degree of civility let alone have any desire to invest in good ongoing communication.

Which is fine as long as there are no innocent third parties in the shape of children who pay a very high price as their parents drift from just about getting by communication to, at best, a cold war. Whenever I see people at the initial individual meetings where there’s a dispute about child arrangements, it’s almost invariably the case that communication has reached a nadir. People attempting semaphore while facing in opposite directions would often achieve a better result.

It’s also often the case that both clients recognise that they need to do better. If they didn’t before, they do when a third party starts asking questions. For many people however the knack is to discover how they can even start to improve the situation. There is often a fear of taking the first step in fear of being rebuffed. And that’s where the powerful magic comes in. If I’m seeing a couple as a mediator, one of them will have made a referral, even if it’s only with a view to going to court. More importantly, when a mediator sees both people, both have accepted an invitation to attend a meeting. How often as mediators, do we have clients express surprise that the other has met with us or is to do so?

Then there’s the chance to talk to the mediator and to receive input from him or her. An individual meeting can afford a great opportunity for clients to reflect on how exactly they arrived at where they are and to consider what needs to be done. We shouldn’t discount the simple power of an intervention from a third part professional. It makes people look at things seriously. The initial meeting creates a space for reflection.

The magic for me (albeit hardly good in business terms) comes when a couple who have agreed to mediate actually cancel the first session because, after their own meetings with me, they go away and start to talk to each other in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without that referral to mediation. Over many years I’ve experienced that happening countless times. The referral and the initial meetings act as a catalyst. It’s as if the prospect of sitting in a room together mediating suddenly enables the people involved to talk to each other direct. It’s also I guess because a good individual meeting will have reminded each parent that there is in fact a huge amount invested in a good continuing parental relationship. There’s after all nothing more important than trying to create a happy life for the children you created together.

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