Fight, Flight, Divorce and Magic Wands

Clients usually attend family mediation sessions face to face. They are asked to listen carefully to one another and to be open and honest. When people are in conflict their instinct is to fight and protect themselves or to flee; ‘the fight or flight response’ – click here for a short video explanation. When people feel they have to fight to protect something important to them, they become positional and compromise goes out of the window. They defend their position come what may – even when that stance is actually detrimental to them. Conflict often triggers defence mechanisms that are counter productive to resolution of dispute. This then denies people the opportunity to accept their separation and move forward in a positive way.

Fight Flight Divorce and Magic Wands Focus Mediation Blog

Mediators and magic wands

A mediator doesn’t have a magic wand – if only! We help conflicted people to stop dwelling on the past and to concentrate on their future. We enable them in turn to each express and listen to their needs and concerns. Conflict usually arises out of miscommunication or a lack of communication. When there’s no communication at all it’s easy to make incorrect assumptions. Understanding others and in turn being understood is a basic human need. The best way to understand someone is to listen to them. When conflicted people communicate, they often don’t feel safe enough to fully listen. Instead they may try to shout each other down or formulate a defensive reply. Mediators create a safe and neutral environment. It’s their role to make sure the communication is fair and balanced. If one person struggles to express themselves or doesn’t feel heard, the mediator will ask questions to help everyone in the room to better understand how that person is feeling. They will reflect back what they have heard or summarise to ensure they have fully understood.

A case study – a separated husband and wife

A client attended his first joint mediation session in full ‘fight or flight’ mode. He angrily told his wife that he would make sure she became penniless if she tried to take his children away from him. He said he would enter her home whenever he wanted to and see them and she couldn’t stop him. If she tried he would stop child and spousal maintenance – even if it resulted in a Judge sending him to prison. I was shocked and had not expected this. I meet clients separately prior to any joint session to understand their concerns and identify issues. When I met him he was very sad about the demise of his marriage. However, he told me that his wife was a good mother and he wanted to remain amicable for the sake of the children. I needed to find out what had happened between then and now.  He was clearly fighting to protect something sacred to him – his relationship with his children. I spoke to him alone. He said he hadn’t seen his children that weekend as agreed as his wife had said that they were unwell. He didn’t know if she was telling the truth. He had told her he would come to her home and spend the day with the children. She had said no and a huge argument ensued.

Before they could continue with the joint mediation session, he clearly needed sufficient time to calm down from his stress response to his fear of losing his children. He couldn’t listen to his wife when he was that anxious. I made him a hot drink and gave him the time he needed for his heart beat to regulate and his breathing to return to normal. I also acknowledged how painful it was for him to no longer live with his children.

When he re-entered the room with his wife he apologised to her. He felt calmer and I encouraged him to open up and tell her about his fears surrounding child arrangements. He was able to show genuine vulnerability instead of lashing out and making threats. His wife reassured him that she would never harm his relationship with the children and that she knew that the children needed him just as much as they needed her. She said she needed to establish new personal boundaries now they had separated and that she didn’t feel comfortable at this stage with his spending a whole day in her home. He said that when she didn’t let him come to her home, he began thinking about fathers who lose contact with their children and he began to panic. In the past he had always been there to comfort the children when they were ill. His wife was able to hear and appreciate how difficult it had been for him. He began to understand she needed her own space at home. They went on to make child arrangements that they were both comfortable with and which worked well for the children. If the conflict had been given more space to escalate then it would have undoubtly caused more harm to the parents and their children.

Why does mediation work?

So simply put – mediation is a safe space for people to drop their guard and open up to one another. It’s at times awkward, emotionally draining and it requires courage and commitment. However, it’s tried, tested and it works. Separated couples have often stopped listening to each other or trying to understand or be understood. Mediation helps people to understand each other better. Only when we begin to understand how someone else feels, can we begin to help them understand how we feel. Mediators separate the people from the problems. We help people to stop blaming one another and we enable them both to together focus on finding possible solutions that work for each of them. So despite the lack of magic wands in mediation, when mediation works (and it often does) the simplicity of clients understanding each other and feeling understood as a means of resolving conflict, actually feels rather magical.

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Read more about family mediation (including our client testimonials) at 

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