Mediation & Grey Hairs

I was previously a family & criminal law solicitor. I represented defendants accused of serious crimes including murder. I also advised and represented family clients in court. Many of my family clients were suffering with the shock and pain that family breakup can cause. I’m now a family mediator and mother to two boys and I feel my role as a family mediator is the hardest of all. I sometimes leave the office feeling mentally and physically exhausted as the work is exceptionally challenging.

Mediation and Grey Hairs Focus Mediation blog

A solicitor has one client and a mediator has two that are in conflict. A solicitor gives legal advice and tells a client what’s in their best interest. A mediator is impartial and must always also be seen to be impartial. A casual comment could be misinterpreted. Clients feel vulnerable and its human nature to want their mediator to be on their side. However, a mediator’s role isn’t to decide which party is in the right. It’s the complete opposite. We need to enable them to see that battling one another and focusing on a past that can’t be changed, keeps them stuck in conflict. It’s my role to facilitate conversations so they can hear each other’s needs and concerns. Separating couples need to work together to find solutions and that’s the one thing they think they can’t do. However, with the intervention of a mediator it is possible. They may be sceptical about mediation and advised by family and friends that they need to fight to get what they need. When clients can show vulnerability and lay down their weapons, they are closer to a resolution that will work for each of them. I need to ensure they each feel safe enough to do that. They need to know I have heard them, and I understand their concerns. Imagine trying to demonstrate this whilst mediating a session with two hurt and angry people who no longer trust each other and struggle to communicate.

A recent case

My clients were able to resolve their finances at their 5th mediation session. The previous sessions had been tough on both and were difficult to mediate. A husband had a long-standing affair and whilst years had passed since they separated, the wife really struggled to accept the end of the marriage. She questioned what parts of the marriage had been ‘real’ and how she could ever trust again. The husband hadn’t wanted to separate but the relationship was fractured and couldn’t be healed. The wife was a lovely lady but hurt and angry and she was unable at times to contain her frustration. Her husband apologised and said that he didn’t know what else to do to make things right. It’s such a balancing act for a mediator. Mediation isn’t therapy and we focus on the future not the past – but to ignore the past is dangerous. It’s like sticking a plaster on a cut when the blood flow hasn’t been stemmed – the plaster will fall off just when things seem to be improving. There’s also a duty to make sure that the sessions move forward and that the husband didn’t feel that they were about chastising him for the affair. Throughout the sessions I was empathetic, listened very carefully to each of them and reiterated the ground rule of respectful communication. Several times I separated them into different rooms and reminded them why they were there and what the future might look like if they reached resolution. We all persevered.

The 4th session was particularly challenging. The wife was very emotional, and her pain manifested in anger and blame. Again, I listened well to each of them until they each felt sufficiently heard to move forward. The 5th session was a culmination of their hard work and mine – it’s why I do this difficult job. The atmosphere was very different. The clients had homework between sessions and had been busy compiling mortgage information and housing options. Each came prepared to work together to try and find solutions.  Mediation had enabled them to do something vital – separate themselves from the issues arising from their separation. They were no longer blaming each other and were both trying to find solutions. They now saw the issues as joint concerns and they were beginning to build trust. They found compromises they could each live with. They thanked me for my hard work and patience and asked if I had ever encountered a more difficult mediation. I had. They joked that I would surely develop some new grey hairs.

Supporting people through a trauma is never easy. The clients had found peace and were able to plan their respective futures. As for me – I have a good hairdresser and any new grey hairs will soon be banished.

Author: Sara Stoner, Family Mediator, Broxbourne & Potters Bar

Call us on 01908 231132 or Email: info@focus-mediation.co.uk for further information or to book a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting (MIAM) (11 Locations: Milton Keynes, Bedford, Broxbourne, Hemel Hempstead, London, Northampton, Oxford, Potters Bar, St Albans, Harrow and Watford).

Read more about family mediation at:  www.focus-mediation.co.uk

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