Category Archives: Mediation

Relationships: how to build successful, lasting connections

Life really is all about human connections; forming them, maintaining them, ending or losing them. Personal connections give meaning and purpose to our lives. For some, making and keeping connections comes far more naturally than it does for others. But why is this? It’s easier to understand in relation to extremes of personality, i.e. very shy or gregarious people. But why do some people appear to form friendships and relationships with ease and for others their relationships are plagued with insecurities and self doubt? A friend sent me a link to a fascinating Ted Talk; The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Brené Brown is a researcher and therapist who set out to research human connections. Brené collates people’s experiences, tries to make sense of them and then shares them with a wider audience. She says that the ability to feel connected is a neurobiological need in all of us and it’s fundamentally why we are here. She began her research by asking people about love, belonging and connections. However, when she asked people about love they told her about their heartbreak, when she asked about belonging they told her excruciating stories about being excluded and when asked about connection, they told her about their experiences of disconnection.

She began to identify time and time again that something unravelled or prevented these connection. She identified that this saboteur was ‘shame’ and that the more difficulty people have in articulating their feelings of shame, the more likely they feel shame very deeply. To never experience shame would mean a person is likely to be defined as a sociopath. We have all felt at one time or another that we have not been ‘worthy’ or ‘good enough’. She said this was often underpinned by an excruciating level of vulnerability. To make a true connection with another person we have to be ‘seen’. We have to expose ourselves and be open and honest. She decided to spend the next year deconstructing shame and vulnerability.

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Self-confidence, insecurity and their impact on relations

However it took her 6 years to get to grips with her research and make sense of people’s experiences. With volumes of stories and data, she felt that she now understood shame and vulnerability and that it came down to this; some people feel worthy of love and friendship and some don’t. The worthy feel like they belong. Then there are others who struggle to feel good enough and worthy enough of love and belonging. That was the major difference between the two groups. She says in essence, what keeps some out of connection is their fear that they aren’t worthy of connection.

So what did she find that ‘worthy’ people have in common? She says people with a deep sense of worth are a ‘wholehearted’ type of person. They have the courage to be imperfect, to believe that who they are, warts and all, is good enough. They have compassion for themselves; their inner voice is kind and not overtly critical. They are then able to extend that compassion to others as they have initially applied it to themselves. This reminded me of the analogy of a parent in an aeroplane cabin losing oxygen. To help their children they must first help themselves by ensuring they can breathe and function; they must prioritise placing the oxygen mask on themselves. We can’t be authentically kind to others if we don’t first show compassion to ourselves.

Making strong and lasting connections

To make strong and lasting connections we have to let go of what we think we should be and embrace what we are. Without this level of truthfulness, positive connection can not exist. The ‘worthy’ people aren’t afraid to embrace their vulnerability – they feel it is a necessary part of life. The part I found the most revealing is that the group who struggled with a sense of self worth spoke about vulnerability in terms of it being excruciating and painful. Those who felt worthy of connection saw vulnerability as a necessary part of connection. They were able to reach out to others and make themselves vulnerable – they could initiate conversation with a stranger not knowing for sure the other person’s response, they could ask someone on a date without being certain that the person would say yes.

They recognised the need to lay themselves open in order to receive something back that was worth the risk. They felt it was fundamental to human interaction to be vulnerable; to give their heart to another not knowing if it would be nurtured. Brené’s training had taught her to control and predict. Her research had unearthed the polar opposite. To make authentic connections we can’t control and predict; we must be free to live a life with openness and vulnerability. Brené found it hard to accept that the birthplace of happiness and creativity lay in embracing our own vulnerability.

Feeling vulnerable

Many of us numb our vulnerability. We live in a vulnerable world and feel we need to protect ourselves; laying our souls bare does not feel the way to do that. So as a society we try and numb fear, shame, grief, hurt etc. by self medicating. We are a nation of over eaters, over spenders, binge drinkers and drug takers. We protect ourselves by not revealing our true selves to others. We put up barriers and defences. However, we can’t choose what emotions to numb and inadvertently we also numb our capacity for joy and happiness. It’s a vicious cycle. We then lack purpose and feel vulnerable and the numbing cycle begins again.

She says to combat this we strive for the following;

  • We make the uncertain certain. There’s no room for discussion; I’m right, you are wrong! I have to be right; I’m trying to survive here! It becomes vital. There’s no discussion and the more frightened we become the more important it is to be certain.
  • We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an affect on people and have an impact on their lives, both positive and negative.
  • We blame; she defines blaming as a way to discharge pain and discomfort.

Accepting our flaws

How do we combat this? What’s the path to feeling secure and comfortable in our own skin? How can we feel worthy of the connections that many of us crave but self sabotage? Brené says we must embrace our vulnerability and let our true selves be seen. We must show love and compassion; even though there’s no guarantee of reciprocation. To stop and feel grateful for the good times, instead of fearing they will end or something or someone will stop you feeling that way. Finally, the most important part is to believe we are enough. If we truly believe we are enough then we treat ourselves and others around us with kindness and compassion.

Why mediation is effective in solving conflict

As a Family mediator I work with divorcing and separating couples every day. They are suffering a huge trauma akin to bereavement. They are hurting and often feel rejected by their ex-partner. They may try to rationalise why their relationship broke down and why their partner stopped finding them ‘worthy’ of their love and compassion. They feel they have been wounded and must protect themselves. The last thing they feel capable of doing at this time is to show vulnerability as they fear it is a sign of weakness. They can not see how they can trust their ex with that level of honesty.

I am not a therapist. It is not my role to explore in detail these emotions. However, what I have found is that mediation sessions can often help people to find purpose again and to individually move forward in a positive way. A colleague once described a mediator’s role in similar terms to these; ‘we help to tease and untangle the entwined roots of previously shared lives, so they can each replant their roots and begin to grow and flourish again’.

Helping litigants stop the blame game

We help people to move away from blaming one another as blame doesn’t help. We don’t take sides and we are completely impartial. Sometimes I feel that the fact I am initially a stranger to my clients is one of my most valuable commodities. They can trust that I have no investment in the decisions they make. My objective is to facilitate positive discussion between them. I help them to communicate and move forward. My job can be the most frustrating and rewarding role in equal measures. Why? Because inevitably if separating couples agree to engage in mediation, they will usually have to face one another and be open and honest. This makes them feel vulnerable.

Mediation saves hurt feelings (and costs)

So people who I know would benefit from mediation walk away and spend thousands upon thousands of pounds in the adversarial court system. It prolongs and intensifies their trauma, can destroy any goodwill or hope of civility and is devastating to children who just want mum and dad to get along. However, when people do engage in mediation and commit to the process, (sadly that’s often after they’ve been through the court system and have experienced first hand how damaging it can be), the results are remarkably positive. Not only do they reach proposals that allow them each move forward, but their communication usually improves, respect for one another can increase and they receive a sense of closure that they might never otherwise find.

If you would like to learn more about mediation please call our accredited  mediators for an informal chat on 01908 410508

A brief history of mediation

Mediation in the UK came to the fore in the 1990s but it has been recognised as a form of Dispute Resolution since ancient civilisation and has developed and evolved over time. The practice of mediation began in Ancient Greece. In Roman times mediators were referred to as mediums, conciliators and interlocutors.

Many philosophers have acknowledged the importance of mediation. For example, Confucius adhered to the concept of ‘harmony and co-operation’ and ‘no litigation’: the need to produce an outcome by negotiation, understanding and agreement, with an emphasis on compromise.

Moreover, this form of conflict resolution has been widely practised and recognised throughout time by Buddhists, Quakers, the Christian church, Judaism, and followers of Islam to name but a few. It has been used to negotiate during wars and diplomatic events.

In the Middle Ages the clergy would mediate between criminals, who had been given sanctuary, and the authorities. More recently, the USA (1947) and the UK (1896) respectively established a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and passed the UK Conciliation Act to address conflicts in industry. In the 1990s, Australia has used mediation to address future native title rights.

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Today, mediation is practised in several countries/ continents including Europe, China, Japan, Africa, the USA, Asia and Australia. There is a particularly strong mediation ethic and culture in Eastern countries. China, for example, has the largest and most comprehensive mediation system in the world. Its aim is to create order in all areas of life based on its values and traditions.

Mediation and dispute resolution has a place in a variety of  areas where there is conflict including:

Family Life:

Divorce and Separation  

Finances and arrangements for children

Care for the elderly

Probate and Inheritance

The Workplace:

Grievances between employees and/or employers

Commercial:

Contract disputes in business

Landlord and Tenants

Medical negligence

Civil:

Neighbour disputes

Housing Associations

In Schools:

Pupils and their peers and teachers

Through the threads of time mediation and dispute resolution have played an important role in almost every aspect of daily life enduring the test of time and evolving into a modern practice.

Focus Mediation can help you with both Family and Civil mediation. Please call us on 01908 410508 for further information.

Mediation Myths and Reality

As a family mediator, I tend to spend a lot of my time explaining exactly what it is that I don’t do.  So, let’s do this quickly: my job isn’t about getting people back together – that’s couples counselling, or conciliation. It’s not telling people what they should do – as an individual, that’s what you get when you go for legal advice from a barrister or solicitor.  I can’t make anyone do anything – that’s a job for a judge or an arbitrator.  And it’s definitely not about sitting quietly in a room being mindful – that’s meditation!

What I do as a family mediator is help two people who are in the process of separating to work out the best way forward from here, in terms of  making arrangements for their children, housing, money, businesses etc – anything where plans for the future, living apart, need to be made.  But family mediation is not well-understood, so in this blog I thought I’d take a look at some common misconceptions about the process.

There’s a persistent myth that the government now makes all former couples try mediation before they are allowed to go to court about divorce issues. This isn’t true: even if it wanted to, the government couldn’t compel people to come to mediation because mediation is by its very nature voluntary.  Nobody can be forced into it.

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Mediation, CC BY-SA 3.0 NY, Nick Youngson (www.nyphotographic.com)

What is true however, is that before a person can make an application to court about financial or children matters arising from a separation, they have to make an appointment with an accredited (specially-qualified) family mediator for a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (a MIAM).  This appointment takes about 45-60 minutes, and is usually just between mediator and client (although it can involve a former partner by agreement with all involved). It provides some confidential time and space to talk about what is going on, hear about all the different ways that a dispute can be resolved, and make an informed decision about the next step to take – whether it’s to court, to mediation, or another route. There is no pressure to choose mediation at the end of the meeting.

The removal of access to legal aid for family court proceedings, except where there is evidence of abuse or violence, has led to another myth that there is no help available to those on low incomes to work out arrangements on family breakdown.  In fact, many mediators offer mediation free to clients who are eligible for legal aid; even those who are not eligible themselves can access a free individual meeting and first joint mediation session if their former partner meets the criteria.

Another myth is that it’s normal to stay in separate rooms during family mediation, with the mediator walking between the two of you.  Although this is the case for most forms of mediation about business disputes, the usual arrangement in family mediation is for both people and the mediator to be in the same room, unless there’s a particular reason why this shouldn’t happen (perhaps there has been violence, abuse or intimidation). It’s quicker and therefore cheaper if everyone is in the same room, as it is possible to get more done.  The other main reason is because the mediator, and the process itself, encourages people to relate to each other as problem-solvers and co-parents rather than ex-partners – it is easier to make this shift in the same room rather than apart.

Some people think that family mediation is slow.  On the contrary: the great advantages of family mediation are in terms of cost, convenience and speed.  To get arrangements decided by a judge, you might have to wait up to a year or even more from making your court application, and go through other interim hearings before, at which you will both need to be present and over which you will have little control.  Mediation sessions usually take place every three weeks or so, at a significantly lower cost per person than for court representation, and can be arranged to suit your schedule – unlike if you end up in court.

The last myth is that family mediation is suitable for everyone.  Sadly it isn’t. People only come to mediation if they want to sort things out and make a deal – it’s not a process that suits anyone taking a ‘my way or the highway’ approach.  Sometimes too much has gone on in a relationship for there to be any prospect of an agreement, and the court has to be involved from the start; this may be the case, for example, if there are child protection concerns or where there has been serious violence or abuse.  However, mediators are skilled professionals who are used to working with those going through family change, and we do have success in helping people make arrangements that work for them in even very challenging cases that might seem hopeless at first glance.  It can be very empowering to understand that it is still possible to stay in control of what happens after a separation: you don’t need to hand over the power to decide to a judge who doesn’t know you, and doesn’t love your children. A specialist family mediator can help you make your own plans.

If you would like to learn more about mediation, or if you think that it might benefit someone you know, don’t hesitate to contact our accredited mediators on 01908 410508 for an informal chat.

The law aims to be fair for the majority

Sometimes a constellation of circumstances conspire to make the Law seem inexplicable. This is especially the case when someone has behaved badly – or when the law works in such a way that people think it produces an unfair result. BUT it isn’t that simple. Mary Banham-Hall lawyer mediator explains why.

The newspapers have recently reported that Julie Sharp is appealing a court decision to give her husband from whom she’s divorcing £2.7m of her total fortune of £6.9m after 4 years of marriage with no children.  She worked throughout as an energy trader and earned most of the income – and following redundancy her husband project-managed the refurbishment of two houses. His case was for half the increase in the value of assets during their marriage on the basis the ‘matrimonial acquest’ is shared equally, which it usually is.  In a short marriage pre-marital contributions are retained by the spouse they belong to, so long as needs have been catered for – but the increase in assets value during the marriage is halved. In this instance it is rumoured the husband was unfaithful – but the law is well established that the reasons for the divorce are irrelevant, so it may make people think this is very unfair.

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At the moment in short marriages the following principles apply:

  • reasonable needs should be met, reflecting the length of the marriage and its effect, if any, on the parties – especially the birth of a child
  • this may just involve a sum of money to enable someone to adjust without due hardship to their single-again status
  • Any increase in the value of assets during the marriage is usually shared

These simple enough principles alone cause enough trouble over interpretation – what are reasonable needs? What is a fair sum to enable someone to adjust to the split without undue hardship? What is a short marriage? How much is the matrimonial acquest? Then running through all the legal arguments are the following not-to-be-forgotten factors:

  • What does all this argy-bargy cost in relation to the likely settlement figure? Is it value for money?
  • How much of the argument is related to conflict generated by the break-down of the relationship – and the reasons for that?
  • Is the legal debate an outlet for the parties’ anger and grief and sense of injustice? Might there be a need to ‘win’ especially if you feel you have been done down in some way? Is litigation an appropriate outlet for emotional drivers?

Against this background the Sharp case delivers a less obvious decision to the judge hearing the appeal, which is this:

Either:  Do we keep the certainty we currently have, where the matrimonial acquest is shared – in many if not most cases this will be the fairest result? Certainty on such a common issue means outcomes are clear and there is then less likely to be litigation over who gets what in many cases to come.

Or:  Do we open a Pandora’s Box and tailor judgments more closely to the personal merits of each case, thereby ending up with a range of seemingly incompatible precedents? This latter inevitably leads to lawyers being unable to advise clients with any clarity as to probable outcomes – which in turn leads to a proliferation of court cases based on the merits of this that or the other situation.   Seemingly harsh and ‘unfair’ decisions can be much better for the rest of the population who have disputes – as they know with a degree of clarity what they are going to get and there’s no point in litigating for something unachievable. Sad cases make bad law.  It is this, at the end of the day, which in my view means the Sharp appeal is likely to fail, if a family mediator is allowed to have an opinion on such matters!

 

Where can we go to sort out our divorce and separation? Who will help us – how?

‘We live miles away from each other on opposite sides of London- how do we decide who can help us?  Where should we go?’

First, it makes sense to see a mediator first – as they can help you get your bearings, give you both vital legal information and help you agree what to do. Also, if you did need to go to court you have to see a mediator first anyway – so best start there.

The first step in finding a mediator is working out what will work for you. In London it is quite common for separating ex partners to move to new areas where property is cheaper to rent or to buy. Some people even return to their parent’s home while they work out the next step. Logistics can be tricky.

So where should you meet in mediation? Near your workplace? Or your old home? Or where you are currently living?  A location with good transport connections for both you and your ex makes sense – it may involve you both in travelling out of your local area to mediate, so long as you can get there easily, which is the point really.

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The benefits of mediating with Focus Mediation at Euston?

  • You show that you are equally committed to mediation, by coming to neutral territory. You break familiar patterns: “It’s always me who makes the effort! I always compromise! He/she is so inflexible!”
  • Easy travel connections means easy access to the help you need

Call Focus Mediation London to discuss how we can offer a safe central meeting space for clients. Our main meeting rooms are right in front of Euston station, a stone’s throw away from the Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith, City, Victoria and Northern Lines and a multiplicity of railway connections. East London is 20 minutes away by train. And anyone travelling in or out of King’s Cross or St Pancras has a short walk to reach us.

Our professionally trained mediators can support you both and help you to have those difficult conversations that you must have to agree a divorce or separation settlement, sort out your kids and anything and everything else needed to enable you to move on with your lives.

Additionally we have access to a network of meeting spaces across London for our one day mediation meetings. Want it sorted fast? Then call us for more information on 0203 137 2670.

Marriage and Civil Partnership

Once upon a time there used to be marriage, the relationship until death of a man and a woman. I’ll not trouble you with the legal and social ramifications, they are well known to all. There never was such a thing as Common Law Marriage, which is a myth, I mention that in passing in case anyone out there still isn’t aware of this fact, because a surprising number of people still labour under the illusion it exists.

Then civil partnerships were created so same sex couples could have all the legal rights and responsibilities, protections and tax benefits of marriage – but without being actually married. The government of the day felt marriage for same sex couples was too contentious – it might upset too many people. So we had civil partnerships and marriage.

However, times move on and social attitudes change – and same sex couples were never going to accept being unable to marry – it seemed they were being discriminated against, as they felt they were treated differently from heterosexual couples as they could not ‘marry.’ Some religious groups campaigned against being forced to offer religious marriage to gay couples, as being an infringement of their right to religious freedom and so a breach of their human rights. Meanwhile gay couples campaigned to be able to marry, saying they were being discriminated against.

So, some might say inevitably, the next move was to legislate to permit gay couples to marry and on 13 March 2014 The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act came into force. Same sex marriage was legalised. Now of course hetero-sexual couples want the right to have civil partnerships – and the government of the day has a problem of its own making on its hands – and may have to legislate basically to allow everyone to do anything they like – which is what we should have done in the first place. We would have done so already if anyone had listened to me at the time they passed the Marriage Act for gay couples.

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We have now with three appeal court judges basically saying the government is breaching heterosexual couples’ human rights not allowing them to have civil partnerships.  

It’s all caused by problems of definition and straight line thinking. Is anyone aware of the difference between a civil partnership and a civil wedding in a Registry Office? No, neither am I. That’s because there isn’t one – the legal effect of these relationships is identical. The problem exists in the words alone. What is so fascinating is the vehemence generated by the use of the words ‘marriage’ or ‘civil partnership’ and the supposed baggage attaching to one and not the other, intrinsically regarded as desirable or not – depending on your point of view.  The fact is the legal consequences for marriage and civil weddings or marriages (whether conducted at Registry Offices or non-religious venues) and civil partnerships are identical – save in one respect and that relates to the grounds for a petition for dissolution in relation to adultery for gay couples, on which I do not propose elaborating. Perhaps I’m missing something, but if the consequences and legal effects of these legal relationships are identical why are we worried about the wording?

So given all the palaver over The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act – and the current intransigence concerning any possible infringements of any human right, it was predictable there would be similar ructions from heterosexual couples wanting to enter into civil partnerships. I think people will always want what they can’t have – it is part of the human condition. What we could and should have done a few years ago is avoid all this with the simple expedient of the following law:

“In future all couples whether the same or opposite sexes, can marry or enter into civil marriages or civil partnerships and the legal consequences of all these legal partnerships will be the same and the words  marriage, civil partnership and civil marriage can all be used interchangeably.” End of.  

Anyone agree with me?

A positive message for children during a breakup

Driving to work on my way to mediate with a separating couple, I heard a song playing on the radio by James TW called, ‘When you love someone’. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0Bf3CJZ4hvg. The song is about a child’s parents splitting up. The video is cinematic and well worth a watch (please follow the link). The parents talk to their son and tell him everything will be ok. James says he wrote the song after a young drummer he was teaching told him his parents were getting divorced. He said in a statement to Huffpost, “The first thing I thought was how are they going to explain it to him in a positive way and one where he would understand. I wanted there to be a song that he could listen to which would make him feel better about everything that was going on.”

The Lyrics;

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard I’ve been called up by a teacher. She says she can’t even reach you ’cause you’re so far. You’ve been talking with your fist. We didn’t raise you up like this, now did we? There have been changes in this house. Things that you don’t know about in this family. It don’t make sense, but nevertheless. You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense The way things go Son you should know

Chorus

Sometimes moms and dads fall out of love. Sometimes two homes are better than one. Some things you can’t tell your sister ’cause she’s still too young. Yeah you’ll understand When you love someone

There ain’t no one here to blame

Nothing’s going to change with your old friends. Your room will stay the same ‘Cause you’ll only be away on the weekends. It don’t make sense but nevertheless You gotta believe us, it’s all for the best It don’t make sense It don’t add up. We’ll always love you no matter what

Come home early after class

Don’t be hanging ’round the back of the schoolyard And if we’re crying on the couch Don’t let it freak you out. This has been so hard

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The video depicts a teenage boy’s parents having a number of heated arguments at the end of their marriage whilst he watches the marriage unravel. The boy doesn’t know how to handle his emotions and gets into trouble at school. Eventually he breaks down and cries and his mother comforts him. She then drives him to see his father and watches as his father hugs him and reassures him. The message is a positive one. The reality is that 1 in 2 marriages fail and inevitably many children will experience their parents breaking up. Sometimes it is better for parents to live in separate households, as they can then be happier individuals and better parents.

It’s vital that children aren’t drawn into any arguments, confided in or asked to take sides. They need to be shielded from any hostility. The best way parents can help children to feel safe and secure is to continue co-parenting their children. That’s not easy when parents may be feeling hurt, angry and scared. Mediation can help parents improve their communication, plan their futures and find some peace. Children need their parents to do this as soon as possible so they know that they will be ok and that both their parents will still be there for them.

At Focus Mediation, we have specially trained mediators who can talk directly with children so they can have a voice and this helps them to feel heard and understood. Call us today to take the first step towards a more settled future for your family.

Some useful resources for helping children during separation:

http://voicesinthemiddle.org.uk – a website for children whose parents are separating/ divorcing

http://www.resolution.org.uk/site_content_files/files/separation_and_divorce_helping_parents_to_help_children_2.pdf

http://www.partnershipforchildren.org.uk/resources/my-child-is-worried-about/divorce-separation/how-to-help-children-adapt.html

Miscuing one another – what’s that?

People miscue one another every-day; mediators are no exception. I did it this morning with my 8 years’ old son. He really didn’t want to go to school. I think I displayed super human levels of patience and understanding for about 2 hours! Then my patience ran dry as we were late and I was seriously frustrated. My tone changed and I got angry.

I told him to hurry up and that his behaviour was terrible. It escalated and he was crying and refusing to move and I was now shouting. If I had hoped that this would be more successful than my previous cajoling then I was very much mistaken. He was more adamant than ever that he wasn’t going to school and I couldn’t make him. I was determined he was!  We were in deadlock. As he’s eight I was able to frog march him to the car, but felt awful as he was sobbing.  I couldn’t calm him down and he went into school upset. Strong arm tactics won’t work at all between adults and weren’t very effective for me with my son either.

My cajoling didn’t work with my son, but losing my temper made the situation a million times worse. What did I expect? My son could not see I was upset or angry and stop and rationalise his fears about school, he was far too agitated himself. So sadly I triggered the wrong response and set myself up for failure: this is what miscuing really is.

I have another personal example I sometimes give clients. My husband used to ‘forget’ to take the bins out every week- a job I struggled with as they are really heavy.  For months I’d nag him to do it and he’d invariably forget and I’d be angry. Nothing changed. I decided to take my own advice and improve our communication. Using sentences starting with “I feel” rather than “you… never take the bins out…” I told him how I felt. I told him the bins were too heavy for me to carry, I invariably dropped rubbish out of them and made a mess and I was often running late as our youngest is struggling with school etc.

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He nodded and said ok. The next day he did it. I acknowledged his effort and thanked him when I got home. He then apologised and said he genuinely used to forget to take the bins out as he leaves very early and didn’t realise how much it would help me if he did it. He’s never forgotten them since. I thought he had heard all the reasons I needed his help and just didn’t care. However, the way I had asked him meant he just couldn’t hear me properly; he just heard my criticism and anger.  So, the saying, “it’s not what you ask, but how you ask”, really resonates with me.

I often hear clients miscuing one another in mediation, especially when the topics they are discussing are very emotive and important to them. And it’s proven that when people separate their emotions can be as powerful as those experienced during a bereavement.  It’s so hard to remain calm and logical; especially if you feel your ex is standing in the way of you seeing your children, or is hurting them or preventing you from moving on.  Miscuing can make you feel you can’t win whatever you say your ex will always hear it wrongly.

However, you can control how you communicate with your ex, and you can also control your response. You can also phrase things in such a way that your ex is more likely to find them acceptable. Always be polite and avoid personal attacks. Try smiling. No, I’m not kidding! One couple told me how awful hand over was at contact time. The wife said the husband scowled and tried to intimidate her.

The husband said the wife hated him so much she wouldn’t look at him and treated him with contempt. I broke the encounters down. I asked what was the first thing they each saw? The wife said she didn’t even look – she knew her ex would be staring at her and trying to make her feel bad. The husband said he saw her looking the other way and it made him angry she didn’t even think he was worth looking at. They were both miscuing one another.

I suggested next time they made eye contact and said ‘Hello’. They needed to let their son know they could be civil. That genuinely was the start of them understanding each other better and being able to co-parent their son. They needed to put themselves in the other person’s shoes and they both persevered because they loved their son. He was so much happier and felt more secure when they were getting along. They realised they each loved their son far more than they disliked one another.

Mediation is not an easy option. It can feel uncomfortable. However, mediation helps improve communication and reduces the frequency of ex-partners misunderstanding one another. It gives children what they need and want the most; parents who can and do put them first.

 

MIAMs and Mediation

Having worked as a family mediator for a good few years now I’m used to asking clients whether they have any knowledge or past experience of mediation.  Most clients don’t have any and don’t know what to expect.

It’s like anything. If you want to buy a car you want to know what you’re buying. A top of the range sports car or a car that gets you safely round town. How do you know what’s going to be the right car for you? You probably need to test drive them.

That is why in family mediation we have an introductory meeting with clients where we explain what mediation involves. The meeting is about an hour-long – called a MIAM which simply means Mediation Intake Assessment Meeting – an opportunity for you to ask us any questions you like. If you are unsure about what to expect from mediation we will talk to you about how mediation works so by the end of the meeting you have a clearer picture. We will also ask you questions – because we want to know what’s going on for you and the issues you face, so we know how best to help you.

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So is it like going to Court?

No, it isn’t like going to Court. There’s no judgment, no evaluation. It’s a meeting usually just with you, to talk through the issues that are affecting you and your family.

The mediator is there to listen to you and may ask you questions about your situation.

The meeting takes much the same format for every client, so you can feel secure in the knowledge that your ex is not being treated differently from you.

Is it like going to a solicitor’s office?

No it’s not. The meeting is at an office but the mediator is there to listen to you and to explain how mediation works. The mediator will consider all the issues you are worried about, and will start to build up a picture of what’s going on between you and your ex.

The mediator’s understanding of your situation and concerns will be crucial if you go on to mediate, enabling them to help you both work through your impasse in a collaborative and practical way, without going to Court.

How much will it cost?

At Focus we have a sliding scale of costs depending on your finances, your income and capital and we offer legal aid at some of our branches.  This can mean mediation is free for you, but in any event it is usually much more affordable than fighting it out in court.

Will someone listen? Yes they will.

We are specialist mediators – it’s all we do. We know what’s important to you and we have the skills and expertise to help. We are all accredited with the Family Mediation Council.

With court costing over £400 just to issue an application, you should ask yourself if you want the stress of going in front of a judge with the added costs of a solicitor and perhaps even a barrister too.  Alternatively do you want to represent yourself?

You might choose either – because there are some cases that are not suitable for mediation. However if you don’t come to the MIAM you won’t know.

No one wants to buy the wrong car – why don’t you give us a call and see if mediation is the right vehicle for you?

No one listening? Then stop shouting, you might get heard

Communication is complex. It is much more than words. Communication comprises a range of related activities, including, speech, facial expression, body language and most importantly of all, the subtext of the total communication package and critically what you do, as actions speak louder than a thousand words.

An example will help. If someone is shouting aggressively and waving their arms, this is likely to induce a panic reaction in the listener. In that state that they experience a rush of adrenaline which suspends their ability to process information and programmes them to fight, flee or freeze, the classic survival response.

 The person shouting has generated the opposite response from that intended. If they had spoken quietly without aggression, the panic response would not have overwhelmed their listener and the meaning of the words could have been satisfactorily conveyed. Literally, you might say ‘If you shout I can’t hear you!’

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‘Gorilla Family Moment’, photo taken by Pascal Walschots

Couples who are separating frequently say they cannot talk, can only communicate by email or text and seem inevitably to fight. Their conflict is so high it breaks out over anything and everything. One of the mediator’s tasks is to break this habit, if only for long enough to help the couple agree their settlement or what to do about their children.

So if you want to be heard and understood, talk quietly and not aggressively, listen thoughtfully to any response – and respond to it respectfully in a co-operative spirit and you might be heard and you might even start to communicate. True, exerting self-control is out of fashion, sometimes it’s even perceived as a weakness by a society which sees ‘chest thumping’ responses as a strength. But such an approach should be rediscovered – as it might be the only way to solve some problems which have remained painfully unresolved. Then you can both move on in a constructive way.