THE BLOG

Could Transformative Mediation Help Your Marriage?

03/21/2011 05:40 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

As a divorce lawyer and divorce mediator, my divorce clients describe problems that led to the failure of their marriages. These problems seem to be universal. There might be anger and frustration about sharing household duties and creating income for the family that finally caused a breakdown. Some marital failures were a result of concrete problems relating to livelihoods and financial security. Other couples report problems associated with lack of time, diverging interests, in-laws, difficulty with children. Whatever the problems are, at the end of a marriage the spouses no longer want to live with each other.

We take our divorcing clients' problems seriously and respectfully. But when asked, most divorce lawyers and divorce mediators will tell you the same thing: In most cases, if their divorce clients had addressed their problems a year or two earlier with the proper help, their problems could have been resolved.

This vision has motivated many of us divorce attorneys and divorce mediators to begin working in the area of "marital mediation," in which we use mediation as a way to help married people improve their marriages and avoid divorce.

How can mediation help a marriage?

Here is a pattern that we often see divorcing clients complain about. The husband may be the primary bread-winner. The wife complains that he spends too much time outside the home and doesn't adequately participate in home life and with the children. The husband is under a lot of stress at work and is exhausted when he returns home. The wife is exhausted with child and home care, and may also be working outside of the home.

When people think of mediation, they think of "traditional" mediation. In this type of mediation, the mediator focuses on helping people come to an acceptable agreement, usually written. It is a solution-oriented process. The mediator focuses on resolvable issues where agreement can be reached. It is the type of mediation often used in workplaces and with divorcing couples. Because it is results-focused, the roots of the problem are not addressed. When used for divorce mediation, this can be appropriate because the couple has decided to end their marriage, and not deal with the reasons for the breakdown.

Another type of mediation is "transformative" mediation, which can be very helpful in ongoing marriages. Transformative mediation does not necessarily seek to resolve an immediate problem. It is a free-form process that does not immediately narrow its focus to try to seek solutions or agreements.

The transformative marital mediator helps guide the clients to talk and think deeply about issues that are troubling them about their marriage. These are often issues that the spouses cannot meaningfully talk about themselves because they are emotional issues. Talking about them always seems to be a replay of anger, and nothing seems to improve.

When spouses discuss difficult issues in front of a third-party neutral mediator, things are different. Just by having a third party present and listening, the parties are better able to express themselves without interruption and without argument. The mediator can guide the discussion to keep it respectful, open and on track. This process can help the clients clarify the nature of their problems and better understand and respect the views of their spouse. With understanding, a range of options for minimizing conflict becomes more apparent.

The mediator does not provide counseling or give advice, but the mediator does view the exchange and give feedback. This by itself is very helpful. The mediation can help eliminate patterns of conflict, reduce negative thoughts and reframe interpretations about motive.

The mediator can give the party feedback to their communications and whether there is miscommunication and lack of understanding. Part of the work of the mediator is to identify the underlying issues in the conflict or discussion. These may be issues that are not recognized by the spouses themselves, even in a long-term marriage. Having a third party identify issues makes it acceptable for the spouses to openly discuss the issues. The mediator can lead the spouses in a productive discussion and how it may relate to their marital conflict.

Transformative marital mediation can be seen as a place for full discussion, active listening, being receptive to the other party's point of view, and being heard, understood and acknowledged. When marriages do not work out, it is generally lack of acknowledgement and understanding between the parties that is the core of the failure. With an increased understanding from transformative mediation, spouses can begin to solve their problems, reduce their conflict and have a happier marriage.

If you would like to locate a marital mediator in your area, search "marital mediation" and your city or state, and you will find mediators who work in this area of practice near you.

© Copyright 2011 Laurie Israel.