It is often unrealistic to expect patience from the couple. They may walk into the room angry, depressed, afraid, wanting to “get this thing over with,” or even seeking reconciliation. Or one side does. At a minimum, the parties have been unable to resolve whatever conflict caused the need for mediation in the first place. They have already spent time and money, much emotional energy, and experienced no shortage of aggravation.
There are many emotions present during any divorce mediation – all justified. Time does not necessarily heal all wounds, but in mediation especially, time can serve as a friend. There is rarely an ah-ha moment, when everyone suddenly agrees what’s the best for all. In fact, if that does happen, it’s often a red flag that some more probing is needed. Acceding too fast often means a party is unwilling to face issues now that will inevitably pop up later.
Over time, however, agreements usually are reached, and a successful mediation is one that continues to work after an agreement is signed, which avoids contested issues down the road that could have been addressed and resolved earlier. Sometimes a mediator may feel as if time must be conserved, and that reaching an agreement as quickly as possible is to everyone’s benefit. This can stem from the parties’ feelings, often expressed, that they want a conclusion. But the mediator’s ongoing responsibility is to probe when difficulties arise. The best solutions often come after people have had time to mull over what they said or what they were told.
Now there is a flipside to all this, which is that one can be too patient. Decisions in fact must be made, but often couples (or one of them), resist making them. Even when couples fundamentally agree, these are painful decisions. The mediator needs to be careful to give the couples time, but not allow them to get overwhelmed by the fear of making any decision. Here too, additional probing may be what’s required. Occasionally a referral to a therapist may help.
Each couple is different. Mediators should not just keep notes of the meeting, but review them with an eye toward determining whether the pace of the mediation seems appropriate for this particular couple.
For the couple, this approach can also help. Write some notes after a meeting, review them, set them aside for a day or two, and then go back to them. Things will jump out – where progress has or has not been made, what particular issues remain to be resolved or are progressing toward a resolution. This process can, in fact, lead to some “ah-ha” moments of new clarity.
In a divorce mediation, the mediator must balance being patient with being too patient, and assist the couple to do the same. This will allow emotions to settle and ideas to emerge, and help the parties resolve the difficult matters that all divorcing couples face. This will create the foundation for a resolution that will meet the couple’s, and their family’s needs well into the future.