Mary and Steve’s* marriage had broken down. Unsurprisingly, their lives were in quite a mess. They wanted to find a way out of that mess that didn’t destroy what remained of their relationship. They chose to give mediation a try.
It’s good to talk
“So, you thought it was a good idea to spend that money on a meal with your PA? And you forgot about your son’s doctor’s appointment! If that’s what you think is important, no wonder Jack doesn’t want to spend any time with you!”
“If you weren’t so bitchy all the time, then I would have spent that money and time on him. You stress me out. You’ve turned him against me, it’s your fault! Just think on that, won’t you?”
I asked Steve and Mary if they’d had this conversation before. They told me they had, many times.
“Has it helped at all?” I enquired. No, they said, but it was a conversation they said they needed to have.
“She needs to understand that when she goes on at me like that, I shut down and she just makes me madder.”
Mary gave him “the look” again. The room had got so frosty, I looked out the window to see if was snowing. “If you would just show me some respect and listen to me, then you would see that what I want from you makes sense. Jack doesn’t want to spend time with you. If you keep on behaving like that, then there’s nothing I can do to persuade him to see you.”
Hmm, I mused aloud, it may be that you need to find a different way of talking to each other about this. Do you want to give it a try? It works like this, I said.
“Mary, shall we begin with you? Can you say what you were observing without any judgment or evaluation of Steve?”
Mary thought for a moment. “How about: You went for a meal with your PA at the time when your son had a doctor’s appointment.” Yup, I confirmed, that’s what you observed.
Steve, I asked, do you feel the need to justify yourself having heard that? Steve said he wanted to explain, but he didn’t feel the need to justify what he had done.
Next it was for Mary to state what she felt about it. “I felt hurt and betrayed by you because I had promised Jack you’d be there.” What do you need Steve to do in future? I asked. Mary was quiet for a moment as she thought it through. “Would you be willing to exchange texts with me so we both know what we’re doing going forward with Jack’s treatment?”
Steve replied that he now understood why Mary had been upset. He had thought she was jealous of him going out for a meal with his PA and had been preparing his reply to that attack. “I’m so sorry, I got that wrong. Of course we can exchange texts, that would really make me feel better about what we’re going to do together about his treatment. I want Jack to know he can rely on me.”
Mary was astonished, but pleased at Steve’s apology. Getting on for a year’s arguing about this had got Mary nowhere, and now Steve was apologising and looking to make matters better.
Hmm, I pondered to the room in general, an apology? Steve was quick on the uptake. “It’s because it wasn’t about her being right and me being wrong. It was about Jack. Yes, she was upset and I understand that. I’d be upset if I’d promised that Mary would do something and then she hadn’t. But she didn’t say it was my fault she was upset. That really surprised me. I was ready to give her what for. But she didn’t blame me, even though she could have. It gave me space to think what was the right thing to do by Jack.”
I explained again that there is little if any point in going over old ground. Far better to get to the point without apportioning blame or offering justification.
In the next mediation blog we’ll look at how Mary and Steve got to grips with their parenting wishes for toddler Billy.
In case you missed the earlier instalments of our mediation blog, click here.
*All names are fictitious and are used for illustrative purposes only.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice, and the law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice on their own particular circumstances.