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To Mediate or Not to Mediate: The Question of Power Imbalance, Part II

Rachel Alexander July 26, 2017

{3:42 minutes to read} In Part I of this series, we defined a power imbalance and how to spot it. We discussed two of six integral recommendations in working with it in divorce mediation. This article continues where we left off, exploring the other four.

Third: Slow Down and Pay Attention

In mediation, there must be a slowing down, a carefulness and attention. This is always so, but when the intensity is part of the couple’s history, and emotions can escalate into impulsive, harmful actions, a heightened awareness is needed so that things can be seen before they manifest. I aim to track the clients very closely, listening intently to what is both said and unsaid, attuning to what is happening for them from one moment to the next.

Fourth: It Is Here Anyway

Part of the mediator’s job is to address what is there. I find it helpful to know this: it’s there anyway whether you want to talk about it or not. This is freeing. You are not opening a can of worms when the worms are already squirming about, uncanned. In other words, not talking about something actually doesn’t mean it’s any less there.

Fifth: Creating a Team

Including other professionals mitigates the isolation that is part of the dysfunction. Encouraging more connections and resources helps not only support the couple, but also invites witnesses, which can encourage both parties to act in less regressed, primitive ways. The dynamic, their covert culture, becomes permeated by helping professionals who can gently loosen the party’s’ grip on one another and bring into the light what has bred and grown with the help of darkness. For example, when wanted, the clients will release their therapist(s) to speak with me. Their role may be less substantive and more dynamic – their inclusion in the process helps neutralize and open up a closed system. Their presence of itself changes the molecular structure of the relationship.

Sixth: New Rules

In the first mediation session, we determine the rules that must be in place for the mediation process to continue and for the clients to feel safe, both in and out of sessions, while practicing a new way of relating to one another. This is a big ask, so we keep it simple – maybe just one or two new rules that are vital and clear.

For example: only talk about stuff in mediation, leave it all here, no berating the person afterward; leave it alone; and how to be safely in the same house between sessions.

Anything that arises, you jot down and both agree you will leave it for session.

If something starts feeling unsafe, both parties acknowledge the other’s right to leave the house/place immediately and end the interaction, and there can be no repercussions for exercising this right. Agreeing to this in advance can make it feel less threatening/abandoning when one party physically removes him/herself from a situation.

We’ve addressed power imbalances in mediation, but what happens in litigation? We’ll examine this question in Part III, the final portion of the series.