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Who Ya Gonna Call? The Mediator!

Rachel Alexander Aug. 6, 2020

{6 minutes to read}


Often people get stuck, flailing about for weeks or decades, trying to figure out what sort of intervention they need, all the while captive in an unbearable impasse. Who should these stuck people call?

When a marriage is in crisis, the affected individuals are best advised to seek the help of a professional immediately. As with any emergency, immediacy is key.

Later you can sort out details and modify your course.

If you fall overboard, you can’t throw yourself a life raft. Even if you are double jointed. Nor, while treading water and praying, would you be advised to start drafting a Venn diagram, or engage in complex deliberations regarding optimal flotation devices — (Do you want to take a look at Dick’s Sporting Goods? Their online site is pretty good.  Or are you more of an REI gal?) Helicopter rescue or Coast Guard? How are you fixed for dramamine?

It’s not the time for that.

When a marriage is in trouble, couples tend to think they are tasked not only with determining whether they need help, but also identifying the precise help they need. A divorce attorney? Therapist? Multiple therapists? Priest? Rabbi? Pastor? Psychic? Couples in trouble cannot be sure if they should pursue a divorce, whether there are other reasonable options, or even who can advise them of any of this.

When a foundational relationship is in trouble, it’s logical to act with the same urgency appropriate for any life crisis.

For a first call, a mediator is a safe bet. A mediator is trained to listen and problem solve, not impose her own agenda or a “one-size-fits-all” approach to any situation.

There are two primary reasons why third-party professional help is needed.

First, most individuals do not have the requisite combined legal, psychological and relational experience to competently steer themselves, unassisted, through a serious marital challenge or a divorce.

Second, even those individuals who are exceptionally wise and equipped to manage all the intricate complexities of a matrimonial earthquake, cannot navigate a personal dilemma without help.

When experiencing a significant life stressor, the most appropriate help is from an expert unrelated to the situation.

What does “help” mean to you, now?

While it may seem like people would know the difference between marital malaise and a marital impasse, it is not so easy to self-diagnose. When you are in a trying, frightening place, self-assessment becomes all the more difficult. It would be unkind to expect you to perform a complex self-analysis. Below is a simple guide; a starting place, to help you get a better handle on your current state of affairs. As you read through the questions, answer from whatever arises in you simply and naturally, without too much narration or debate. This is simply a personal exploration. The results can help provide guidance as to next steps.

  1. Are you experiencing pain, be it emotional or psychological? What symptoms are you experiencing, if any? (It might be that you’re anxious; unable to sleep; experiencing a change in appetite, avoiding being home. Have your behaviors changed lately? When and for how long? What are the behavioral modifications accomplishing, if anything? (e.g. staying away from the home avoids spousal confrontations) If you stopped the behavioral modifications, what are you afraid would happen?

  2. On a scale of 1-10 (10 feeling brilliant, 1 rubbish), where are you? Where are you usually, and where does your overall mood fall now? If you are usually around a 7, and now are below a 5, help might be warranted.

  3. Is the current situation something that you can live with for a week, six months, or five years? If nothing were done — no intervention, no help, no change — could you go on like this and be okay? If so, we’re likely not dealing with a crisis. It doesn’t mean help isn’t needed, but it is not a 911 situation.

  4. Are you open to getting some help to make things better, to relieve some of the unhappiness and discomfort? Could you be open to exploring help options, again recognizing that you don’t know exactly what that help might be?

Just reaching out is a step in the right direction.

Just reaching out is a step in the right direction. A competent, experienced mediator, attorney or therapist should be able to have an initial dialogue with you to help you start on some course towards relief. An empathic, thoughtful professional should also be able to offer some suggestions or referrals to other professionals once they understand a bit about your situation. The importance of this step is to get on a track headed in the overall right direction.

Your first call should be for purposes of gathering information and locating a direction forward. Your first action should not be a shot over the bow or any other impulsive, irreversible action with consequences unknown.

If your first call is to a divorce mediator, the mediator will most likely provide an initial phone call. In my practice, there is no charge for that call. Part of that time is focused on exploring what is needed in order to make things better. In fact, part of the first working mediation session includes helping both spouses understand their various options as to how to proceed. Then, together, taking those initial steps forward.