Mediating Towards Forgiveness & Family Reconciliation in Divorce
Select Issues in Dispute Resolution: Apology & Forgiveness
Abstract: This paper examines the importance of forgiveness and the rebuilding of trust in the reconciliation of the family during and after a divorce, and contemplates the mediator’s role in leading the parties in this direction.
“Like the bond between a mother and an infant, a married couple commonly forms and maintains a shared exclusive mental-emotional space. But unlike a mother and an infant, the parties in a marriage are both mutually dependent on each other. “Partners are mutually influenceable and psycho–neuro–biologically connected with powerful but invisible bilateral “projections” that thicken over time. In this way, they begin to hardwire together.”
This unique relationship is what causes the level of difficulty in mediating divorce cases. Unlike parties in other disputes, couples have been actually psycho-neuro-biologically hardwired together. For the “non-initiator” party in the divorce, forcefully pulling apart this hardwiring quite literally feels like someone is tearing apart their insides. The pain of this is so visceral that it is inevitable that many are swallowed up by it; unable to let go of the anger it creates and go forward with their life. In addition, when someone is betrayed by a partner who is literally hardwired to them, the betrayal is so deep that the idea of trusting that person again can seem unthinkable. Even though these feelings are natural and even more understandable considering the invisible neurological hardwiring, they prevent parties who are parents from reconciling their parenting relationship and adjusting to their new family system.
A divorce mediator has been asked into this extremely intimate emotional space the couple shares. A place where it is likely that no one else, except perhaps a therapist has been invited. A place where the couple is raw, fragile and completely exposed. A mediator with integrity honors the responsibility of their role and the great opportunity it presents to help the couple shape how they approach conflict going forward. While mediation provides a safe place for a couple to reconcile their marriage if at all possible, once they walk through the mediator’s door, their marriage relationship is often irreconcilable. However, if the couple has children, there is still a family. Perhaps a very different type of family than the parties had envisioned, but still a family nonetheless. Even though there may not be a reconciliation of the marriage, there still desperately needs to be a “reconciliation of the family”.
Some couples present with this reconciliation already complete. They can separate the parenting from the romantic relationship. They may even come to the mediation session with a parenting plan in place. Unfortunately, many others are stuck in their anger and cannot see past it to recognize that they are only hurting themselves and damaging their children. If this anger and distrust is not dealt with through some type of forgiveness and reconciliation of the parenting relationship, the couple will continue to struggle with conflict for years to come.
A mediator with integrity in their role as a conflict manager understands the need to prevent this future conflict and does not simply look for settlement of finances and schedules, but also looks for ways to mediate the parties towards reconciliation of their parenting and family relationship through both forgiveness and a regaining of trust where it has been lost.