Many people ask the question, “How is a marital mediation different from a marital counseling?” and “Can a marital mediator help us if we were unable to be helped by marital therapy?” Yes, there is a distinct difference between marital counseling (or marriage therapy) and marital mediation. And yes, couples are often helped by marital mediation when marital counseling has failed to help them.
Marital counseling is performed by a range of professionals, mostly with training and background in mental health areas, such as social work and psychology. Marital counseling generally incorporates diagnosis, therapy and treatment of personality and relationship problems. The types of information gathered and used by a marital counselor might include family history, and personal and sexual history. Marital counselors are able to identify neurotic behavior and symptoms of mental disorder and illness, and can use that data in the counseling. A marital counselor will aim to use analytic skills to provide context for parties and help them understand their behaviors, thereby alleviating marital conflict.
The approach of marital mediation is different. Mediation is dispute resolution. Marriages are filled with disputes, big and small. When a couple has an unproductive manner of arguing and settling differences, the marriage suffers. If this problem is intractable and pervasive, the marriage can fail. The amazing thing is that it is often the tiny, petty, little annoyances in a marriage that take the greatest toll on married couples and can lead to divorce. These are easily identified and resolved by mediation techniques.
The marital mediator works with a couple to help them resolve ongoing specific disputes and negative recurring interactions. The emphasis is on analyzing the communication of the couple and training them to have more productive styles of negotiation. The marital mediator can notice disconnects and misunderstandings between the couple, even a couple who have been in a marriage of many years. These misunderstandings can be evident in the first half hour of a marital mediation session.
In addition, the marital mediator can work with specific financial issues in a very direct way, such as business issues, and financial planning issues that need to be resolved. This is because most marital mediators are divorce mediators, who are experienced in financial issues. These financial issues, if not resolved, can lead to divorce.
Also, if a couple choses a marital mediator who is also a divorce mediator, the marital mediator can give a disputing couple an education on what divorce (under the facts of their relationship) would look like. Because that mediator is experienced in divorce, he or she can do a type of reverse engineering, and quickly identify patterns that, if not corrected, will lead to divorce.
Another important feature of marital mediation is “normalization”. Instead of feeling like you are impaired, neurotic, and damaged by your family and personal history, the mediator stays in the present. Marital mediators can tell you if your problems are “normal” for married couples. The amazing this, is that usually they are. You may leave your marriage if you think you have unusual problems, but if your problems are the garden variety kind every married couple has, then you can resolve them and stay married.
Marital mediation is goal and task oriented, time limited and practical. Often marital mediation is conducted at the same time a couple goes to couples counseling. These approaches can work very well together. Marital mediation is also helpful if one or the other of a couple is resistant to seeing a therapist. Some couples prefer to work with marriage counselors; some prefer to work with marital mediators; and some with both.
Sometimes marital mediation is successful for couples who have “failed” marriage counseling. (The opposite is also true at times.) The important point is that there are resources available for people that wish to pursue and improve their marriages that can be very effective for people. Just because marital counseling didn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean that your marriage is necessarily over.