As Family Mediators, we are often seeing you at one of the most stressful times of your life. Maybe you are still reeling for the shock of a recent separation. Or, after getting along well with an ex, something changes and conflict erupts.
Along with the pain and distress of conflict, family separation brings other major stressors in its wake. Housing and financial problems are common. Not only are you dealing with your own distress, your kids are distraught too and acting out in all sorts of different ways.
In the knowledge that many of the people we see are stressed or depressed, our processes are built to take account of your needs at this vulnerable time.
Life coach, Liz Makin, identifies 9 strategies for successful stress management.
Be well prepared
“…it is a good idea to have a contingency plan for unexpected events … In your personal life you can also think about how you will handle stressful and difficult situations and be prepared for such events”.
The Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting is a safe, confidential and relaxed setting in which to consider all your options for resolving the family dispute. You will have unhurried time to think in a structured way about processes and possible solutions; what you would like to happen and what is possible.
If you decide to come into mediation, we send out documents in advance to prepare you for the session and, in property and finance mediation, to gather the information you need in a clear and orderly way.
You may have lots of questions, or you may find that your mind is just numb and blank. We know that stress affects thinking and memory. This is why we go at your pace and we are happy to go through things as many times as you need.
Look after yourself
“If you are in good mental and physical shape you will be more able to handle a stressful situation, so it is important to look after yourself on an on-going basis, including achieving a good work/life balance, building in relaxation, having fun, eating healthily, exercising and not getting yourself too tired”
Looking after ourselves is something that not many of us are very good at. And it’s even harder to look after yourself at times of crisis when you are feeling low and out of control and there are so many demands being made of you.
As mediators, it is an important part of our job to ensure you feel as safe and comfortable as possible. Our processes are structured to take the best care of you that we can. At the individual Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, we will talk to you about any particular needs that you have and how we can accommodate them. We will help you to identify any support that you need and signpost you to relevant services to strengthen you at this difficult time.
Calm yourself down
“When you first hear about a stressful event or situation it is easy to panic and get very stressed. Calm yourself down by slowing down your breathing and thinking about how you have overcome similar situations in the past. It may help to move into a different space so you can think things through.”
For some people, it’s a terrifying prospect to sit face to face with their ex-partner. Being well prepared via the individual meeting really does help. And our processes within mediation are carefully considered to help you feel calm and in control. For example, we arrange separate arrival times so that you will not come into contact with your ex in the waiting room.
You will be with a mediator at all times. Just having a third party there does tend to automatically bring some calm and focus and we are skillful at managing conflict. We build in breaks as needed during the mediation session; this might be because you need some thinking time, are upset and want to gather yourself or you just want a smoke!
And remember; mediation remains voluntary throughout. Of course we will do our very best to support you to go the distance but the bottom line is that you can stop it any time you want to. Between sessions, you will have plenty of time to think. In property and finance mediation you will have clear action plans. As mediation is legally privileged, you can experiment with ideas and options; they can’t come back to bite you in any legal proceedings if you alter your view after reflection.
“When you think positively, you will feel in control and confident. Visualize a positive outcome to the stressful situation and focus on past successes and hurdles that you have overcome”.
Mediation is solution-focused. We ensure that all the relevant information has been shared and understood before you start to make decisions. We encourage you to take targeted advice alongside mediation where needed, for example, from a solicitor or financial adviser.
One of the most rewarding parts of being a mediator is witnessing how creative and cooperative separated partners can be in coming up with solutions. Our role is to put you back in control and provide the structure for you to make well considered decisions that are fair and that you both feel OK about; not to take part in decision making.
Put things in perspective
“When faced with a stressful situation, other people may panic and you may be given inaccurate information or the severity of the situation may be exaggerated. Therefore, find out as much information as possible about the situation so you can understand what is actually happening. Also put the situation into context against…your life as a whole”.
As mediators, we are often meeting you at a time when you are both in crisis. Perhaps broken hearted, fearful of what the future holds, or facing financial and housing problems. Communication often suffers, and in the face of this, people become misinformed or misunderstand each other. Often those around you who love you get involved and take sides and the whole situation starts to escalate and feel out of control.
By carefully establishing key facts, summarising the situation, ensuring common understanding and providing a safe place to consider a range of options, we help you to make sound decisions that take account of the needs of all your family members and keep things in perspective.
Trust your knowledge, experience and intuition
“When dealing with a stressful situation you can panic and forget to utilise all the knowledge and experience you already have. Remind yourself of the resources you have and trust your knowledge, experience and intuition to help you handle the stressful situation”.
No-one knows your situation better than you. What we are aiming to do in mediation is to capitalise on all your expertise and knowledge. We know that ex-partners are ‘the world’s experts’ at pushing each other’s buttons. You will both have vulnerabilities but you will both also have strengths that can be capitalised upon. We help you to think through your communications with each other; what helps and what is making it worse? Have you been able to successfully resolve past conflicts? What worked? How did you do it?
You know your children better than anyone. We aim to help you to disentangle the needs of you the adults from the needs of your children and to think of each other first and foremost as parents. How are the children coping? What do each of you need to do to help them through?
Make a plan
“It is easy to rush straight into taking action but it is critical to first of all make a plan of what you need to do. This will not only help you to ensure that you have covered all angles but will also give you something to refer to as you go along”.
Mediation will move at your pace. Normally you will need 2 sessions to resolve disputes about arrangements for children and 3 to 5 sessions for property and finance disputes, or when you need to consider issues relating both to children and to financial matters.
The approach is structured and moves in a logical and planned progression to a mutually acceptable outcome, with thinking time in between sessions. In property and finance mediation, you will devise clear action plans that enable you to make headway between the sessions, and these are provided to you in writing. At the end of the process we provide a detailed factual record of your finances (the Open Financial Statement) and a detailed record of your decisions; what you have decided, why, and how you will achieve it (the Memorandum of Understanding).
In children mediation, you will come up with ideas and then have the chance to trouble-shoot the ideas in the session for any practical barriers. You will also have the chance to test out arrangements between sessions if this is right for you and your kids. Older children can be consulted by the mediator if this is what they want and you both think it would help. Generally however, parents will come up with a plan of how they themselves can consult their children about their wishes and feelings. Again, you will receive a written record of any arrangements that you are going to test and a further opportunity to talk through how it went and to refine the arrangements. At the end of the process you will receive a Parenting Plan recording your final decisions.
“People can get very indecisive when faced with these types of situations, which will be very unhelpful. It is therefore critical to be decisive and take decisions in a considered but timely fashion”.
Faced with so many changes and at time of trauma, it’s natural to become overwhelmed and find it hard to make decisions. You are facing all of this for the first time and may not even know what is possible, let alone what you can do…so how can you make decisions?
In mediation, our starting point is to establish the key facts. We then move on to help you to develop options i.e. what you would each ideally like to happen and whether this is possible. As you explore your options, you will usually find that you need more information. Can you get a mortgage in your sole name? Can you alter your shifts to look after the kids on a Friday? Are the options fair to you both and will they meet your future needs and the needs of your children? Have you checked your state benefit entitlement and maximised your income?
By reality testing the options you have developed, they begin to narrow and you move towards the point where you are left with a manageable selection of achievable options. By approaching decision making in a staged way, it is broken down into ‘bite-sized chunks’ and you will begin to feel that you can now make decisions.
“Taking action in itself will calm you and other people down. So once you have your plan, start to take action to resolve the situation”.
As you start to move through the actions you have identified, you will at last begin to feel less frozen. Things will start to move forward and you will develop a sense of achievement, control and hope for the future. As mediation is founded on fairness and is intended to obtain the best outcomes for both of you in all of the circumstances, you will feel that you have made honourable decisions and that your own needs and the needs of your children have been respected.
Mediation is an excellent option for most separating couples. It is cheaper, quicker and less stressful than court proceedings and puts you back in control of the decision making.
Family separation can be one of the most stressful times of your life but family mediation can help ease that stress for you. For more information about the mediation process please visit our information page. Or if you have any questions please email us or call us on 01670 528441.