I was recently watching an episode of Pregnant in Heels on Bravo starring Rosie Pope, maternity concierge to the wealthy. I was pleasantly surprised to see mediation used to help a couple resolve a significant issue which was causing stress in the relationship. Both parties were entrenched in their positions and you could see the turmoil both people were suffering and you could see their inability to come out of their positions. Astutely, Rosie sought out a relationship expert who used mediative strategies to assist the couple and help them see outside of themselves, focus on the child and his/her needs, and focus on solving this issue – not anything bigger than that. As a result, the couple was able to agree on a compromise they clearly would have never thought about on their own and that agreement bonded them and clearly empowered them in terms of knowing their ability to work through tough situations.
In this situation, the father was jewish and the mother was catholic. The mother wanted the child baptized and raised catholic and the father wanted the child to be exposed to the jewish faith as well. As they discussed their faiths the mother became more adamant that the child had to be catholic, period, and because the mother would not entertain any notion of the child sharing two religions, the father began making statements that he would not participate at all in the baptism nor would he set foot in the church. The conversation began to spiral into control issues. When asked by the expert whether the mother would mind if the father did not attend the baptism, she said she would not. This hurt the father and he shared that fact and, to his credit, did not let anger get the best of him at that point. He owned the fact that he was hurt by that and appeared surprised that his wife would be fine excluding him.
Here is where the magic happened. The expert then asked the father what baby ceremony is important to him in the jewish faith. He talked about a baby-naming ceremony that happens in a family setting. The expert asked if the mother would be willing to have a baby naming ceremony and the mother responded enthusiastically, that she would have one right after the baptism, on the same day, at the house. When the father began to smile, the mother suggested a big party for the baby naming ceremony. You could see the father’s joy and you knew that finally he was feeling like he mattered. They were both smiling and hugging at this point and the father pointed out that he never would have thought of doing both ceremonies on his own.
The beauty of this mediated solution was that first and foremost, it solved the problem by showing what was important. The father does not mind if the baby is baptized, but what he did want is respect for who he is and what he brings to the marriage – which in this case, is his jewish culture. He wants to know that his wife respects that part of him and is willing to share that with the baby. By agreeing the baby naming ceremony, the mother received what she needed, which was to have the child baptized into the catholic faith and she gave the father what he needed, which was the passing on of a ceremony important in his faith but at the same time non-threatening to hers. Voila!
In my mind, the issue of differing faiths is not over for this family. They will meet over this issue again as the child grows whether it is at First Communion, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah or some other important event respective to the individual faiths. However, what this process did for them which was so important was give this couple a positive platform from which to continue this conversation. They now know what is important to the other and they can work from there. They also know that if they find themselves entrenched again, they can call a third party and because the experience was positive once, they can feel good in knowing it can be positive again. Their reflex responses have changed. They have a good mechanism now to use if they face an issue they cannot solve again.
This is the crux of relationship mediation. It solves issues immediately in a positive way which gives couples a good experience on which to draw in order to solve other issues or more complexities of the same issue. The process is solution-oriented and moves one step at a time. It is not a process designed to cut through years of a behavior and figure out why a certain behavior is happening. Instead, it takes an issue causing stress, and seeks to work with the couple to help them quickly find a solution Once that solution is reached, the couple gains confidence, believes in one another which reinforces their love and learns that communication with the help of an independent third party can move them forward in a positive process.