Relationship Problems: Does Mediation Work?

A colleague asked me the other day what made mediation a good idea. I thought you might like to know my answers, so, I’ll capture them here.


When you choose to go to a mediator–whether for a relationship problem at home or at work, you are saying ” THIS MATTERS!”

That is a big step in the right direction. It actually matters little if you decide to go for mediation because you want the problem to end or you want the relationship to end at that moment. Mediation will help you figure that out. That’s what makes my practice different from those attorneys who practice mediation: I have a PhD in psychology that can facilitate the deep conversations that can truly mediate–be an agent for resolving differences that are much more important than settlements, alone.  It’s a wise choice to use a mediator if you want to restore and rekindle your relationship, or you want to end it consciously so that you can co-parent well following a divorce or separation.


Mediation is usually complete within three to six sessions.  Sometimes, all it takes is one. Sessions, though, do tend to run two or three hours in length.  This makes it different than counseling which is a long-term strategy for resolving issues over time. Mediation is a short-term strategy for creating long-term agreements in specific areas of the relationship.  It’s not a long-term commitment to improving the health of the relationship on many levels over time.


Mediation is more focused on how people would like to see things in the future rather than accounts and analyses of past events.  Although our present behavior is predicated upon our past, mediation is focused on the specifics of the current issue being mediated. A counselor’s role is different than a mediator’s in this regard: the mediator is not focused on the origins and patterns of behavior that have lead to the current relationship problems. The mediator works with what is to create an agreement both parties can live with in the long-term.


Mediators are trained to be neutral, to view each participant in the mediation as they are at the minute and to take no sides.   This is a major difference for the counseling or therapeutic interaction where the focus is on moving towards health for all concerned, including the relationship.  The mediator controls the process but cannot influence outcomes, except that factual information such as laws that the mediator may provide may, in fact, influence outcomes.  It is NOT the mediator who influences, just the facts.


Mediation occurs between two parties. Sometimes, initially, the two parties are willing to negotiate and do so through a mediator, however, they are not ready to sit in the same room. This involves a process knows an “shuttle diplomacy” or “shuttle mediation” where the mediator goes between the parties until they are able or willing to talk directly with the mediator together. This is obviously different from counseling where one person in a relationship can seek counseling without the other ever intending to appear.  I have, however, worked with only one divorcing party to coach that person on how to proceed to get the best settlement for themselves when the other party was disinterested in or hostile to mediation.  That, to me, is coaching for divorce, not mediation. Mediation only occurs when there are two people with two points of view present.

It helped me to clarify the differences between mediation and counseling for my colleague when approaching relationships problems.  I hope it is useful to you, as well.  After twenty-five+ years as a professional mediator, I know mediation works.  If you have a relationship problem that you both want to solve, whether it is at home or at work, choose mediation.




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