by Kathey Batey
I entered the conference room of Erin, one of participants of the divorce mediation where I was the mediator. Per usual, I was ready to hear stories, pain and what she wanted to settle in this divorce mediation. At the point of mediation, the marriage has become a business decision, emotions are still raw, the injustices, the pain still evident, but the truth is, their marriage had come down to a business transaction and the welfare of the children. We must uncouple the couple and divide their life into two piles. If it sounds crude, it is. But it is better than the alternative, which is fighting in the courts, paying thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs and giving the authority of your life over to a judge. Mediation allows couples to settle their matters outside of the court. We can settle the entire divorce, parenting time, assets, debts and personal property or any of these independently. And with many I mediate for, it is dividing up substantial marital debt. Sometimes we can settle a Partial Agreement, where some aspects of the marital divisions are agreed upon and the remaining unresolved issues go to court.
In my initial conversation with Erin, between her nervousness and her pain, a truth slipped out of her lips. “I really don’t want a divorce.” I responded, “I see that you were the one to file, do you believe your husband wants the divorce?” Not a definitive answer, so, I figured it must be the husband’s decision. I finished up this briefing and then stepped out of Erin’s room with her lawyer and into her husband Mark’s room where he sat with his lawyer. As the conversation went on with Mark, it happened again, that a truth slipped out from Mark, “I want the marriage, just don’t want to live as roommates” There it was again, a glimmer of hope that came amidst all the darkness of pain, betrayal and demanding decisions.
I commented to Mark, “You know there is something called Stay Married Mediation, where couples work together to create a contract to try and save the marriage. Would this be a possibility with you and Erin? There was no resistance. He was intrigued by the idea.
When the couple entered the mediation room and were seated across the table from each other. I asked the question, “Would you consider releasing your lawyers and the two of you having a mediation that could possibly save your marriage, before we work on your divorce? You would always have the option to continue the divorce afterward if the Stay Married Mediation doesn’t work. Your court date is a ways off and there is time to try a mediation agreement and see if it could possibly work to save your marri
age.” They both agreed, we excused the lawyers in the room and got to work.
After listening to the couple begin, and seeing the issues in the breakdown of their marriage, I drew a circle on the whiteboard. This is what a marriage is, it is a sacred circle that no one should enter except you two exclusively. “But Mark, by your telling your personal business and talking about Erin to your family and others, you’ve broken that circle (I erased part of the circle) and allowed people into that sacred circle, where they have no business being. Because you’ve broken the circle, Erin feels violated, unprotected and feels she needs to defend herself, because you don’t defend or protect her.”
But Mark wasn’t the only reason for the breakdown of the marriage. Erin too contributed. Mark came from a family that shared everything, that is how they connected, how they “familied”. But Erin didn’t come from that culture, she came from a family that was extremely private of their personal issues and she never knew of problems in her parents marriage. The family cultures were so different and in their four years of marriage, they did not understand those differences.
Now it was Marks turn to speak. Mark explained every time he mentioned something which bothered him, Erin went into a desperate response of her reasons for her action, totally trampling over any acknowledgment of Mark’s pain. She went into instant defense mode, explaining her motivation and rationalized everything she did. She had to prove herself so when Mark told his family and they turned on Erin she could defend herself.
“Erin, You’re not hearing Mark and he needs to be acknowledged, he needs to be part of this sacred circle, he needs to be heard and he doesn’t feel heard or that he has value to you. They had both unintentionally hurt each other greatly and neither knew how to stop it or change it. I drew two independent circles, that was how they were living. Erin made plans on her own, in fact her brother had just showed up for week long stay which Mark knew nothing about until he opened the bedroom door yesterday morning to find him there. They used “I” continually, never used “we”.
After many hours, we made the Agreement to include: 1) Using the term “we”, 2) Added date night requirements, 3) Boundaries on family and friends 4) the couple shutting down any inquires about their personal life 5) Communication about plans before they happened and ways to discuss events or the day after they happened.
The agreement gave them specific steps to honor each other through filtering everything through the questions, “Is this honoring to my spouse and is there a need for anyone to know this or am I breaking the sacred circle of our marriage”. The agreement was signed, a follow up date was scheduled to check in on how this agreement is being upheld and accountability for their actions and decisions.
It is a beautiful thing to redeem something instead of burying it. Marriages can be saved and divorce even at the eleventh hour can be spared. But I can only work with those who are willing, Mark and Erin were willing.
The evaluations from Mark and Erin were very positive, stating they made more headway in these three hours than the past two months of marriage counseling. This was God working in a couple who are not even spiritual, yet. Yet, I know Christ is drawing them closer and this mediation is totally of God. I have faith as I continue to meet with them, they will find the peacemaker truly is Christ.
As Erin wrote on her evaluation, “Before I felt hopeless, now, I am so hopeful.”
This priceless opportunity to assist in saving a marriage fills me with gratitude. Instead of dealing with the carnage of the demise of the marriage, the two willing parties needed hope and direction and they wanted to make this marriage work. The walls they had put up were simply too overwhelmingly tall and they could not see their way out.
Mediation is working in the sacred sphere. This couple needed someone to be direct. There is nothing more godly than redeeming what is sacred. What are you saving that is sacred in your own life and the lives of others? We seek purpose in our lives, we seek to be used of God in great ways. Then guard the sacred with all of your might. In this day when evil abounds and evil is called good or “choices”, it is a day to stand in truth and guard the sacred well.
Kathey Batey, founder of Divorce Support Anonymous and author of the Suddenly Single book series published by DavidC.Cook. She is a divorce coach and corporate trainer in conflict communication. www.DivorceSupportAnonymous.com or www.Spiritedpresentations.com