While every couple’s circumstances is unique, after many years of helping couples in distress, I have noticed that some situations have a lot in common. The one I want to discuss here is when a couple decide to break up because they just don’t know what else to do.
Very often the couple feel that they have exhausted every possibility (and themselves) trying to patch things up; advice from family and friends didn’t work, shouting didn’t work, being silent didn’t work, being nice didn’t work, counselling didn’t work, nothing worked. In fact it just got worse until the sense of hopelessness took over and one partner or both partners gave up. Sometimes contempt sets in and then it really does feel finished.
I see many couples in that position. They get recommended to me as a mediator and they start off by telling me they have come to see a mediator because they want to break up. What’s amazing is that when I really dig deep I find that some couples don’t want to break up at all but they have no possible idea of how to stay together.
What’s even more amazing is that if a couple present as not being sure if they want to break up, a ‘family mediator’ who is only trained in mainstream family mediation is then supposed to send them off to counselling since family mediation training is all about break up, separation and divorce and has no components for reconciliation.
Luckily, I developed a model of mediation based on a communications process I developed called the Dialogue Road Map which has been tried and tested in difficult and violent situations so I have tools and a track record to help a couple find their way back to coupledom if that’s what they really want. It requires the partners to really examine themselves and to create a new framework for the relationship but for those that want to stay together, it’s a lot better than breaking up a family and a home and everything that goes with it.
So, having worked with several couples and helped them put their relationships back together even though they came to me asking for help with a break up, I decided to distil the elements and bottle it. So, we have created Rescue Your Relationship, a short course and private session for couples that want to try and make it work.
Our next dates are 8th and 9th November in London and I’m trying to let people know this possibility exists because we all know at least one family who could do with this type of help.
There used to be a TV ad for an insurance company and the headline was ‘we won’t make a drama out of a crisis’. It’s a really good headline and it reminds me of what families often do.
Many families have the same old argument over and over again. The situation may be different, for example it could be about who’s hosting Christmas Day or what time a teenager should be home, but the arguments follow the same pattern as everyone in the family adopts a specific role in the family drama.
The roles vary but generally there will be one person who is ‘the problem’. This person is seen as the trouble maker, the one who won’t comply. The person in this role will complain that the rest of the family gangs up on them, dismisses them, pities them or treats them as incompetent.
This person may or may not have a sympathiser; someone who defends or rescues them but this has the same effect of keeping them in the role of the ‘lesser’ one.
So the ‘lesser’ one becomes more vociferous in their attempts to be heard and valued and this increase in volume is thrown back as yet another example of their ‘bad’ behaviour. And yet as soon as that person grows, changes or learns, the family work really hard to keep them in role. After all, no one else wants to be demoted to that position if it becomes vacant.
The sad thing is that this person is usually trying to get the family to change something but is using the worst methods to effect that change.
A crucial part to changing this family dynamic is getting the family members to acknowledge that a dynamic exists. That’s where dialogue comes in.
If you want something to change in your family dynamic you need to address the core and not the situation otherwise the family will continue to dramatise its crises.
Divorce and Separation are commonplace in these times. Many children will see their parents break up. How the children experience this is very much related to how the parents conduct themselves.
In any event the children will be on the receiving end of changes that they would not choose for themselves. Whether that is seeing less of one parent or moving home most children will experience some reduction in circumstances. Even the most considerate of parents will need to make some room for the children’s grieving of loss.
Add to that conflict and disputes and children can experience feelings of guilt, sadness, hurt, anger and abandonment. These feelings, if left unattended will manifest as emotional and behavioural problems such as nightmares, distancing, clinginess or hostility.
Where one or both parents are busy coping with their own feelings it is all too easy to expect compliance from a child who actually needs support. Worse still is where either parent treats the child as a therapist by sharing too much of their emotional difficulties or expects empathy from a child whose circumstances have just changed for the worse as a result of the parents actions.
As difficult as it may be, if both parents expect to maintain contact with their children then it is not a break up. It is a transition from couple to co-parents.
So a change in attitude is needed. Where children are involved there are two key questions to address as a priority:
How do we transition this coupledom into a co-parenting relationship?
What model of conflict resolution do we want our children to experience?
These two questions require skilful facilitation and are worth investing in by using an experienced professional because the less attention you pay to these questions the more it will cost you down the line as your children get older and form their own opinions about what has been visited on them.
In my work as a couple’s mediator and counsellor, there are many recurring themes in relationship breakdown. Here are some of the main reasons couples find themselves in crisis.
One or both of the couple hides something from the other. The most usual form of deceit is an affair
One or both of the couple does something without consulting the other.
One or both of the couple knowingly tells an untruth to their partner when confronted or asked
One or both of the couple fail to give attention to the other and the relationship
One or both of the couple react aggressively to challenges in life and in the relationship
All of these are strategies which undermine a relationship and reduce trust. They usually emerge out of poor communication and a failure to make realistic agreements within the relationship. Once any of the above is taking place it is usually one person’s tragic way of seeking redress to an earlier problem that has not been addressed.
Repairing the relationship takes time for healing and trust building and is possible with skilled help.
Domination Culture is a term used to describe the top down systems of society which motivate people to act through fear, force and coercion. It is like a pyramid. The base is controlled from a smaller point at the top and the base continues the support the top. Most of our mainstream systems of people organisation are based on these principles starting in schools and seeping out into workplaces, communities and public services.
Many people believe there is no other way and that these systems are a result of ‘human nature’ even though these systems do not serve us well and result in learned helplessness. Increases in crime, fear of crime, poverty and depression are important indicators.
In light of the challenges and opportunities we face today, surely we should be questioning the very core of how we organise and the systems we use and ask if we can transform our most fundamental approaches to organisation to bring about new levels well being, social capital and safety?
Pioneers are highlighting the limits of our conventional views of leadership and offering a glimpse of new possibilities available to us in consent driven models.
At the Centre for Peaceful Solutions we are harnessing these ideas and embedding them into our practice. When Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world” he meant that we should model the values that are important to us.
A transformative structure and process integrates the collective wisdom of all the members of a community whether that community is a family, a school, a neighbourhood or a workplace. Even the people who contribute the least have something to offer.
- Who better to tell you how to run a school than the students who constantly fall foul of the system?
- Who better to tell you how to reduce crime than the people who repeatedly offend?
- Who better to tell you how to run a Social Welfare system than the people who cheat it?
But how do you give those people a voice without condoning their behaviour? How do you integrate everyone’s needs into a consent model? How do you transform conflict to contribution?
If this topic is of interest to you, why not join in the discussion. If this topic affects you, talk to us. You could be a person with a family, workplace or community issue. Or you could be in a leadership position looking for a new way forward.
We’re interested in talking to people who want to be inspired to into trying something new. If enough people are interested we’ll put on a workshop that distils the principles, ideas and partnership models that we have seen work and blends them into a strategic and practical approach to a change process into your situation. The workshop will work dynamically
with whatever live examples you bring. Expect a mixture of facilitated dialogue, presentations, role play, brainstorming and planning. The aim is to inspire you to take ideas and action points back to your communities, organisations and workplaces.
Workplaces are a great source of conflict. The following are just some of the symptoms:
- Gossip being an ordinary and accepted form of communication.
- Management rarely appreciating or encouraging new ideas.
- An atmosphere of secrecy and hidden agendas.
- Workaholism not only accepted, but encouraged.
- Competitiveness and power struggles abounding.
- Individuals and departments protecting their turf fiercely.
- Discrimination being common.
- Lower-level workers walking on eggshells around management.
- Unethical and dishonest behaviours common place.
- The workplace not being a pleasant and energising place to be.
- Open and honest communication rare or non-existent
- White lies, petty theft and cheating being usual.
- Employee/Management communication conflicted
- Going home from work feeling defeated
- Worrying about work at home.
If you want to go to work, do the job to the best of your ability and get on with everyone, here are some top tips for avoiding workplace conflict:
Keep calm; Remember that the workplace is a community. To be in community people need fairness. Not everything that happens will be fair and you will not like some strategies or outcomes. Remaining calm will always earn you respect.
Care for others; When things happen that you don’t agree with try to hear everyone’s point of view. If that can’t be done in the moment, make time later to find out how people are; check in with them. You will always be regarded as fair when you do that.
Take care of yourself; Think about your own well being. For example, your tolerances will be different if you have slept well. If you have pressures in your life it will affect your ability to see the world calmly. When you take care of your well being others will see you as balanced and centred.
Be assertive; When you feel motivated to act, be assertive. Have the courage to express your opinions in an honest and respectful manner. Express yourself clearly and articulately without aggression. You will earn the trust and confidence of your colleagues.
Respond, don’t react; Take time to ensure that you are giving a heartfelt response rather than a kneejerk reaction to any surprise situations. Your opinions will be valued when you can be trusted not to react.
Respect; learn what respect means to individuals. For example eye contact in some cultures is disrespectful while it is considered a mark of respect in others. Tell people what respect means to you in practical terms. You will earn the respect of your colleagues.
Check your intentions; if your intentions are honourable you will be credible. If your intentions are to damage or hurt others in order to succeed, you will court conflict. This might include taking a step back from gossiping and rumour-mongering.
Anticipate difficulties; if you can sense a problem looming, nip it in the bud. Communicate your concerns as early as possible in a process. Ask for specific help or offer specific help.
Remain open minded; Remember that the world would be a very boring place if everyone agreed on everything. If you wish to voice an opinion, be sure to balance it with other opinions.
Give credit; Always offer thanks and recognition for any co-operation or collaboration you receive. You will be seen as considerate and caring when making this a regular part of your working practice.
An article on the 9th of November, on BBC Radio 4’s ‘You and Yours’ about Mark Boyle, ‘the Moneyless Man’, prompted me to write something about money.
We spend so much time in a relationship with money both individually and collectively, I thought it might be worth examining .
To start with, I think of money as an illusion. The coins and notes you carry around are worthless in themselves but they represent of a line of credit. To understand that you have to remember that when money was first introduced, the coin or note represented an equivalent amount of gold held at a central location called a bank, which determined its value and the money was simply a representation that was easier to carry around. Since Fractional Reserve Banking was introduced, the equivalent of the value of the note in gold is no longer held, which means that money is a line of credit controlled by a few – but credit is an imaginary concept. You cannot show me credit as an object that I could touch, hold or feel. You might be able to show me a spreadsheet or a bank statement that represents credit but you can’t show me credit.*
But when you really examine this, it means that money is based on a belief system that only works because everyone joins in but joining in is a choice which is what Mark Boyle has captured. You might feel your choices are limited because you fear that not joining in will put you in a worse position; but until you have tried reducing your reliance on a system that causes a lot of suffering and misery, you cannot say for sure what the outcomes will be. Once you are trapped into thinking that money is the answer to your problems, you have missed the point of finding sustainability and are sucked into a belief system that seems to make many people very unhappy a lot of the time.
So when Mark Boyle set out to live without money, I was delighted that someone would try it so we could learn from his experience.
He said a couple of things that really captured my attention:
“If we grew our own food, we wouldn’t waste a third of it as we do today. If we made our own tables and chairs, we wouldn’t throw them out the moment we changed the interior decor”
“The degrees of separation between the consumer and the consumed have increased so much that we’re completely unaware of the levels of destruction and suffering embodied in the stuff we buy.”
So why am I straying onto this subject?
What has it got to do with conflict resolution?
In my mediation work, money is so often a part of the dispute; whether it is a contract dispute, a child maintenance issue or an unfair dismissal, somewhere within it will be a price tag as a means of compensation.
Thus money becomes a financial proxy for the unaddressed emotional content that we so rarely examine. The real content becomes sidestepped in a negotiation for an amount of money. If we moved money out of the equation we could really begin to find ways to meet our needs and connect with others in a ways that are creative, collaborative and meaningful.
I can’t imagine being able to fully participate in my society without any money but I am going to think of a way that I can achieve a result without using money. Even if it is just growing some tomatoes on a window ledge and using them in a salad, it would be something I did towards self sustainability because in a world where we are constantly being reminded that the population is growing and the resources are diminishing I wonder how much suffering we will put ourselves through before we start to realise that collaboration and sharing is the sensible way forward.
*A better explanation of this is in a book called ‘Freedom is more than just a seven letter word’ by Veronica, of the Chapman family (You’ll understand why her name is written this way if you read the book)