Every mediator has a different style and tone. In divorce or separation mediation sessions I focus on the outcome and I attempt to mold discussions to be helpful and progressive. I never ask why a couple is separating. It simply does not matter legally, unless of course a crime has been committed or there are concerns around domestic abuse or child abuse. Why the divorce is happening does not matter to the court system. It obviously does matter greatly to the parties directly involved.
I recently mediated for a separating couple. They had been married long enough to have children, raise those children and now were empty-nesters. In my experience generally one of two things has brought them to this point. They either have simply grown apart and find a “stranger” in the kitchen getting coffee in the morning or one of them- sometimes both- has had an affair and the quiet house creates an Elephant in the Room.
I use a simple intake packet for mediation clients so I can collect factual information in advance and not use session time- and their money- to collect addresses, emails etc. That packet does not ask why they are seeking a divorce. I never ask why they are separating because rankly it does not matter to the court why they are separating.
In this recent session we were working through separating their assets and a palpable tension was rising in the room. Finally the wife looks at me, slaps the tabletop and thunders “Aren’t you going to ask what he did?” This is a delicate moment for a mediator. If I acknowledge her desire to tell me I have risked losing control of the mediation but she might feel heard and honored. If I do not acknowledge her desire to tell, I have potentially left her feeling invalidated and likely not willing to continue the mediation. Her husband looked as though all the air had been sucked out of his lungs.
I took a deep breath and explained it does not matter legally but it does matter in a personal and relational sense. I made eye contact with her husband, he nodded and looked down. I asked her why they were divorcing. She roared out “He F^@#$%^&&&^^ed her and ruined our lives” and she began weeping.
I suggested we take a 10 minute break. After the break we started again on the list of assets and actually made great progress. After the session I emailed her a list of excellent therapists who could help her process her grief for the marriage and help her develop skills to carry her forward in her “new” future.
Sometimes life hurts. It just does.