In relationship breakdown, individuals may be torn between the urge to retaliate and the need for resolution. In The Tempest, Shakespeare anticipates Freud in depicting Prospero's struggle between his primitive instinct for revenge (embodied in Caliban) and his superego, the nobler spirit set free in Ariel, with his conscious mind or ego that mediates peace.
For individuals in the emotional turmoil of separation, torn between fighting or giving up, mediation could be premature or even harmful. The University of Exeter Briefing Paper, Creating Paths to Family Justice (Barlow et al. 2017) cautions against premature mediation but recognises that delaying settlement can have adverse consequences too.
Mediators need to assess high levels of anger and distress at an early stage of breakdown, distinguishing reactive anger and confusion from chronic anger in which former partners are locked in entrenched disputes. At an early stage, carefully assessed and planned mediation may enable couples to work out interim arrangements geared to children's needs, without risking traumatic encounters or one partner's capitulation.
Couples in intractable conflict may also be emotionally unready for mediation, yet they may have capacity to respond to appropriate mediation strategies and skills.