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Mediation Matters: Relationship breakdown, Brexit and sensible pragmatism

Date:20 JUL 2018
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Chief Executive, NFM

The Chief Executive of National Family Mediation returns with a regular column

Across the UK, the deep divisions caused by the Brexit referendum outcome and negotiation stalemates not only persist but seem to accelerate. You don’t need me to remind you we’ve had resignations of senior UK Cabinet figures, coupled with deep splits in both main political parties. We’ve had some unexpected alliances too.

On Brexit at least, there are those MPs who seem to show they’ve got more in common with their so-called political foes than with some on their own party benches. One senior Tory has even called for a Government of ‘national unity’ made up of ‘sensible, pragmatic’ MPs from all parties.

That idea might not cut the mustard among warring MPs in the febrile Westminster atmosphere. But the fallout from Britain’s divorce – and the ongoing lengthy negotiations that dominate the news media - are really focused on one thing: the UK-EU’s future relationship after our separation is concluded. Some want closer ties, some want a clean break. Some don’t want the divorce any more; never having asked for it in the first place.

Should it really matter if previous party allegiances are temporarily put aside for the benefit of the country’s future, whilst everyone focuses on the things that can genuinely ensure the nation’s post-divorce wellbeing?
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And so to mediation: you’ll know that my own profession is all about ensuring post-divorce wellbeing, and the state of the relationship after the split. 

Many couples who’ve decided to separate choose to home in on their arguments, their past battles, the things that tore them apart  and are determined to carry those feuds into the making of post-divorce arrangements. That’s their right, of course. 

It’s their right to spend loads of money on legal fees they can’t afford, to try to get what they believe they want.

It’s their right to put their energy into continuing to fight the issues that shattered their relationship with their ex. 

And it’s their right to put aside the interests of their children while their feud plods its way through the courts. 

But experience tells us it’s the sensible pragmatists: those couples who focus on stabilising what’s left of the ship after the storm hit, who inevitably get outcomes that are in the interests of all of those who’d been sailing on it. 

And let’s be clear about what IS left of the ship after the tempest: the children, who deserve the very best future possible. The state of the craft will never be the same, but the key element remains: both parents remain parents to those children, and however each divorcing adult may now feel about each other, both have this in common, if nothing else. 

So whether or not Parliamentarians from all sides come together at this hugely challenging time for the benefit of the UK remains to be seen. Will they put into real-life practice the words of the late MP Jo Cox, recognising that perhaps they have ‘more in common with each other than the things that divide us’? Time will tell. Good luck to them. 

It might be a fanciful thought, but perhaps Parliament needs to call in mediators to help them break the Brexit stalemates and move things forward. Mediators could use their specialist skills to help: facilitating the discussions, ensuring those involved can put their views across and be heard, keeping the dialogue productive, and discussing possible solutions without making value judgements. 

That’s what mediators do with separating families, getting them to focus on the future, guiding them to leave the battles behind in the eye of a somewhat distant storm. I wonder if some of our politicians might end up emulating the exes who embrace family mediation after divorce, proving themselves to also be sensible pragmatists.