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Mediation, Part 2: Post-Conflict Relationship Building

 
 

[Marian Eberly (MSW, LCSW, RN, PhD – candidate) is a licensed clinical social worker and registered nurse with nearly 30 years in the healthcare field. She has a counseling practice inPhoenix,Arizona, uniquely incorporating her many years of healthcare experience in the care of the whole person. She is the co-author of The Christian Handbook of Eating Disorders, a frequent conference speaker and certified in Christian Mediation for churches and families. She is our blogger for the month of November, and this is her second post.]

Mediation and conflict resolution is a redemptive work that has a beginning, middle and end. Many who mediate conflict also recognize that there is a need for follow up or what is often referenced as post-conflict-relationship-building. This phase of conflict resolution all too frequently is left untouched. I recall a mediation process with a small Christian business. The owners were emotionally exhausted with the process of conflict resolution, even though it was a relatively short term investment of time and effort. At the “end” of mediation, they had little interest in dealing with what I call the “aftermath.” Counsel is given to participants to be aware of the emotional, psychological and spiritual effects of conflict, yet the usual and customary response is to avoid recognition of these effects because they are unpleasant. A few months later I received a call for help…with the aftermath.

Aftermath

Those conducting mediation may be wise to emphasize the reality that all people need to deal with the aftermath of conflict as much as the conflict itself, and impress on others that addressing post conflict emotions and reactions is just the final stage of healing. The agreements reached may seem like “the end” however coming to terms in the agreement stage is not the end of conflict resolution work. Negotiating agreements does not preclude continuing opposition. Trust has been fractured and that pain fuels ongoing resentments. The mediator may or may not be the person who continues working with the post- conflict-relationship-building phase, another pastor or counselor may step in at this point. This is especially apparent in the case of divorce. Divorcing couples can benefit from ongoing post divorce counseling when they share children in common. Child-support means more than financial maintenance. Children are given every advantage to thrive through the trauma of divorce when parents step up to the challenge of continuing to improve their communication with one another. In the last several months I have begun to impress on couples who divorce the importance of counseling in the aftermath of a divorce. To their surprise, these couples have healed their relationship far more efficaciously than those who do not do this post-conflict or post-divorce counseling with each other.

Whether it is conflict with business, churches, couples or families the work of post- conflict-relationship-building incorporates new boundary setting, how to work with or live inclusively, necessary change and a recognition of the loss and grief that is ongoing.  Following a mediation agreement, there is often more openness to recognition of past wrongdoing as evidenced by a willingness to be humble and own one’s mistakes. Here lies the opportunity for counselors to foster an attitude of acting uprightly in the present, changing old patterns of reaction, resulting in less to apologize for later. I have found it helpful to help those in this stage of relationship reparation to focus on identifying barriers to mistrust that include actions and behaviors that reinforce distrust, such as lying.

Finally, the goals in post-conflict-relationship building are to heal the fractured relationships, address expectations (and perhaps alter them to be realistic for self and others), teach what it means to live rightly before God and others (I Thess. 4:1). This means respecting others and honoring God in all our interactions, especially with those who have once been hurtful. Choosing to re-build relationships is difficult work, but it is an opportunity to see and experience how God redeems and heals.  The Biblical view of redemption reveals an ongoing exercise of healing, and healing requires the intentional exercise of forgiveness and the discipline of practicing doing unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matt. 7:12).

 

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