Connection and Disconnection through Mediation

While I was walking down a city street the other day someone walking from the opposite direction bumped arms with me, or perhaps I bumped my arm with her. As I hopped on the crowded El and squeezed myself into the last available seat next to a young man with a lot of leg, I couldn't help but be pressed up against him, and he against me, for the duration of the ride. In neither of those situations did I feel any desire to connect with these individuals, yet circumstances made physical contact impossible to avoid. Eventually our moment of connection reached an equilibrium and space existed between us once again.

These two occurrences and reading Dr. Tammy Lenski's link to Dave Oleson's article Break All Social Taboos for Better Relationships, made me consider that while making connections with others is absolutely wonderful most of the time, it is also quite possible for it to be too much of a good thing. That is, there are just some times when emotional and/or physical distance is preferred, or when severing existing connections with an individual, group or organization is best.

As a mediator, my role is to bring people together peacefully and assist them in cutting their connections in ways that cause the least amount of destruction possible. Donald T. Sposneck offered this relevant observation (Conflict Resolution Quarterly, Fall-Winter 2004) :

The dynamics of mediation are inherently in opposition to the goals of the couple and thus create a dilemma: mediators are trying to get the divorcing couples to work together and cooperate, while the couples are trying to get apart emotionally – actively manifesting the very absence of cooperation that broke them apart in the first place.

This becomes even trickier when mediating a parenting agreement since a co-parenting relationship is one that should not, and really cannot, be severed. A percentage of separating parents are able to put aside their differences and continue to unite in raising their kids. For some, the desire to be disconnected from a former spouse or partner greatly outweighs any willingness or ability to remain connected in parenthood. For still others, the only possible connection with a former spouse or partner is a negative one fraught with conflict.

I suppose the challenge for all of us is in knowing when it is worthwhile and even necessary to invest in initiating, creating, and repairing new and existing connections with others versus the necessity of distancing and disconnecting when relationships become problematic, unproductive, or conflictual. 

By Laura L. Noah
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