Mind your language!

Separating from a partner can leave you feeling hurt, frustrated, betrayed, scared for the future, unconfident, depressed and more. It is natural therefore to want to retaliate and score some sort of victory to restore equilibrium and salve the wound. And so begins the adoption of military language more suitable for a war zone than for discussing your domestic situation -'fight for every penny', 'court room battle', 'full custody', 'division', 'versus', 'opponent' all conjuring up the illusion of winning and control but in reality extending the misery and the hurt.

Frequently, working out what happens after you separate is couched in these terms not only by the separating partners themselves but also by the professionals they may work with. This adds to the combative atmosphere while polarising parents.

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Recently the Family Solutions Group - a multi-disciplinary group of professionals who work with separating families - have produced a report about the effect of language use on separating families, and especially on their children. They wish to do away with adversarial terms and to stop people dwelling on fault and blame. Research has shown the devastating long-term effect of frequent, intense unresolved conflict between parents on their children. Instead the FSG recommends dialling down the discourse in favour of phrases like 'collaborate', 'communicate', 'co-parent' which often reinforce the reality of the situation where the chances are 'there is a limited pot of money' - let's share it so that we can move on with both of our lives - and 'we both love our children and as importantly they love both of us' - let's work out how we can best share our time with them to preserve their equanimity and our sanity.

Changing the language really does change the behaviour. Thinking of the amount of time you spend with your children as being a win/lose situation so often bypasses the real priority which is to aim to reduce the impact of your separation on your children. Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the President of the Family Division, has been hugely involved in this project and in fact called it "blindingly obvious" that the language used by lawyers and other professionals is "not appropriate" and may exacerbate an already trying situation.

Other than calling out the obvious fighting talk there are other initiatives that the FSG see as being helpful throughout the separation process. Call people by their name and you immediately humanise that person - no more 'the applicant' or 'the mother'. Use language that everyone understands, and you include everyone in the conversation. Think less of your own rights or entitlement but more of your responsibility, fiscal or familial. And you are where you are, the past is the past - how can you both move forward positively into the future?

For more information on the working being done by the FSG see https://www.familysolutionsgroup.co.uk/language-matters/.

Why is this relevant to mediation?

The words used in mediation meetings alter outcomes. If the clear expectation from professionals and clients is to work together and to try to treat a separating situation as a shared problem to solve, everyone is in the frame of mind to mediate. That is what mediators do. Ultimately concentrating on co-operation and co-parenting rather than dispute and disagreement will cost you far less in time, money, and heartache even if it feels hard at the time. If everyone working with separating families could instil a culture of collaboration, the fight and battle options no longer remain on the table, and this can only be a good thing for families in the throes of separation.

For tips on what you can do to better engage, prepare and behave in mediation see our blog - Tips for a successful mediation.

The above was written by one of our expert Mediation First Family Mediators. If you require mediation services, mediation first can help. We offer all types of mediation, including family and child mediation, right to workplace mediation and everything in between.

For more information, get in touch with one of our friendly mediators.