Moving from Mediator to Mentor

Help Couples to Have a Healthy Marriage without Being Their Mediator

My wife, Michelle, and I were new at teaching a class for couples in distress. We had just finished a session when Daniel and Maria called the church looking for help. There wasn’t a class available, but we agreed to meet with them.

They came to our house, sat down and we asked, “What brings you here?”

Maria said that were fighting all the time and could never agree about what to do. Last night, their son wasn’t doing his homework and Daniel wouldn’t help. Daniel defended himself and said that their son could figure it out by himself if he just took the time.

We listened and asked a few questions. We ended up helping them to compromise and agree on a dedicated homework time for their son and they would take turns helping him.

They left feeling that we helped them. We felt great about it and we agreed to see them again.

Next week, they came with a new fight with a different issue. This went on for a few sessions.

It seems like we were mediating conflict between them instead of teaching them how to change their conflict patterns. I look back on that experience and I realize that we weren’t really helping them very much. They came and complained and we would help them resolve their conflicts.

How do we move a couple forward to help them to resolve their own conflicts and not solve them ourselves?

How do we move from mediator to mentor?

Teach Healthy Marriage Concepts

Michelle and I started to realize that we needed to teach healthy marriage concepts, not just mediate their arguments.

I know that Daniel and Maria liked that we helped them to resolve their disagreements. Both of them found it helpful to talk to another couple. They found that arguments didn’t escalate when they were in front of us as much as when they were alone.

However, they weren’t learning to manage their own conflict.

What are the principles that every couple needs that actually work? That led us to develop key concepts that we include in our online course curriculum.

Use Conflict to Recognize Patterns

One of our key concepts is that our conflicts tend to form patterns. In other words, we usually fight the same way, regardless of the topic.

Now, when a couple comes to us with a specific topic that fight about, like parenting, we ask them about how their fight progresses. What pattern does it form? It’s usually helpful to pick out a disagreement that they recently had, but they aren’t still fighting about it. It’s a bit easier to for them to reflect on their pattern when they aren’t emotionally invested in it.

We want the couple to recognize their poor conflict behaviors and to understand how their conflict works. For example, he criticizes, she defends, he criticizes, she dismisses, he walks out of the room.

When the couple can recognize their pattern, then they can start to make new choices. Instead of criticizing, perhaps trying to understand will work.

We use specific arguments as a way to recognize patterns and key concepts that work. We want the couple to understand what they can do to change their conflict patterns.

Let the Marriage Education Be Directive

One time, when I was just starting to work with couples, David came to me and told me that his marriage wasn’t going well. I quickly quoted Ephesians 5 and told him that husbands need to love their wives. David just as quickly fired back his wife needed to respect him.

When I jumped to being directive, or telling someone what to do, it didn’t go very well.

I love scripture. I believe that God has revealed Himself to us through the Bible. I also have come to see that there is a right time to offer advice or to quote scripture.

It takes relationship to be able to confront people effectively. They need to understand that you care for them and want the best for them. When you are working with someone that is hurting or if you don’t know them well, then I usually focus on building relationship before I become very confrontational.

I’ve found it to be more helpful to let the marriage education offer the confrontation. We always use marriage education now in combination with mentoring couples. That allows us to ask, “What did you think about the concept that criticism tears down a relationship?” This is much softer than, “Why do you criticize so much?”

Let the marriage education teach the tough principles so that you can focus on helping the couple to apply them.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Teach couples to solve their conflicts themselves – It’s much better to teach someone to have a healthier relationship than to mediate their arguments.
  • Help them to recognize conflict patterns – When a couple recognizes how their conflict pattern impacts their relationship, they work on changing the pattern.
  • Leverage Marriage Education – We always leverage marriage education. This allows us to talk about how to apply healthy concepts and principles.